Over the past week I took a bit of rubbishing from some work colleagues regarding my supposed proximity to Fyshwick. For the uninitiated, the ACT, in which Canberra is located, is the only state/territory where fireworks and hardcore pornography can be (legally) purchased—the coincidence that Canberra is also the hub of federal politics we’ll leave aside for the moment. Fyshwick is the suburb of Canberra where people go to buy the aforementioned products. It’s also the suburb where most large warehouse style retailers are located.
In an effort to finally complete the process of unpacking from the move, I’ve been looking for a storage cabinet for my 300 or so CD’s (still sitting in a box), and it’s proven quite a challenge to find something that is stylish and well built; has the required storage capacity; and is not going to deflate my bank account too much. Having scoured the stores in Canberra Civic without any luck, I decided to “make a quick dash” across to Fyshwick, still thinking it was no more than 15–20 minutes walk away. An hour and a half later I found myself walking between paddocks on the flood plains that feed the headwaters of Lake Burley-Griffin, with numerous cattle watching me from the fences on either side of the path.
For most of the journey, as I walked around the perimeter of the lake, I could see Fyshwick. In my first week up here I had gone past the turn-off many times and thought it wasn’t very far away. But that was when I was a passenger on a bus, so my notion of distance, and the time it would take me to traverse it, was doubly distorted. In the end, the 15–20 minutes walk became two hours, and I hadn’t even begun to tour the warehouse outlets in search of my prize.
As I slouched from one shed to the next, I began to see the various “landmarks” of Fyshwick, and any notion I’d begun to have that Canberra might be a normal city after all went out the window. On just about every block of Fyshwick, there are at least two or three of these stores, with A-boards out the front of each, claiming to have the best XXX you could buy, and all at bargain prices. They also each claim to be under new management—as if that is going to give them some aura of credibility or something. The most incongruous element in these scenes was that the porn retailers occupied shops alongside more traditional retail outlets such as plumbing retailers, financial advisers, car accessory stores and motorcycle dealers.
At one point I counted four porn retailers within direct view of a long day care centre. The mind boggles at what keeps the kiddies entertained during the long hours while their parents are at work. In another building the ground floor was occupied by an investment firm, whereas the top floor played host to 24-hour pole dancing.
Melbourne has its red-light businesses—there’s no doubt about that—but they are for the most part, so subdued in their presence that very few would be immediately obvious. Canberra is the opposite—each store adorning its entire frontage with pornographic bling to lure in passing motorists. I felt like I’d entered the critical scene in Paris, Texas, where Harry Dean Stanton follows Natassja Kinski into the seedy strip club in Houston, and it certainly felt as surreal.
With only a handful of options even coming close to what I needed, for the moment I gave up my search for a CD cabinet, although there were promises there would be more deliveries expected in the coming week. As I finished my tour of the furniture stores (no it’s not a metaphor), I realised there was no way I could face the walk home, and as I swore to have a serious discussion with my work colleagues about their poor perception of distance, sanity prevailed, and I caught the bus.