THIS place has a way of seeping into your soul. When I first arrived I was taken aback by the friendliness: a casual hello; a chatty stranger; locals talking up a storm on the bus. With accommodation in limbo and no internet at home, the bank manager took me through the security door and allowed me access to her computer to do some internet banking. When we went to the local IGA supermarket the owner seemed to know everyone’s name.
Canberra is a city of work and government, luring professionals from interstate with the promise of good jobs and small-town liveability. Our 15-minute commute into the CBD is littered with national institutions: the War Memorial; Parliament House; Reserve Bank. Here working life is a badge of identity and, to the uninitiated, a bizarre language of acronyms involving government departments. Swapping stories about the public service is socially expected. On weekends the city turns in on itself as Canberrans flock out of town: to Sydney and Bateman’s Bay or to the snowfields of Thredbo and the Snowy Mountains.
Outsiders will often joke about the boring reputation of this neat and well-planned city, with its grey office buildings, graffiti-free walls and myriad roundabouts (let me tell you, they beat traffic lights every time).
But the Canberra I know is not this place. What I love most about Canberra is its distinct seasons. In summer I inhale the warm spicy perfume of eucalyptus and bush mingled with the woody notes of earth and grass. Layers of red dust filter through cracks in houses and cars and three kinds of ants swarm the hot footpath among the debris of bark and grass. Flocks of magpies, grey and pink galahs, white cockatiels, rosellas and green parrots raid the trees for acorns. If nothing else Canberra’s inland dry heat and low humidity make for frequent good hair days.
On a winter morning a light fog still hovers in the distance as I pull the front door closed behind me after a run. The smell of wood smoke lingers in my nostrils. The air outside is a brisk 2C. In the quietness of our street, nestled in the shadow of Mt Ainslie, we often spot kangaroo pellets in the driveway and once or twice a large grey has been spotted standing territorially beside the cars. My favourite time of year is autumn with its fierce blaze of foliage from deciduous elms, Japanese maples and Manchurian pears.
But after five years here my life has come to a crossroads.
New opportunities await and little by little I’ve been untangling myself from this quaint and sleepy town. Tasks and lists of things to do are churning away in my head.
For the moment, though, I am standing still, sipping tea and watching the last of the red maple leaves somersault from the tree in our courtyard.