Outgoing US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich at the US Embassy in Yarralumla. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Comparing the Skywhale to banjo music may sound like an insult to some, but it’s considered a compliment by US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich.
I bet all the money in my wallet on Americain, not knowing anything about the horse.
The controversial centenary creation was one of the highlights for Ambassador Bleich during his four years in the capital, which began by being subjected to Canberra bashing by friends in Sydney and Melbourne.
“They’re very proud of their cities and are uncharitable about other cities, but they really dumped on Canberra,” he said.
“We’ve loved Canberra. It’s a great city. We’ve gotten involved in every aspect of it.”
Ambassador Bleich will be stepping down from his posting on Thursday, several weeks before his replacement John Berry is expected to meet with Governor General Quentin Bryce.
The former director of the Office of Personnel Management is set to become the first openly gay US Ambassador to Australia, an appointment which Ambassador Bleich said reflects a lot about his country.
“We send out best diplomats to the most important relationships and we don’t care what their race is, what their religion is or what their sexual orientation is,” he said.
“I think in terms of the fact that this will be historic in some sense, I’m glad that if you’re going to have someone make history, it’s someone that like as much as John Berry. Ultimately, these things should get to a point where they aren’t even noticed.”
Mr Berry, who became the highest ranking openly gay official in US history four years ago, married his partner last month but Ambassador Bleich would not be drawn on Australia’s same-sex marriage debate.
“In the United States, you’re seeing more states recognising same-sex marriage and the President has said that he favours it,” he said.
“But we also recognise that every nation has its own internal conversation about this.”
Since taking up the position in 2009, Ambassador Bleich said he and his wife has taken to Canberra life with gusto – running around Lake Burley Griffin, hiking Red Hill and going to the Australian War Memorial “more than anyone who doesn’t work there”.
Even the negative experiences, including the 30-year-old crashed his car into the main gates of the US Embassy in July, were taken with the attitude of “these things happen”.
“You know that when you’re a US Ambassador, there will be moments where you face people who are either challenged in how they think about the United States or are hostile towards the United States,” he said.
With just two days left in his role, Ambassador Bleich said he would be taking a few dinner party anecdotes home with him, along with wine and a few pairs of RM Williams boots.
“I will definitely be taking a lot of good stories,” he said.
“I’ll probably talk about my screaming like a maniac when Americain was on its way to winning the Melbourne Cup. I bet all the money in my wallet on Americain, not knowing anything about the horse.”
Ambassador Bleich is staying coy about his future when he returns to the United States, but emphasised how much he and his wife would miss the nation’s capital.
“We love the people of Canberra and we love the feeling of the city,” he said.
“That will be something that we really miss.”