Friday, May 10, 2013

5 Reasons Why I Love Canberra by Imogen Saunders

‘Or, how I stopped being a sandgroper and learned to love the cold’

Kangaroos on Red Hill over looking Canberra

1. It's not really one city - or if it is, it's a split personality. There's the Canberra that is the national capital, and there's the Canberra that is just a big country town. Mobs of kangaroos live around the lake and others come down from Red Hill at night to feast on the grass on the ovals of the Canberra Grammar School. This is a city that employs cows to help mow the grass. (Moo!)

2. Canberra the capital city is pretty fun too. You can visit Parliament House, and even sit on top of all the politicans for a while.

The roof of Parliament House is covered by grass

It’s the centenary of Canberra this year, which has lead to all kinds of celebrations. You can read about how Canberra was chosen as the national capital here.

The House of Representatives in Parliament House

3. As the capital of Australia, Canberra is also the diplomatic hub with all the colour and variety that international living brings. You might find yourself enjoying Sri Lankan curries at the Sri Lankan High Commission one weekend and making the most of the open day at the Thai Embassy the next. And the multicultural festival… so much food on sticks, from so many countries!

4. The city itself is stunningly beautiful, all centered around Lake Burley-Griffin.

Lake Burley Griffin looking towards the War Memorial

Did you know that Lake Burley-Griffin is an artificial lake? It was completed in 1963, which means it turns 50 this year! I wonder what you buy a lake for its birthday?

5. Most of all, for readers of this blog, Canberra is a paradise for booklovers. The library system is pretty good – city wide, with interconnected branches with the ability to search for and request books online.

The National Library

The National Library of Australia (or, ‘the Nash’ to those of us in the know) is a required hangout space for studying high school students, but also has a fascinating back catalogue of Australian and international books. Using Trove, you can search for anything and everything – say a report on my Grandparents’ wedding in a 1950 Canberra Times – all from the comfort of your living room. You can search Trove and see what you can find out about your family!

There’re some good independent bookstores in Canberra – Paperchain in Manuka, the loving tribute to secondhand books that is BeyondQ at the Curtin shops – and of course there’s the Lifeline Bookfairs. Twice a year, a massive shed at the showgrounds gets transformed into second hand book paradise. Collectors, bargain hunters and book lovers all converge to stock up their shelves for another year - and you never know quite what treasure you may find.

What are your favourite things about where you live?

Imogen Saunders is a lecturer at the Australian National University, and a former reviewer of Young Adult Fiction for the Canberra Times. 

 She still rereads all the books she loved as a kid – her favourites are Little Women by Lousia May Alcott, The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian – and has read the Harry Potter series at least 10 times.


  1. Imogen, I too am a Sandgroper who has learned to love the cold! I still remember the shock of arriving in Canberra on Good Friday in short sleeves with my baby son (now 14!) in my arms and sucking in that freezing air.
    Although I miss the days of breakfast or lunch over looking the ocean I love the small town feel of Canberra. My daughter and I enjoy going for walks along Farrer Ridge where there are also plenty of kangaroos.

  2. I think I have a split personality, just like Canberra's because the things I love about Canberra - the space and light, the clean air, the natural beauty and the birdsong (so that it is not too quiet) are the opposite of what I liked best about my former home, Hong Kong.

    In HK, I loved the busy vibrancy of a big city, the crowded streets of Causeway Bay at midnight, the sights and sounds of the Wan Chai wet market, the buzzy sense of movement that remind me of Richard Scarry's illustrations of Busy Town.

    It is possible to be both a town mouse and a country mouse at the same time - just like Canberra.

  3. I've found two books set in Canberra. If you've read them, let us know what you thought or, if like me you haven't read them, you might want to check them out:

    "Straggles of Tidbinbilla: The Story of an Emu Growing Up" by Eleanor Stodart

    (set on Mt Tidbinbilla near Canberra)

    "The Day I was History" by Jackie French

    (a boy on school holidays in Canberra is caught up in the 2004 Canberra bushfires)

  4. A reader has also given me a tip on a wonderful collection of children's literature here in Canberra.

    Have a look at the Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature on line and, if you're in Canberra go and visit. It looks fascinating.

    The address is: