Canberra is a city of transition. It’s a place of change. It’s forever caught between states, never quite existing fully in either one. It’s a funny idea for a capital city, but then, Canberra’s a funny kind of capital city. There’s something peculiar about it – a city designed for the fledgeling Australia by an American architect who was increasingly frustrated at the way bureaucrats changed his design, and eventually left Canberra for other locales. And there’s something strangely Australian about the story of its creation – unable to decide on Sydney and Melbourne, they decided – Solomon-like – to plonk the Capital halfway between the two – which, again in that well-meaning and close-enough is good enough Australian way – they then got wrong, so it is significantly closer to Sydney.
By its very nature, Canberra changes regularly – every 4 years, there is the relentless transition brought about by the federal election cycle. Even when one party retains government, there is still a feeling of excitement, of nervous tension on the streets, as everyone waits to see what is going to happen. It seems like the city is on the verge of civil war, and everyone is just waiting for the first shot to be fired.
It’s really one of the few places in Australia where you get a sense of the season, in the old English sense. You can feel summer slide into Autumn, and the long, tree-lined avenues provide a vivid description of the changing colours. And, unlike most places in Australia, there is enough of a sting in the air in winter to taste ice, and snow is a theoretical possibility, even if it is only a distant reality.
Canberra is at its best at those moments just when change is taking place. The best of these times is in the early morning or in the evening. Leaving the house and the stultifying atmosphere of central heating, the sharpness of the morning air will take your breath away. For a moment, it feels like you’re breathing cold water as it fills your lungs and stings your nose. Then it’s a pleasure – your breath clouds out in front of you, and as you walk across the grass, you can hear ice crunching beneath your shoes. It’s like everything has a newness to it – as if the wrapping have just come off, and you’re the first to see it like this.