I enjoy the drive between Sydney from Canberra. I do it reasonably often. The mood of the country changes according to the weather, the drought, the latest rains and the time of the day.
Lake George and the surrounding hills have many moods to be enjoyed. All this leads back to how the traveller is welcomed back to Canberra. This is not so good. In fact many country towns do a far better job. Canberra as Australia’s National Capital deserves something far better than the insignificant tokens at the borders.
What do we have on the return from Sydney? There’s a small stonewall with a concrete sign – Australian Capital Territory. This is followed by a couple of signs about the indigenous connections and the sister city arrangements. And there’s a threatening 100 km per hour speed sign.
When you leave, there’s a sign that welcomes you to New South Wales. But there is no sign to ‘welcome’ you to Canberra.
A couple of decades ago I used to suggest that there should be a large set of statues at the border. These were to be at least 18 metres tall and should have been statues of public servants. The perception by people outside of Canberra was that this was a city full of public servants, and no one else, so why not give them what they expected at the border. The gateway was to be dominated by a series of large public servants, complete with lunchboxes and brief cases and boring clothing.
Given that the current Federal Government has been working extra hard to make public servants a thing of the past, I need to update this concept. There should now be large illuminated signs alerting visitors to watch out for the endangered species known as public servants. The signs should have phone numbers to bring assistance to this rare species of humans as many are now often seen wandering about the city in a distressed state.
Given the introduction nationally of the new Border Force, maybe Canberra should introduce its own Border Force to check on who is entering the city and where they have come from. Travellers would feel as though Canberra was a very important city if our own uniformed Border Force officers greeted everyone at the border checkpoints. And given the Chief Minister’s recent statements that venues such as Westside were not designed for people over 50, the Border Force could enforce limits on those pesky aging travellers trying to jump the queues and sneak through our borders.
And now for more serious thoughts.
While the landscape along Northbourne Avenue is about to be altered, as any landscape does, it is a good time to consider the whole road entrance to the city. At the moment when you travel from Sydney across the border, the greenery is patchy and there is nothing special about it to indicate that you are in Canberra. These early parts of the road entrance could easily be enhanced with a greater variety of trees and shrubs to provide a range of visual interests as you drive up and over that last hill and down towards the city. Along the way there should also be a range of artworks, both hard sculptural pieces and landscape artworks.
To be honest whether it is more greenery, artworks or whatever, this entrance as well as the one from Yass urgently needs a rethink. The entrances to Canberra should be about very clear messages that welcome people to their national capital.
So the first target should be to have some far better signage and sculptural pieces at the entrances. Given the way planning is carried out in Canberra, whereby committees meet to discuss setting up other committees and then meet in venues to hold workshops, I hope that there is a way to cut through the bureaucracy and for some visionary within our government to push hard for new gateways to be installed sooner rather than later.
Canberra has loads of creative residents, so maybe it is time to hear from some of them. What would send a message of welcome to visitors to Canberra and welcome back us travellers after we have ventured by road in to New South Wales and beyond?