Bill Bryson will appear at Canberra Royal Theatre on March 21.

Bill Bryson will appear at Canberra Royal Theatre on March 21. Photo: Simon Schluter

There's not much that riles Canberrans up more than outsiders telling them what they think of the place.

And so it was that Bill Bryson, who visited Canberra for his 2000 book on Australia, Down Under, is still remembered in the nation's capital for his brutal portrayal of the fair city.

He marvelled at the fact that former prime minister John Howard – who he described as having the charisma of ‘‘a very committed funeral home director’’ – would rather live in Sydney rather than in the national capital.

“When a man as outstandingly colourless as John Howard turns his nose up at a place, you know it must be worth a look,” Bryson wrote. 

“Canberra,’’ he concluded in his description of the city, with a deadpan flouish. ‘‘Why wait for death?”

But Bryson, who is preparing to visit Canberra next week as part of his national tour of Australia, now laughingly describes himself as a reformed Canberra basher.

“I was a little hard on Canberra,” he admits with a chuckle. “I’ve been back a couple of times since and I’ve mellowed towards it considerably. The problem with Canberra was not really with Canberra, it was more me, because it’s just the most impossible city to take on foot, and I was on foot.

‘‘Because it was built on the most monumental scale, it was obviously designed to be impressive and to be full of, you know, great avenues and with that big lake in the middle and all of that; which is great if you’re on a bus or in a car, but if you’re actually on foot, it can be pretty frustrating.’’

He maintains that Canberra is a ‘‘strange city’’, but said he had returned several times after writing his book, and been taken out to local restaurants and bars, ‘‘and I’ve discovered a side to the city that I didn’t see when I wrote the book”.

Bryson will appear at Canberra’s Royal Theatre, National Convention Centre, at 8pm on Friday, March 21, in conversation with Ray Martin. Tickets are $85-185 through Ticketek. Visit www.ticketek.com.au or phone 132 849.