Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The birds of Canberra

One thing that no-one mentioned as we prepared to move to Canberra several years ago was the amount of birdlife. Arriving in the leafy inner south, our orientation walks around Barton, Griffith and Kingston soon became exercises in tyro bird watching.

Magpies and Pied Currawongs swooped through the parks and open spaces, while Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Little Corellas lowered the tone in noisy scrums on the grass.

Here a Superb Fairy Wren and his harem decimated the local insect population, while further on a family of White-winged Choughs helped out the garden maitenance men by re-distributing mulch in their search for a snack.

Down by the lake, Black Swans muscled their way across the murky waters of Burley Griffin and seagulls rolled past huddles of nervy pigeons like sailors on shore leave looking for a hot feed and a fist fight. Walking back from the National Library of Australia was a similar story - if that wasn't the less favoured end of an Australian Shoveler vigorously bobbing to your left then it was probably their freckled cousin.

There are, to put it mildly, a shedload of birds in Canberra. As my peach-fuzz-cheeked old Grandmother used to say: Are you with me?

Now you could go and purchase a guide to Canberra birds (as seen in the illustration above), but for an instant hit of local twitchery goodness, swing by Trevor's Birding.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Doc Howard Collects from Bond Uni

With large chunks of north west Victoria reduced to ash and those areas relatively unscathed knee deep in camera crews and meat puppets (i.e. TV breakfast show hosts) it’s good to see someone retaining their sense of humour.

Step forward Rob Stable, Vice-Chancellor of Bond University, who last week awarded John Howard an honorary doctorate in recognition of his "long and distinguished service to Australia, his contribution to economic and social policy reform and his support of a diversified higher education sector".

Whether or not Prof Stable said this with a straight face was not reported.

In October last year Mr Howard visited Bond University as part of the Battle for Global Leadership forum.

As BU’s community newsletter somewhat robotically explained, “Mr Howard’s speech... formed part of Bondstock’s Battle for Ideas speaker series, the academic aspect of the 2008 Bondstock Festival. The series of forums saw presentations by and debates with some of Australia's most brilliant minds.”

(So, you missed the associated media coverage and all the column inches such a first class brainiac bunfight would have generated? Me too.)

Mr Howard last visited Bond in 2006 to open the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine Building and announce an additional $4.5 million grant to the building. Prior to this Bond University Chancellor, big Trev Rowe (or as the community newsletter prefers “Chancellor Trevor C Rowe AM”) was appointed to the Commonwealth government’s Future Fund Board of Guardians*.

And there you were thinking Bond Uni degrees only went to over-chlorinated ex-olympic swimmers and rich kids who are a little slow.

*I'm not sure if the FFBoG is affiliated with the Justice League of America or the Legion of Super-Heroes

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Parkes sanger search (or portrait of a sub mission)

Late last week work took me to Old Parliament House. I was there for longer than planned and by 12:30 it was time to address an ongoing Canberra challenge - where do you score a reasonable sandwich and a cold beer for lunch in Parkes?

Cafe in the House was out - I’ve eaten there once before but wasn’t in the mood for bits of gristle held together by brown wallpaper glue posing as a roast meat and gravy roll.

There’s no air conditioning at the relatively new Pork Barrel and with the mercury hovering around 40 degrees, climate control was critical. As was a beer, so Questacon missed the cut despite their very tasty hamburgers and steak sandwiches.

Against my better judgment I checked out Bookplate at the NLA but, as usual after 12pm, the sandwiches had sold out (and despite having a enclosed space at the back of the room sometimes referred to as a kitchen, there’s no chance of getting one freshly made).

The solution came via the unexpected agency of John Howard. Before voters eventually confirmed he had become the electoral equivalent of ratsak, the rodent flung close to $88 million up against the wall to construct the National Portrait Gallery.

The gallery itself has a slightly whacked, almost municipal feel - as though the town clerk and the local eco-friendly architect (you know the one, the bloke with the ear ring who’s really into energy efficiency) re-designed the Dalby School of Arts hall over a long counter lunch at the Imperial.

The silver lining is the gallery’s Portrait Cafe (admittedly not the most original of names), which was well stocked with ham and salad sangers along with a handful of bottled ales, even at the ridiculously late hour of 1pm. At this point, unencumbered by entries in the SMH Good Food Guide or Miettas the caff seems happy enough to provide good practical service to hungry patrons. Let’s hope it continues.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Conversation starter

I live in Canberra. This simple phrase guarantees me conversation whenever I travel.

‘waste of a good sheep paddock’
‘nothing but roundabouts and public servants’
‘we’re subsidising you’
‘Australia’s most boring city’

You get the picture. Usually this stuff is served up by the sort of people who believe mild, parochial insults delivered in a slightly aggrieved, I’m-being-funny tone is witty.

I live in Canberra and one of the most enjoyable aspects of this is that absolutely no one expects you to love it here (you may have to move to Western Australia or Tasmania to fully appreciate how desperately some people need you to like where they live).

Lately, when the standard cliches come up I don’t even bother to try and change the subject. It’s far easier to agree and embellish.

Yes, it is shocking how in Canberra all our housing is fully subsidised and our rates are paid by syphoning off the GST.

Absolutely correct, public servants only work from 10am until 2pm with a two hour lunch break. And yes, there is a roster system where art works from the National Gallery of Australia are loaned out so locals can brighten up the family room. Bloody hard getting Blue Poles through the patio doors I can tell you.

That’s right, big-brained science grads from ANU are on tap to install our domestic PC networks and home cinemas, while the kids are au paired by exquisitely well-read MA students from the School of Arts, all free of charge.

You get the drift.

I live in Canberra and, just quietly between ourselves, I don’t mind it at all.

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