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Late author's wife says Canberra move a love story right from the start


Sally Pryor

Christine Courtney, wife of the late author, Bryce Courtney, relaxes at her Canberra home with one of her pets, Muschka ...

Christine Courtney, wife of the late author, Bryce Courtney, relaxes at her Canberra home with one of her pets, Muschka the cat. Photo: Graham Tidy

Christine Courtenay is baffled when her friends ask her when she plans to return to Sydney, and they are just as baffled when she replies that she plans to stay put in Canberra.

Since her husband, the author Bryce Courtenay, died in November, she has felt a growing attachment to the city the couple called home for the last years of his life.

"It meant a lot to Bryce and I because the thing you worry about when you move when you're old is that you don't have old friends, old close friends, and Canberra really embraced us in a really down-to-earth, genuine way, and it was delightful," she said.

"I'm just so glad that Bryce had at least two very happy years here, and I just wish it had been many more, but it wasn't to be. It was a very happy time in our lives."

She was speaking to The Canberra Times before a centenary event at the National Library on Friday, where she will be discussing, along with other high-profile women, what living in the capital means to her.

Having grown up on a cattle farm in north-eastern Victoria, she "fled" to Canberra in the 1970s to study at the Australian National University, but never anticipated coming back here late in life.

She and Bryce settled here after he was diagnosed with cancer, to be close to medical facilities but also to retain the bush setting they'd grown accustomed to living in Bowral.

"My son actually suggested that we come to Canberra and to be honest I didn't think Bryce would want to do that, because Sydney people don't, as you know, have Canberra on their radar," she said.

"But when we got here, I was wondering how Bryce would find it, and he said he wished he'd lived here 10 years ago. He said it was a revelation, he just fell in love with the life here, and I also loved living here."

She said her friends expected her to return to Sydney after Bryce died, but she had no plans to leave.

"You keep meeting lots of unusual people that are into very interesting things and they're so passionate about it," she said.

"Passion is something that is missing, I think, in a lot of people's lives. I've tried to lead a passionate life, following dreams and being into things that are challenging, and it's refreshing to be in a city where that is valued."

Although she will continue to indulge in her life-long passion for travel, she was convinced Canberra was one of the best places to be.

"I think if you stay in any one place, whether it's the heart of Paris or Canberra, you can get a bit parochial, so you'll often see me heading to the airport," she said.

"But I think this is one of the most liveable cities in the world, and I've seen many of them. I really mean that sincerely."

She said the only thing that worried her about living in Canberra was the possibility of becoming complacent about the quality of life here.

"I don't want to ever become smug about my life, I never have and I never will, and I think we should guard against smugness because there's too many big issues going on in our world for any of us … to be smug," she said.

"I think that's something Canberra almost needs to be a little bit wary of because it is such a comfortable life, so inured from the many problems people face living in cities - traffic, pollution, environmental degradation and poverty, although we have poverty here too - it's everywhere. My only sense is that when you live in a place that's so fabulous, it would be a pity if we became smug as a people. But I don't think that will happen."

■ Tickets are still available for Capital Women at the National Library. Bookings: 6262 1271.

5 comments so far

  • The main advantage of living in Canberra, I think, is that it doesn't have too many retirees. You know, the types who regale you with a long story of how the wheel came off their caravan at Ayers Rock.

    Paul Neri
    Date and time
    February 08, 2013, 8:40AM
    • Hear! Hear! Having lived in Canberra for 38 years, I concur wholeheartedly (though I would exclude our winter climate). It's great to read a positive assessment of our city, given the persistent, carping negativity of some of the usual contributors to this online forum.

      Date and time
      February 08, 2013, 8:48AM
      • I know how the Bryce's feel. I moved from Sydney to Canberra for 6 months....10 years ago!
        I'm still here....I love it, and whilst there are some things I miss about Sydney there is plenty I don't miss! like being able to breathe fresh air for one thing :)
        And being an avid skiier, I love the fact I can ski just for a day if I choose.

        To be honest, I had an incorrect view of Canberra before I lived here, like so many others. It really is Australia's best kept secret.

        Having lived in Paris, New York and Washington, where snow is a regular thing in winter, it's funny how those cities are not viewed as cold places, but due to the very closed minded Australian attitude, Canberra, whilst cold in winter, does not snow and very hot in summer is blindly marked as "cold" by other closed minded Aussies.

        So yes I made the move to Canberra, and plan to stay.

        Canberra, formerly of Mosman
        Date and time
        February 08, 2013, 8:51AM
        • How lovely that Christine has developed a personal attachment to her new home in Canberra - I hope it continues to grow and her beautiful husband will live on through her life here.

          Date and time
          February 08, 2013, 10:10AM
          • Canberra is the best place to be, arrived here in aust and first city I had lived is Canberra, went to Sydney, Melbourne GoldCoast, Brisbane and Man did I told myself the how I miss Home in Canberra. Will never ever EVAH replace the love at first site that I have on this awesome place Canberra, things are just too easy to be with, very relaxing place to be, not hectic place. iLoveCanberra.

            Date and time
            February 08, 2013, 1:05PM

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