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You’re about to meet a fellow who has run every single suburb in Canberra. That’s right—all 133 of them.
Ken Gibson’s love of Canberra’s natural beauty has been a moving (or should that be running?) feast for many years.
From constructing the National Arboretum as a contractor in the private sector to his current role as Director of Business Systems and Chief Information Officer for the National Capital Authority (NCA), which oversees commonwealth-owned land in Canberra, the 38-year-old is a keen appreciator of the bush capital.
But it was Ken’s quest to run every single suburb in Canberra that has brought him acclaim, with an Instagram account (@kensgibson) brimming with picturesque shots from across the territory.
It may come as no surprise that Ken’s every-suburb goal was inspired by Canberra’s 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.
As the Director of a small team, Ken was acutely aware of his colleagues and social networks working from home, unable to socialise other than exercising with one other person in the early phases. So that’s what Ken suggested.
“We were all so isolated, sitting behind our screens…so I started having meetings out on runs. I’d meet contractors, consultants, colleagues at their local cafe—if it was still operating—and we’d walk or run while talking.”
“It was a great way to get everyone out of the house and create a sense of community.”
For Ken, it was also a great way of managing his own stress levels while he led an evolving ICT transformation for his agency, including the work-from-home setup for his colleagues.
Soon, Ken had visited tens of suburbs around Canberra, always travelling to wherever was easiest for his colleagues to meet and experiencing their neck of the woods in the process.
A few months into 2020, it dawned on Ken—why not kick things up a notch and tick off every single suburb?
“I was standing at the top of Mount Ainslie in June and I got this great view overlooking Canberra…and I looked down and I thought, ‘I wonder how many suburbs there are in the ACT?'”
After working out that there were “130-odd suburbs”, Ken’s interest was piqued and he began working through the list alphabetically.
“People didn’t really catch on in the earlier suburbs,” laughs Ken. “The first 40 suburbs took forever, but then I got into a nice rhythm.”
As a keen distance runner, Ken also used the “A-Z Challenge” or “The Suburb Challenge” as a replacement for his cancelled 2020 race plans, using Instagram to map his adventures.
Ken ticked off his final suburb of Yarralumla on 31 January 2021, seven months after he started, and says it was a fitting end in many ways.
“Yarralumla, my home suburb, was lucky last. I ran a 38-kilometre route and friends could just drop-in and drop-out as they came—it was quite cool.”
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As for Ken’s favourite suburbs?
“Parking my car at the Lanyon Homestead and running into Banks, up the top of Rob Roy and looking north—that was an amazing feeling because it was bloody hard,” laughs Ken.
“Yarralumla is definitely in the top three and some of the older suburbs—Reid and Forrest—had a different character with their mature street trees. Also any suburb attached to a ridgeline—Lyneham was definitely up there and anywhere around Mount Taylor.”
Where this journey started—turning meetings into runs or walks—may sound, again, conventional. But for Ken, work and wellbeing have always gone hand-in-hand.
Ken explains that when he first started at the NCA, instead of visiting the agency’s sites around the Parliamentary Triangle by car, he would run the Bridge to Bridge with colleagues, which he says gave him a unique—if a little unconventional—way to supervise necessary works.
“We kept a very active eye on our contractors,” laughed Ken. “It’s almost like real-time management—and things do look different at 15 kilometres an hour.”
As for how things look how Ken has visited all 133 suburbs (and over 2100km), he says that he’ll likely start running Canberra’s major avenues—”almost an A-Z of avenues”—some of the smaller ranges around Canberra or even Canberra’s numerous bush trails. Or he might even DIY his own Canberra marathon.
“There’s a Colorbond fence in Watson and a Colorbond fence in Banks—it’s a 42-kilometre run point-to-point and it would be a nice way to wrap up the marathon.”
As for what Ken would like people to take away from the challenge, he says it’s all about appreciating what’s on your doorstep, even after borders reopen.
“That [the suburb challenge] is definitely achievable is the real take-home message,” he says. “It’s there on your doorstep—get out there and explore. It’s a great way for family and community to come together.”