Review / Lively tribute to suburb in community book

books / “Curtin Turns 50: the Story of a Canberra Suburb, 1964-2014”. Edited by Carolyn Brody, Peter Forster and Margitta Acker. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

curtin

THE story of the suburb of Curtin is told in a new book, part of the celebrations for Curtin’s 50th birthday.

Very much a community effort, spearheaded by Carolyn Brody, it was recently celebrated in a rollicking event involving the Choir from Holy Trinity School at Curtin shopping square that climaxed in the crowning as Queen of Curtin of local resident, Viola Kalokerinos. Another local resident, veteran journo Malcolm Farr, was so carried away that he declared Curtin to be “the premier suburb”.

The danger of a book organised by a community is that in the zeal to get individual stories told, an accurate overview is neglected.

In this case the editors have wisely divided the content into historical and thematic chapters: History; Suburban Development; Memories and Conversations; Schools and Churches; Events; Shops and Businesses Past and Present; Other Organisations; The Future; Additional Information; and a list of references. The book includes colour and black-and-white photographs.

Queen Viola of Curtin

Queen Viola of Curtin

The Curtin celebrations go back to a public meeting in 2013. Since that groups of five and six people from the local community have regularly shared stories about life in Curtin, forming the basis of recordings and transcriptions that appear in the final chapters of the book.

The historical section begins with a fascinating geological profile by Brody, but continues with a lively account by Peter Graves of a suburb originally considered to be “way out there in the sticks” but which was destined to punch above its weight as it adopted a groundbreaking urban design, “The Radburn Layout”, founded in New Jersey, US.

There are memories of living in an incomplete suburb, with not only limited shopping facilities but limited capacity in the first school, opened in 1965. In 1964 the nearest shops were in Hughes, accessed by a narrow footbridge across the Yarralumla Creek (now the drainage channel along the valley). The first shop in Curtin, near the corner of Theodore and Carruthers Streets, was opened in late 1965, eventually closing in 1993 in what was originally the NCDC site office.

General readers will find the section on businesses especially intriguing, with the inclusion of some now famous business names among the shopkeepers. 

The book does not gloss over catastrophic events in the suburb and one section begins with an account of the disastrous Australia Day floods in 1971.

The arts not neglected either, with reference to Matthew Harding’s visual art installation and the history of Artsound FM radio, which ran at Curtin shops from 1983 to 2005.

You don’t have to live on Curtin to read this account of Canberra’s cultural history – it might just make you wonder why you never bought a house there.

The book costs $25 from On Q bookshop, Curtin, or by emailing pfo42396@bigpond.net.au

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