Reasons to (not) move to Canberra?
September 6, 2009 1:50 PM   Subscribe

[AustraliaFilter] Possibly moving to Canberra: All arguments for or against are wanted.

Yet another where-shall-I-live question. I'm Australian, my husband is English but has lived in Australia before (in Sydney). After several years overseas we are returning to Australia later this year. We had been planning to move to Sydney, on the assumption that would be the best place to score a job. But my husband has been offered a reasonably interesting and well-paid job in, um, Canberra.

We both dismissed it at first, but we've suddenly become weirdly keen on it in the past day or so. Our thinking is: small cities are probably a good thing; lots of other people will have moved there for work so presumably it's relatively easy to meet people, and we don't especially love Sydney, which is the only other realistic option.

- I like outdoors stuff
- Housing is cheaper and we'll be able to save lots of money
- I have a couple of long-lost friends there with whom I might be able to re-connect
- I'm guessing the pace of life is more relaxed and socialising is more spontaneous. One thing I hate about big sprawling cities (eg Sydney and London) is that everything has to be planned at least 3 weeks in advance, and it takes an hour to get anywhere.

- We were looking forward to living near the beach in Sydney (though weren't sure if we'd be able to afford it).
- I was looking forward to moving home to a city where I had some immediate friends and family.
- We're both used to living in bigger cities
- It's Canberra! Most of Australia seems pretty unanimous on this subject...

There are dozens of other considerations, but really I'm just looking for other people's impressions, and suggestions of things we might not have thought of - we have to make a decision on this job very soon.
posted by 8k to Home & Garden (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is from my gf who spent some time in Canberra.


- It's only a 3 and a half hour drive to Sydney.
- It's close to the skiifields. Good for outdoor stuff.
- You can daytrip to Bareman's Bay to swim on the weekends
- It's a student & academic town. ANU film club is good.
- Good for cycling if you're into that.
- There are kangaroos everywhere.
- The sky is always blue. Even in winter

- Really really cold in winter (by Aussie standards)
- Architecture and urban design is hideous. If you don't anyone, you're chances of going out and meeting good people is pretty slim.
- Way way too many public servants
posted by dydecker at 2:04 PM on September 6, 2009

Canberra is the sort of place that people move to for a completely awesome job, and then try and leave within a couple of years. It is therefore a somewhat transient place. Whether or not you like that is up to you.

Public transport is terrible, and hope you never need a taxi. Canberra is sprawling, for such a small place. Those who I've known that have lived there list these as their top complaints. That and the few cool bars are weirdly interspersed between shopping malls in the suburbs.

If the job is right, there are good galleries (NGA), the National Library, good bookstores and the cycle paths are amazing.

I haven't lived there (though I've spent a bit of time there for conferences, work, weekenders etc), but have considered whether I would take a promotion there and weighed up these pros and cons. I don't drive so that would make it a difficult city to live in.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:17 PM on September 6, 2009

You've made a fairly good summary that most people who spent time in Canberra would agree with. It used to be quite sterile and full of people who were just passing through, but has gotten a lot better. Some pros and cons:

- It's a university / government town. Pro: lots of educated, intelligent people. Con: can be a bit insular / clique-y. You might also think the city lacks diversity.
- Pro: "Great for those who like outdoor pursuits"
- Pro: Yes, it's close to Sydney. Con: Which might cause you to wonder why you shouldn't just live in Sydney. Sydney can be expensive, and it might be difficult to afford a place near the beach.
- Con: Cold, yes, but (to emphasize) by Australian standards. The weather is generally mild.
- Pro: the big ticket national galleries and museums. Cons: might be missing the more indy, trendy end of culture.
- Pro: not a built-up, dense urban city. Con: sprawling suburbs, all the way into New South Wales. It's a car town.

A few months ago, I had to advise some friends about the exact same issue. I won't say what their decision was, but there are definite good and bad aspects. It depends on your priorities.
posted by outlier at 2:37 PM on September 6, 2009

Bareman's Bay: That'd be Batemans Bay.

I spent two weeks there a couple of years ago to check out the national stuff, and I found public transport to be pretty good (around the city, not so much the suburbs). We even caught a bus to the snowfields.

My husband (who's from Batemans Bay) and I intend to spend a couple of years there on our working tour of Australia (once the kids are independent) and use it as a base to explore NSW on weekends etc. What's a couple of years in a place, eh? If you find you don't like it, it's a good place to start looking for a job somewhere else.
posted by b33j at 2:47 PM on September 6, 2009

You don't say if you have children.

My colleagues who live in the ACT tell me that the public education system is uniformly excellent and every school they've had their kids in has had a strong communal parents' culture.

They also tell me not to buy the stereotype; and that the image of Canberra as a modern Wild West just-passing-through pollie's and staffer's town is the creation of just those pollies and staffers who didn't like it very much.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:55 PM on September 6, 2009

An American who lived there off and on for a couple of years. What others say seems right, but here are a few more thoughts:

* It always seemed to me that Aussies hate it because it's not Melbourne or Sydney. That's like dissing Ann Arbor, Madison, etc. just because they're not SF, NY, or Boston. (OK, that's not totally fair; Ann Arbor and Madison are cooler than Canberra. But still, there is definitely a note of truth in this thought. There is a sort of person who just whines, and doesn't try to get to know a town for what it is rather than what it fails to be.)

* the weekend trips to Bateman's Bay (or elsewhere on the South Coast) are totally doable, and you pass through a cute town with an awesome pie shop on the way. There are lots of lovely, uncrowded beaches there. And very cool snorkeling/diving, actually, though, um, the water's a bit chilly.

* if you like walking or trail-running or mountain-biking, Canberra is GREAT. The Black MT and especially Mt Ainslie parks are fabulous. And there is apparently great road cycling all around Canberra too.

* OK, so the thing dydecker said about how you're not going to meet anyone if you don't already have an "in" is spot on....

* and yeah, you need a car. The neighborhoods have their own shops, but you will be driving all over the place to buy specific things. It has the weirdest zoning laws ever. I once had to go out to Fyshwick to buy a special lightbulb: Fyshwick is all and only used car lots, electrical stores (hence the lightbulb), and porn shops. Oh, and furniture.
posted by kestrel251 at 3:30 PM on September 6, 2009

God, that is a good pie shop. I lived in Canberra for +5 years. Hated the first two, when I kept viewing as a small bus stop on route to a greater destination.

Once I accepted it as a destination in itself, the city bloomed before my eyes.

great for families. Great schools, libraries, lots of parks, etc. etc.
Great for outdoors; cycling, skiing etc. I used to cycle to work and uni everyday, I was so fit!!
Very cultural/political city; as alluded above, people are in general highly educated and interested in things. The presence of embassies brings a lot of multi-cultural (sponsored) events to town that would otherwise not be there.
The older, more inner city suburbs are gorgeous. Huge trees, quiet roads. No front fences allowed!

Cons: It's not the cold so much, but in summer it gets up to 44' celsius. It's a dry heat, so doable, but make no mistake, it's _bloody_ hot.

People paint it as some kind of backwater berg, but it's totally untrue. It wasn't like that when I was there, and the city has progressed leaps and bounds since then. You can get everything in Canberra that you can in Sydney almost, except Canberra will only have one of those things, not multiples!

I loved Canberra, and would happily consider moving back for the right opportunity, and I say that as a Sydney-sider now.
posted by smoke at 4:20 PM on September 6, 2009

I moved to Canberra about a year ago, from Sydney.

Housing is cheaper if you want to buy, but unless you want to be way out in the burbs, rental prices are high (and comparable to inner Sydney).

You will need a car, but it's also Australia's best city for biking. There's a huge networks of bikeways and lanes and places to lock up a bike, and almost every workplace has bike parking and showers.

You will be able to find most things that you enjoyed in Sydney, but you have to search for them. It is also difficult to meet people unless you're on a public service graduate program or you have kids. And by that, I mean really difficult - I've been here a year and am only just starting to meet people.

It also seems to be a great place for kids.

In short, it's a lot like the country town I grew up in, but with proper coffee, real jobs, and a full set of museums and galleries and other national intitutions.
posted by girlgenius at 4:25 PM on September 6, 2009

Hey. I'm an Aussie who's mostly from Queensland but lived in Canberra for 3.5 years and loved it. Partly for me coming from the tropics, it was pretty exciting to have 4 real seasons and a reason for having Winter clothes.

Agreed that its a car town, but there is practically no traffic compared to big cities.

Agreed also that you can do day trips/overnighters to Sydney, the Coast/Beach and the ski-fields, which I thought was great. Any big show or band that comes to Australia goes to Sydney, so you don't miss anything you really want to see. Canberra airport is also very well serviced, with regular flights to much of the rest of Australia.

Agreed its a great city to raise kids. There is tonnes of open space and things to do, the schools are good, and parents are relatively well educated and interested in their kids, volunteering, etc.

For its population size, Canberra does very well for galleries, shows, museums, etc, being of course the national capital. If you're interested in politics, then it can be fun watching 1000 assorted politicians, staffers, journos and hangers on arrive in town for a couple of weeks when Parliament sits - filling the bars, restaurants, hotels, etc - and then all depart again for a month or so.

The open space is a real standout, particularly in terms of nature and wildlife, but also sports fields. Three great memories - about a 10 minute walk from my backdoor in the suburbs, I was in the bush and practically stepped on an echidna. I have never before or since seen one of these in the wild. Very similar experiences with wombats while mountainbiking. And also, one night playing Ultimate Frisbee on the Dickson Ovals, a mob of kangaroos came through the fields. Unforgettable. Lived in Australia for 35 years and never seen anything like that.

The con of course is that its not a big city of the London/Sydney/New York mould - ie its not a global city. Its ethnically/culturally pretty homogenous (you may view that as a pro of course). The nightlife isn't much to write home about. The public transport is minimal, and the great open space suddenly becomes an insurmountable obstacle if you've been drinking and don't have a car.
posted by jjderooy at 4:34 PM on September 6, 2009

Warning: rash generalisations follow.

I moved to Canberra as a 19 year old party animal in 1987, and left as a 33 year old mother in 2001. These are my impressions of the ACT, based on my current feelings for the place:

Too bloody cold for me. Those winds off the snowy Brindabella's in winter... brutal (for this warm-blooded creature, at least).

I loved it when I first moved there, the novelty of a whole new city to explore was great. And the galleries, etc, are awesome (the first 5 times you go, anyway). The public events, celebrations for Australia Day, free concerts and whatnot, held at places like the lawns of Parliament House, are good fun.

When my first child was born, I was suddenly introduced to the concept of social status. We didn't have a 4WD, a six-figure income, or a mortgage, so found ourselves ostracised (no, not an exaggeration) from other parents at babies events, daycare, pre-school, etc.

I would hesitate to recommend Canberra private schools. (The social class system would put India to shame, and I heard some horror stories while working in the education system.) Go public.

Yes, the coast is only a couple of hours drive away - the road isn't too bad, but the trip is always horrendous. Every weekend and school holidays, the road is clogged with Canberrans towing ridiculously oversized boats with ridiculously underpowered vehicles.

And those who live at Batemans Bay didn't seem to like Canberrans in general. I'm not taking sides, but my feeling was that the locals don't like tourists of any sort, but particularly Canberrans. And I also felt that Canberrans tended to have a superior attitude towards the coastal folk.

Of course, these are only my recollections, and there are things I liked about Canberra. (I'm trying hard to remember some.)

Access to entertainment of all types and the great outdoors is easy. (People in Canberra complain about travelling times? What the??? You can get from one end of the ACT to the other in 45 minutes if you know where you're going.)

Peak hour is terrible. All 20 minutes of it.

The roads are beautifully designed, for those who understand the basic concept of a roundabout. The bike paths are spectacular, for walkers and bike-riders alike.

The corner store sells alcohol as well as groceries.

They don't do pubs in Canberra. They do nightclubs, and trendy little bars that get instantly popular when a Canberra Raider gets into well-publicised trouble in one. People say there is no nightlife, but I disagree. You just have to FIND the nightlife. There isn't a central entertainment 'hub' like Sydney city, but asking around when you get there will get you some recommendations about where to go.

Since leaving, I've told people that I loved it when I first moved there, but now I see it as a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there again. I've also said it would be the perfect city if it was moved north 1000 km (to improve the weather), and left behind all the snobs who determine friendship potential by the vehicle you drive.

Did I mention the fog? Rolls in at around dawn, and stubbornly sits until lunchtime or later. If you work in an office with no windows, and knock off around 4.51pm (public service standard knock-off time), you see no sunlight at all. All day. Every day. All winter long.

I thought the public transport system was excellent, but apparently now, as newer suburbs are shoved into the few remaining empty places, it isn't as good. (Eg: my ex-husbands brother starts work at 7.30am, and can't get a bus that gets him to the local interchange in time.)

Okay, stopping to draw breath now... good luck with whatever you decide.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:04 PM on September 6, 2009

Wow - thanks for all these very considered answers. I didn't expect to get this many replies about a small Australian city - yay MeFi!

On reflection, I think 'meeting people' is the key concern for me - my husband would have no trouble doing this, through his job, but I work from home. We don't have kids yet, but having lived in London and Sydney, I suspect we wouldn't be too shocked by cliquiness or yukky social climbing - but at the same time, I was hoping that the transient population means people would be at least little more interested in meeting newcomers. Is there any truth to this?
posted by 8k at 5:20 PM on September 6, 2009

I meant to also talk up the ANU Film Club. There is nothing like it for seeing movies cheaply, regularly, easily, etc. Great social scene with it too - sit next to a stranger and start talking about the movie and you're off. You don't need to be a student to be a member etc - many clearly non-students (eg "old-looking", "mature couples") people involved.

Re: Meeting people. I found Canberreans pretty friendly. If you're British, you'll have no troubles managing some Canberrean's efforts to do 'class' boundaries (you'll probably find it as laughable as most Aussies).

As usual with making friends in new places, if you put some effort in you'll usually be rewarded - at worst you'll at least walk away knowing. If you're sporty, the Canberra Ultimate Frisbee scene is extremely friendly to newcomers.
posted by jjderooy at 5:35 PM on September 6, 2009

I'm from Canberra and would definitely consider moving back there.

Of course I haven't had the experience that others have had of moving there as an adult. Your age might make some difference. There always seemed to be a large number of University and just graduated people moving there who are actively looking to make new friends. Few people are born and grow up in Canberra and many who are, like me, leave. It seems that in Melbourne and Sydney more people are still friends with their school and University friends.

My parents and I drove and drive cheap cars and were not looked down on because of it. Indeed the which suburb do live in and what school you went to attitude seems more prevalent in Sydney and Melbourne than Canberra.

Canberra's income distribution is flat. The GINI coefficient for the city is pretty much like Sweden. It is probably flatter than any other state or territory in Australia. Canberra's Red Hill is no Toorak nor are the poorest suburbs anything like Corio.

The government schools, if this is a concern, have a good reputation. Indeed, some are good enough that people leave the private system to go to some of the colleges.

It's a bit small and lacks the amount of stuff of the majors in Australia, but it punches above its weight. Cities are what you make of them and if you have a good opportunity in Canberra you should take it. Don't let the anti-Canberra sillyness of many Australians dissuade you. Indeed, enjoy that you might get a higher salary because of it.
posted by sien at 5:37 PM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

The roads are beautifully designed

Repeated for emphasis. I ride a motorcycle and would recommend the countryside around Canberra to anybody.

They don't do pubs in Canberra.

Repeated for emphasis. I've been to some cracking house parties and barbecues at people's houses, though, Canberra people seem to do socialising in private really well, and have a much stronger culture of frequent inviting-around than there is in Sydney or Melbourne.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:44 PM on September 6, 2009

It can be tough to "break in" - or it was for me. HOWEVER, if you follow your social nose, i.e join one of the innumerable clubs (great film club, great language clubs, great sports clubs/teams/etc), you will make friends firmly and fastly.

Don't get me wrong, there are still douchebags, there always will be, but in Canberra you do need (in my experience) to be a little more structured, and then let the organics work in, rather than the opposite, which has been my experience in other cities I've lived in (Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sunshine Coast).

Once I accepted this, I made friends really quickly and was shocked by how hard it had seemed previously.
posted by smoke at 5:54 PM on September 6, 2009

I'm originally from Sydney, and lived for several years in London before moving to Canberra about five years ago.

I agree with those who say it can be tough to get an 'in' here, particularly if you're working from home. I was freelancing for the first 9 months we were here, and although my partner was building a network through her work contacts, I can honestly say I knew a total of about three people here for the first six months. If I had been a bit more proactive in getting out and meeting people, I'm sure that would have been different.

Having been here nearly five years, my feeling is that this is a city that grows on you, slowly but surely. For the first three years, I was actively plotting our departure ... now, I think I'd be happy to stay another ten years. (Still not quite ready to say I'll be here forever.)

My list of pros and cons:

- clean air, beautiful weather (yes, it can get hot, and yes, it can get cold, but it's the nicest climate I've lived in anywhere)
- great opportunities for outdoor activities
- excellent restaurants and an increasing number of great bars (as opposed to the huge/awful/tacky pubs)
- ridiculously easy to get around (if you have a car, as noted above)

- overpriced housing (if you want to live closer in, it's overpriced; if you're prepared to live in the outer 'burbs, then it's a different story)
- it's a company town -- when Parliament rises for the summer and winter breaks, and people go on holiday, it empties out very quickly
- no beach!

This is a quick brain-dump of a list, not an exhaustive summary. Perhaps I can best sum my Canberra experience up by saying that if you'd asked me seven years ago if I'd live in Canberra, I would have said no, but now that I'm here, I'm really glad I gave it a go.
posted by impluvium at 7:25 PM on September 6, 2009

Sorry to comment again - things keep popping into my mind.

If you're looking to make friends, you might want to consider that people who identify as "from Sydney" will go home to Sydney every weekend they can. People who identify as "from Melbourne", will go home to Melbourne every other weekend they can.

This is no big deal unless you're trying to build weekend social thingees. On the plus side, you have people who will introduce you to Sydney and Melbourne.

This is from the experience of moving to Canberra and starting work with a group of about 20 people from around Australia, and then also talking to people from other similar groups. People arriving from "further away" will invest more in making friends and creating a scene, while folks from Sydney and Melbourne will still call those cities home for a long time.
posted by jjderooy at 8:00 PM on September 6, 2009

Based the reasons you give in the questionI think you would find Canberra OK, although property may not be as cheap as you think it is.

Also with respect to the beach, Bateman's Bay is only an hour an a half away
posted by singingfish at 8:22 PM on September 6, 2009

Just about everything seems to have been said already, except:

PRO - it's pretty in spring & autumn, with blossoms & turning leaves on the deciduous trees. No other Australian city seems to have such 'European' botany.

CON - they will never, ever, ever build that superfast train to Sydney that they keep talking about.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:36 PM on September 6, 2009

I'm an American that's only visited there, partly to see some of my fiance's family, who live there. From my perspective, Canberra is a beautiful place, and (okay, I'm biased) I like the American styling of the city, which is pretty staunchly zoned out, unlike Sydney or Melbourne, which sprawls around like a weed, business and residential areas crossing paths every which way. Residential areas are mainly residential, it seemed to me, which I personally like. It's quiet, green, seems quite down to earth.

However, Canberra is a very small city, not just a small city. (It has a similar metro population size to Huntsville, Alabama, a place I'm really familiar with, and yet it takes substantially less time to drive from one side of Canberra to the other, than it does to do the same thing in Huntsville. That says something--there's less stuff to do and see.) Just as a visitor, I'm not really convinced that a small city in Australia is that great. Keep in mind that small cities in many countries will still be a relatively short distance from something bigger or busier, typically about an hour's distance by car. In Canberra, your nearest big city is Sydney, a 2-3 hour and mostly-dull drive away, from what I understand; Melbourne is 7-8 hours away on the Hume Highway, and it is fucking dead, excepting the occasional tourist stop, McDonald's or petrol station. Being Australian yourself, you'll know how things are spread out here. I think if I lived in Canberra, it'd be like a love-hate relationship. You'd love the relaxing nature of things, but you'd hate that there was so little to do and see.

I think Canberra's distance from other, larger cities actually affects a lot. It affects Canberra's culture, in the way that jjderooy mentions, in that most people I know of from there identify with Sydney or Melbourne more and end up visiting one or the other frequently, often each weekend. I think this fact would make meeting people really difficult, not to mention that probably if you aren't working in the government (like 40% of people or some ungodly number like that), you are a little bit out of the loop. Add to it that it doesn't seem that there's much of a...night life, unless you're trying to go through the drive-through at McDonald's on a weekend night, in which case everyone and their sister is there trying to get a burger that tastes like cardboard.

Since you've been away for a while, don't forget there are occasional bushfires in Canberra, as in other parts of Oz. I'm not one to think to alter entire plans according to certain natural disasters, but it's something to consider if you go and choose property or a home there. My fiance's family knows someone whose whole house was taken out by a fireball. So don't live near any brush, even if the homes "out that way" might be cheaper, as I'd somewhat expect them to be; your insurance wouldn't be, probably.
posted by metalheart at 8:41 PM on September 6, 2009

I'm living in Canberra now, having spent three months here earlier this year and just arrived three weeks ago with my permanent visa. I'm finding I like it a lot better than I thought I would - on paper, I think Canberra looks pretty unappealing. (only 400,000 people? It gets HOW cold in the winter? Rent is HOW much?)

People above have really made all the relevant points, but I'd like to add this: My husband has been living here since January, and we do not yet have a car. He gets a monthly bus pass, I buy a 10-trip pass for when I need to go with him somewhere on the weekends, and ride my bike everywhere else I need to go. And since -everyone- else owns a car, it's not hard to get rides from friends to social events and such.

On the rare occasions when a car is necessary, like buying bulky garden items, or taking trips to Sydney, we rent one for a day or two. From what I know about cars here, this has saved us the purchase price of a car ($10,000-15,000 for a used small or medium car, according to my recent searching) plus operating costs (I'm going to guess $5,000 a year or so for maintenance, repairs, gas, and insurance). Sometimes inconvenient, yes - it's raining today, so I'll have to take the bus to do my grocery shopping instead of riding my bike. But totally worth it, if you're not living way out in the boonies and don't like the idea of spending $10,000 on a 10+ year old vehicle.

I didn't know a soul when I came in February, but haven't found it difficult to meet people and make friends, because I have a couple of strong group interests which afford me an easy "in."

Things I love about it:
- I can get everything I need, despite the relatively low population.
- It's pretty. Lots and lots of trees and parks and nature reserves.
- I can find many things to do and see and explore - abovementioned nature reserves, museums all over the place, lots of stuff in easy distance.
- There are about ninety gazillion kinds of birds, which I find lovely and entertaining.
- There's hardly any traffic.

Things I'm not so fond of:
- The amount of rent I'm paying.
- How cold it's been lately.
- No Dairy Queen, but that's Australia-wide, not just Canberra. ;)

Good luck with your decision! I hope whatever you choose works out beautifully for you.
posted by po at 9:01 PM on September 6, 2009

The best thing about Canberra is that every friend I've ever had move there has since moved back to Sydney.

That should say everything necessary about Canberra.
posted by Neale at 10:42 PM on September 6, 2009

Other people have made all the points I'd make, except for one: do everything you can to avoid arriving anytime from December through to March. This is when all of the new students, public service graduate recruits and military people all arrive at once, and trying to find accommodation is absolute hell. Expect to have to secretly negotiate with real estate agents to outbid ten other desperate people just to rent a place that isn't in the middle of nowhere (yes, people bid against each other for rentals, which are already expensive enough - Canberra is not a cheap place to live). Forget it if you have a pet or any blemishes on your rental history. Arrive at another time of year, especially in Winter, and you'll be fine.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:41 AM on September 7, 2009

The natural disasters are less of an issue than you would think. We've had bushfires recently, it'll take another decade or so for fuel to build up. I find that living inner-city and being within an hour's walk from most everything I'd want to do is worth it. Housing is, all the same, pretty expensive - I agree about not arriving over summer. And - as you've found - it runs on public servants and government money, so it's not as affected by downturns, and there's generally jobs available. The closest we have to beaches is some sandy patches on the lake and river, but they're closed every so often for algal blooms and so forth.
posted by quercus23 at 4:00 AM on September 7, 2009

Guess I'll be the lone voice to say that Canberra is totally and unequivocally awesome.

Listen carefully to anybody who says otherwise. Their arguments will go something like this:

"It's cold." Well, I guess you'll never live in any of the world's major population centers like New York, or London, or Berlin, because they're a thousand fucking times colder. Nobody, having learned that a friend was moving to Paris, would say "Oh, but don't go - it's cold." The cold is nothing but positives. It means we have honest-to-god seasons - a real fall, a real spring, and once every few years, a dusting of wonderful snow. Nobody ever says "oh, you'll love summer, because there's no humidity whatsoever" or "you can get a tan in the springtime".

"It's full of public servants." Well, no, actually, it isn't, but so what if it was? What's your problem with the 'ungodly' number of public servants? Please, do share your pathetic stereotypes so we can shatter them. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of public servants in a place like Sydney, with its massive State government and myriad local governments, exceeded the number in Canberra by a country mile.

"It's small." Sorry, but if you happened to live in Sydney or Melbourne, how many of the millions of people who live there were you planning to become close friends with? Can't be social with 400,000 people? You probably can't do it at all.

"It's boring." This one is always simple to debunk. Just ask them what they like to do that they can't do in Canberra. Short of drowning in an undertow (you have to drown in the lake here), they're wrong. Nightclubs, restaurants, cafes, sports, markets, shopping, whatever - there's just more of it in Sydney or Melbourne. Again, how many of them are you planning to make your regular hangouts? How many Vietnamese restaurants are enough? How many farmer's markets do you need? How many cinemas? Get some perspective already.

"It's full of politicians." Erm, no. The politicians come from everywhere else except Canberra. They go from the airport to Parliament House to the airport to home again - home being not Canberra.

"There are no pubs." Well, except for Wig and Pen. And Olims. And the Old Canberra Inn. And the Kingo...and so on. Yep, no pubs. If you're too thick to find any of those, you have your choice of neighbourhood and city clubs, taverns and bars, places that are indistinguishable from pubs. You can get a beer, have a schnitzel, watch the footy, see a live band, play the pokies, shoot some pool - what exactly is it about 'pubs' that you can't get here? Flaking paint? Fake brass on the stairs? A Fosters mirror on the wall?

Put short, you won't find anywhere else with as many of the advantages of living in a large city with none of the downsides. 'Peak hour' is when it takes 18 minutes instead of 15 to get to work. Your kids never have to walk more than a mile to school, and chances are it's through a suburban nature corridor dotted with parks with no crossing of roads required. Every suburb has local shops, a primary school, a church, a community centre. Every few suburbs has a major supermarket and accompanying facilities - a high school, a gym, a library, a college, a medical centre. In between are broad expanses of forest perfect for walking. Get closer to the town centres and you have your major shopping districts, restaurant strips and office blocks. Three north-south highways mean you can get from one side of the city to the other in 20 minutes - not because it's small, but because it's well-designed. Absolutely gotta have a taste of Darling Harbour? Take a 3 hour, $15 bus trip there, get it out of your system, then come home again. Eventually you'll realise there's nothing there that isn't already in Civic, except grief, crowds, ridiculous restaurant prices and $42 a day parking.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:17 AM on September 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

Canberran here...and one of those incredibly awful public servants everyone hates!

I don't have much to add to the incredibly detailed info already in this thread, except to say that Canberra is as good or as bad as you make it. You can tap into fun, outgoing, outdoorsy, spontaneous groups, but you'll also find that a lot of people are very inward-looking; there's a lot of hibernation in winter. People tend to spend more time at home than in other cities, and socialising will usually be dinner/house parties rather than huge nights at the pub. The biggest adjustment I found moving here (from the centre of Sydney) was that you have to make your own entertainment. You absolutely will need a car. People don't care as much about what type it is as malibustacey9999 said. Yes, private schools are snobby, but I don't think that's a strictly Canberran phenomenon! I suggest you try to live close to Civic to cushion the small town culture shock. Do you have kids? Another good reason to not live in the suburbs, as the lack of transport is pretty crippling (I lived here until I was 15). One thing you'll notice is that it's gorgeously sunny almost every day of the year (except today), even though it gets and stays much colder than Sydney in the winter. Weekend escapes to Sydney are incredibly easy.

But also? Housing isn't cheap. Well, maybe if you're from London or something. But rents are very high due to that high level of interstate importation.

When you move here, you should organise a metafilter meetup :)
posted by Lucie at 4:53 AM on September 7, 2009

"It's boring." This one is always simple to debunk. Just ask them what they like to do that they can't do in Canberra.

How about going to the theatre? Yes, there are some plays to be seen in Canberra, but a theatre buff who lived there for a year or two told me it was one of the major reasons behind wanting to get the hell out of the place.

You could probably easily extend that to any other performing art - dance, concerts, opera etc.

On the other hand, Sydney is not that far away, and unless you're in the habit of going to performances every week or two, you could probably get by with a mixture of local acts, touring performances & the occasional trip up the highway.

And there's what my sister said when I asked her how she was coping with the cultural life in Darwin, when she was up there for a few years: "Actually, it's not that bad - when something worthwhile is touring, everybody in town knows about it, and unlike in bigger cities, you never miss out on things because of not hearing about them, or because of conflicts with other performances..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:14 PM on September 7, 2009

Born and raised there, and would move back in a heartbeat if the right opportunity presented itself, particularly if I had children (or was planning to in the near future) - the public schools are excellent and the large tracts of bushland in between the town centres are brilliant for running amok. Comparisons to Huntsville, Alabama are frankly ridiculous; it's the nation's capital and the largest inland city, would you make similar comparisons if someone was considering DC or Chicago, discounting the population? Er, no; or I hope not.

I don't have much to add, except to reiterate that it is a beautiful, beautiful city - I lived in O'Connor and Aranda and so was constantly surrounded by the bush growing up despite being a short bike ride from Civic (five mins when we lived in O'Connor), plus the gorgeous wattle and cherry blossoms in spring, and had greater access to highbrow 'culture' than most of my friends who grew up in larger Australian cities (national touring opera and ballet for school excursions!, the NGA, excellent libraries, Electric Shadow cinema - d'oh I see it's a Dendy now, oh well).

The transient population really wasn't evident to me as a kid - my primary school class was essentially the same 20 people all the way through. And - this may seem an odd factoid to note but my dad was also born and raised there (went to the same schools as me, in fact) and has left several times (for LA, NY, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, the Gold Coast) but keeps returning. Says the bush is in his blood and you can't get the same facilities with such close access to the bush anywhere else. He currently lives in O'Malley and has kangaroos eating the seed out of the bird feeder in his front yard every morning.

It's a unique city in Australia, and a uniquely Australian city - it has the highest income in Australia, the largest population with degrees, the highest retention rate to grade 12, the highest commuter cycle use, the most variable temperature of any of the capital cities, and is downright beautiful whatever the season.
posted by goo at 6:51 PM on September 7, 2009

Just thought of something. A perfectly reasonable and rational way to judge how good a city is for MeFites is to get the population of a city and then divide by the number of Mefites in the city to get the number of people for every MeFite.

Canberra has 10 mefites with a population of 395K - giving 1 Mefite for every 40 000 people.

Melbourne has 46 and a population of 3.8M - giving 1 Mefite for every 82 600 people.

Sydney has 37 with a population of 4.4M giving 1 Mefite for every 118 000 people.

So, by the power of pseudoscience I declare that Canberra is far more Mefite suitable.
posted by sien at 7:24 PM on September 7, 2009 [7 favorites]

Ah, but if you're really following the pseudoscientific method, you'd need to adjust for expat MeFites - eg those who used to call Sydney home, but are now living in places like Mexico (dhruva), Chicago (qwip, amusebuche) NY (zamboni) or somewhere in Korea (stavrosthewonderchicken).
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:03 PM on September 7, 2009

How about going to the theatre

Well, as a theater buff you'd need to check out what was on at the various theaters around town (I like the theater, and it's good enough for me), add the costs (or pleasure) of the occasional overnighter in Melbourne or Sydney (say, to see Wicked), then factor in everything else that's wrong with the major capitals. Seriously, somebody who moved to Sydney just for the theater, ignoring all the other downsides, is a freaking loon.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:28 AM on September 8, 2009

I don't think I said that. It was one of a number of factors. Probably overstated it, calling it 'major', though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:15 AM on September 8, 2009

Thanks again for all the excellent answers, they've been a huge help - haven't quite decided yet, but Lucie I will definitely try to organise a meetup if we do move there!
posted by 8k at 3:27 PM on September 8, 2009

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