ACT News


Celebrate whiskered pair

She Who Must Be Obeyed throughout 2013, Robyn Archer, the creative director of the Centenary of Canberra, has asked us all to pay special attention (perhaps even with street parties) to the people who our suburbs and streets are named after. In this column and in that spirit are pictures of two men with splendidly-afforested faces. They are the poet Charles Harpur (1813-1868) and the long-lived politician King O'Malley (1854-1953).

Harpur has a Garran street and a place named after him while O'Malley has his name fixed to one of Canberra's most sought-after suburbs. (There is also a famous pub named after him, which is ironic given that he was an evangelical teetotaller and a sworn foe of what he called ''stagger juice''.)

Residents and friends of Harpur Street and Harpur Place in Garran are going to do Robyn Archer's bidding (and set an example to all Canberrans who live somewhere named after someone) with an event on March 3. It is going to be attended, wonder of wonders, by Harpur's flesh and blood in the form of his great-granddaughter, Patricia Dahl.

Merle Hunt, organiser of the Garran function, tells us that she's been in phone contact with Dahl.

''She didn't know there was a Harpur Street and Harpur Place anywhere and she was so excited [by news of the event] she could hardly talk.''

But she will have her voice back by March 3 ''and will be happy to tell us what she knows of his history and family background''. I've always loved the way Garran's streets are named after writers. And the statue at Garran shops [of a stylised pile of books by Australian writers with possums climbing on them] is the perfect thing for the suburb.


Some weeks ago, encouraged by a 200th birthday party given for Harpur by scholars and Harpur groupies at the ANU, this column published part of a splendid poem, To A Comet, Harpur had contributed to a Braidwood paper while living in that hamlet. It may get read at the Garran occasion but perhaps a more fitting one would be his A Midsummer Noon In The Australian Forest, because (for uneventful Garran may be the most slumbrous suburb in the world) it is all about stillness. Here is an excerpt.

''Not a bird disturbs the air! There is quiet everywhere;

Over plains and over woods, what a mighty stillness broods.

Even the busy ants are found, resting in their pebbled mound;

Even the locust clingeth now, in silence to the barky bough:

And over hills and over plains, Quiet, vast and slumbrous, reigns.''

Yes, that's our Garran! And of course Garran is a suburb so fond of Quiet that some of its residents are famous for having petitioned their members of Parliament to stop the SouthCare helicopter flying over Garran as it takes desperately ill people to the Canberra Hospital. Those sorts of people are not so much NIMBYs as NIMAs (Not In My Airspace).

Yes, that pesky helicopter should be re-routed to come and go over nearby O'Malley instead. And the man that suburb is named after is the subject of one of the 40 watercolour portraits of famous folk Reid artist Pat Spalding has painted for her forthcoming exhibition Canberra's Faces, Our Suburbs and the Faces Behind the Name.

She tells Gang-Gang that from her readings she imagines O'Malley as ''pushy and flashy and and given to hyperbole'' [for Prime Minister Gillard, who struggles with the word, that's pronounced ''high purr bowlee'' not ''hyper bowl''].

And look how well Spalding has captured a certain pushiness and flashiness in her watercolour portrait of the hair-framed face of the great man after whom the ostentatious suburb, itself no stranger to flashiness, is named.

The Garran occasion, Charles Harpur - A 200 Year Celebration Of His Life, is on March 3 at Harpur Place from 4.15 to 6.15. For details call Merle Hunt on 6281-1472.

The exhibition Canberra's Faces, our suburbs and the faces behind the names opens at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre at Lanyon on April 13.

Gendarme's pristine car lost its gloss

 Thursday's column was all about the way in which fiscally and environmentally canny Trevor and Cheryl Leisk of O'Connor saved a doomed (by gentrification) little 1950s weatherboard Yarralumla cottage. They had it taken on the back of a truck to distant Dalgety (Cheryl's ancestral bailiwick), where, once doomed to demolition, it is now a statement of sustainability. It promises to be a good home for them and their successors for another 50 years.

The rigmarole of transporting a home by road was very stressful at the time but lots of things that happened then seem funny now and the Leisks laugh a lot when they think of it.

For example, their slow-moving convoy had to have a NSW police escort. The policeman came down from Cooma to join them, the Leisks chortle to remember, proud to be in a police car only two days old and gleaming with glossy newness.

''There won't be any unsealed roads, will there?'' the officer asked anxiously, afraid of dust and dirt tarnishing his immaculate chariot.

''No! No!'' the Leisks remember assuring him in their naivety, imagining the Nimmitabel to Dalgety road to be a model of tarmacadamed smoothness.

Shock! Horror! To the gendarme's distress that road turned out to have a long, unsealed, duco-besmirching section.

''He wasn't a happy camper, that copper!'' Trevor reminisced, and he and Cheryl, though they'd felt mortified at the time, fell about at the memory of the poor policeman's angst.