Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann. The Marmalade Files. Fourth Estate 2012. ISBN 9780732294748.
Compare and contrast.
Canberra is freezing cold. It’s architecture is uniform and awful but is nevertheless snapped up by tasteless investors. No doubt these are the bureaucrats who were “paid to suck the marrow from the city’s soul”. It is “a city dedicated to the transient relationship”. This is what you see when you see Canberra only as a site for political warfare.
Caphs is “downbeat”, and “notorious cyclists” are hell-bent on “getting right up the noses of motorists”. These things are, sadly, true. Also true is the statement, regarding Woden, that “Most Federal MPs wouldn’t even know it’s a Canberra suburb”. Apparently most of the press gallery doesn’t know that it’s not a suburb but a district. A bit like calling the Hills or Hunter districts around Sydney suburbs. But now I’m nitpicking.
A politician in The Marmalade Files recalls Dame Pattie Menzies’ story about how she demanded of her husband better facilities for Canberra after struggling with a pram over non-existent footpaths to the Lodge. I’ve heard the story in other places, so it has the cache of either truth or legend. Our politician says that Dame Pattie lobbied Bob to give the capital “the attention it deserved.” One wonders exactly what that might mean.
Even unremitting Canberra haters like press gallery journalists can’t maintain such a level of negativity forever. Apparently Beess & Co does a latte and a Spanish omelette “decent” enough to warrant the nine minute drive from the House. Chairman and Yip is “excellent” and “discreet” if “a little pricey”. There is another “decent” offering of a blues band residency at the Press Club, and an annual film festival, on which judgement isn’t passed, but can’t be all bad since the wonderful Kimberley attends. Despite the earlier “harsh winter embrace”, we later have “one of Canberra’s finest days, the crystal-cut clarity of the sky guaranteed to lift your spirits from the depths of winter.” There are days of “uncommon beauty… that explained the allure of the bush capital.”
But there doesn’t seem to any allure here, although there is the odd grudging nod of acceptance. If the closing lines of the book can be read as a summing up, Canberra still exists merely to service the machinery of government, although that of itself isn’t a cause without nobility:
Outside, the orderly nature of the Canberra evening continued, a steady procession of public servants returning to their neat homes after another day of performing the tasks necessary to keep the Commonwealth of Australia ticking over. No more, no less.