There are many lessons that other Australian cities can learn from their Bush Capital. Canberra leads the nation in a number of measures of community contentedness and this is exemplified on occasions such as the Canberra Show, Enlighten, and the Multicultural Festival. Every year I host my own community event, Welcoming the Babies, which brings new parents, professionals and service providers in the field together at a community barbecue. I hope to see you there!
16 March 2015
Since the 1960s many measures of social capital in Australia have waned. On average Australians have fewer friends and know fewer of their neighbours. We are less likely to join organisations, to attend church or to be part of a union. As a nation we are more disconnected. But Canberra bucks that trend. The nation's capital is also our social capital. As we forge ahead with an Australian civic renaissance, Canberra has many lessons to teach the rest of Australia.
The events that mobilise a community reveal a lot about its character. The recent Canberra Show was a reminder that ours really is a bush capital—a city with strong rural roots. The Enlighten festival shone a multicoloured spotlight on Canberra's best performing artists, and last weekend Art, Not Apart showed that fine arts can thrive in our streets and parks as well as in the national cultural institutions.
Of course it is the multicultural festival that is Canberra's biggest community event, and that speaks volumes about our city's embrace of diversity. In a volatile world, Australia's pluralism is our best defence against extremism.
Festivals foster community life. They get us out and about. In a city of 400,000, when you attend a big gathering, you are bound to run into people you know. That urban village effect helps build social capital—the bonds of trust and reciprocity that keep a society strong. The better our social capital the more likely it is we will be able to draw on our greatest source of strength—each other.
That is why each year, as festival season comes to a close, I hold my own mini festival to help locals with one of the most important challenges for any community—raising children. On 28 March I will be holding my annual Welcoming the Babies event with a variety of free family entertainment and information stalls from health professionals. Being a new parent can be lonely and isolating. The rewards are huge, but babies do not come with a learning manual.
Welcoming the Babies is a celebration, but it also provides a chance for young families to tap into official support networks or compare notes with their other sleep-deprived peers. Caffeine, condiments, company, and conversations! Welcoming the Babies is a reminder that we have to look after the people who are looking after the northsiders of the future. I extend an invitation to all Canberrans with new children to come along to Welcoming the Babies in Hackett on 28 March. You will enjoy meeting everyone from the postnatal support units to playgroups. You will run into new parents who are facing similar challenges and enjoy a sense of community spirit on what I hope will be a sunny day.