Six months ago, I left Canberra for what I had thought would be the last time. Whilst I entertained the idea of returning some time in the future, I had expected it to be way up there in the distance, perhaps five or six years beyond the foreseeable future. Little did I realise at the time, but Canberra tends to be something of a bungee cord—unless you make a clean, definite break, you can invariably find yourself back there before you’ve fully appreciated the fact you even left.
It was almost two years ago when I packed up my life in Melbourne and moved to Canberra to take the first tentative steps beyond my familiar environment in over a decade. It spawned a period of personal and professional development I hadn’t anticipated when I signed on for a six-month contract here; and despite the place, and more specifically the job, getting to me at times, the familiarity of its routines was easy to go along with. The perk of interstate travel in the last few months was certainly an unexpected bonus as well, but the lure of an overseas adventure, and more specifically, enthusiastic interest from potential employers in Madrid and Barcelona, convinced me it was time to step beyond my comfort zone again.
It’s not even six months later, and I find myself back in Canberra, starting work on another big government project, hunting for a place to live, and feeling like I never really left the place. The feeling that someone has hit a reset button is only amplified by the fact I’ve been told there’s a very real possibility I’ll be working in the same building I was based in for much of the ATO Project, and I’m currently housed in the hotel where my life in Canberra began. But in many ways, I am reliving this repeating experience with pangs of regret.
Even though there are similarities, there are significant differences. My work will almost certainly keep me away from my favourite parts of Canberra—Civic and Kingston—and will instead keep me in the suburban sprawl of the north. I’ve been looking hopefully at housing in the central region of the city, telling myself it’s a direct, and not overly long bike ride out to the office in Belconnen, and that it will be just what I need to get myself fit and trim again. I also tell myself that most of my time will be spent outside the office, so I should be finding a place to live, and then commute to work.
But then my memory of commuting in Melbourne hits me and I realise I absolutely hate commuting, and it doesn’t just have to be public transport commuting that I hate. The whole idea of relying on other people to get me to work (or getting myself there at anything faster than a walk) is not appealing to me, hence why I’ve usually endeavoured to place my housing within walking distance of my workplaces in the past.
Last time I came to Canberra hunting for a place to live, it was March, and so I’d missed out on the annual phenomenon of “the grads”. I don’t know how many there are, but I remember vaguely, the arrival of a small group of them at the ATO at some point (though I didn’t connect their arrival to a particular time of year). It turns out late January and most of February is probably the worst time to be looking for any kind of rental accommodation in Canberra. To say competition is fierce would be something of a ridiculous understatement. Allhomes, the local property listing, sees many of the newly listed properties, particularly share houses, rented out within 24 hours—especially if they are close to the big government departments, shopping centres and transport.
I’ve had five days of almost begging advertisers to allow me to have a look at the room they have advertised, and I now preface every conversation with an enquiry about whether or not the room is still available. Initially I was respecting the requests of some advertisers to only call at certain times, or to contact via email initially; but after a few days of constantly getting replies from those very people saying the rooms had gone before I contacted them, it was evident I was the only one respecting their wishes. So now I’ve joined the throngs who, the moment they spot a new listing, call desperately in the hope of getting a chance to view the room before it gets rented out, and if they’re really lucky, be the one to get to rent the room.
Not having a base from which to operate has made it difficult to settle, and even once I lock down a place somewhere, I’ll still have the challenges of moving my things up here, buying a new bed, and in all probability acquainting myself with a new part of the city. Expecting to be going to Spain for two or three years and not wanting to worry about the logistics of transport and storage of my things, I sold as much as I could. It never entered my mind that I’d be back in Australia looking for work so soon, let alone coming back to Canberra.
So now, as I near a week into my second coming, I’m finding myself facing some of the same challenges as before, and a whole swathe of new ones. I guess it’s not deja vu after all, even though I feel like I’ve been through all this before.