For most of my time in Canberra, I’ve been confined to the urban sprawl. This week my parents arrived to take me on a journey through some truly beautiful parts of Australia.
Autumn has again descended on Canberra, colouring the city’s tree canopies brilliant reds and yellows, just in time to remind me that there actually is something attractive about this place. Canberra is an oddity. The time when it’s at its most vibrant is the time when the life is draining out of it.
It’s almost a year since my parents last travelled up here to visit me, and with the four day weekend surrounding Easter, they decided now was as good a time as any for a rerun. This time we decided to go for a road trip through some of the surrounding countryside. I haven’t been outside the city limits of Canberra since I moved here over a year ago. At least, not on the ground—the past twelve months I’ve seen it a few times at 10,000+ feet, and whilst there is the odd thing that grabs one’s interest at that altitude, you’re not inclined to step out for a closer look.
The last time we travelled through this area was in 1987. The current federal Parliament House hadn’t been completed, and on the day we visited what is now the old Parliament House, Bob Hawke arrived on the front steps, and my brother got to chat with him for a few minutes as a birthday treat (I imagine if parents tried that with our current PM, the kid would have issues with such a “treat”).
When my parents arrived on the Saturday morning, they were very proud of the fact they’d pulled up in front of my place pretty much at the time they’d said they would (punctuality has long been a foreign concept for them) and I had to award them points for their effort. Mum wanted to show her scar (quite impressive); and they decided they’d do a short “half-hour trip” to Parliament House to get some photos and have a look around—when they returned a few hours late, I took back the points awarded earlier. Bundling into the car, we headed north to Goulburn, running up the western flank of Lake George, which looked a fair bit drier than on Google maps.
We’ve visited Goulburn before, probably on the same trip that brought us through Canberra. About my only memory of it is The Big Merino, a large concrete sheep that is supposedly a tourist attraction. It sits in the middle of an industrial estate, some distance away from the town. I don’t remember the industrial estate being there on our last visit, but I guess my memory is a bit woolly on that score (couldn’t help it, despite being such a baa-aa-aad joke). God, I am SO turning into my dad.
From Goulburn we headed east towards Nowra, detouring via the Fitzroy falls, which plunge several hundred metres into a deep, inaccessible canyon (though I’m sure not as grand as some of the ones I’ll be seeing in Latin America). We arrived there at a good time of day, when the sun was beginning to wane and the colour in the rocks of the cliff walls came alive in a brilliant gold. Beyond the falls lay Kangaroo Ground (an amazing bridge in this sleepy little hollow) and Nowra. We had set a target of visiting the lighthouse on Point Perpendicular by sunset, but kind of got a little lost along the way, visiting a number of cul de sacs as we went, and ultimately arriving at the light house in time to catch the last colour in the sky, but too late for the sunset.
By the time we arrived at Sussex Inlet, where we were to stay for the night, it was already getting late. Mum had lined up a room in a motel, which fortunately was easy to find because it was on the main street, but unfortunately was on the main street where all the yobbos gathered for their Saturday night ritual. The local and imported hoons flooded out of the tavern at the rear of the motel to the over-loud tunes being butchered by a local cover act, permitting us only a fitful sleep interspersed with the din of motorbikes and drunken yelling until 3am. The dawn however, revealed to us a lively little town that reminded me in many ways of childhood holidays in Lorne, before it became over developed and over priced. Alas, it seems Sussex Inlet, and indeed the entirety of the Shoalhaven, is destined to the same fate.
The morning saw us drift south, where we visited Swan Lake, and found it was that in name only, as petrol heads zipped about in high powered boats and on jet skis—little chance a bird would risk settling on the water here. There is large scale clearing of land going on throughout the Shoalhaven to make way for holiday condos to draw in the crowds from Sydney in the near north, and already, the place is starting to become tainted by over development, like the stench of an estuary at low tide. Business people and developers might generate some employment in these areas, but the reality is they’re there to make money for themselves, and they fuck everything else in the process.
Eventually we found our way south to Ulladulla and Bateman’s Bay, before starting the journey west again towards Canberra. We climbed up into the highlands, where a large curtain of smoke was rising from somewhere deep in the national park, north of the impressive bulk of Mount Clyde. We stopped in Braidwood, an historic mountain country town, and had a look around—Mum and Dad marveled at the town for a few minutes before realising they’d walked exactly the same path and marveled at the same historic buildings the last time they came through here.
I had no real sense of where we were in relation to Canberra until suddenly the hills parted and off in the distance, we could see the Telstra tower rising above Black Mountain. It was odd, we couldn’t really see any obvious sign of man (aside from the cleared bush), but there was the tower, this futuristic looking structure pointing up into the sky. Combined with the sultry conditions brought on by the fire in the east, the descending sun gave it a very surreal appearance.
As we descended into Queanbeyan, I realised I’d always considered the place as being a city in a flat area, certainly never a mountainous one, and in fact I’d thought the same of Canberra. My numerous walks, runs and bike rides typically don’t take me too far away from the city centre, but for the most part, it’s flat, with Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain seeming the exception; but the reality is that the entire region is very hilly, and it’s the flat axis along which Canberra is built, that is the exception.
I don’t think I’ve had a weekend go so quickly since I’ve been here, as I’d been looking forward to this opportunity to get out of the town for a while. I guess the sad thing about traveling, is that the more you anticipate an impending trip, the faster it goes by once it arrives. This doesn’t bode well for the next several years for me, as Latin America is something I’ve yearned for in one sense or another for the past couple of decades.