Centenary of Canberra history and heritage advisor Dr David Headon unveils some of the treasures related to Canberra's 1913 foundation stones and naming cermonies. What more could you want? Photo: Karleen Minney
Take a walk around Canberra early in this new year of 2013 and tell me: does it feel like the city is at the centre of a national celebration of our capital?
There are no big new things, no large-scale signs yelling ''We're 100!'', and no changes to the way our various town centres look or feel. Slap bang in the middle of our city is the same as it always was: one big land grab from the Canberra Centre (Queensland Investment Corp) and a useless outdoor screen in Garema Place. A photo of downtown Canberra five years ago would look exactly the same as now.
It's 2013, our great city is 100 years old. Where's my pony?
The centenary project team will tell you there's a telephone-book-worth of events throughout the year to celebrate the milestone. A quick glance - and a regular remark by nearly everyone I have spoken to - shows you that the Canberra Centenary program is simply full of events that would have been on anyway: the futsal and mountain bike championships; the Lights! Canberra! Action! short film festival; National Gallery, National Museum and Canberra Museum and Art Gallery exhibitions, performances by Bell Shakespeare at the Canberra Theatre, Enlighten, Floriade … the list goes on. Even events scheduled for our official birthday - Canberra Day, Monday, March 11 - are similar to previous years. But if wondering: yes, there will be a big cake.
Let's be honest about the events that have been programmed for our 100th-year celebrations: is anyone really inspired by the world's longest bubbly bar on the lake? Give me an account for trestle tables and white linen table cloths at Barlens Event Hire and I'll build one for you tomorrow. How about a ballet celebrating the construction of new Parliament House? Is that the sound of Canberra's youth I hear rushing to Ticketek? But how silly of me: The Canberra Times has the centenary logo on the front page of the paper every day. What more do you want?
It takes a great deal more than a glossy brochure, some ''slick'' (read: formulaic and bland) advertisements and an interactive website to excite an entire population about the evolution of our national capital and what makes the ACT one of the best places to live, not only in Australia but also the world. I think Canberra's citizens are extremely proud of our place as the nation's heart, but the ACT government has done very little to spark the imagination of the public about our 100th year. Centenary creative director Robyn Archer has done more to promote and discuss Canberra and the events on offer on the Lithuanian speaking circuit than she has done here in her ''home'' city. The public just don't ''feel it'' at the moment. They don't yet ''own'' the celebration. For it to work, we need to feel that connection - and we should have felt it from day one.
One of our major events, Summernats, the kick-off to the ACT's annual events calendar, hardly even rated a mention from the centenary. If the 'Nats wasn't worthy of massive centenary branding and funding to do something special for our 100th year - for being a real and identifiable part of the culture of our city, like it or not - I don't know what is. Yet you can bet your bottom dollar that when the government calculates its annual tourism figures, the Summernats crowd will be included as part of our ''massive year of events to celebrate Canberra's Centenary''. I can almost write Tourism Minister Andrew Barr and Chief Minister Katy Gallagher's cheesy joint press release of next January right now.
I am sure we are going to see a plethora of Canberra 100 celebrations over the coming months, and some of them will be fantastic fun I'm sure. But the starter's gun was fired at midnight, December 31 and the centenary team has offered little to excite in the first few days of our celebration. It seems that with all of the cool events they have on offer, they forgot to make our city feel happier, brighter, celebratory - different in any way.
However, if you feel like kicking off celebrations now, though, do pop around to my place where the world's smallest bubbly bar is in operation.
Jorian Gardner is a journalist and commentator, theatre producer and former director of Canberra's Fringe Festival.