My column in the Chronicle this week is on local Canberra history, and a chance to get to know your neighbours a little better.
A good year to have a street party and make new friends, The Chronicle, 8 January 2013
January in Canberra. The cicadas in the Northbourne Avenue eucalypts are singing by 9am. Lakeshore paths are pounded with the determination of many new year’s resolutions. Most of us are heading back into the office (hopefully a bit more relaxed than when we left, and perhaps gently sunkissed).
I’m particularly excited for 2013 to get underway, because – as you would no doubt know – this year marks the Centenary of Canberra. It’s a great chance to learn more about the city’s past, to experience all the wonderful things it has to offer, and to have conversations about its future.
Centenary Director Robyn Archer and her team have a splendid variety of celebrations mapped out, from competitions to exhibitions, musical events to street theatre. As northsiders would’ve seen from the ‘Andrew Leigh’ fridge calendar that recently landed in your mailbox (please phone my office on 6247 4396 if you didn’t get one), many of the festivities will culminate on Canberra Day: 11 March 2013.
As part of reconnecting with our city’s history and stories, the centenary organisers are encouraging Canberrans to learn about the person after whom their street is named. I live in a suburb where the roads recall famous scientists, and our street is named after a man who apparently had a ‘hasty temper’, but whose 19th century geological survey of Victoria was considered one of the best of its time.
Behind the hundreds of leafy streets of the Bush Capital lie hundreds of fascinating stories. In checking out the history of your street’s namesake, you might be surprised at what you find. The ACT Government’s place name search is an easy place to start, and can be found at http://goo.gl/TGk1u. If your research goes further, you can upload what you find to www.portraitofanation.com.au.
While you’re finding out more about your street name, why not get to know your neighbours better? Between my personal life of raising a young family and my public life of holding street corner meetings and community forums, I know for a fact that ours is a welcoming city with a strong sense of camaraderie.
Holding a street party is a brilliant way to get to know your neighbours better. Name your time and place, ask people to bring their favourite refreshment, and drop a photocopied invite into letterboxes: it couldn’t be easier. All you need to foster a greater sense of community is to make that first move. It’s also a lovely way to spend those long, warm Canberra evening hours while waiting for the cool evening breezes to blow in.
The Centenary of Canberra gives us all the opportunity to find out more about our history – those little stories that contribute to the bigger story of our beautiful city. While learning about our past, we can also reconnect with our current surrounds and maybe look at them with a new perspective, and maybe even with some new neighbourhood friends.
Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and a patron of the ‘Portrait of a Nation’ project. His website is www.andrewleigh.com.