Canberra, it’s OK + introducing the Canberra Cafe Series

As you might know, I live in Canberra. Canberra is actually a pretty nice place, and nowhere near as boring or as cultureless as its opponents like to suggest. The trick is to avoid illogical comparisons. Many of my student friends whinge that ‘Canberra isn’t a patch on Melbourne/Brisbane/Perth/insert-city-here’, but you can’t compare Canberra to (e.g.) Melbourne, you just can’t. Melbourne is a bustling coastal metropolis with a population of four million. Canberra is a small inland city of 350 000 inhabitants and is under a century old. Which obviously means you’ll find fewer cafes/bars/shops/beaches/insert-pastime-of-choice-here.

The secret to finding the good stuff in Canberra is to give the place a bloody chance. For one thing, as stated above, the smaller population means demand for leisure activities is smaller, with an obvious smaller choice of activities. For another, the high percentage of public servants means ‘mainstream culture’ is the most prevalent (I’m not judging here people—I know some very alternative and interesting public servants, but the service industry seems to think they’re all boring yuppies). And the last, and most important point to remember, is that Canberra did not grow, it was designed, so it works differently from other cities.

Let me elaborate a little on that last point. Other cities I’ve lived in or visited seem to have grown up around the pedestrian or the horse and cart. There are straight streets, amenities are either close by or on the way to somewhere, and attractions like shops and restaurants are handily congregated together in one place, usually on the sides of a (straight) street. Canberra, however, seems to have been designed around the car. Wide boulevards give way to enormous roundabouts, and you’re better off trusting the roadsigns than your sense of direction. Supermarkets and fuel stations are not found on the side of major roads, so if you need fuel before work expect to go a little out of your way. And if you’re not willing to drive halfway across town, you’re never going to discover that quirky little cafe or that fantastic restaurant.

Because that’s the way it is in Canberra. The best cafes, restaurants and shops aren’t always to be found in the major centres. You can’t expect to stumble upon them on your Sunday stroll unless you happen to live in the next suburb. In addition to the major shopping centres, most suburbs in Canberra have their own little set of shops. You’ll find no corner stores here, instead The Shops might have a small supermarket, a newsagent, a bakery, and if you’re lucky maybe a cafe, a clothing store, or a small pub. And these small suburban Shops (find them by looking for the blue signs) often hide those little Canberra gems. But the only way to discover them is to be told about them by someone else, or to actually go and look. And yes, you can probably do this by taking a few buses. But in general, the people who seem happy to make this effort are those who have cars.

So, to you dissenters, to you whingers, to you who say ‘There’s nothing to do in Canberra’, I say, You Haven’t Bothered To Have A Proper Bloody Look, Have You. But because I know it helps to have some tips on where to start looking, and because I want to share the cool places in Canberra with everyone, I’m going to help you out.

I’d like to introduce a new semi-regular feature of An odd assortment, which I’m going to call ‘The Canberra Cafe Series’. Every so often (read: whenever I get organised) I’ll publish a review of one of the cafes around town that I particularly like, and that I encourage anyone to try. And if you’ve been, or if you go on my recommendation, I’d love to hear what your experience was like.

Keep your eye out for the first installment, coming soon: Silo Bakery.

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2 Responses to “Canberra, it’s OK + introducing the Canberra Cafe Series”

  1. PrinsEdje80 Says:

    Ah, yes! The half-full glass way to look at Canberra :). You are absolutely right, lacepetticoat. However, though you do mention it, but the message is somewhat hidden in your text: you cannot (or it darn near impossible) to live without a car or other kind of (preferably motorised) transport. On the other hand, Canberra still does have the highest number of restaurants per capita in Australia. Although, has the decrease of nice foodplaces continued in Weston Creek?

    For all those Canberra-lovers and -haters, check out this unbiased view of the Capital of Australia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh6CxLThJnQ

  2. Richard Says:

    Haha, this is awesome. :) I totally agree about Canberra’s size and age, although I do sometimes wish it was a bit more compact — and not just because I don’t yet have a car; even when I do acquire one (hopefully very soon) I’d like to minimize its use on health/financial/environmental grounds.

    And thanks very much for the cafe tips; I missed Silo on my previous couple of passes through Kingston shops, but will visit it at the next opportunity. -RS

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