In defence of Tuggeranong - it has a soul and we see it every day

In defence of Tuggeranong - it has a soul and we see it every day

It pretty much hurt my heart when I read comments this week about Tuggeranong being in decline and a place losing its soul.

I live there and see evidence of a soul there every day

The view  from the top of Urambi Hills Nature reserve looking down on Oxley / Wanniassa   Canberra.

The view from the top of Urambi Hills Nature reserve looking down on Oxley / Wanniassa Canberra. Credit:Colleen Petch

And it's in the smallest things.

Take Marta Georgiadis. She's worked at the Erindale newsagency for four years and every time I go in there she is full of life and laughter and good-natured banter.

The view of Tuggeranong Town Centre from on top of Urambi Hills Nature reserve Canberra.

The view of Tuggeranong Town Centre from on top of Urambi Hills Nature reserve Canberra. Credit:Colleen Petch

She makes my day as she plays around to get a smile out of my one-year-old son. Marta is the definition of the good people who live in Tuggeranong and makes me happy to be there.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week showing families were flocking to Gungahlin while deserting Tuggeranong, the original Nappy Valley, prompted comments that Tuggeranong was losing its soul, that it was lacking in community, safety and quality education.

Mrs Georgiadis just scoffs at those kind of comments and says she'd never live in Gungahlin.

"They don't have backyards!" she said, with an exasperated laugh. "We've got parks, we've got a lake, we've got picnic areas. And it's the people. They're wonderful."

There's no surprise young families are heading north where the new house and land packages are being rolled out just as they were in the mid-70s as Tuggeranong was being developed.

That doesn't meant Tuggeranong has become a place suddenly devoid of children and life and families and community.

Tuggeranong's soul and sense of community are more than evident in the fantastic teachers at my daughter's preschool. They are the definition of quality education. And that is present in schools and teachers across Tuggeranong.

How can you not see soul in the Brindabellas? Whether its in the shimmering heat of a summer's day or on a still, cold evening as the sun goes down and they are backlit against a pink sky?

There's soul in those swans swimming with their cygnets across Lake Tuggeranong. Really, they're all I need to know everything is right with the world, for at least that one moment.

I see community down at the Tuggeranong dog park where strangers talk to each other. Yes, really!

The Christmas carols in Tuggeranong Town Park are special. Not particularly flash. But warm and family-orientated. Not to be missed.

I feel a real sense of peace and contentment walking the back lanes around my neighbourhood. I can walk in safety with a pram and a dog and enjoy the beauty of established gardens. I've never felt frightened in the local parks.

Former long-time Labor Member for Brindabella, John Hargreaves, who has lived in Tuggeranong since 1984, can be counted on to sum up the poetic quality of the place, particularly its natural beauty.

"It has a softness and a gentle beauty and a quietness and that country-town feel," he said.

"People always say Canberra is like a big country town, it's not. The last vestiges of a country town are in Tuggeranong.

That doesn't mean Tuggeranong does not need attention in some areas. Improving its amenity is a discussion that needs to be had. Families who are struggling need support. The absolute dearth of big-ticket infrastructure needs to be questioned. The town centre does need to be revitalised.

Mr Hargreaves agrees wholeheartedly but he is also worried about that concern for Tuggeranong becoming "a self-fulfilling prophecy".

"I don't put this at the feet of the media, I put this at the feet of the people who are commenting to the media," he said.

"Don't talk the place down - people will leave."

Yet Mr Hargreaves and ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja both agree Tuggeranong has been ignored by successive ACT and federal governments in terms of big-ticket infrastructure.

Mr Hargreaves calls Tuggeranong the "Cinderella of the South" because "everyone else seems to get a lion's share of resources".

"I've been banging my head against a brick wall for 20 years or so, trying to convince people, chief ministers I worked with, and various ones I worked against, that they need to have some balance around the Territory and Tuggeranong is suffering an imbalance of opportunity," he said.

"....We don't have a hospital in Tuggeranong, we don't have a major stadium. We have no universities."

Mr Hargreaves also believes cuts to public service jobs in Tuggeranong over the years means ultimately most discretionary income is being spent "north of Tuggeranong". And the private sector "follows the public service dollar".

"Look at Belconnen - it's a thriving town centre. It's got an industrial area, it's got universities, it's got the stadium, it's got hospitals, it's got everything," he said.

"Over the years, because of government policy, Tuggeranong has developed into a series of dormitory suburbs where people will live there but work somewhere else.

"My idea was that people could be born, be educated, have their children, work and die and be buried in Tuggeranong. But that will never happen because everywhere else has got the largesse of government. Whether it's deliberate because people have been political about wanting to keep their own seats in tact or whether it's the planners and the policy, I don't know."

Mr Hargreaves maintains every time he lobbied for more resources for Brindabella, the counter argument from some of his Assembly colleagues was that "to be electorally successful we had to concentrate on Molonglo and Ginninderra". He says he tried to fight that thinking and made himself unpopular with some of his colleagues as a result.

"I used to jump up and down at budget time and all we'd get was a bit more roadworks. Where was our public hospital?," he said.

There's perhaps no surprise when the government's light rail project is squarely focused on a northern line between Gungahlin and Civic, that a survey last year found the strongest opposition to the project was in Tuggeranong.

"We could just as easily have the tramway from Woden to Tuggeranong to the same [revitalising] effect," Mr Hargreaves said.

Mr Seselja, a former Liberal opposition leader in the ACT and life-long resident of Tuggeranong, believes constituents in Brindabella aren't necessarily rusted-on conservative voters but they have been registering an anti-Labor protest vote in more recent times to express their displeasure at being seemingly ignored in terms of significant projects.

He said moves by the Canberra Liberals at the 2012 election such as promising to build a $15 million indoor pool in the Lanyon Valley of Tuggeranong did resonate with voters. The Liberal Party in Brindabella in 2012 enjoyed an 11.1 per cent swing to it, while Labor had a 0.9 per cent swing against it and the Greens an even more dramatic swing against them of 5.7 per cent.

"We connected. We said, 'We will do things for you and bring facilities'. And they feel the government hasn't been doing that in the last decade or so," he said.

"I think the southern part of Tuggeranong, in particular, feels most neglected. They are on the outer edge of town. There's very few community facilities. At Lanyon, there's an oval, there's a shopping centre and a club. I think a pool would be very important, particularly for the people of southern Tuggeranong.

"The other thing is genuine tertiary education facilities. I know they're talking about the TAFE [expansion in Tuggeranong] but I don't think it's a genuine campus at this point. They need some serious vocational training there and some opportunities for young people in Tuggeranong as opposed to other areas."

Mr Seselja has also campaigned strongly to have housing developed in Tuggeranong to the west of the Murrumbidgee River, not least to give a boost to the town centre, and make it truly at the geographical heart of the area, rather than on the western fringe.

"That really does undermine the town centre, the way that it's built and makes it more difficult for business to thrive," he said.

Mr Seselja says he sees Tuggeranong's soul in everything from his son's footy team, the Valley Dragons, to lunch with friends and family at the Rose Cottage Inn.

"Tuggeranong is a beautiful place to live. Wonderful people. A lot of open space and natural beauty. I think people who live here understand what a great place it is," he said.