ACT News


Movers and shakers win some quiet time at last

While half of Canberra has joined the migratory path to the south coast, those left behind are revelling in the Zen atmosphere.

It’s been eerily quiet this week in the national capital. But that’s a good thing, according to the city’s movers and shakers.

While half of Canberra has joined the migratory path to the south coast, those left behind are revelling in the deserted streets and peaceful atmosphere – their only lament being the lack of restaurants open or the need to travel beyond their local cafe in search of a decent coffee.


Chief Minister

Our leader is already impressively fit, but this year has set herself the challenge of completing a triathlon.

Inspired by the bluntly-titled Run Fat Bitch Run by Ruth Field, Ms Gallagher said a triathlon was at the top of her 2013 to-do list. And running the territory, of course.

It should be a diddle, considering this year she not only fought and won the ACT election but simultaneously undertook a major home renovation - the subject of which now remains off-limits in conversation between her and her partner Dave Skinner .

''It's done. We survived it. Now we've just agreed we can't talk about it ever again,'' she said.


The last few days have been spent with her three children cycling around the lake on their Christmas bikes, and catching a movie or two.

Ms Gallagher said she was determined to spend quality time with Abby, Charlie and Evie after a more-chaotic-than-usual year on the hustings, and had managed to squeeze in some belated spring cleaning.

''After a really busy year I love the fact Canberra is so quiet after New Year's, when we are just home together and I do just ordinary mum things.''

And just like every other ''ordinary'' Canberra family, they are spending next week at Broulee.


Liberal leader

He could have bought himself a bike and joined the legions of MAMILs (middle-aged men in Lycra) whizzing along Canberra thoroughfares, but this Christmas Canberra's Opposition Leader opted for a more gentle form of transport through the purchase of a kayak.

Like his political nemesis the Chief Minister, Mr Seselja is relishing the quiet start of a new non-election year and a chance to ''chill out'' - in his case on the waters of his local Lake Tuggeranong, or taking in the delights of the Murrumbidgee.

Playing chess with the eldest of his four children and building a gate have been about the most challenging activities he's undertaken, other than his January 2 search for an open cafe (he was in luck, the local Turkish takeaway at Chisholm shops does a great brew, as it turns out).

Mr Seselja is reading The Three Emperors by Miranda Carter, an historical chronicle of the power plays in the lead-up to World

War I. He will probably finish it next week when he and the family head off to, you guessed it, Batemans Bay.


ACT Brumbies CEO

With high hopes for a good season this year - which was, happily, a better season than the year before - the Brumbies supremo is having a week off devoted almost solely to his two daughters, Ivy, 2 and Jade, 4.

This week had a symbolic significance when he and Jade headed to the Yarralumla Nursery to buy a planter box for flowers.

At last month's funeral for acclaimed author Bryce Courtenay, Mr Fagan and other mourners were given seedlings for Courtenay's favourite bloom - the sunflower.

''My daughter was really keen to plant them and we had the time to turn it into a little adventure. It's nice; the flowers will have a special meaning.''

Mr Fagan relishes the calm of the first week of January in the capital.

''I honestly really like that everyone leaves town and it is nice and quiet - you can duck around town pretty easily.''

The weather was perfect to get out on his kayak and there was plenty of American football from which to get a sporting fix.

He was also engrossed in the University of Canberra book of the year Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey - mandatory reading for every undergraduate and, as it turns out, Brumbies team member following last year's sponsorship deal.

While Mr Fagan was always open to a meal out, he did not begrudge the dearth of restaurants open this week.

''Yes, there's not much open but I don't think we can be critical of those in hospitality who are looking for some downtime themselves after such a busy year.''


Co-owner Sage Dining Rooms

Peter Harrington and his brother, Michael, know all too well that hospitality is a year-round commitment. So they've reopened the doors to their hugely successful restaurant and bar just a few days after January 1.

The Gorman House set-up, including the fine-dining restaurant and outdoor Mint Bar, has had a huge year of local and national recognition - including state winner of Favourite Fine Dining for the ''I love food awards'', Best Fine Dining at the Restaurant and Catering Association, Best Prestigious Dining at the Australian Hotels Association and a gong in The Canberra Times Top 20 Restaurants.

''Yeah it's been a big year - but a great one for us,'' said Mr Harrington.

The brothers made the decision to reopen in the first week of the new year in order to ''keep momentum going''.

They did so last year and were rewarded with a loyal clientele.

With bookings again steadily rising, Mr Harrington said the advantage was a little less competition in the slow weeks.

''We thought we should get back to it, establish ourselves for the year and strategise about where we are taking things.''

He also noted the calm atmosphere extended to customers, who tended to be laid back in early January and sincerely grateful for a night out.


Founder HerCanberra website

Even the online community takes a break in Canberra in early January.

The woman behind HerCanberra - a website and cyber community for local women - reports traffic and content slows a little, just like everything else in the national capital.

''Next week I expect things to gear up a little more with Summernats and events such as the Summer Sounds Concert at the Botanic Gardens,'' Ms Whitely said.

''But I like that this week the pulse has slowed and the tension has drained away. It's funny, but I think anyone going to Batemans Bay right now would be rejoining the rat race!''

While Ms Whitely is usually plugged into the social scene as well as her computer, this week was all about hanging at home, cooking for friends and just ''being'' with her two girls, 6 and 4.

Her only issue centred less on cafes and restaurants not being open and more on zumba classes being suspended for the week. As a qualified instructor, Ms Whitely admits ''it's an addiction. And I am really suffering withdrawals.''


Zoo Advertising managing director

As a founding partner of one of Canberra's busiest ad agencies, Mr Hutchinson is too excited about the official start of the centenary year to relax totally.

In celebration of the capital he and his wife, Andrea, have broken a four-year cycle of spending New Year's week elsewhere and have been soaking up the sun from the deck of their apartment next to Zoo's funky Kingston headquarters.

They've also been planning a massive fashion event for April in which local designers, stylists and artistic-types will showcased to the rest of the country against some uniquely Canberra backdrops.

Passionate about his home town, Mr Hutchinson said the down-time had been re-energising and the brainstorming intense. ''I'm actually surprised by how much work we have got done.''

The trade-off with nothing much being open was that he and Andrea reacquainted themselves with their kitchen and surprised themselves with their creativity.

''Canberra at this time of year - what's not to like?''


Nobel prize winner and vigneron

He may have solved one of the universe's fundamental mysteries, but astrophysicist Brian Schmidt apparently hasn't quite cracked the secrets of his vineyard's watering system.

In the year following his Nobel prize for physics - won after he and colleagues Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess observed that the universe was, in fact, expanding rather than contracting - Professor Schmidt has endured a blistering circuit of appearances and travelled overseas 18 times.

This year he's hoping to peg those trips back to 12.

Enjoying a rare few days of downtime with his wife and sons on their Sutton farm, Professor Schmidt has had time to devote to his other great scientific endeavour - the creation of the best pinot noir in the world.

His Maipenrai label this year received favourable attention from wine cognoscenti including influential British critic Jancis Robinson, who described the 2009 vintage as ''very respectable indeed''.

But the watering system just about confounded the Australian National University's favourite son this week as he fixed the leaks, only to have a pump gasket blow.

''I spent about five hours working on it,'' Professor Schmidt said.

And while it was working when the Schmidts left Canberra midweek for a few days on the central coast, the professor didn't sound overly confident it would still be functioning when the family returned - not that a day or two of hot weather would be too much of a problem.

The Alaskan-born foodie - who has a gift for perfecting puff pastry - spent valuable time in the kitchen over the break and put his beloved $6000 Beech pizza oven to use.

It was an indulgence he allowed himself in 2006, when he won a third-share of the $US1-million Shaw prize for astronomy. But he donated the rest of the money to science, including developing the SkyMapper telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran which will this year continue to churn out data on Professor Schmidt's latest big project - the first digital survey of the southern sky.


ACT Australian of the year

Social justice campaigner Tom Calma is hoping the new year will bring with it many a resolution to give up smoking.

The former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner has been leading the campaign to close the gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - particularly through reducing the rates of smoking in indigenous communities.

''I'm really hoping we can cut the rate of smoking down … It is one of the biggest legalised killers in the world and it is really having a terrible impact on all people - particularly indigenous communities.

''I'm hoping people make the resolution to stop - and stick to it.''

Dr Calma, who is also Deputy Chancellor of the University of Canberra, is relishing the chance to spend some uninterrupted time at home with his wife and in the garden after a year in which he has presented at numerous international conventions regarding indigenous housing, health and business.

He will spend next week in Narooma where a family friend battles a critical illness, and he hopes more people find time this year to make good health a priority and ''enjoy good health when they have it''.