Canberra ‘city to visit’ listing revives Australian debate

Parliament House in Canberra, AustraliaImage copyright
AFP

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Canberra is most recognisable as the home of Australia’s parliament

“Canberra is of its essence a great mistake. The capital should never have been there, it should have been in Melbourne or Sydney.”

That was how former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating described Canberra in 2009, more than a decade after he left office. “There is an air of unreality about Canberra,” he added.

Indeed, Canberra is often the subject of discussion among Australians – a debate reignited on Wednesday when it was named the third-best city in the world to visit, according to travel publisher Lonely Planet.

The listing renewed talk online about the virtues of “the bush capital” – a nickname enshrined on the city’s number plates – which is best known as the centre of Australia’s politics and bureaucracy.

However, according to the publisher’s Best in Travel 2018, Canberra is “criminally overlooked” as a destination city, containing “national treasures found around almost every corner”.

It prompted significant discussion on Australian social media, with many making jokes that could sit comfortably with Mr Keating’s assessment.

Australian media outlets also had fun with Canberra’s accolade.

Others suggested the listing could be a marketing ploy – a possible attempt to be “cute and contrarian”, wrote one – but others said it was unfair to unnecessarily criticise the city.

Lonely Planet pointed to the city’s strong dining scene, national landmarks and annual events as drawcards.

Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr talked up the city’s economy and cultural precincts. Other Canberrans pointed to its liveability, access to nature and efficiency.

In 2013, to mark 100 years since Canberra was founded, one Australian history professor, Mark McKenna, wrote that “no other city in Australia attracts such opprobrium”.

“In the vernacular, ‘Canberra’ is the byword for Australia’s collective disenchantment with politics,” he said magazine The Monthly.

“No matter how deep that malaise, Canberra is the one place created to give expression to our national aspirations.”

The city was named third behind Seville in Spain and Detroit in the US.

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