NewSouth, $29.99 hb, 325 pp, 9781742233185
Canberra leads a double life: by day the federal capital, crafting legislation and performing on the world stage; at night it is transformed into a suburban neighbourhood where people cook their meals and pay their bills and water their gardens. But a pervasive view of Canberra is that it is the home only of public servants on secondment; that it is just a waste of a good sheep paddock. This is a stereotype in which I was instructed pretty much as soon as I arrived in Australia in the early 1990s. On my first visit to Canberra I saw exactly what I had been schooled to see: low-rise buildings emanating a dull power; orderly but sparsely populated streets. Not until moving here at the end of the 1990s did I come to know the quotidian nature of the town, the disorder lurking just below the bureaucratic structures, and the raffish, dreamy quality that is a remnant of Walter Burley Griffin’s adulterated plans.