ACT News


What makes a Canberran

There are many reasons new arrivals stay, writes PHILLIP THOMSON

IAN Hill was flying into Canberra a few years ago and as the plane landed he thought to himself: ''I'm home.''

It was a strange thought for someone who had at that time lived here for close to 10 years in two separate stints.

The fleeting thought which ran through his mind was more than just a random rumination.

It was a turning point in his life.

Previously, he used to tell people he came from Adelaide, but lived in Canberra.

Another strange thing started happening at about this time as well. He started defending the national capital at dinner parties.


''I think you know you're a Canberran when you stick up for the place,'' says Hill, director of Australian Capital Tourism, the organisation charged with attracting visitors here.

''Or when you arrive at Canberra Stadium five minutes before kickoff and still expect to get your favourite seat.

''Or when it's no longer about winter frosts but four distinct seasons.''

Because of his job, Hill does more thinking than most about the psychology of Canberra and its people.

Some people say it takes 10,000 hours to master an art form, or a million words to become a writer, but does it really take more than 85,000 hours - as it did in the case of Hill - to become a Canberran? Hill had lived an intensely Canberra lifestyle before his mid-air conversion.

In his first stint which lasted five years, he worked at Parliament House for senators and at the Department of Agriculture.

On returning to the capital, he has held various jobs with Australian Capital Tourism, an organisation well versed in defending the ACT against the lazy stereotypes which make up the national sport of Canberra bashing.

In his words, it takes most people about five or six years to become a Canberran and puts the long delay down to the parochialism of Australians.

''When does a Queenslander become not-a-Queenslander?'' he asks, while sitting in his office on Northbourne Avenue.

Some people may never convert and they don't have to be as parochial as Queenslanders.

Psychologist Joanne Kilner has lived here for 20 years.

''I'd probably say I come from Sydney,'' she says. After all, it's where she grew up and where all her childhood friends live, she explains.

She says a person's sense of ownership of a city is based on their relationships and the long, cold winters - when many people hibernate - is also a big factor.

One person who shrinks from the cold weather is public relations worker Sophie Morrison.

Originally from Orange, she arrived five years ago and, like many people, thought she would only stay until her four-year university studies had finished.

''Probably toward the end of my degree I started looking for jobs in Canberra,'' the 24-year-old says.

''It would have been easy to pick up and go (after university). But I just like living here.

''You can leave home at 7.50am and be sitting at your desk at 8am.

''And I love summer. I like that it gets hot. I do like that about Canberra, that it has distinct seasons.''

Summer played a big role in one of the most memorable Canberra moments for high school teacher Thea Zimpel.

It had taken her a couple of years to think of herself as a Canberran after moving here in 2003 to study music with composer Larry Sitsky.

She made friends here and joined a running club, which allowed her to appreciate the surrounds.

On this particularly hot day running up Mount Ainslie - a quaint scene which she will always remember - she saw an echidna.

''He was running faster than me,'' she says. ''It was the first time I'd seen one in the wild.''

Now Zimpel is contemplating something that would have never crossed her mind growing up: a Canberra wedding.

A Canberra resident - on and off - for the past 58 years, Barbara Miller, says a person's ownership of the city will not kick in unless there is a moment where they realise all of Canberra's benefits, such as the natural beauty and the huge opportunities for further education (the capital has allowed her to earn three university degrees and five careers and Miller says ''that's where Canberra really comes into its own'').

The way she describes it, it is a time when a person looks at Canberra with fresh eyes, even if they have lived here for years.

''Maybe we should be talking about born-again Canberrans,'' she says.

Miller has lived next to four sets of her neighbours in the suburb of Pearce since 1967.

The psychologist, who specialises in workplaces, is a rare breed: a Canberran in her 60s who grew up in the ACT and still lives here.

She has bumped into school friends she has not seen for decades. As if to qualify her even further, she has worked in the public service and even the classifieds section of The Canberra Times.

The grandmother looks on Canberra as a cultural destination, physically beautiful, which will always lure new arrivals to stay because it is a secure and comfortable place to raise a family.

In her words, a newcomer's ability to socialise will often dictate how quickly they make friends and this, in turn, ensures they are connected to the place.

''It's a transition,'' she says.

''It becomes more difficult for introverts to settle in, it might take longer.''

Her rough guide to knowing you've turned into a Canberran includes the following: you know where Gus's cafe is (it's in Civic); you know where Albert Hall is (Commonwealth Avenue); you know Capital Theatre (the cinemas at Manuka) and Baileys Arcade (also in Civic).

And, of course, there could hardly be a discussion about the capital without reference to the circular layout of many of Canberra's roadways.

''You know you're a Canberran when you know how to navigate a suburb with lots of roundabouts,'' Miller laughs.