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There probably aren’t many capital cities where cows graze in the suburbs. These beauties are walking distance from my house and do a great job of keeping the grass down. I often walk past them on my walks in the Urambi Hills, which I’ve taken to huffing and puffing up every weekend.

There’s a bench up the top with initials scratched into it. Apparently B loves J. But B also loves L, so I see trouble ahead. Perhaps there will be more scratchings next time. I’ll keep you posted on B’s love life. That’s not the reason I walk up there, of course. We’re having a glorious autumn and I’m feeling the need to get out and about in it every weekend. Besides, it’s hard not to feel joie de vivre when you’re looking at this view.

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Canberra is a city that’s changed a lot in the almost 20 years that I’ve lived here. When I first arrived, at weekends I would think: “Where is everyone? What do people do here at the weekend?” (Answer: they were at the coast.) Now, there are so many things to do at weekends that it’s hard to fit in time to visit the coast.

The other weekend there was a Connect and Participate Expo in the huge old bus depot. The idea was for people to go along and find groups to join or crafts to learn or volunteerish things to get involved in. I really wanted to go, but my dance card was full. There were so many fun and interesting things to do at the same time that I had to turn a few down.

In the past couple of weeks, I could have gone to umpteen wineries, galleries, talks, walks, movies, gardens, classes, bookshops, markets. I could have filled two weekends with Heritage Festival activities alone. A person has to go to work, which takes up a significant amount of time, but here’s what I did outside office hours.

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Strolled along the breathtaking Yankee Hat trail in Namadgi National Park, past kangaroos lolling on the grass, and saw rock art on huge granite boulders. It’s a traditional Aboriginal meeting place and there really is something special about it. “Where spirits dance,” says the sign, and, yes, they really do. It’s an exquisite, magical valley and I can’t wait to go back.

Listened to live Argentine tango music at Smith’s Alternative, featuring Actual Argentinians who now live in Canberra, at which I learned the Spanish word for “more” or “encore”: ¡otra! If you play the bandoneon and want to join them, you’re in luck; they’re looking for recruits.

Ate tea and cake at the National Museum of Australia. Said hello to the pink caravan, which I’m very fond of.

Tagged along on a friend’s birdwatching tour of the Botanic Gardens and was blown away by how much he knows about birds. Learned to use binoculars properly and spotted spotted pardalotes. (There’s a comedy skit in there somewhere.)


Went to a climate change rally at the conclusion of the  Bob Brown Foundation’s anti-Adani convoy. Thousands of people showed up, Paul Kelly sang and two Indigenous elders spoke passionately about their land, yet the whole thing rated only a short voiceover segment on the news. Hmm.

Walked in the cork oaks and the Himalayan cedars at the Arboretum. Went to look at the bonsai and, as always, felt a bit sorry for them. Beautiful but stunted! All that repressed potential! Browsed the excellent Curatoreum shop and bought books. (I’ll tell you about them next time.)

Attended a dance workshop at which a lecturer from Germany confirmed what we already knew about the benefits of dance. He also talked about polar bears and penguins, goulash and beer (it was a wide-ranging speech) and chaos, except for a while we thought he was saying “cars” or “cows”. Basically, his point was that experiential learning is as valuable, if not more so, than theory. I agree.

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Listened to a smiley, bearded young cellist play Bach at breakfast at the National Library of Australia, followed by a discussion with Helen Garner, whose book The Children’s Bach is one of my faves. I wish she still wrote novels.

Helen said she carries a notebook everywhere to capture conversations that she overhears. I do that too, although some sentences stick in your mind without being written down. When I was about 11 and lived in Yorkshire, my mum and I were out walking the dogs when two men rode by on horseback. One man said to the other, “I had that new piazza for tea last night.” Mum and I looked at each other and laughed. We hadn’t yet tasted pizza ourselves but we were pretty sure it wasn’t pronounced piazza.

Danced Biodanza on Mondays. Danced tango on Thursdays. Could have danced a different dance every night, if so inclined.

Had friends over for wine, cheese and shootin’ the breeze, at which it was revealed that someone had just sold a painting and been propositioned in a car park and someone else had once eaten enough corn flakes to get free travel on British Rail.


When the national media talk about Canberra, they usually mean the federal parliament. When politicians talk about the Canberra bubble, they also mean the federal parliament. While I’m not for one minute downplaying the importance of the federal parliament, I’d like to point out that outside its walls there are 450,000ish people going about their lives in Actual Canberra and having a pretty good time.

I don’t always love living here. It’s ridiculously hot in summer and perishingly cold in winter. But when 46 per cent of the territory is stunningly beautiful national park, and there’s good food, good coffee, stimulating conversation and more cultural activities than you can poke a stick at, some days, as Salvador Dali said, I could just die from an overdose of satisfaction.

(If you’re interested in hearing about Canberra from the perspective of its traditional owners, listen to this excellent ABC podcast by Jonathan Green: Ancient places—Canberra. I had no idea that the parliamentary triangle was built on the bogong moth songline. I love that the ancient story of the landscape influenced the design of the modern city.)