It has been a year since we moved to Canberra so that N could take up his dream job in the public service. I still remember people’s initial reactions when we told them that we were moving.
“Canberra. Really?” they said incredulously, as if we were moving to the Arctic.
“At least you’ll have fireworks there,” your friends will say when you’ve told them about your big move. “And porn.”
Well, not really. It’s been illegal to purchase fireworks here since 2009, and if you’re moving here for porn, well… maybe you got bigger problems.
Having lived here a whole year, I have learnt to anticipate the look that I’ll get when people ask me where I live. It is best described as deeply sympathetic.
“I live in Canberra.”
“Awwww,” they say. It’s the same look they’d give you if you told them that you were grievously ill. I have learnt to add an important word to the end of that answer. Now.
“I live in Canberra now,” I have learnt to say. It implies that I lived somewhere else more exciting before and that I plan to live in a real city again sometime in the future.
There’s a lot I’ve learnt in my year here, and as the new intake for the various graduate programs descend upon our nation’s capital in droves, I am reminded that not that long ago I dreaded moving here, so I thought it might be nice to share some words of wisdom to help the gradlings settle into what is likely to be home for the next few years.
I should preface the thoughts that follow by saying that we are happy here. Possibly happier than we have ever been. I feel like the friends we’ve made will be friends for life and I’m grateful for the chance to have met them. As a grad, you will be surrounded by smart, like-minded individuals who (probably) all consider trivia a non-optional weekly activity, and almost undoubtedly have a penchant for board games. (It’s not actually about the board games, it’s about the competition.) These grads and their partners will all live within 20 minutes of you – maximum – because let’s face it, if you’ve driven for over 20 minutes in Canberra, you’ve crossed the border into NSW.
Which brings me to the next positive of Canberra living. There are no traffic jams. You literally will never be stuck in traffic for more than an hour. There are roundabouts though, lots of them. And creative road signs like ‘Drive and text U B next.’ Yes, Canberra’s Road Transport Authority is at the top of its game. You should be glad that you are part of such a dynamic and well-signed community.
You will adapt to life here a lot easier if you realise just one thing.
Living in Canberra is like living in a country town. There’s really only one mode of public transport (buses), somewhat limited dining options (don’t get me started), no IKEA (update: we have IKEA!) and the international airport doesn’t even offer flights to the nearest neighbouring country. In fact, in the second half of 2008, Canberra International Airport changed its name to Canberra Airport. True story. (I wiki-ed it).
Ok, now that I’ve adjusted your expectations, I will say that there are some almost city-like perks. There’s Grill’d, Crusts, and in the last year, Guzman Y Gomez and Mad Mex have popped up. Coffee is getting better
(it’s still nowhere near as good as Melbourne.) UPDATE 2015: A Canberran fricking won the World Barista Championship! There’s Costco. There’s even a 24 hour Kmart in Belconnen. I know, right. It’s all happening in Canberra and you’re already feeling a bit better about living here.
You will be happy to know that there’s a rather cool local farmer’s market at EPIC (yes, Canberra has taken it upon itself to make things sounds more exciting than they are).
There’s some great and some not-so-great local produce at the Exhibition Park. The locally sourced organic milk is a winner, and the ice cream is up there with the best I have ever tasted. Canberra has the highest average disposable income of any capital city, which means you should be prepared to pay a bit more for things here. There’s also a rather hip burger joint called Brodburger in Kingston that started off a truck by the lake – be prepared to wait up over an hour in peak times and this is a good time for me to insert a disclaimer that I think the burgers are nowhere as good as Grill’d.
If you’re a new grad, there are a lot of names, and if you work for the public service, there’s a lot of acronyms too. (Please consider your partners when, at a social event, you decide to hold an entire conversation in acronyms.)
If you’re feeling a little lost, remember that it takes a while to tell Kaleen from Kambah, and in about three months Canberra will start to feel like home. In the meantime, there’s always Mooseheads to make you feel good (or very bad) about yourself.
As one of many in your intake, it’s always good to have a strategy to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Mine was cupcakes. I brought them to every house party, picnic and birthday and was henceforth known as Cupcake Girl – a designation I take very seriously. But don’t use my strategy, get your own because I will probably win the cupcake war.
The last thing you should realise about living in Canberra is this. It is not that bad. At least, it’s not as bad as the look your friends gave you when you told them you were moving to Canberra. Really, cross my heart. Canberra is the capital of house parties; we who live here really good at making our own fun. In fact, if you’re a bit of a homebody, and I imagine most of you are with the amount of aptitude testing and security screening it takes to be a public servant – I think you’ll find that Canberra will suit you quite well. One weekend it might be a Mexican fiesta, or ol’ skooling it up with the Nintendo and another might be paintball – there’s always fun stuff to do and fun people to do it with – you just have to make the effort. If you’re the one who’s always planning your next trip back to your home state – and there’s always one – do yourself a favour and embrace life in ‘Berra for all it is.
Disclaimer: I am not a grad, merely a tag along partner who appears at all events and has to keep telling everyone that I’m not a grad.