Canberra

Canberra was a strange place.

It is an artificial town / territory that was created solely for the purpose of providing Australia with a capital city. It was a functional city, designed and built from scratch. Even those dams and lakes were artificial.

When I first drove to this place, I saw a hill side with full of young trees. It gave me an idea that Canberra was going to be a kind place. And I found out later that it was a site built in memorial of bush fire in 2003. Forests were burned, animals died and homes lost. And instead of just being sad about it, Canberra begun planting trees.

I met people of Canberra, many were public service persons working for federal government and alike. I was intrigued by the way these people introduced themselves on the first encounter. “Hi, my name is ####. I work for the government, full time.” Those were their proud identity. “Full time” meant a lot to them. Working for the government seemed to be a kind of status; public servant receives a very good pay in this country, so that was basically what they were saying. And if they had studied at ANU ( Australian National University), they usually add that to their introduction. I just want to run the other way so fast when I meet a person like that, but there was a lot of them.

People were strange there. “Are you Nepalese?” Somebody asked me once, completely out of blue, there was not even a hello before my nationality was questioned. “Hi, what’s your degree?” was another good one. That was a friend of my share mate at one time. We met for the first time, and that was the introduction. And then this man, another public service employee, who started the conversation by asking where I came from and if I lived with my family. I looked at the man straight and told him that I L-I-V-E-D here. He appeared startled, and yet he insisted that I explained where I came from. You see, that was his way of being ‘nice’ and ‘inclusive’. But people were still learning what it meant to be inclusive, to be normal, that you didn’t need to ask those weird questions that you wouldn’t ask your white neighbours to ‘include’ a migrant in a conversation. Though that was at least a nice effort by the man, and given that he had a young son with him, I did not proceed to embarrass him further by nailing him on the spot, and I walked away at an earliest opportunity.

People were mostly polite in Canberra, otherwise. Life appeared lucrative enough for many, people could afford to think things into the details. You hardly see a crazy driver on the road, though you would find some unfounded number of cars driving without a headlight at night. Having used to those street lights, people forget that the headlights are not only for them to see where they are going but to alert other drivers of their position on the road etc.

One day, I was driving along on my way to work, and a tree fell down. It was a branch of a tree, but a reasonably sized one, big enough that you would not think of driving over. It blocked a lane and the vehicles driving in that lane came to stop. I saw that and I slowed down. There were three lanes and the furthest left lane was blocked. I was in the middle lane and I anticipated that some of the blocked cars may drive into my lane in a hurry. To my surprise, the whole 3 lanes came to a gentle stop. And I watched it unfold from the prime seat on the road. Nobody moved until they let the vehicles in the blocked lane indicate a spot each and signalled to merge into the middle lane. Those vehicles driving on the lane closest to the center-island had no urgent need to stop. They had a clear way ahead and they could have carried on if they wanted to. But they also stopped, which allowed everybody to shift right at their own time, on their own term and a quiet negotiation using the indicators. I guess I was impressed about that.

I have to say that I felt relieved  when I decided to leave Canberra. It took slightly longer for me to actually move away, but I felt that the load had shifted when I finally looked away from those polite, educated people who were living their life aiming for a well funded retirement. That was not the Australia I fell in love with. The people were different; nice, but on their own terms; educated, but they were educated in ways I did not necessary agree with; and they lived a respectable life I did not want to take up. It confused me for a while, because each persons were decent in their own rights. I liked them. And I guess that is an expression of the difference in value, and I respect that. I did enjoy my time there. And I will remember that.

 

 

Author: Maiko Natsukawa

Born in Japan. Has lived in 4 countries, resided in Australia since 2004. Former stunt actor. Trade qualification. Equestrian sports. Advocate for equality and sustainable living.

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