From a tawdry, cliched perspective, our nation's capital is ... er ... capital

The Queen may be reluctant, but there's a lizard out there ready to wish Canberra a happy 100th.



Dear Canberra, it is with some trepidation that I write to wish you happy birthday for Tuesday.

You are fabulously prickly, which is entirely understandable in a 100-year-old.

The documentary Canberra Confidential, which I helped make for the ABC in honour of your centenary, was screened as a preview at the National Museum last week and was immediately damned by some locals as ''tawdry'' and ''cliched'' for its attention to spies and sex scandals.

Centenary of Canberra historian David Headon groused that the film failed to capture ''Canberra's grand narrative, which is about high-mindedness … it's about the engagement of some of the biggest ideas that human beings have ever come up with, as distinct from tawdry little spies in Canberra''.

Having abjectly failed to televise these bronto-concepts, and faced with the articulate outrage of your dangerously over-educated population, Canberra, I have sought temporary refuge in a clump of reeds just under the surface of Lake Burley Griffin, where I breathe through a straw.

I love you, Canberra, but spies are interesting. They just are. Only in the nation's capital, where every 10th person you meet at the pub says, ''Oh, I work for the Attorney-General's Department'', with eyes just swivelly enough to transmit, as if screamed, the instruction ''ASK ME NO FURTHER QUESTIONS'', are they thought ho-hum.

You bristle at the whole spies/ scandals/politics cliche, I know, Canberra, but it's a queer form of defensiveness - you hate to be thought boring, but you can't stand to be reminded of why you aren't.

Canberra, let me name the ways in which you are wondrously unique. And please, in the interests of an expeditious winter Senate estimates process, let me assure you that this is in no way held out to be an exhaustive list, nor does it represent the organisational view of the ABC.

You are the only city in the world, to my knowledge, to have legalised the sale of fireworks while resolutely banning the construction of domestic front fences. (The fireworks law was corrected a couple of years ago, partly due to a persistent campaign by angry dog owners, the predilection of whose nervous pets to bolt at the detonation of legally purchased Roman candles intermeshed rather unhappily with the second-mentioned statutory anomaly.)

You are stubbornly egalitarian in your application of standards. When the Queen visited Australia in 2000, her jet was unable to land at Canberra Airport because of movement restrictions associated with the grassland earless dragon, a rare lizard thought to dwell nearby.

Only in Canberra could a monarch be so politely but firmly repelled in deference to a reptile whose physiognomy, one would have thought, might give it something of a competitive evolutionary edge in coping with aircraft noise.

The Queen ended up flying in to Sydney, and inconveniencing the ear-bearing residents of Sydney's inner west instead, which is entirely reasonable, but I wonder if you'll get that telegram from her on your 100th birthday, what with the lizard thing and your hearty ''Yes!'' vote for the republic.

It must be tough, granted, to live with the split personality that we - Australians - have obliged you to assume, Canberra. To your residents, you are home. To everyone else, you are a receptacle for events, a function, or in some cases even an imprecation. And that can't be any fun. Sorry about that.

But this most persistent criticism of you - that you are boring - is the one that puzzles me most. You have nursed our federation since it was a nipper. You are the setting for some of our most extravagantly gripping national stories. Your seasons pulse with arrivals and departures: politicians, staffers, bogong moths (pictured), beautifully garbed diplomats, protesters, logrollers, Summernats hoons and great pillows of fog.

All cities have their oddities. But you, Canberra, are unlike any other of your Australian contemporaries, most of whom started out as camps and evolved, as cities commonly do, in spurts and wiggles and efflorescences.

You started as a compromise to the Sydney-Melbourne argument, and then you were a design competition. And the man who prevailed, Walter Burley Griffin, won a most rare and extraordinary prize - the opportunity to plan a city.

What happens when a city is planned? When the capacity for evolutionary surprise is written out of a city's foreseeable geographical future? Where the lake fits perfectly because that's where we dug it, eliminating the necessity for citizens to fit themselves higgledy-piggledy round its edges like ants around a spilt milkshake?

I reckon the human spirit is hard-wired to resist planning.

Where fate has decreed that a populace will live in a neat pattern of gracefully rendered residential arcs and ring-fenced shopping precincts, that populace will find its own way to run wild.

And that's what happened with you, Canberra. To the cartographer's eye, you might be entirely predictable, but on a human level, you are beautifully bizarre.

Happy birthday to you.

Annabel Crabb is the presenter of Canberra Confidential, which screens on Thursday at 8.30pm on ABC1. She tweets at @annabelcrabb