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'Smart-arsed fun' at Canberra's expense out of order


Megan Doherty

Canberra Centenary Creative Director Robyn Archer speaking at the National Press Club.

Canberra Centenary Creative Director Robyn Archer speaking at the National Press Club. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The media should stop having ''smart-arsed fun'' at the expense of Canberra because what it was really doing was undermining the national capital as a potent symbol of democracy, Centenary of Canberra creative director Robyn Archer told journalists on Thursday.

Media types might think they were being hip and in-the-know by criticising Canberra but in truth they were missing the real story, Ms Archer suggested to a conference for The Walkey Foundation at the National Film and Sound Archive.

''The cultural cachet of having a go at Canberra is still thought valuable by many,'' she said. ''A cheap shot in print, on TV or even in casual conversation usually gets a laugh and a nod and a kind of acknowledgement that you must know all about the ins and outs of Canberra if you can afford to diss it. I no longer tolerate this banter.''

Ms Archer said she was making a direct appeal to journalists to do something positive for Canberra during its centenary year, not only to lay off the gibes but to also see the national capital beyond being only the seat of federal government. She urged the media to report on the many events planned for the centenary to add to a ''reimagining of our national capital''.

''While I think it probably is part of the so-called Australian character to take the piss out of pretty much anything, in this instance it might just be like many habits - one we'd be better off growing out of,'' she said. ''I think it could be damaging for our health and that of the nation if people continue casually to undermine the image of the capital.''

Ms Archer said a newspaper poll earlier this year found a ''frighteningly large'' percentage of young people did not value democracy.

''How very odd that young men and women are laying down their lives in Northern Africa, especially in Cairo at the moment, in order to gain democracy whilst some of our young people are careless about the need to uphold it, value it, preserve it and build on it,'' she said. ''Talk to any of those who risk their lives on leaky boats about what a democratic destination means to them.''

Ms Archer said she believed powerful symbols of democracy were urgently needed and the national capital could be one of them.

''The corollary of which is that each time we diss the capital for a bit of light-hearted or smart-arsed fun, we are probably damaging one of those most powerful tools in the arsenal which can defend democracy - our capital, its bold beginnings, its noble history and all the things it continues to achieve and be, in addition to its role as a host of federal government,'' she said.

''Alas, the media's exclusive focus on that one aspect of Canberra's function tends to exclude all those other good things.''

Ms Archer asked the journalists to recognise ''this idealism, this poetic hope for Australia's future'' and restore respect for Canberra.


  • Ms Archer, chill for goodness sake.
    You had your jaunt around the world promoting the most dull and boring location in Australia so just sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

    Date and time
    November 30, 2012, 7:32AM
    • I think hope for Canberra, and by extension the rest of the country, will be restored when the current ALP crop goes the way of the dustbin. Until then strap yourselves in, because it won't be letting up anytime soon. Besides all that, I agree that Canberra should truly be respected, particularly in its contribution to the arts - considering it is the only state in Australia where the production of pornography is legal.

      Malik the magic sheep
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 11:40AM
    • Undermining democracy by criticising Canberra?

      What is this, the Joseph McCarthy 1950s??

      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 11:47AM
    • Ms Archer, you got one damn good paying, not much to do gig from the government so as the gangster said, chill out a bit hey.
      It as though you did not have much to do as 70% / 80% looks a lot like rehashed annual gigs and what place celebrating its 100th anniversary should let it go by with out a round of the V8 Supercars, didn't try to hard hey Ms Archer.

      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 12:07PM
    • @cooldog Only one? You might need to recheck Ms Archer's CV. Clearly what is being discussed here is not the suburbia of the soul which is Canberra, but the concept of an alienated bureaucratic enclave oblivious to the normal commercial pressures and realities ordinary Australians cannot possibly ignore. Why would such enclave mentalities be defended one might task? The Roman maxim 'Cui bono' applies.

      Craig More
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 2:23PM
    • The reason a '''frighteningly large'' percentage of young people did not value democracy.' has nothing to do with the media 'having a go at Canberra'. Looking at the way the politicians behave in parliament (this week is a good example) and you may start to understand why it's the case.
      In a true democracy, wouldn't we have the major policy decisions being what the majority of Australians support?
      The problem isn't so much a lack of respect for democracy, but a lack of respect for those in government. It's the politicians, not the system. Unfortunately, we really do have a parliament here that is purely self interested and not really representative of the people. I for one would like to see am alternative to 'democracy' that we have in this country, one that would push for a more equal society, rather then promoting a wider gap between rich and poor.

      Angry voter
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 3:17PM
    • Malik,
      Your approach to contemporary national politics is very much that of a sheep.

      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 6:51PM
    • @Malik the magic sheep

      When the other lot gets in 20,000 public servants are going to get the sack according to your friend Abbott and sycophants.

      Canberra being more or less a one employer town may lose 10% of its population if those 20,000 and their families may have to find work elsewhere. There are only a few jobs in cafes, restaurant s or shopping centres that are not filled.

      As for that creative director, I thought it was a bloke before I read the article.

      Well, these days one is always told that one should love every person every town every country.

      Bugger that . I take no notice of what some do - gooder is babbling on about.

      I have been to Canberra a few times, mainly to the Art Gallery when there is an exhibition or the AUS National Museum. The wife's sister is living there and we dropped in on her twice over the years. They take us to somewhere when something is on.

      We usually go there and back on the same day. If not we stay in Queenbeyan at least you don't get ripped off at the motels there.

      I can't understand why the people in Canberra are so thin skinned. I live in Sydney and every Tom, Dick and Harry is always bagging the place. I just shrug it off . those poor sods don't know what I think of them and where they come from. It's certainly worse than what they think of Sydney.

      Living in Canberra is part of the price you pay for having the seat of government and parliament there.

      Since IMO politicians are beneath contempt, it follows that the place where they are congregating it is hardly surprising that their reputations rub off on the Canberra people.

      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 7:02PM
    • Where does it come from - this continual putting-down of Canberra (let's forget the political seat for a moment) - is it from a sense of envy at its beauty - the natural basin surrounded by peaks and ranges - the planned nature of the lakes and their promontories and walking paths - the copses and stands of trees - both native and exotic/evergreens - the excellent road system - the galleries, libraries, centres - of industry and commerce and the arts! Every time I visit Canberra I am impressed by its location - the seasonal feeling - spring and autumn especially - and by the educational engagement that is one of the features of the city for me - studying Spanish or Viet-namese - giving seminars on Literacy - attending Japanese literary events of one kind or another. When I was a young teacher - I took excursions from the deep rural parts of NSW to Canberra - embassies and churches and the National Parliament - and in another teaching context part of leading hundreds of protesters by a convoy of buses from Sydney to the lawns in front of the Parliament - proving our democratic right to protest to the many adult immigrants and refugees who were a part of that - was it in 1980? And it was peacefully staged - then we all went home! I have uncles and cousins and friends scattered across Canberra - that is another part of what it means to me! So stop the put-downs on that score - besides which I think Robyn ARCHER is quite right - no matter the percentage of those who indicate so on the poll! Thanks Robyn for your thoughts!

      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 10:27PM
    • 300,000 people max in Canberra. Yet it holds massive art works and historical records and so on and so on. It's infrastructure is paid for by the rest of the nation. 60% are public servants and the rest live off them. Excuse me and lots of others for feeling you are just a fraction insulated. While people in Canberra talk about their holiday house on the South coast or talk about their wine collection, their European cycling tour, their vintage car or motorcycle in the garage, the rest of us are struggling to pay the bills. Total fairy land. Sorry you deserve the cynical view. Canberra is the modern equivalent of English landed gentry.

      not canberra
      Date and time
      November 30, 2012, 11:09PM

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