“HALF a dozen miles from Queanbeyan is the centre practically of the Federal capital, the city of our dreams… One fails to understand, now that the city is in the making, why ambitious Australians do not flock to this part of the country during the season…”
So lamented “The Daily Telegraph” of 1915.
And now, as it was 101 years ago, rather than “tread the plains … [of] pretentious Parliament Houses, Government offices, and artificial lakes” during our parched summers, Canberrans actively desert the place, hurriedly passing through that hamlet only a few miles hence “where dwell some of the most homely and hospitable people on God’s good earth”, for their annual pilgrimage to the south coast.
Never mind the beauty of a natural watercourse that feeds said lake, once so filled with trout there were plans to market Queanbeyan as a fisherman’s paradise; nor do the escapees heed the allure of that almost unheard of entity in the Capital Territory, the country town pub.
Instead, like generations before them (a few anyway), they beetle down the main thoroughfare, casting nary a sidelong glance at gaily adorned shopfronts primping and preening their wares, trying to inveigle the “tourists” to spend a little of their time and public-service dollars.
The siren song luring them coastside is too strong.
Come the summer and the exodus is almost biblical; in days of yore, traffic would be gridlocked all the way over Queanbeyan’s old timber bridge, half way back to Canberra in one direction, in the other, round the old dog-leg into Macquoid Street and off into the azure distance where the sea shore beckoned.
The travellers largely resist Queanbeyan’s delights; made easier when that dark time in Canberra’s past, Prohibition, came to an end and later, too, when the smaller city’s stranglehold on poker machines could no longer be maintained.
The sun, the sand and the escape from all things political calls them ever onwards to Batemans Bay, Moruya and Ulladulla.
Indeed, there remain those so devoted that the idea of January without a visit to the coast is no holiday at all.
Perhaps though this may have been why many government officials agreed to be posted from Melbourne in 1927. The new Federal Capital did, after all, boast its own sea port from which Australia’s naval might could be launched.
Alas, it remains somewhat more distant than most expect: Jervis Bay, in fact.
So as this annual tradition continues, when essentially the ACT is relocated to the south coast for almost a month each year, might the politicians need to reconsider that those original 910 square miles ceded to create the heart of our nation were not enough after all and a boundary adjustment a little further southwards might be in order?
With a detour around Queanbeyan, of course.
Nichole Overall is a journalist and local historian based in Queanbeyan.