Seventy-five percent of novels set in Canberra include a scene where key characters have a meal at Caphs.
Ok, my sample size at the moment is only small and there may be room for statistical error, but it’s hard to argue with such a sizeable majority.
But let me go back a bit.
Late last year I moved, after spending much of my working life with the Commonwealth government, to being part of the ACT public service. It startled me a little how quickly my immediate workday concerns and interests moved from the national to the local. Despite having lived in Canberra since 1988 (with the odd short-term adventure elsewhere) I find myself for the first time reading the Canberra Times more often and more thoroughly than the Sydney Morning Herald. There were actually issues raised and commitments made in the ACT legislative assembly elections that caught my interest and were capable of influencing my vote. I sometimes listen to 666 even when there aren’t bushfire alerts.
The dual identity of Canberra is hard to avoid, though. I have been surprised at the strength with which my preoccupation with national affairs through my work has influenced my thought, or perhaps more correctly, my lack of thought, as to what Canberra might mean as a community. Now, coinciding with my re-awakened (or perhaps just awakened) interest in the local affairs of my adopted home, this city is celebrating its Centenary. It is causing me to be quite reflective about how I feel about this town, and how I feel about how others feel about it. I bought a Like Canberra t-shirt. And wore it in public. Outside Canberra.
What does it look like to see Canberra as a community, as just another place where people live their lives? Is it ever possible to divorce any of it from the Canberra-as-national-capital that Australians outside Canberra see? Do I, or should I care? When I encounter the usual and unavoidable Australian pastime of Canberra bashing, should I fume in outrage, or just feel smug that I know something that they don’t—what a warm, wonderful, intelligent, inclusive, accessible and easygoing place this is to live?
So, enough philosophising.
I have decided, as my own little Centenary project, that I will attempt to read in 2013 only fiction that is set in Canberra. I want to try to see this city the way others see it, and to examine how I feel about what they see. Four units of lit studies at the old College of Knowledge not withstanding, I am not a particularly critical reader. This isn’t necessarily about good literature, or good literary criticism. It’s just a bit of thinking-out-loud, tied up with some reading-with-a-focus, and perhaps leading to some pondering-the-meaning-of-things-sacred-and-profane.