Sunday. The Canberra Balloon Spectacular, day one. Balloons drift over Lake Burley Griffin. 8th. March 2014 Canberra Times photograph by Graham Tidy. News. The changing face of Braddon. Lonsdale Street Roasters took over the Civic Smash Repairs building in Lonsdale Street.April 29th 2015The Canberra TimesPhotograph by Graham Tidy.
Here’s a top tip for travel writers: you don’t get columns about your list of top tourist destinations if you made it, say, a list of actual top tourist destinations.
After all, a brief survey of Australia’s most popular tea towels already gives an elegantly accurate overview of our nation’s top sightseeing spots. And let’s be frank: saying “why, the Uluru place seems like it might be worth a gander – and how about that Sydney Harbour, eh? Apparently there’s some sort of bridge there!” isn’t going to get incredulous journalists sending your destinations of the year column viral.
And that’s why Lonely Planet is enjoying all sorts of Google Alert pings thanks to multiple articles, including this one, that are all essentially variations on “Canberra? You’re recommending that the one must-see spot in Australia is Canberra?”
Yes, according to said list, Canberra is the No.3 city to visit on our great blue-green globe (after Seville in Spain and ??? um, Detroit in the US? Really?), and the No.1 spot to see in Australia. And this, obviously, is a barking mad claim to make.
This is not because Canberra is a terrible place, mind. It’s because its charms are not exactly geared toward tourists.
There’s no shortage of stuff for the keen visitor, of course. Canberra boasts amazing galleries, great museums, and at least one more NASA-run Deep Space Communications Network than any other city in Australia.
The architecture is amazing, the (artificial) Lake Burley Griffin is picturesque, and the parking is ample. And Parliament House, it has to be said, is genuinely beautiful – or at least was until the hideous fences were put up to stop people walking over the lawns above the heads of our lawmakers, as designed, and thus help eliminate any pesky implication of Australian egalitarianism.
But Canberra also has a lot of baggage. Related: Real reason Sydney’s not liveableRelated: A house or a life?Related: Should we let country towns die?
After all, while all our other cities were hewn by stalwart pioneers hacking civilisation out of the unrelenting bush, Canberra was arbitrarily invented as a national capital as a way of providing plausible cover for Sydneysiders who wanted to sneeringly tell Victorians “well, it’s the same distance from Melbourne as Sydney – what are you whining about? What do you mean it’s in NSW – it’s in the Australian Capital Territory, obviously. Sheesh, there’s no pleasing some people!”
(And depending on who you believe, it was named as a joke by the local Ngunnawal people, who assured the designers that the word for the spot meant “meeting place” and definitely not “the bit between a lady’s boobs”, since the settlement was placed between Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain.)
Canberra is also tiny. You can be in open farmland or an isolated bush vista inside of a 15-minute drive from Parliament House, which goes some way to explaining why people, such as Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz, don’t seem to understand how most Australians think and behave.
If most of your time was spent in Hobart and Canberra, suddenly being confronted with Brisbane would seem like dropping into a sci-fi wonderland what with its locomotives and ethnic foods and people walking around without scarves.
The main thing about Canberra as a tourist destination, though, is something that it shares with the other butts of the nation’s jokes such as the aforementioned Hobart and (especially) my old hometown of Adelaide: it’s a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to visit there.
That’s not because it’s not got stuff going on or places to go, but because those things are not necessarily obvious and easy to find. In fact, I’m prepared to bet that Canberrans are less than delighted with having their favourite haunts and secret treasures hauled out into the open, because part of the joy of living in one of the smaller cities is feeling like it’s your own special place and that it also somehow loves you back.
That doesn’t happen in the big metropolises nearly as much. I still adore Sydney like a lovestruck teenager, but I’m perfectly aware that when I die it will leave my corpse for the ibises and never look back. Conversely, I was deeply hurt to discover during a recent visit that Adelaide didn’t lovingly preserve that P my first housemate drew upon the sign for the tiny inner-city alleyway Andrew St in 1993.
Be honest, residents of Canberra. You don’t want hipster blow-ins clogging up your favourite wine bars and snug microbreweries. We got so sick of that happening in Sydney that we had to destroy our entire night-time economy with lockouts just to get them to move to Melbourne.
And obviously it’s a long time until Lonely Planet’s next list, and it’s impossible to guess if another Australian city will make the top ten. But on current form, the smart money would be on Blinman, jewel of the Flinders Ranges: the most underrated tourist destination in Australia! Come for the 50-plus daytime summer temperatures, stay for the ??? um, bit where it gets cooler at night.
Just imagine the outraged thinkpieces that’ll inspire!
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.