All indications are that the capital has been a beacon of sensibleness in this pandemic. The tensions straining other cities don't seem to be so great in Canberra.
In Sydney and Melbourne, there is friction and fracture - conspiracists and mask refuseniks have been prominent - but Canberrans have largely remained sceptical of the sceptics.
Those statements are not just the brash claims of a Canberra cheerleader, but are based on some evidence:
- When The Canberra Times contacted one of the national anti-vaxx groups to find a local representative, the reply was: "We don't really have anybody in Canberra."
- Vaccination rates in the ACT have been higher than elsewhere, at least until Sydneysiders got fear in their eyes and rushed to get jabs.
- The aggressive demonstrations in Sydney and Melbourne against lockdowns and public health measures have not been replicated in Canberra.
- On the latest figures, there have been 123 cases of COVID for every 100,000 Canberrans compared with 445 for the same number in NSW and 345 in Victoria (predominantly Melbourne).
It seems that the quiet groundedness of the ACT is coming good, after decades of sneers from metropolitans. Suburban sensibleness is an unfashionable asset.
Prince Philip's allegation that Canberra had no soul probably went up in smoke with the bushfires of 2003, when Canberrans rallied to help those whose homes had been destroyed.
But the pandemic has cemented the city's reputation of being more than just a nice place to live. It's underlined that there is a glue which binds people - a "social cohesion".
"It's a sense of belonging and most Canberrans do have it," according to Professor Barbara Norman, foundation chair of urban and regional planning at the University of Canberra.
We are benefiting from the shape and situation of the city. In plain English: Canberrans feel loyal to a city which is pleasant. "It is a city in a landscape," she says.
Other cities are now trying to get what Canberra had from the start: greenery in the urban core. Professor Norman cites Chicago, which is "trying to retrofit to bring 'green fingers' back into the city".
This social cohesion has helped us during the pandemic. The structure of government has meant that messaging has been clear and accepted. The daily press conferences in Victoria (and hitherto NSW), on the other hand, have become political.
"I think it's been less political here," Professor Norman says. "It's been more directed to the community and more measured."
She believes that the size of the city makes for a closer connection between those who are governed and those who are governing: "Most people in Canberra feel they can access the Assembly and their Assembly representative, and that brings with it trust and engagement."
A common view among the reporters who cover the daily ACT government press conferences is that information has been well handled, with an emphasis on hard figures unadorned by political spin.
The pandemic has not been politically divisive in the ACT, in the view of one reporter. The Liberal opposition has raised matters of policy - more consideration of the plight of business, for example - but local Liberal politicians have not sought political advantage from the pandemic.
Of course, when infection numbers are low - as they still are compared with Sydney and Melbourne - it's easier for a government to not look so bad. But the size and "togetherness" of Canberra may also have helped.
There is a raft of factors which make for social cohesion, according to Kate Reynolds, a professor of psychology at the Australian National University.
On measures like "trust in other people" and "ability to get support in a crisis", official data indicates the ACT marks higher than the Australian average.
"[Social cohesion] is a social glue that leads to prosperity, especially in the face of disasters and crisis," Professor Reynolds says.
"COVID-19 has shown that we never know when we might need it."
The ACT is also more educated and more middle class, which helps with conveying the health messaging about vaccinations.
Will we be able to keep it up?
That depends. Broader social cohesion is weakening across the country, including in Canberra, according to the data. But paradoxically, according to the market research firm Mainstreet Insights, Australia is witnessing an "increase in parochial pride".
"Those in regional cities have always been wary of 'blow-ins from the big smoke', but now we've reached a point where they are eyeing people from Sydney with suspicion," Mainstreet Insights co-founder Dr Lindsay McMillian says.
The change in Canberra's confidence is not sudden, according to Dr David Headon, a former director of the ANU's Centre for Australian Cultural Studies.
In the 1980s, he says, the reluctant relocation of public servants from Melbourne to Canberra was mostly a one-way trip. They knew they weren't going back.
Even Robert Menzies got to like the place - eventually. His wife and daughter took little persuading. "They came to love Canberra and became advocates for it," Dr Headon says.
Eventually, the jokes faded - or at least seemed more tired. Canberra as "a cemetery with lights" or "several suburbs in search of a city" didn't seem that funny. [Paul Keating's jibe that "if you're not living in Sydney you're just camping out" is funny, but obviously tongue in cheek. Obviously.]
Dr Headon - who literally wrote the book on the history of the Canberra Raiders - thinks a big reason for the growing feeling of cohesion was the success - and style - of the Raiders in the '80s and early '90s, with five grand finals and three premierships.
But Professor Reynolds warns that social cohesion needs nurturing. It is under threat everywhere. Divorce, people living alone and other factors undermine it.
"All of it indicates that, like elsewhere, the ACT needs to think of new ways to counteract the impact of these demographic trends so social cohesion is maintained or strengthened," she says.
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