Life in Canberra

This is (or at least will ultimately be) the fourth post in a series I’ve decided to do based on the homes/houses I have lived in.

In 198x, having finished my honours year at Sydney Uni, I went with JR to Canberra. She had a scholarship at ANU; I had a job in the public service.

For a few weeks we stayed in a hall of residence at ANU. We scouted around for a house, preferably in the inner north, as we didn’t have a car so would be reliant on bicycles or public transport.

We were pleasantly amazed at how cheap Canberra rents were (this has changed). We found a house in Shortland Crescent, North Ainslie for $60 a week. It had 3 bedrooms and was furnished, although there was somebody else (Christopher, who was a member of the then professional dance company in Canberra) living in the garage in the back yard. But the garden was basically ours, and in the end, one tenant later, the garage flat was empty.

Living in a group house in Surry Hills, I had learnt the first lessons of adult domesticity – that nobody owes you anything and that you need to pull your weight in a household that is not built on your parents’ support. Now I found myself plunged into a kind of quasi-matrimony. This wasn’t without its difficulties – we were both young and isolated in a new town, and we hadn’t really thought this out in advance in any particular way.

After about six months, I bought a car with a payout (I accepted the first offer) from a bicycle accident a couple of years before. With this we ranged far and wide over the hinterland of Canberra – I still have all the 1:25,000 maps. This is a view looking down to the Brindabella Valley:


The pictures of the house were taken on a recent trip to Canberra to visit my father and step-mother. Since I lived there, drought conditions have taken their toll, and the extensive front lawn has been tan-barked (on the property) and neglected (on the nature strip). The trees have also suffered something of a decline – I am sure there were more prunus trees on the driveway, including on what now appears to be an ad-hoc parking apron in front of the porch.

It is intriguing how consistently a “homing” psychology invests one’s home for the time being with a homelike attraction – even when, on first inspection, it had seemed totally unprepossessing. This must be something hard-wired.  So the street where I live now, which I remember feeling to be rather drab when, many years ago, I dropped off a friend then living there, now has that home-like aura.

But just as the aura can develop, apparently it can fade away.  While I was down in Canberra this time, I caught up with JR and Mkk, long married. In the intervening years, they have lived in Canberra, except for a short period away. In an odd twist of fate, they have bought a house which is just over the back fence from one they previously owned and lived in for some years. Mkk commented that he had found that he lacked any sentimental feelings about houses he had previously lived in. When Mkk said that, I inwardly demurred, so far as my own sentimentality is concerned. Now I’m beginning to think otherwise.  I find that my sentimental attachment to the house in Shortland Crescent, which persisted for many years, has almost faded away, though funnily enough, when giving JR and Mkk my current address – which starts with the same street number, I almost gave Shortland Crescent as the street.  I guess it was on my mind.

At the end of my first year in Canberra, JR went to the UK for research. In her absence, an old girlfriend of mine, UB, moved in to share the house. Whilst there she wrote what would ultimately be her second-published book and studied Hebrew with Canon Laurie Murchison – as well, that is, as working in the public service. After a few months she moved, to share a house with her father who had come to work in Canberra. I then shared the house then with MI, from Perth. I am still in touch with UB, but last saw MI in 1996. I’m not sure what it was that I said, though I am sure it was something.

In my second year I finished a part-time History Honours year with a first. Amongst other things, this entailed a lot of deep pondering of feminism:

Reading Simone

Studious and stupefied in Canberra

I confess that I took these pictures myself as a bit of a joke.   For the curious, that’s Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex that I’m reading in the first picture, and her Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter in the second, the score to “Symphony of Psalms” at my side, and bottles of Bushmills and Benadryl behind me.

I decided that the scholarship which that got me was my ticket out of Canberra.

2 Responses to “Life in Canberra”

  1. Jim Belshaw Says:

    I liked this post so much that i insisted my wife read it. For 198X read 196X or 197x. My wife was 198x. Yet it was so much like the Canberra that I knew that I really smiled.

  2. marcellous Says:

    Glad you liked it, Jim. Hope your wife didn’t mind…

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