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

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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.