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 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 thathad 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.
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.