It's been an awkward marriage, but happy anniversary, Canberra
Happy birthday, Canberra! I'm assuming you're reading this at some formal or informal 72-hour celebration of the randomly selected designation of the dirt around you being given an actual name by politicians and the Queen's representative's wife.
Don't I know how to talk up an excuse to party?
I know 2013 marks the centenary of the city we all love, but am I the only one who feels it's a somewhat odd celebration? Don't get me wrong, the city deserves to be celebrated, and it's completely legitimate to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the official naming-founding ceremony. So I'm right there with you . . . even from the other side of the world.
But we all know the secret truth don't we. Canberra as an actual, liveable city was many, many decades away from March 11, 1913. It's a bit like celebrating the day you got married, even though you didn't see your spouse in person for another 40 years.
In case you don't know – Canberra was founded in 1913 but then sat pretty much untouched for decades. A war, depression, another war and general bureaucratic . . ah . . . bureaucracy . . . kept actual development of real, permanent buildings not related to the essential Parliament House stuff to an absolute minimum until the swinging '50s. Which I'm sure is one reason why the rest of Australia thinks Canberra's ugly – architecture in the '50s was generally appalling and then got worse – and why the rest of the world has never heard of the joint.
To me – this kinda bizarre history deepens my feeling for the place. Canberra is the only place I've lived where I feel like I was there when it was all still being built and developing an identity. My family moved there in 1971, which is a long way from 1913, but it was really the "golden era" of development. We lived in Farrer – at that stage the southernmost point of the capital. Hawkesbury Crescent only had houses built on one side of the street – the other side was kangaroo-filled bush. I remember that era clearly, despite being very young. Canberra felt like a place built for little people like me – bike paths everywhere, lots of trees to climb, a local shops, low crime, and streets free of cars. Much of my sixth-grade class at Farrer Primary in 1978 was spent at the completed but unopened Waniassa High School – while my school got new floors. Such was the awkward development process.
And yet here we sit – the centenary of the national capital. So while I say congratulations, may I also urge the rest of the country, and even current residents, to understand Canberra for what it is. The birth certificate may read "old", but the metropolis is remarkably young. Expecting a brand new city, one built during horrible architectural phases, to develop the "character" so many accuse Canberra of lacking is unfair and premature. Happy birthday, Canberra. You are a wonderful, beautiful, flawed place, and you are the absolute epitome of the idea of being 100 years young.
Tim is a writer, TV producer and proud former Canberra resident who has lived in Los Angeles since 1997. Twitter @timschildberger