Trying to appreciate all a place has to offer over the course of your stay doesn’t work. You have to try and squeeze it all in at the last minute.
When I was initially given a roll-off date for the ATO project, it set the wheels in motion for me to buy my plane ticket to Spain, terminate my lease in Canberra, and move home for a month or so between departing Canberra and departing Australia. The initial plan for me had been to take my time and spend a couple of weeks getting the move organised; visiting one major Canberra monument or attraction each day as well as doing a little packing.
True to form however, my contract got extended again. Despite being by only a week, it suddenly cramped all of those farewell activities into a much tighter space. Ultimately, I had to scale it back to just visiting the places I’ve not been to at all during my stay here, namely the National Library, National Gallery, and National Museum.
I did the Museum on Tuesday morning, and was really glad I did—though could’ve used more time there ultimately, as I had to rush through a few areas to make it to the next item on the agenda—a farewell lunch with most of the guys I’d worked with here in Canberra. I’d come to the museum one rainy day last winter to see an exhibit on the deserts of the Southern Hemisphere, namely because it included a component on the Atacama in South America.
Today, I walked to the summit of Mount Ainslie to watch the dawn sweep across the valley and up the eastern slopes of the Brindabella’s for the last time, then toured the National Library and National Gallery, and subsequently spent the whole day looking at exhibits, maps, artefacts, and dozens and dozens of paintings, photographs and sculptures.
We visited the gallery when we came through Canberra in 1987, and whilst parts of the building seemed familiar, it wasn’t exactly a place I remembered. It’s most famous paintings, being Pollock’s Blue Poles, and the Ned Kelly series by Sidney Nolan, I recognised instantly. I know Blue Poles was there last time, but can’t remember the Ned Kelly series. I’d learned about both in high school art classes, and looking at the pictures in books, I couldn’t understand why the National Gallery had paid so many millions for Blue Poles back in the seventies. It just looked like a lot of splashes of paint to me. Yet on entering the space in which it was on display, I realised there’s something about this particular piece—a special allure many other works don’t have, that draws you to it from the first glance.
I arrived here determined to keep an open mind, despite the derisive words of friends and colleagues still ringing in my ears. Canberra is the city Australians love to hate, and hate to love. It’s true the city does lack the immediacy of larger urban areas, and the centre of the city is something of a wasteland; but you cannot simply visit Canberra and expect to be able to appreciate it fully. I think perhaps this was the reason I felt no real distress at leaving Melbourne—I had seen most of what it had to offer long ago.
Each day, as I get closer to my departure, I’ve been undertaking short walks into parts of the town I’ve not previously encountered, and in Commonwealth Park alone I found a number of little treasures hidden away, including a kids climbing castle that was gothic in style, with numerous “kids only” style tunnels and stairwells, leading to turrets and slides that I’m sure most kids in Canberra have experienced at some point or another.
Tonight I’m finding myself facing the reality that I will soon leave the place, yet even now I can picture myself spending the coming weekend cycling or running around the lake, going up Mount Ainslie or Black Mountain, or wandering over to Manuka to get my dose of cinema. I spent my first months here being a tourist as much as possible—yet from January or so I found myself slipping into a rut, I’m inclined to think it was the repetitiveness of the job that caused that—and now in my last week, I am trying to be a tourist again, but finding time lacking, and wishing I could have just one more week, one more month, one more year…