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Media told: stop bashing 'Canberra'


Sally Pryor

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

She may have been preaching to the converted, but that didn't make Robyn Archer's impassioned defence of Canberra at the National Press Club yesterday any less rousing.

The creative director of the Centenary of Canberra called for the country's media to stem the flow of vitriol directed at the national capital by its constant negative references to ''Canberra'' when reporting on federal government activity.

''Canberra is not the same thing as our federal government,'' she said, adding that the name of the capital was usually only invoked in relation to bad news, while positive news was attributed to the government itself.

Ms Archer began her speech by rattling off a selection of headlines culled from recent news reports, all referring to ''Canberra'' as an irritant, a bully or even a ''force of evil''.

''Why would we be puzzled for even one second that there are some Australians who find it so easy to 'bash' their national capital, if Canberra is so often portrayed as such a hateful entity; indeed described relentlessly as an enemy of the people?'' she said.

''It effectively abuses 360,000 Australians in a way that would never happen to the citizens of any other Australian town or city. It causes genuine pain and shame, to the extent that many Canberrans themselves have become apologetic for the place they call home.''

She urged Australians to get to know their national capital - a city that required more than a casual overnight stay or school excursion to get to know. Many prominent Australians were proud to call Canberra home, but there was still a persistent handful of ''dedicated negativists'' who soured the national perception of the city - ''people who, for some inexplicable reason, need Canberra to be Sydney''.

''Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there; that's not the city's fault, it's your shortcoming in not being curious enough, not adventurous enough,'' she said.

''The majority of those who bag Canberra have never been here, and so their negative opinions are formed largely by what they read and the disaffection they have, from time to time, with federal government policy.''

It's a situation she described as ''arse-up''.

''Any capital, of any country, should somehow symbolise and enshrine all that that country aspires to, its noblest values and its highest ideals. Particular politicians, policies and parties should be judged on how well or how ill they uphold those values enshrined in the national capital - not the other way round.''

She also pointed out that beyond the sheer ignorance of people who had visited Canberra once on a school trip 30 years ago, a large proportion of Canberra bashing was generational.

''For baby boomers and before, there still remains what appears to be a tangible link to history: this generation and older is still wondering whether there could have been a better choice of site and design.''

She said next year's Centenary celebrations would be an ideal opportunity to allow people to at least get their facts straight.

''You should come in 2013 for the centenary - you could update your opinion, save yourself the embarrassment of displaying your ignorance about your own capital city: you can re-mix your attitude toward Canberra which, I swear, is going to do some very surprisingly beautiful things in 2013.''

7 comments so far

  • I have live in Canberra on and off since 1971 - this time I have been here since 1994 and the problem with Canberra is simple - it does not reflect the values and behaviours of most Australians. It is not a microcosm of Australian society - it is a society to itself. Those who dare question it are wrong - the ones who run it, run it for them. Example we spend millions upon millions of art events, but not the Summer Nats, ban V8s, get rid of the drag way, will not sanction any recreational use of the lake that involves noise or fuel and on it goes.
    Canberra is not about all of use it is about some of us!!!! I heard Ms Archer's interview on the radio recently and that was certainly the message I took away.

    Date and time
    April 05, 2012, 9:38AM
    • Couldn't agree more. I moved to Melbourne for work after growing up in Canberra and am constantly having to defend my home town against people paying it out. It's just another city guys, just because it's the seat of politics doesn't make it better or worse than any where else. Stop vilifying Canberra!

      Date and time
      April 05, 2012, 10:19AM
      • Who really cares what some person who thinks it's appropriate to depict Christ's mother with a ukelele, or what ever, thinks? I'd have been happier if she'd said she hated the place.

        Date and time
        April 05, 2012, 2:16PM
        • people claim that canberra is slow, quiet and shuts down at midnight. funnily enough, that sounds like adelaide bashing. Where else can you be close to the snow in winter -
          (chortling at the people who drive all day and don't hit the slopes until the next day, or get up ridiculously early to get some skiing in the same day and are stuffed)

          If you want nightlife, we don't have it. There are pubs and clubs,but we don't have the same levels of entertainment other cities have after hours. it is a city geared towards families, outdoor pursuits like bushwalking, there are plenty of green spaces for picnics, BBQs, and yes, some of us frequent these places in winter, too.

          Oh, and remember where all the people who came to canberra were from over the years - that's right. They were from your cities, they were posted here, they moved here for work, and, strangely, many realised that the water is drinkable, the neighbours were friendly, and it was a great place to raise a family.

          If you have never been here, come and visit. If you have an open mind, you will see what we do. If you don't, you will miss everything of value canberra has.

          Date and time
          April 05, 2012, 3:21PM
          • Perhaps if Canberra worked out a way to make its students feel less like second class citizens by providing more than a bare-bones public transport system, advocated keeping more shops open on Sundays and tried to develop a few more engaging things to do outside of visiting the art gallery and looking at flowers, it might get a better wrap.

            As it stands, the place does have a wonderful university that makes it worthwhile being down there, but outside of that it just feels like an extended outer-suburb of Sydney or Melbourne, with poor infrastructure irritatingly short trading hours.

            Canberra (but from Sydney)
            Date and time
            April 12, 2012, 3:37PM
            • Canberra's basically a ghetto for pollies,public servants and porn-peddlars,which is probably one of the few opportunities for some excitement in their lives.

              Date and time
              April 12, 2012, 5:10PM
              • Canberra as a place is pleasant enough - it's spacious, green and easy to drive around, has some interesting architecture and well-stocked museums and galleries. The problem is that it just doesn't cut it as a capital city. It is not a city, it is a town and its isolated location results in what I consider to be an unsuitable place from which to run a country. There is no substance, no inspiration or innovation there available to the people leading the nation and serving its government. It is like a small, incestuous bubble inside which everyone is turned in on themselves, devoid of vision, awareness and outward-facing drive. All the political hoo-ha that goes on there does nothing but confirm this.

                Date and time
                April 13, 2012, 2:37AM

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