I Swore I’d Never Move to Canberra. Until I Did.

Sarah Bown

Raised eyebrows. Scowling faces. Generic throat sounds that all come out sounding like “blurgh”.

These are the reactions I received from family and friends when I said I was making the move from Adelaide to Canberra. Or from Radelaide boasting its Mad March festivals and sunny beaches to the home of the emperor penguins boasting Floriade and the place Malcolm gets his morning coffee.

Two years ago my partner, fresh off the university conveyor belt and ready to kickstart his engineering career was getting nowhere in the Adelaide job market. I’ll never forget the day he rang to say “Hey honey, I got a job! The only thing is it’s in Canberra”. He may as well have said “Hey honey, I got a job! The only thing is I have to cut off my right ball and give it to the dog as a chew toy”.

Naturally I progressed through the five stages of grief.

Denial: “Well of course this is a joke. November Fool’s is a thing right?”

Anger: “Why me God, why!”

Bargaining: “You know that thing in the bedroom we talked about? We’ll do it three times a week if you stay!”

Following those, I proceeded to set up camp in the fourth stage, Depression: “I’m going to be the 3rd, 7th and 15th wheel at EVERY event now. Have pretty much become Bridget Jones. Will be found half-eaten by Alsatians”.

Having recently started a new job in Adelaide and dealing with bile rising in my throat every time I thought of Canberra I decided to stay behind and give the long distance relationship thing a go. Sadly, to me that was the preferred option to having an address featuring the letters A, C, or T.

The first year went by smoothly although I had to field numerous inquiries as to the welfare of my now Bush Capital residing boyfriend. “So does he like HAVE friends?” “What do you DO exactly in Canberra on the weekends?” “Well hey it’s not all that BAD, I hear there’s a bar that serves free tacos!” (From my ever-the-optimist friend).

But after 14 months, my job wasn’t fulfilling me and Adelaide was starting to look a little sepia around the edges. I was faced with two options: get a new job and hope my boyfriend would be fired and have to come home or suck up my pride, square my shoulders and move to Canberra to be with him.

So naturally I chose option 3, took a volunteer position two continents away and moved to Mongolia.

My 2015 was spent learning Mongolian, riding horses, camping in yurts and freezing my bits off in a -30 degrees winter. I chose to spend my days largely misunderstood (“no Australian, not American”), wearing three pairs of pants and watching re runs of Mongolia’s Got Talent in an effort to avoid going to Canberra. If there was an award for the most deliberate and strenuous attempt NOT become a Canberran I would have won hands down.

Despite my attempts to keep it at bay, the end of my assignment rolled around and my other half was no closer to leaving the city of terrible street parking and overtly chirpy bird noises. In fact, he had gone and gotten himself promoted and given a pay rise. The nerve.

So a decision had to be made. Look into another obscure country to run off to (Dominican Republic anyone?), stay in Adelaide and continue long distance indefinitely or make the move to Canberra.

So what did I choose you ask?

I sit writing this in a Braddon coffee shop sipping an annoyingly good chai tea after I just ducked down from my cosy Inner North apartment. The sun is shining (despite all protestations from everyone to the contrary), I’m wearing shorts and I’ve got a lunch date tomorrow with a new friend.

I’ve been here for two weeks and nothing pains me more to say that I am now eating my words and they are surprisingly delicious. And I actually like the bird noises. Give me three months though and I’m sure I can come up with a list of things wrong with this place….

Photography by Martin Ollman

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Sarah Bown

Sarah is fresh off the plane to Canberra and quickly realising she's not in Kansas anymore. She's a writer and marketing professional by day and spends her free time reading way too much self-help literature followed up by too much Pinot Gris. Sarah spent 2015 working in Mongolia sharing her marketing and communications skills with local organisations. Yes it was her choice, yes they have internet and no it's not next to Syria. She's in Canberra to write more, exercise more, meditate more and then proceed to do Option D: none of the above. Sarah shares more newbie tips, general hilarity and plenty of things to read while procrastinating doing actual work at www.facebook.com/signedbysez. More about the Author

  • Helen Roberts

    I came here reluctantly in 1984 and would now never leave.

  • Melbourne IT jobs are being outsourced overseas at a rate of knots so, when my partner was confronted with a selection of contracts — 6 weeks in Melbourne, another contract that was potential career suicide in Melbourne or 6 months in Canberra — I advised him to take the Canberra job.

    The caveat: I was NOT moving to Canberra. No. Way.

    My initial excuse was that I was studying Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT, a degree I was going to finish in November. I was NOT going to defer.

    So my partner and I visited Canberra in May to find him an inner north apartment. As we drove out of Canberra on Sunday night, temperatures fell to -6.

    Move to Canberra? Ha! You jest!

    6 months and he was going to find a job in Melbourne. He was TOLD.

    My partner loved his new job and liked the people he was working with. He sighed and poked a bit, reluctantly, at Melbourne’s job market.

    I visited my partner a few times. Canberra was cold that winter. I hated it, especially missing my home comforts while his apartment was half-furnished. I wore a beanie to bed. But the days weren’t so bad with the sun shining. And it *did* actually shine. Nor was there any snow to slog through: I did a stint living in rural Tasmania in a location that was snowed in a couple of times each year. Canberra may be icy but it doesn’t snow much, apparently.

    I love walking just about everywhere; it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to walk just about everywhere I need to go, with the exception of special trips to satellite shopping centres to visit craft shops or a hardware store or other occasional essentials.

    Canberra grew on me.

    I finished my degree (yay), packed up the house and moved to Canberra. Most of our belongings are in storage and we’re still in the apartment my partner rented with the intention of leaving after 6 months. It’s tiny but convenient and our landlord allowed our cat to move in.

    I still haven’t survived a winter here and I worry about walking through icy water that pools on footpaths and gutters after a very little rain. I worry about slipping on frozen puddles that will make footpaths treacherous. I walk into bushes and trees that overhang footpaths and overhanging branches scrape my arms as I navigate the uneven surfaces, traipsing across footpath and nature strip in an attempt to find safety. Apparently Canberra’s footpaths are NOT for pedestrians. (There’s an issue for you! 🙂 )

    However, I’ve just about finished knitting myself a warm woollen pullover and I’m about to start knitting a mermaid tail lap blanket to keep myself warm. I’ve enjoyed Canberra’s events so far and I’m planning to attend more in the future. There’s so much to see and do in Canberra, it’s just a matter of getting organised and motivated: so far I’ve visited the dinosaur museum, the Botanic Gardens and the Arboretum as well as a Her Canberra event and several festivals and other events. I’ve seen fireworks and had a henna tattoo and eaten new foods and seen Tripod and…

    Canberra is underrated. It’s Australia’s best-kept secret and I’m enjoying living here, exploring this gorgeous green city.

    I can empathise with your reluctance and celebrate Canberra’s courtship of you.

  • Justine Stamford

    Such an entertaining read, very honest and refreshing!

    I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on Canberra as the months go by (and will be checking back in for a how-to-Canberra guide as it seems you have it covered.) I can’t wait to see the opportunities that come your way and popularity your writing gains, such talent won’t go un-noticed for long!

  • Trish Smith

    It’s always a little disheartening for me, as a born-and-bred local, to hear of some people’s dread – some expressed more eloquently than others, thank you Sarah – of moving to my home town. I’ve lived here practically my whole life, and although I would one day like to try living somewhere else I can’t help feeling that anywhere would be a step down in terms of quality of life, quality of air and choice of restaurants/nature parks/galleries. But if I get the opportunity I’d like to think I’ll arrive in my new town with optimism rather than a sense of terrible foreboding. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in meeting newcomers to Canberra (and I’ve been fortunate to meet a few) the secret to ‘making it’ here is to get out and get amongst it, meet people and make the effort. Incidentally, I think this city has truly come into its own since turning 100, and anyone moving here today has timed their arrival pretty perfectly. What can I say? We’ve been waiting for you. Jump in.

  • Lisa Watson

    Hi all, I am just about to move to Canberra and am a bit shy when I first meet people but really want to make some new friends when I get there! I love doing exercise and being outdoors, can anyone recommend the best way to meet new people? Any help would be massively appreciated! Thanks, Lisa

    • HerCanberra

      Hi Lisa

      Drop us a line at [email protected] and we’d be really happy to point you in the right direction 🙂

      Amanda x

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