In the years I lived at the Student Village, I met a lot of people, thousands in fact. Some became close friends, others mere acquaintances. Some became friends who became acquaintances over time as our individual life journeys took us in different directions. Oddly enough, that freak path of mine that seems to ramble in all directions, brought me here where it just so happened a former colleague from my Village days has been living and working for a few years.
A few special occasions aside, I hadn’t seen Danielle pretty much since she left the Student Village in 1995, or possibly 1996 (all those years blur into each other after a while). I think the last I saw her was sometime towards the end of 2000 at the Oxford Scholar in Swanston Street. It wasn’t until the week before I moved to Canberra that I learned she was already here.
On Saturday, Danielle and I met so we could catch up a little, and she could give me a bit of an orientation tour of the place, although I have to say, an orientation tour in Canberra is something of an oxymoron. Even at the best of times, riding as a passenger does little to imprint the layout of a place in my mind. Worse yet, is the fact that Canberra does not follow the traditional grid pattern of a regular city—everything (in the inner city anyway), moves in circles.
I’d been warned about the excessive use of round-a-bouts here, but coming from Warrnambool I think Canberra is pretty restrained in that regard. However the spiralling structure of the city is a difficult concept to grasp initially—it’s the first time I’ve been able to get where I’m going by travelling in circles.
After a whirlwind visit to the Mt Ainslie lookout, and then on to Manuka—where I was told my pronunciation of Man-ooka, rather than Marn-ah-car, would have me instantly tagged as a tourist (the parochial “wang-cars” came to mind), and finally we ducked quickly around Parliament House, and back to the north of the city. We went on to lunch at a place in the inner northern suburbs—the only real detail of which I remember was that it used to be a lesbian bar, yes, I’m embarassed—where our food was dive bombed by European Wasps and I spent my time there wishing I’d opted to sit inside when given the choice.
Earlier in the week, Tim and Naomi, with whom I’d shared a flat at the Student Village, came up from Melbourne for a short holiday with Tim’s younger brother. I shared a couple of flats with Tim during my years at the Village, Naomi joined the party in 1996, and now they’re married. Being St Patrick’s Day, and me being of Irish descent, and Tim being a big fan of Guinness, we agreed to dig in for a few hours at the local pretend Irish pub, which although busy, wasn’t packed in the way Melbourne pubs get, having space to move was a better option in my view—raising hand to mouth is especially important. There was also a distinct lack of fake Irish accents being put on by drunks who would’ve found speaking in any form a challenge, which was a relief.
I sat outside waiting for them to arrive, and saw them wandering through the city walk—led by Tim’s brother and his work buddies—long before they saw me. They had the classic look of tourists riding the coat tails of a locally based contact (which they were), and I wondered if I still had those trademark signs of an outsider. I suspect that given the itinerant nature of the Canberra’s residents, that even if I did, few would have noticed.
A few hours out and about with old friends did little to establish a sense of direction in the city, but it did wonders to help me start developing some kind of bond to this place. I have only in the last few days moved into the home which will be my permanent base here, and so making any real connection when you’re in temporary accommodation and alone is difficult. Having those few friends around in the first week made it a lot easier.
On leaving the Rex, laden with baggage and a few extra items I seemed to have picked up during the first week, it occurred to me that at least to some degree, I am starting again from scratch. Essentially, there is no one here that I know. I’ve arrived with no money, and with the exception of considerably more furniture, it is in many ways like a re-run of that March in 1992, when I stepped from the nest and first stretched my wings.