Monday musings on Australian literature: Let’s get physical – Canberra

Today’s post is the first in a little sub-series of occasional posts containing physical descriptions of places in Australia. This series is not going to be analytical or comprehensive but is intended simply to share descriptions that I like, that make me laugh, or that I think are interesting. My plan is to keep commentary to a minimum and let the descriptions speak for themselves.

I’m going to start with my home, Canberra. The first comes from Dymphna Cusack‘s A window in the dark, which I reviewed in July.

I arrived in Canberra at the beginning of spring, surely its loveliest season. It is the only city in Australia where you enjoy what is taken for granted in the northern hemisphere. Oh, the incredibly lovely decidiuous trees in their fine veil of green. The flowering cherries in their clouds of white and pink. The tulips! All in that magnificent rim of indigo hills, olive green under a variety of eucalypts and wattle. The city that Burley Griffin had designed then carried out much on the lines of his original plans, however much they were altered later, was beautiful.


Canberra was one of the loveliest places I have lived in and still is, its beauty enhanced by a picturesque lake. Today spreading suburbs have taken the place of the green undulating hills over which we wandered. One of my treasured memories is of sitting on the grass on a hillside looking right across the city to the smoky blue hills surrounding it.

The second comes from Bill Bryson‘s Down under (published in the US as A sunburnt country).

It’s a very strange city, in that it’s not really a city at all, but rather an extremely large park with a city hidden in it. It’s all lawns and trees and hedges and a big ornamental lake – all very agreeable, just a little unexpected.

Isaacs Ridge, Canberra

Park anyone? There be suburbs among the trees.

Both Bryson and Cusack trot out some of the usual criticisms of Canberra: it’s boring, it’s artificial (Bryson) or it’s snobby (Cusack). In its defence – after all it’s my place – I should add that Canberra has changed a lot since both wrote their pieces, Cusack c. 1976 and Bryson in 2000. Like Cusack, though, Bryson concludes on a positive note. He writes of looking out over Canberra:

It was impossible to believe that 330,000 people were tucked into that view and it was this thought – startling when it hit me – that made me change my perception of Canberra completely. I had been scorning it for what was in fact its most admirable achievement. This was a place that had, without a twitch of evident stress, multiplied by a factor of ten since the late 1950s and yet was still a park.

14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Let’s get physical – Canberra

  1. Yes,,, I grew up there and remember well the blue-grey Brindabellas, the summer storms and the snow of ’68, I think it was then. Canberra, the real thing, is a well kept secret.

  2. This is my sixth year in Canberra and I still delight in bushland butting up against shopping centres, hospitals, suburbs, even pockets of lush European and native flora in the Parliamentary Triangle where I park and work.

  3. I must get down there again one day! It’s been years since I went to Canberra – I grew up far too Sydney-based. But I suspect the harsher winters would appeal to me now after all these years acclimatising to the northern hemisphere.

  4. Canberra is a wonderful place to visit and there is much to do. It is such a well planned city; every building seems to fit perfectly into the lovely parkland setting. In saying that, I don’t find it an inviting or cosy city. I feel like I am intruder when I visit (I know am), but I can wander around Melbourne and other cities and feel part of the place.


      • Sue, I think you have hit the nail on the head. Canberra is too open, too spread out, and it is not cosy. And though It doesn’t hold any mystery for me I still like visiting Canberra.

  5. Oh! I loved reading this today. Why today, you ask? BECAUSE I VOTED TODAY. At the Consulate General in Toronto. And there was a poster/picture of Canberra on a table. xoxo

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