Tuesday poem: Transferred to head office, and Happy Birthday Canberra!

March 12, 2013

Transferred to head office

They slip into green spaces curved
to double-headed infinity’s
dizzying, snaking, roundabout sign.
Young chameleons adapt,
quite emerald in their ambition.
Friends at home write and write;
and then the letters cease.
The transferred are erased,
slowly disappear by degrees.
Colours leach from former lives,
transfused into memory.
Letters after their names
brought them to the suburban
Babel of BAs, this civil, know-all
vacant town. Transparent,
buried in clean clear air,
they float up into cloudless nothing.
Ghosts rustle like dead glass leaves.

P.S. Cottier

When I first arrived in Canberra about twenty years ago (!) I hated it. I was desperately unhappy in my job, and after inner city Melbourne, it seemed peculiarly barren. This is reflected in my poem, first published in a chapbook produced by the ACT Writers Centre. When I find my copy I’ll add the date.

Now I find there are more arts and writing related things to do than I can possibly manage, and the beauty of the place strikes me every day. Cockatoos in inner city streets. Kangaroos in inner city nature parks. Little pollution, although, with the spread of hideous new suburbs, we are working on this.

I no longer care about the ignorant slurs of people from other States or countries about Canberra. Slurs to which I once added my own sneers. I have fallen in love. Which is not to say I am enamoured with every aspect of the current Centenary Celebrations in this city, some of which are so beyond daggy that they would make a sheep blush.

But as I rode my bike through inner city Canberra yesterday on purpose made bike-paths, under a very clear and blue sky, I thought that this is, indeed, peculiarly pretty. I came across a tree decorated with fly-swats. No explanation as to who or why. It is that quiet quirkiness that I love about Canberra.


There are no flies on Canberra, I thought, trying to put myself into the mind of the person who had decorated the casuarina tree in this way. Although that is an exaggeration, for every city has its problems. But there are relatively few in this little metropolis, which is partially explained by its being the capital of a wealthy, developed country intent on selling its minerals overseas like the world was ending tomorrow…

And perhaps we’re all just slightly mad here, caught between the great normality of suburbia and the ritualistic weirdness of the bureaucracy. There are a surprising number of artists and poets and musicians in Canberra, holding up the creative weirdness end of the seesaw against the very beige lumpenmiddleclass. Or do we hold the seesaw down?

Today, Tuesday 12th March, is Canberra’s 100th birthday. Of course, there were people here long before that date; long before Europeans. But 100 years ago, the city of Canberra was officially founded, and given its name. I think it is the only major city in Australia that has a non-Anglo name, let alone one that refers to Indigenous people. (No offence, Wagga Wagga.) All those years the name of the capital was whispering of previous ownership, even before we admitted that the country had been previously occupied!

Happy birthday, Canberra. You are now my home. Once all the celebrations die down, I’ll post a loving poem about you.

Click this feather and fly away from glorious Canberra, to New Zealand:
Tuesday Poem

Next week I’m posting the poem for the hub position at that link, and it’s a poem you really should read, by another poet who lives in Canberra.

4 Responses to “Tuesday poem: Transferred to head office, and Happy Birthday Canberra!”

  1. marydanae said

    thanks for this story about falling in love with your city – very interesting and has made me see Canberra in a new light…

  2. pscottier said

    No worries Mary; I hope to come and make sweeping generalisations about Wellington some time, after five minutes there…(-:

  3. It’s interesting to read your thoughts on Canberra and compare it with Wellington – both capital cities, but one purpose-built and the other not. I think Wellington had a similar reputation for deadness at one time, but now it’s got more cafes – and literary events – than it knows what to do with. And I wish we had a city designed more for people and for bikes, and less for cars, as Canberra is.

    • pscottier said

      Unfortunately there is still a great reliance on the car in Canberra, Tim, although it is easy to get around by bike, at least in the inner areas.

      But they keep developing new suburbs, further and further out. And some people are now commuting from towns as far away as Braidwoord, and from cities such as Yass and Goulburn, as Canberra house prices (renting and buying) are silly.

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