ACT News

Gang-gang: year in review

Big tales from a growing city

How did 2012 seem from the commanding cockatoo-perspective (as if high up in a gum tree) of a columnist part-journalist/part-Gang-Gang cockatoo?

The city's pulse seemed to quicken as 2013 loomed. Robyn Archer, creative director of the Centenary of Canberra, was everywhere. At one big Press National Press Club function, the excitable Archer worked her audience up into a slavering frenzy of adoration. Her sermon was that the nation's press is wrong to defame our city (in truth, all the media does is put the compact word ''Canberra'' into its story headings, but Robyn thinks it's all more conspiratorial and malevolent than that). Her audience, carried away, called for statues of her to be erected in the city. There were miracle cures. Some who had come to the Press Club in wheelchairs got up and danced. Gang-Gang thought this the scariest of the year's several displays of Robyn-worship.

This was a year in which The Canberra Times began its necessary metamorphosis from a sweet old-fashioned thing printed on paper into a dashing online phenomenon. Gang-Gang was excited but slow to develop a sense of what online readers liked best. Startling things happened. One teeny-weeny story about how good people at the hardware behemoth Bunnings made, in their own time and at no cost, a little set of stairs up which a lame old dog, Sam, 13, could climb to lie on his owner's bed, went ballistic. Sequels were written. A Hollywood musical is contemplated.

Another website-boosted Gang-Gang story was about saintly mother-of-three 000 Emergency Centre officer Melissa Arnold, in Wollongong, helping to deliver the baby, Lila, of Kelly Stocks, home alone in Queanbeyan. Hollywood is understandably interested in this story too, with Meryl Streep tipped to play the roles of both women.

The column interviewed and sang the praises and published the works of many pictorial artists, especially those using fresh, pioneering, earthy ways of portraying a city too often depicted as a city of pretty trees but of no people. Gang-Gang enthused over the work of Novocastrian Trevor Dickinson, fond of portraying dilapidated Canberra and/or of making familiar Canberra look odd. In the foyer at the ANU's School of Art Franz Schroedl displayed, briefly (officialdom took it away), his magnificent and literally ballsy green gargoyle. Potter Cathy Franzi made and displayed gasp-makingly lovely vases decorated with our centenary flower, the Correa ''Canberra Bells''.

Musically, 2012 was an exciting year. The Canberra Symphony Orchestra is shimmeringly superb these days (its superbness, like the superbness of our baseball and ice hockey teams, a sure sign that this is a broad-shouldered city now). But my hero-worship of CSO chief conductor Nicholas Milton (the Lionel Messi of music) is so pathetic that my interview with him, written up for Gang-Gang, was reverential and blanc-mangey. The column tried to make up for this wussiness later in the year, by expressing sincere disappointment at the sheer, populist conservatism of the CSO's program for 2013. Deploring the CSO's 2013 program as ''bogan music'', we wrote, childishly, that it was just the kind of program a Wagga Wagga Symphony Orchestra would put on for its locals. Wagga Wagga's subsequent indignation made Gang-Gang the local paper's front-page story for some days.


On my 10-point Pride-in-Canberra scale, it was a musical event, the Canberra Choral Society's production of Handel's opera/oratorio Saul in St Andrew's cathedral-sized church in Forrest, that scored the only perfect 10 of 2012. Gang-Gang the cockatoo promoted the production with feather-ruffling zeal. It was plucky of Canberran Tobias Cole and the Society to stage something so poorly known (putting the cautious CSO to shame), the production itself bristled with excellence, Cole (who talks to his audiences, bless him) was engaging, the church (a Canberra church) was a magnificent setting with the late afternoon Canberra light (the best light in the world) streaming in through stained glass. The afternoon was an occasion of overwhelming excellence and loveliness, and absolutely everything about its excellence and loveliness (save, of course, for Handel's modest contribution of his melodic masterpiece) was Canberran. Gang-Gang, a proud Canberran, gave the occasion a perfect 10.

A year's column-weaving puts you in touch with hundreds of Canberrans, and 2012 has left me with mixed feelings about my 369,999 neighbours. Alas, there is a race of Canberrans that looks at a newspaper in the same spirit (and with about the same level of intellectual inquiry but not the same degree of attractiveness) with which airport sniffer dogs sniff our luggage. How they (readers) salivate and wag their tails when they find the contraband of a missed apostrophe or, better still, a little error of fact! Gang-Gang ran a story based on some wartime CSIRO photos of young women doing war work in Canberra opium poppy fields. Methought the damsels were carrying mattocks, and said so. There then followed correspondence as voluminous as it was triumphal in tone correcting me and telling me I was an ignoramus not to know that the tools were hoes. Owning up to the pointed-out error, I quipped that I hadn't wanted to call the young women hoers lest that word be misunderstood. In a very weak field, this was the column's best pun of the year.

Sniffer-dog Canberrans were a 2012 vexation to the spirit but other sorts of Canberrans were bliss to tangle with. The history bias of the column has enabled us this year to interview many of the Methuselahs and Methuselahettes of Canberra. The living oldies (the oldest of them Jim Woods, 99, former owner of The Queanbeyan Age and now the boss and doyen of Queanbeyan's dashing Printing Museum) have been generously forthcoming with their reminiscences of Canberra as once it was.

Almost all of these emeritus locals, asked what they think of the present city, say that it's become too big. It would be easy to dismiss this as just a matter of fogeys hankering for the past but there is, one can tell from these sepia-tinted citizens and from their sepia-tinted pictures, a sense in which Canberra really was exquisite when it was little. Alas, for example, the monster of Lake Burley Griffin (completed in 1963) ate up the dear little babbling, willow-fringed, platypus-rich Molonglo and its river flats. On those river flats there was once one of the most idyllic country racecourses in Australia, pictures of which, generously supplied by emeritus readers, Gang-Gang published, because in 2012 this has been a Canberra column that has looked back with wistfulness and forwards with zeal.