Tuesday 27 June 2017

The national capital in winter

Published as ‘World stage: Aussies unite behind Socceroos’, Geelong Advertiser, Friday 6 July 2007, p. 17.

Why would you want to spend time in Canberra in winter people asked me? My answer on this occasion was that the Australian sports historians were gathering for their biennial conference and I wanted to tell them something about the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and its effects on a generation of young and not so young Australians who had been involved in the tournament. The ones I was interested in were the ones who had to wrestle with their own identity. Were they Australians or Croatians or Italians when the national teams of these countries played against each other in the World Cup? That was the reason for driving to Canberra.

The journey itself was much easier than it used to be for the Hume Freeway in Victoria, combined with the Western Ring Road and the Princes Freeway means you can be on dual carriageways from the outskirts of Geelong to the Murray river and beyond. Much of this has a 110 kilometre per hour limit so you soon eat up the distance. Over the border it is less easy going on two-lane roads and through places including Holbrook and Tarcutta which have not yet been bypassed unlike Albury and Yass. Add in a howling gale and driving rain and the last stretch north of Gundagai was pretty hairy as the B-doubles thundered along trailing their showers of spray and mud.

Canberra remains a most un-Australian city. Its circles and circuits are very different from the rectangular layout of central Melbourne or Adelaide and it is still the only city in Australia where I can get completely lost. Nearly everywhere else it seems possible to orientate yourself reasonably well, but Canberra stumps me. My wife then has the laugh, because normally when we travel I go by instinct, while she, as a geographer, follows the maps. In Canberra she is in charge.

She visited the National Museum on the Acton Peninsula and found it hard to find the way in and even harder to find the way out, though the hands on exhibits, especially the Into the Future exercise where you had to be face-scanned, then construct and fly a space ship, a lot of fun. The National Gallery also delighted with its Jackson Pollock Blue Poles and an intriguing mist sculpture in which you walked through a fine mist of water droplets for all the world like a fire as you looked at it from a distance.

We were staying in a hotel in the centre and I don’t know what it is about the pair of us, but just as happened in Adelaide on our last intercity sojourn, the fire alarm went off in the middle of our first night. But it was another false alarm.

Oh and what did I tell the sports historians about hyphenated-Australians? Just that they are like this Scottish-Australian, thoroughly proud to be Australian, keen to preserve links with their heritage and as one of them put it ‘no one in Australia, be it the media, your friends, your work colleagues, your neighbours or even John Howard, should be concerned or up in arms if one, similarly, feels a certain connection to the birthplace of their parents. We keep harping on the fact that we live in a global society and, believe me, never has that statement been more relevant than here at the World Cup in Germany. Hopefully, if any lasting legacy is to eventuate out of this amazing World Cup adventure for the gallant Socceroos, then I certainly hope it is that people in Australia become a lot more tolerant and appreciative of diversity, especially in the cultural sense.’ A fine sentiment.

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