Just last week a poetry appreciation group I belong to appreciatively discussed the poetry of Judith Wright and this jamboree came only a few days after I had visited the very new federal capital city suburb of Wright, named after her.
I was visiting Wright accidentally, because I was lost and was looking for somewhere else.
For those of us who live in leafy, long-established Canberra (I am ensconced in ye olde Garran where the first sods were turned in the Olden Days of the 1960s) brand-new, being-built-as-we-watch Canberra is a foreign country. They do things differently there.
Driving, lost, round and round Wright, I had a stimulating sense of being out of my comfort zone.
Canberra's comfort zones, especially its leafy, older-suburb suburban comfort zones, must be some of the most deeply, anaesthetisingly comfortable comfort zones there are anywhere on Earth. Those of us who live in them (we are overwhelmingly old, like our suburbs, our houses) seem in a sense to sink into them in the way in which one sinks, perchance to snooze, into the plushly velvety upholstery of a luxury sofa. Wallowing there we decay into patterns of NIMBYism and Liberal voting.
And so accidentally and involuntarily touring Wright was to be stimulated by the unfamiliar, by the exciting infancy of new suburbia, so different to the established gerontosuburbia one has sunk into.
Then, poignantly, there is an old man's twilight contemplation, as his days dwindle down to a precious few, of suburban places where the pioneering young are at the dawns of their lives. They will live to see the full flowering of socialist paradise just begun by the result of last election.
My excursion knew mystery and mystique, too.
I was out there in uncharted Molonglo looking for the reported-to-exist suburb of Denman Prospect but never found it or ever even saw a sign mentioning it and pointing the way to it. Is there such a suburb? Is it, like the magical Scottish village in the Hollywood musical Brigadoon (1954), a miraculously blessed suburb that rises out of the mists every 100 years and then for only for only a day?
Wright (named after the beloved and celebrated poet once dubbed 'the conscience of the nation' for her passionate writing and activism on behalf of Fist Nations people and the environment) is feverishly growing and being feverishly built before one's eyes.
Cranes are busy and tradies are teeming there on big suburb-centre buildings and on the homes of the pioneers. If in ye olde Canberra you are struggling to find tradie yeomen and yeowomen to perform relatively small feats of their magic at your place it may be because there is more gainful employment for them at Wright and perhaps even, if it is exists at all (which I doubt) at the rumoured suburb of Denman Prospect.
Lost in Wright one was reminded of how the ACT policy of naming places after folk (their qualifications for that dubious honour always including their being safely dead) often seem so fraught.
In the case of Wright the poet and Wright the suburb this seems especially the case. Those of who know her poetry and her passionate green and environmental concerns may wonder what she might make, if with us today, of the suburb named after her.
Wright, the suburb, is emblematic of suburban sprawl and of sometimes vulgar and environment-ignoring appetites for ostentatious, motel-sized, wildlife-repelling McMansions. These homes have no gardens because they brim to their blocks' very edges with multiple bedrooms, games rooms, polySUV garages and home cinemas. With us today could Judith bear to live in a place like 'her' Wright?
Perhaps what feels so fraught about this naming of places after people (and surely one day Canberra will sprawl to contain suburbs with names like Seselja, Kyrgios and Pocock) is that the achievements of the people whose names are used have had nothing whatsoever to do with any of the arts of town planning and suburb making.
How can a bricks-and-mortar/cement-and-concrete place of kerbs and gutters, of shopping centres and Kentucky Fried Chicken emporiums, of car parks, stormwater drains and sewer infrastructures reflect anything of someone who excelled at morally serious poetry (in the case of Judith Wright)? Being so prosaic how can it, the suburb, speak of someone like Gough Whitlam (already with a growing suburb in his name) who imparted a certain grandeur to public-political life?
How will the inevitable suburbs of Kyrgios and Pocock show and tell anything of the stories of the colourful, athletic, accomplished superheroes they are named after?
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How will the inevitable suburb of Seselja be able with mere infrastructure and gardenless McMansions capture and reflect the charismatic essence of the forgotten statesman (for the pioneers who move into Seselja in the 2080s will have no idea who or what a Seselja once was) whose name it bears?
Alert to this phenomenon and aware of the terrible risk of having a godforsaken suburb named after me (in a well-meant but inappropriate attempt to honour my services to the city as a journalist, historian and Pétanque legend) my will specifically forbids my name ever being attached to a built suburban place.
If my name is to be attached to anywhere, my last will and testament shyly asks, perhaps it can be to a modest copse of native trees (their leaves susurrating musically in the breeze) in a far corner of the National Arboretum, or to a little reedy inlet of Lake Burley Griffin at a place where platypuses play.
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Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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