Although not as profound as a road-to-Damascus experience this columnist has just had a revelatory road-to-Brungle experience.
Brungle is a characterful little pimple of a township one passes through when driving, beneath enormous skies and among vast cattle-and-sheep-decorated meadows, on the lonely road between Tumut and Adelong.
We'll get back on the road to Brungle in a moment.
First though, and connectedly, I introduce the obvious thought, the truism that we are all shaped by where we live. The architect and urban planner Jan Gehl writes persuasively about this, always pleading for pedestrian-friendly cities that don't dwarf people with their scale and that don't rev us and our lives up to the hectic speeds of our tyrannical motor traffic.
And so, Canberrans, especially those of you who have been ensconced here in Canberra for a long, long time, how do you notice or fail to notice metro-seductive Canberra shaping you? How metropolitan, how city-slick has it made you?
If, like me you are too aged and desiccated to think of yourself as a metrosexual, what sort of a metro-something has Canberra turned you into? And what if all city life in any kind of city, let alone a weirdly exquisite city like Canberra, estranges its citizens from the countryside, from rural places and rural ways?
While you are giving these probing questions some deep thought I contribute some of my own True Confessions to discussion of the issue. I have lived in Canberra for almost 50 years and begin to feel as shaped by this city as any figurative sculpture is utterly shaped by its sculptor.
In recent weeks my consort and I have at last and timidly begun to resume a little travelling after these years of being grounded by COVID. Overseas is calling us (Scandinavia and Scotland, used to seeing a lot of us, must be wondering where we are) but for now, rehearsing bigger things, we have been taking stays in NSW country places.
And so it comes to pass that rural experience after rural experience is revealing unto me just how citified, just how metrocentric Canberra can seduce us into becoming.
So for example I sing of the extraordinary joy given us one day last week when on the road to Brungle we came upon a herd of lustrously black cattle munching their way along the 'long paddock' of the grass verges on either side of the road.
We had to slow and dawdle and sometimes stop as (what bliss!) our VW Golf and its contents became a kind of member of the herd, the lovely brutes not at all spooked by us. They sometimes peered in at us with only mild interest while we by contrast looked out at them with wonder and excited delight.
For 20 minutes we gently rubbed our vehicle's metal shoulders with our brothers' and sisters' hide ones.
Later, when I wondered (for the unexamined life is not worth living) about the joy this experience had given us I realised it had something to do with how very exotic the experience was for us as city folk who seldom get out of our city.
We could not have been more thrilled by our close encounters with the cattle if they had been, say, elephants or giraffes, or prehistoric critters in a kind of Jurassic Park.
We had delighted too at spending some time living and moving at a herd's unhurried pace.
Jan Gehl says that our cars have unhappily sped us up and that we were happier in the old days when we moved about cities as pedestrians at 5km/hour. At that speed, he says, you can see details. The environment is interesting and personal in ways it isn't when we hurtle everywhere at 60km/hour.
Yes, it was not only that we were among these fabulous Jurassic cattle but that, moving at a cow's pedestrian, tuft-munching amble, everything about the dear creatures was interesting and personal. City life, estranging us from experiences like this, had made the experience for us exotic in the extreme.
Here I relate another recent, nave-Canberran-in-the-bush experience connected to the deathly, unearthly quiet of Canberra's suburbia. Can a city call itself a true city if it makes no city noises, has no metro-racket?
We recently stayed in a cottage on a farm in a deeply bucolic place.
On the first night there and used to the grave-like quiet of my Woden suburb (where at night it is so still you can hear one's garden's worms tunnelling in the earth) I was kept awake by an insistent and unpleasantly alien to my ear noise.
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It was so continuous I at first imagined it to be part of our rough cottage's heating or cooling system. But no switch I played with made the slightest difference.
Going investigatively out into the garden I noticed the mystery clamour was louder still. Was it, improbably, a seething mob of protesters meeting in a nearby paddock?
But then I realised what the unfamiliar racket was.
Horror! It was a river. There was no way to switch it off!
We were a few hundred metres from the Bemboka River at a point where its waters get a wriggle on and argumentatively babble, cackle, prattle, rant and rave as they cascade along rocky places. The bush is another country. There are rivers there.
Canberra's waters, here in this hushed metro-sepulchre of a city, are artificial, tamed, supervised and ornamental and never dare say a word. No wonder then that to the ears of a city-shaped Canberran a country river's noises, its expression of its rights to free speech, can seem an unseemly commotion.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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