Busted: The truth about Canberra's 20-minute driving myth

It's one of the lines we call on most when selling - and defending - Canberra to our interstate friends.

"It's 20 minutes to anywhere".

But guess what Canberra? I'm calling BS. And I'm also - controversially - calling on the entire city to stop using one of its overused "unique selling points" and start telling the truth.

Because I've done the hard yards. I took it upon myself to actually do the research. I visited obscure suburbs like Oxley, downright scary suburbs like Higgins and endured thousands of roadside election posters along the Tuggeranong Parkway in my quest for the truth.

Is it really 20 minutes to anywhere in Canberra?

Banks to Dunlop (south to north): The truth

Where else to test the outrageous claim so loved by Canberrans but by driving from the deep south to far north?

I fill up the tank of my Nissan X-trail (or Sex Trail as I lovingly refer to her) and start out at the graffiti-ed suburb sign of Banks, ACT. It's cold here, I guess given its proximity to Jindabyne, and I suddenly understand why Geocon recently named its new Tuggeranong development after the snow fields of Aspen.

The experiment starts in deep south at Banks, just a stone's throw from Cooma.

The experiment starts in deep south at Banks, just a stone's throw from Cooma.

I set "Dunlop" on the GPS (I have to be vague because I literally have no idea of any of the street names in Dunlop) and start my trip. Choosing Dunlop for my research has almost cost me a couple of friendships; one friend was adamant the most northerly suburb of Canberra is Bonner, while another was disgusted I wasn't undertaking more thorough research by driving to 2618 - the gorgeous northern township of Hall.

As I head to Dunlop, posters for Zed Seselja and Ed Cocks appear in my peripheral vision in alternating flashes and before long I'm driving past that public artwork (near Wanniassa?) on the Parkway that looks like a bunch of mangled goldfish.

Staying hydrated on the drive to north Canberra.

Staying hydrated on the drive to north Canberra.

Traffic heading north on the Parkway is light and the view of the Arboretum through to Telstra Tower is quintessential Canberra. I love it. As a Queanbeyan girl who works in Fyshwick, I rarely get to see the capital beyond the south-east side of Lake Burley Griffin.

At the 20-minute mark, I'm nowhere near Dunlop. I've made it as far as the Black Mountain Reserve car park. Great if I'm going bushwalking, but I'm stuck in the car doing important research.

It hits me along the barren drive along William Hovell Drive that I've encountered no roadwork. Like zero. It's a shock. Canberrans are famous for whingeing about roadwork. It turns out I've spoken too soon as I slow down to 40km/h for the new lights at the intersection of William Hovell and John Gorton drives.

My Olympic-standard stopwatch (okay iPhone, same same) reveals the truth about the drive from south to north.

My Olympic-standard stopwatch (okay iPhone, same same) reveals the truth about the drive from south to north.

The wannabe pollies posters have changed to women - Leanne Castley and Alicia Payne - and I have a few "aha" moments as I'm cruising along: "So that's where Higgins is! And there is no suburb called Kippax - it's just the name of the shops at Holt!"

By the time I hit Dunlop I feel like I've been driving for hours.

Travel time: 32 minutes, 50 seconds

Holt to Oaks Estate (west to east): The truth

For stage two of the experiment, I'm driving from the far west shopping district of "Kippax Fair" (who knew there was a McDonalds this far out?) to the oft-forgotten and misunderstood suburb of Oaks Estate, ACT. (I'm thrilled: Oaks Estate is my favourite Canberra suburb, not only because it's the closest suburb to Queanbeyan but also because it's this fascinating mix of the rich and the poor).

Back along William Hovell Drive and through to Parkes Way - hello posters of Mina Zaki - to the fluorescent tunnel my kids love (mostly because it means we're going to Big Splash at Jamison for the day).

Past Civic, and at the 20-minute mark I'm driving right alongside the Canberra Airport runway on Pialligo Avenue. Handy if I'm flying out to Sydney, but you know that's not the case. I'm doing important research for readers of The Canberra Times.

I finally switch off the X-trail engine, dodge my way through broken glass, Hungry Jack's wrappers and an old shoe to have my photo taken with the Oaks Estate sign.

Stoked to arrive in Oaks Estate after the long drive from Holt.

Stoked to arrive in Oaks Estate after the long drive from Holt.

Travel time: 28 minutes, 36 seconds

The verdict

Stop lying to yourself and your interstate mates, Canberra. It's not "20 minutes to anywhere".

It might be 20 minutes from town centre to town centre, but for those poor sods who live in Bonner and work at Caroline Chisholm Centre in Tuggers, it's highly offensive to reduce their commute to just a few minutes.

And don't get the people of Gungahlin who drive down Horse Park Drive and then onto the Monaro Highway started. That takes hours.

I'm calling on Canberrans to be brave and tell it like it is. To admit we've grown up: to a bigger city with new suburbs on its outskirts and a bright red shiny train running through its heart.

It's time to proudly exclaim: "It's 30 minutes to anywhere!"