Famously there was "a certain grandeur" about Gough Whitlam. But will there ever be, can there ever be any grandeur about the Canberra suburb that has been named after him?
The Canberra Timeshas just reported that work began on the suburb on July 1. That news story was enhanced with photographs of two apparently approving members of the great man's family standing somewhere in the howling wilderness where the new suburb's first sods have just been turned in the district's thin, grudging, microorganism-repelling earth.
The naming of our federal capital city's suburbs after famed Australians has always struck me as inappropriate and odd. Even the concept is silly. It is as ill-fitting to call something like a suburb after something like a person as it would be to call a mountain after a fish or a musical instrument after a jelly.
But always a fraught fit (the fitting of a famous name to an unremarkable place) the fitting of so grand a name as Whitlam (for so many of us Gough was and remains a god) to something so dull as a suburb seems especially ill-conceived.
Canberra's suburbs seem especially suburban. I've lived in some so sterile that I felt rather as a laboratory rat must feel in its cage at the laboratory. This has a little to do with the city's relative newness, and perhaps, given hundreds of years, some of Canberra's presently characterless neighbourhoods will blossom into characterful Montmartres.
Meanwhile they city's suburbs lack all character. If, impertinently, you disagree with me, I give you this challenge. Can you define your suburb's unique character? What is the essential Conderness of your Conder (usually mistakenly called and spelled Condor by illiterate real estate agents who never ask themselves how likely it is that a Canberra suburb will be named after a South American species of vulture)? What is uniquely Banksyesque about your suburb of Banks? What is idiosyncratic about your Crace? What is the defining weetangerismo of your Weetangera?
Lest you think I am being pettily suburban about this I admit I find my own suburb entirely forgettable and indistinguishable from the equally undistinguished suburbs that surround it. Without the help of the artificially perfect memory of my car's navigation system I doubt I would ever find my way home to forgettable Garran.
I mentioned the suburbs of Banks and Conder above so as to be able to use them as examples of the conceptual chasm there can be between a commonplace suburb and the extraordinary person it is named after.
Looking on from Heaven how the wondrous impressionist painter Charles Conder, praised by a biographer for the way "He infused his sunny, optimistic conception of Australian nature with wistful romantic overtones, and cast his pictures in decorative shapes and designs which reveal an affinity with aestheticism" must wince to see a suburb, Conder, that has absolutely nothing sunny, optimistic, wistfully romantic and aesthetically exceptional about it.
"What does this suburb have to do with me, with anything I ever imagined and accomplished?" we hear the bewildered painter sigh.
Joseph Banks, the fabulous botanist who rejoiced to see this continent's startling fauna, must groan to see a suburb, Banks, of drab, lookalike, easycare, pittosporum-pocked gardens almost never featuring an Australian plant of any kind let alone any of the Banksias to which he gave his illustrious name.
Imaginative readers (ye precious few!) let us flash forwards to December 2, 2072, to look at the suburb of Whitlam.
It is the 100th anniversary of the election of the visionary, noble, reformist, humane Whitlam government, but not a single denizen of the suburb knows what day this is. Few of them even know who or what a Whitlam was.
The suburb is awful. Whitlam the man had a certain grandeur but Whitlam the suburb has a certain third-rate nondescriptness and is indistinguishable from its neighbour suburbs Abbott, Joyce and Seselja. It is not a leafy suburb because withering climate change has made it impossible to grow healthy trees. The synthetic grass of the suburb's front lawns (real grass being impossible to grow in withered times and in this place's spiteful soils) is bleached and tatty.
In a McMansion high on Whitlam Heights the hatchet-faced members of the Whitlam Residents Association (the grim suburb's movers and shakers) are meeting. Everything in their nasty little NIMBY hearts is alien to everything the great man and his dream-driven government believed in. Not a single thing about these bourgeois swill and their sorry suburban habitat is the slightest bit Whitlamesque.