Full of the joys

Wow, I see it was a totally different financial year the last time I posted something on here. What has happened since then? Well, I calculated I’ll probably owe some tax. I decided I’d lodge the return at the last possible moment. And I figured I should get some work to help pay it. Meanwhile, Melbourne happened, Canberra didn’t and Sydney sort of wavered on continual tenterhooks. I opened my first carton of UHT milk purchased in March because it was due to go off. Oh, and I completed the Canberra Centenary Trail. In case you missed it.  

Midwinter released its grip in fits and starts. And the seeping light of mornings stirred me closer toward an uncivilised hour. Wakening in the fives, I flit between hope of additional slumber, a boring interview on Radio National, and a curiosity about what might be going on outside. Sometimes this gets the better of me and I heroically part from my cocoon to embrace the day. Waiting for a coffee shop to open.

In that time between sunrise and coffee shop opening I potter through parks or take a drive to a nearby hilltop. It both surprises and comforts to find that I am not the only one out and about, the only one climbing hills, towering over the mist. There is shared solidarity on the hill, unspoken recognition that we are the lucky ones, that everyone else is missing out.

Misty mornings on Red Hill

It was on one of these mornings, mid-August, that I went in pursuit of a rainbow over Mount Taylor. A pot of gold would be handy even if the Tax Office are inevitably going to nab a handful of it. Alas, the rainbow had faded by time I parked up, but I walked a while and found treasure elsewhere. The perfect tunnel of cherry blossom in full extravagance. Adjacent to an open coffee shop.

A parade of cherry blossom

It is hard for me to conclude that spring is starting ever earlier because I’m usually in Europe during August. I return from overseas to a different world, jetlag weariness tempered by the thrum of bees and the tantalising prospect of future months bedecked in shorts. Bundles of flowers sprout from the trees and Bunnings becomes overwhelmed with people buying tomatoes far too early. The temperature trajectory is upward, but don’t remove that electric blanket just yet.

And sure enough, barely days later I was up early on another nearby hill looking out to snow. Not only on the distant ranges – dramatically revealed in the parting of valley mist – but also dusting the upper mound of Mount Taylor itself. Like a frame of pink blossom providing a window to the soul of Mount Fuji, one does not travel downstream to the replenishing river of spring with not first accomplishing the ultimate frozen mountaintop of mangled metaphor.  

Snow-capped mountains

Dotted among lurid yellow wattle and purple Paterson’s curse sprawling down the hillside, even the kangaroos looked a bit perplexed. Bemused. Ever so slightly pissed off. What the heck was this all about, this most bitter weekend of winter, when there was such colour burgeoning all around? Why on earth are we up so early on this godforsaken windswept ridge to look at snow? Is the coffee shop open yet? Click once for yes, two for no.

Kangaroo vistas

Inevitably the following weekend was A-MAZ-ING in a caps lock way that even Donald Trump would find difficult to resist. I feel like I wore a T-shirt sat on a log eating homemade quiche watching an echidna pass by in pursuit of love. I could still see snow on the highest ridge line of the mountains, but 1200 metres lower it was all sunshine and butterflies and frisky monotremes. Surely, definitely, the turning point leading to fake summer.   

Indeed, the year moves on and it is strange how quickly and yet how slowly it is going. This weekend would have heralded the start of Floriade – Canberra’s celebration of spring attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to gawp at tulips. But this year it is, of course, cancelled due to you know what. Instead, they have planted bulbs all across the suburbs, a Floriade Local if you like. The closest to me is down by the Youth Centre, so goodness knows how all that will pan out. All I can picture is a scene from The Inbetweeners.

Luckily, us locals don’t really need an organised parade of millions of flowers planted in the pattern of a unicorn pooping stardust to truly appreciate spring. You can just walk out into the street, any street. In 2020 I feel like I have gotten to know my local streets more than ever, witnessing their withered pain during brutal orange summer skies, their relief moving into an autumn technicolour, and their barren stoicism through winter frosts. Now, they are undeniably full of the joys of spring.

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Blossom

And as I continue to wake with the lighter mornings on a regular basis, I experience a microsecond of newfound joy as I pull up the blinds. The trees on my street have been steadily gathering buds then white cauliflower blooms then green shoots. The daffodils stand proud and the marigolds burst like orange lollipops. My snow peas, planted as part of doomsday prep, finally gather some momentum while the kale goes to seed. I may get one stir fry’s worth.

The morning too doesn’t feel as chilly as it used to. And I contemplate going outside. Or returning to bed. Just what time does that coffee shop open again?

Spring streets
Australia Green Bogey Photography

Warmth

Back in January, when we were in the midst of that horrible summer, I proclaimed out loud that I would never complain about winter in Canberra ever again. So there you go. I am absolutely loving the first day of May, with its frigid drizzle and single digit tops. It’s even better than yesterday.

On Tuesday afternoon I was still in shorts, walking up Mount Ainslie. Such are the inconsistencies of change, the indecisiveness of an autumn spanning thirty degree highs to single digit lows. Sunburn in the suburbs and snow on the hills, closed off and out of reach.

I was curious how autumn would pan out this year after the terror summer, the massive hailstorm, the rain, and now the chill. But I shouldn’t have worried because – on this most dismal of days – there are still riots of colour in every other cul-de-sac, around every empty circle. And I’ve had plenty of opportunity to investigate multiple nooks and crannies in these recent weeks. From COVID-walks around the corner to expeditions along the Centenary Trail, there is always something of wonder on offer to brighten up the dark…

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Walks from home, discovering every single street in an effort to mix it up a little

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If you can walk clockwise and put up with the zillions of people getting their mandated exercise, Lake Burley Griffin offers all the usual spectacle

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Red Hill: the street sweeper’s dream

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It’s not only the cockies causing all the shenanigans. Flocks of pretty gang-gangs, vibrant king parrots and stately yellow-tailed black cockatoos are a regular sight feasting on the fruits of summer, and not practising social distancing

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Colours in Campbell, sidestepping from the Centenary Trail

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Look close and there is autumn magic around every corner

Australia Green Bogey Photography Walking

Down South

tug01Having now spent over nine years (with interruptions) in everyone’s favourite Australian city you would think I’d have exhausted every nook, crevice and scrubby hilltop. Forget nine years…many would say two days is sufficient, and even then you might have to drag things out with a wander around the National Archives, surely the least compelling sounding attraction of the lot (which might explain why, still, I have never been). But no, it turns out Canberra has even more suburbs and scrubby hilltops than you can ever imagine.

Partly, the new has been thrust upon me. Well, not so much thrust but more gently cajoled after a temporary change of residence. It’s hardly a hardship (in comparison to, say, being evicted and dragged to a mosquito-infested tropical island where you will get abused and suffer long-term mental degradation courtesy of the Australian Government). But some locals will recoil in horror, the froth atop their soy lattes spilling over onto the front page of The Australian, when they hear I am living in Tuggeranong.

Quick geography lesson: Canberra is weird and like no other city. There is a city centre, of sorts and then some town centres as well, and I suppose some village centres and suburban shopping precincts, which spread out like satellites around the town centres. Occasionally an out-of-town shopping centre muscles in to compete with the town centres and no-one goes to the city centre because they are all at the new IKEA which is on the edge of a centre on the periphery of nothing. All the important government-type stuff happens without a centre, but instead is contained within its own triangle which is more like a diamond, if you take into account the War Memorial. Meanwhile grassland wedges and lumps of trees bubble up out of a mesh of roundabouts, circles and parkways where confused cars with NSW plates frequently vanish, never to be seen again.

Tuggeranong is a town centre in the south of Canberra, with Wanniassa – where I stay for now – one of those satellite suburbs on its edge. Wanniassa is actually closer to Woden (another town centre), but I will spare you even more complexities. It’s officially part of Tuggeranong, which is believed to have a higher proportion of Bogans per square kilometre than the other Canberra towns. I cannot truly vouch for this on my forays into its cul-de-sacs. All I can report is that there is a broad cross-section of mostly Anglo-centric Australia on display, from suited public servants to Shazzas in tracky-dacks. Utage – that is the popular Australian tendency to convey oneself by pimped up utility vehicle – seems high, as does baby-booming designer spectacle wearing.

In spite of repetitiveness in its suburbia, Tuggeranong sits in quite a spectacular bowl. To the south and west, the Brindabella Ranges appear much closer and far more impenetrable. North and East, a series of Canberra hills and ridges block out the rest of the city. With a little imagination, you could picture a Swiss town in that valley, with church steeples and cowbells decorating the air (alas they filled it with concrete brutalism instead). Meanwhile, the omnipresent dome of Mount Taylor is recast as Mount Fuji, a conical summit piercing the seal of a leaden sky and drawing the Lycra-bound to its trails.

It’s no Red Hill but I have found Mount Taylor to be a convenient escape from the clutches of the valley. The lower slopes of grassland are regularly grazed by kangaroos, fattening themselves for a game of chicken on the Tuggeranong Parkway. The middle section – which flattens for much-needed respite – is all bushland shrubbery, concealing colourful rosellas and wrens and a cockatoo or two. The final ascent upon gravel is open and barren, affording views over Tuggeranong and the ever-changing weather scattered over the ridges and valleys to the west. In the other direction, the needle atop Black Mountain reminds that you are still in Canberra, and another town centre or two awaits below.

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Naturally I have not confined myself to this area – old haunts are only a 15 minute drive or so and offer greater reliability of coffee. Upon returning to one of a handful of coffee spots in the Inner South in which I regularly spread my love and money, I was astounded that they remembered my name and didn’t seem at all fussed that I hadn’t been there for over six months. While some curiosity might not have gone amiss, the warm feeling of going to a place where everybody knows your name makes it harder to sever ties.

tug05Nevertheless, it was with some contentment that I found a reasonably close reasonably decent coffee stop one Saturday morning, as part of a bike ride on the many accommodating paths in the Tuggeranong Valley. One path circumnavigates its lake, which is a poor man’s Burley-Griffin but amiable enough. Others cut through the various patches of grass set between the backs of brick houses and alongside storm drains. One route takes you up towards Oxley Hill, a reasonable but not unobtainable test of legs, and another does the long uphill drag back to Wanniassa, in which aforementioned legs turn to jelly. I may be being just a touch healthier, but with this comes justification in feasting on yet another, sadly Antipodean, cream tea.

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As well as a higher-than-average distribution of Bogans, it is said that Tuggeranong gets a little more rain, at least compared with the gauge at the dry and dusty international airport. It’s the proximity of the mountains you see, and the bubbling up of storm clouds. Some of these have been very generous in their distribution of rain in the last couple of weeks, transforming Aussie golden to English green.

With these mountains just a touch closer, wilderness practically on your doorstep, ridges almost always framing your vista, there is a magnetic appeal to that which lies nearby. The fresh air of the bush is tantalisingly close to Tuggers. And for that, and really quite a lot else, it can’t be much faulted.

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Australia Green Bogey Society & Culture