Why we love the capital
Hot air balloons soar above Lake Burley Griffin, with the National Museum of Australia in the foreground. Photo: Rohan Thomson
It's often as simple as the view at a spot on your drive home. Or a cafe that makes eggs just the way that you like them.
It's the little things that build affection and fondness until, before you know it, you're a Canberran.
On Saturday we heard from 100 Canberrans who told us what they loved about the capital. Now we've made our list in The Canberra Times newsroom, pulling ideas from journalists in sports, food and wine, arts, business and other rounds.
The west basin area of Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Stuart Walmsley
And the things we love about Canberra are often the little things. They're definitely not the things the rest of the nation associates with the capital - they're the things we love because we live in this city and we discovered them bit by bit.
Food & Wine editor Kirsten Lawson picks a bench under the mist in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia while education editor Emma Macdonald loves the walk along Grant Crescent in Griffith in autumn under a canopy of richly-coloured leaves.
Centenary reporter Sally Pryor points to an suburban delight: the peacock clan that roams Narrabundah and Griffith. Health reporter Peter Jean notes that the late-night trip to Chicken Gourmet is a Canberra rite of passage, while sports reporter Lee Gaskin nominates both Mooseheads and the iconic Dragons v Raiders clash.
Snow on the Brindabellas. snow.jpg Photo: Karleen Minney
Others who have pitched in include our Marco Mana, Scott Hannaford, J.P. Moloney, Lisa Whitaker, Karleen Minney, Megan Doherty, Natasha Rudra, Grant Newton, Sanjay Bhosale, Tegan Osborne, Michael Inman, Hamish Boland Rudder, Ross Peake, Lee Gaskin, Karen Hardy, John Thistleton and Ian Warden.
What we love
- Tidbinbilla Sanctuary wetlands. Another example of how we turned the 2003 bushfire disaster into an opportunity. Childhood memories of being menaced by emus in a dusty car park are now replaced by a stroll with my own kids around the wetlands. A bonus is spotting one of the resident platypuses.
J. P. Moloney
- The abundance of theatre. Professional touring productions are always good to see but it's the locally produced stuff done by people for the love of it - the true meaning of amateur - that often surprises in its range and quality. Companies like Everyman, Rep, Philo and Supa, have dedicated members both on and off stage and there's a lot of fine local talent. Whether it's a musical, a comedy or a drama, whether it's a new local production or a revival, the standard is remarkably good.
- Looking at second-hand books. Whether it's in stores like Canty's in Fyshwick or visiting the huge Lifeline Book Fairs, there are always treasures to find, including many previously unknown ones. Forget other digital formats - nothing beats the look and the feel of a good book.
Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Photo: Glen McCurtayne
- The cafe culture. A few of my favourites would have to be Mocan & Green Grout, Two Before Ten, Piallago Cafe and Ricardo's Cafe. Nothing better than a smoked salmon benny, a Piccolo latte and a copy of the Saturday Times to start the weekend.
- The walk along Lake Burley Griffin - winding along the waterfront, watching the runners, the cyclists, the strolling lovers and little kids on their trikes, down to a coffee at Bookplate overlooking the plaza and then home again.
- The sound of hot-air balloons in March. Particularly if you live inner south, you're liable to be woken on a weekend morning by the soft, hissing sound of a hot-air balloon jet as a group of balloonists drift by your window. If you're lucky, you'll see the balloon float into view. So Canberra.
- Pialligo Alpacas - rows of inquisitive, furry white faces that suddenly appear over a fence in the middle of Pialligo amid orchards, gardening stores and under the roar of descending airplanes. Cute, unexpected, gorgeous.
- Mount Taylor - the walk up, the views, the companionship of the dog walkers, the man who leaves water up the top for the dogs, the people who venture up on New Year's Day to greet a fresh year with a spectacular view.
Lifeline Bookfair at EPIC. Photo: Graham Tidy
- Farrer Ridge - the wildflower walk every year, the kangaroos who are always around a certain bend, the same friendly faces.
- The back lanes/footpaths through the suburbs. You can walk through suburbs with dog and child in tow in relative peace, away from roads and cars and discover some beautiful secret gardens.
- Lake Tuggeranong after the rain - the lake is much-loved but comes in for a fair hammering from stormwater pollution and way too many shopping trolleys dumped in it near the town centre. But in the lovely calm following a good fall of rain it seems refreshed.
- The Kingston miniature railway run by the Canberra Society of Model and Experimental Engineers is loved by kids and parents alike. Meticulously cared for and a lot of fun.
- The food culture. From fine dining to grungy cafes and ethnic restaurants, there is a colourful mix across Canberra. Dickson is known for its Asian influences, the inner city has bustling cafes, and Braddon has an artistic atmosphere, just to name a few. Then there's the markets if you want to make your own food.
- All four seasons: I have lived in five states of Australia but have never experienced such definite seasonal change. Hot, hot summers, colourful yet windy springs, bitterly cold sub-zero winter days with cheery bright blue skies and the cherry on top is the most beautiful range of colours on our deciduous trees in the autumn. The differing lights in each quarter are a photographers challenge and delight.
- Rowing on a glass-like Lake Burley Griffin on a cold winter morning. You can see the snow on the Brindabellas and a beautiful sunrise. When hot-air balloons pass over head and release gas - you get a blast of hot air that makes you, however briefly, feel your fingers again.
The National Autumn Balloon Spectacular, in 2008. Photo: Anthony Caffery
- If you can't get up early enough to join the rowing hoards you can see exactly what it was you missed out on when you check out The Canberra Times Lake View blog of one dedicated local kayaker Paul Jurak. He hits the lake every morning to record the glorious sunrises the rest of us sleep through.
- Crunchy Gala apples from Pialligo, which are in season from late February and all through autumn. They're little, crisp and tangy and you can buy them from their growers.
- The lonely stone cottages and ramshackle weatherboard cottages scattered around gold mining villages east of Canberra. One day these will be restored into treasures.
- The wonderful drives south into the ranges, whether it be to Mount Stromlo or points further on. The landscapes just get better and better as the hills become mountains and the city becomes a fading memory.
- The Australian War Memorial. The heart of a nation, this is a superbly managed memorial-cum-museum and display in which it is possible to lose yourself for days at a time. Even the tiniest relics can tell the stories of entire lives, many of which were cut tragically short. Don't forget to check out the individual memorials to units and actions that are scattered around the precinct - and be awed by that massive German gun that is on display on the western side of the main building.
- The Dawn Services at the War Memorial. Assembling with the young and old, the veterans and the VIPs at the misty base of Mount Ainslie on April 25 each year. There is always a chill in the air until the sun breaks through the clouds. The atmosphere is solemn and the minute's silence is almost always broken by raucous bird - song. It is Mount Ainslie, after all.
- The Hyatt, another landmark building that is in its own way a repository of decades of history and far classier than some of the more modern hostelries that have been added to the city's temporary accommodation mix.
- The trees in winter. Lots of people find the skeletal branches etched on the sky on freezings days depressing, but I love them. The thick summer foliage is luscious, and shades the trees in summer, but in winter, the leaves have obligingly made way for much-needed light.
- The Narrabundah peacocks. Kangaroos in the streets are hardly a novelty in Canberra, but I will never get used to the thrill of seeing an entire family of brilliant, picture-book peacocks roaming the streets of Narrabundah and Griffith.
- Watching a group of kangaroos traverse the city streets on a hot evening - grazing on the lawns of the War Memorial and moving en masse to Corroboree Park.
- Cycling around the city. I've never lived anywhere where cyclists have been so well catered for. The trails at Stromlo are world-class, although a shorter and less strenuous ride around the Eastern and Central basin of LBG is my current Sunday-morning favourite.
- Strolling down one of Canberra's most glorious streets, Grant Crescent in Griffith, just behind the Manuka shops. The American Elm trees [ulmus americana] form an arc over the road which is beautiful in any season but truly gobsmacking in autumn.
- The best laksas in the world? A big call maybe but Dickson Asian Noodle House has a following that borders on fanatical.
- Sculpture Garden Sunday at the National Gallery. It's one thing to quietly view the exhibits of this world-class institution and quite another to let the kids run wild during the open day for families.
- Gorman House Market. Saturday mornings would not be complete without a stroll through the craft and food markets, which pop up in the courtyards of this elegant old arts centre. Partake of ethnic food stalls as incense wafts over second-hand books and locally grown vegetables.
- O-Weeks. This university town takes on distinct buzz as thousands of students flock to the Australian National University and University of Canberra for orientation in early February. There's the usual live bands, food stalls and beer but also a lot of quite crazy activity including a mass tomato fight which takes place on the ANU's Fellows Oval.
- Fyshwick Markets. Why feed the kids breakfast when you can walk from one end of the vast open-air markets on a Saturday or Sunday and liberally partake of the fruit and vege on offer? Go in the afternoon for wine, beer and whisky tasting.
- Canberra is full of foodies, and often, creative genius. Braddon baker Sam Walker has forged a reputation for unique and delectable sweet treats sold under the Amore label. Our pick are the rose muffins with their centre of Turkish delight.
- The doors. Parliament House has lots of them, but the House of Representatives and Senate doors are where it's at during a sitting week with a hot issue running. Journalists voracious for a morning lead stake out the doors and ambush the politicians as they try and get in the building. Hapless tourists and morning walkers can sometimes get caught up in the fray. What the pollies do or don't say often very quickly becomes an entirely new story.
- The Big Mushroom at the Belconnen Markets and children's play areas inside suburban clubs. In a city known for chilly winters and hottish summers, covered and indoor playgrounds are lifesaver for stir-crazy children and parents.
- The possums in the roof of the toilet block at Black Mountain Peninsula. Can't sit too long because you never know when they might pounce.
- Chicken Gourmet in Civic. Sydney has Harry's Cafe de Wheels, Adelaide has a Pie Cart, Canberra has Chicken Gourm. Chips and gravy at 1am is a vital rite-of-passage for the capital's young adults.
- Taking the car for a spin along the swooping curves of the Tidbinbilla road, which also has great scenery with mountains, valleys and the dish in the background.
- The yabby ponds at Mount Majura, they're seething with yabbies, which are excellent fun to catch (and leeches, not so).
- Sculpture Garden pond where it stays cool under the trees even at 38 degrees. There's a bench seat that must be the most ergonomically perfect in the city.
- The place is full of trees so it is also home to loads of birds. I love the early morning birdsong in Canberra.
Love the way Canberrans are a little to the rational/liberal/left of the nation so that it's so rare to meet mad racists and people who say they've been abducted and probed by aliens or have had visions of the Virgin while playing golf.
Love the way frost collects in the wire around the tennis courts at Reid so that on frosty mornings you're playing surrounded by diamonds.
The galleries/performances/happenings/displays scene is so vast and varied now so that, just as if you lived in St Petersburg or Sydney or Shanghai, you can only see a fraction of what's on.
I love the way the city's fogeys are dying out and losing their power to stop NEW things happening.
I love the way the giant metal junk eagle sculpture at the Arboretum is so content he never flies off to see anywhere else. Noticed today his wings are full of cobwebs. So he's not bothering to leave paradise.
Love the way Canberra painters and photographers are at last capturing the city's warts, after decades of chocolate boxyness. Still too many swans, though.
But I do think an exercise about what we don't like about Canberra/Canberrans would be entertaining, too.
- The "Party Time" watch Canberra Raiders star Sandor Earl has tattooed on his wrist - you try not to smile when you see it.
- Canberra has a great live music scene that is quite separate from the main gig venues (which are pretty good, too). There are a number of cool little cafes and bars, and cafes in bookshops even, where you can meet up with friends, have a cuppa and listen to a folkie singing in the corner or hear a little jazz combo find its groove. In many of these places you can discover some superb original music from local musicians. Or relax to some fine acoustic blues or Neil Young and Bob Dylan covers. The whole scene conjures up images of what Greenwich Village must have been like way back in the early '60s when the likes of Dylan and Joan Baez were paying their dues. Part of the beauty though is that in Canberra you have to go out of your way to find some of these venues. Some are literally underground.
- The retro design of the cartons and ethos of Canberra Milk, however it does annoy me that I can't find it in some of the major supermarkets. I may have the palate of a three-year-old but the Canberra Choc Milk is like a chilled George Clooney - delicious, smooth and a timeless classic.
- That on the block where I work, I could go out at lunch time, buy a car, some zucchini fritters, a bicycle, a wedding dress and get laid.
- Walking home enmasse from the Brumbies home matches, supporters crammed onto the bike path in the pitch black in the freezing cold and being polite about it.
- The fact that we all get so worked up about the commute. It's 20 minutes people.
- The fact that everyone knows someone you know so you can never be too careful when you're bad mouthing someone.
- The panic that every student goes into once the fluff starts falling.
- That people will actually stop for ducks crossing the road. Cyclists, maybe not, but ducks yes.
- Taking photos in the autumn light. I'm a keen snapper, but strictly amateur. I stand in awe of the photographers with whom I work at The Canberra Times. As the autumn leaves begin to fall around the ACT, the sunlight becomes less harsh, especially in the ''golden hour'' around dawn and dusk, and presents endless opportunities for photography.
- One word - Mooseheads. You haven't had a night out in Canberra until you've got ''loose at the Moose''. Yes, the music's straight from a teenage girl's playlist and don't be surprised to be constantly bumping shoulders to get a drink. But it's a rite of passage every newcomer to Canberra needs to experience … if only once.
- Even if you're not a Canberra Raiders fan, one game every year not to miss is the match with the Dragons. In one of the great hoodoos of Australian sport, St George Illawarra hasn't won in the national capital since 2000. Dragons have some of the most passionate supporters in the NRL.
- That while out with my mates on a Sunday morning I can find myself cycling along next to the Opposition leader/the bloke who owns the airport/the former Chief of Defence or a guy who came 10th in the Tour de France.
- The National Multicultural Festival. For three glorious days in February, I can snack and drink my way around the globe. Everyone in Canberra turns up and mixes harmoniously; there never seems to be any trouble. Proof that the path to tolerance is through the stomach.
- The Brindabellas. In the fog, when it snows, against a stark blue backdrop, at sunrise and sunset. Often when I'm out driving, they loom up on the horizon unexpectedly and make me catch my breath. Almost always they leave me humbled.
- Cute cafes and corner stores in the middle of the suburbs. The ''corner store'' has disappeared in many Australian cities, which makes Canberra's ''local shops'' culture a rarity.
- Manuka Oval. It's such a spectacular setting. Watching a cricket match and whiling away a long, lazy summer afternoon, keeping one eye on proceedings while taking in the beautiful surrounds, is surely a highlight for me. Worth travelling many a mile for.
- The Murrumbidgee River - taking a long, slow stroll along the bank of one of the nation's iconic waterways, fishing rod in one hand and a day-pack slung over the shoulder. The natural beauty, the abundant wildlife and the genuine feeling of being a "million miles from anywhere''.
- The childhood memories - of flogging afternoon newspapers by the score to dodgy looking blokes in the smoke-filled gambling dens of civic - of my dad battling brown snakes in the backyard. So many more, all of them priceless.
- The Lifeline Bookfair. Twice a year at Exhibition Park, 200,000 books are waiting. And the crowd is so eager. On the first day, they queue for hundreds of metres. I curate the politics section which is always in the furthest corner from the entrance from where I have a grand view of the race to the car maintenance books. By noon on the first day, the hall is full and the cash registers are rattling. The hundreds of Lifeline volunteers are there because they love books - who doesn't? - and because they want to put their volunteering time into a worthwhile cause.
- Parliament House. It's a beautifully designed building, with its intricate woodwork, ornate courtyards and long carpeted corridors. Children delight in seeing the prawns entombed in the marble steps leading to the first floor.
- And for something a bit left of field, Haig Park is one of the great, bizarre parts of Canberra. With the thick lines of trees blocking much of the light to the few paths that cross below, the long, narrow tract would make an ideal setting for a horror film.
- I love that at the end of the day I can turn my computer off and within 15 minutes be climbing a hill through the bush, dodging kangaroos, and still make it home in time for dinner.