AUSTRALIAN FICTION WRITERS have, until the last few decades, avoided settling in Canberra and writing about the city in their novels and short stories. In Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers, Ric Throssell’s biography of his mother, Katharine Susannah Prichard, he notes her comment that the national capital was “like a town made by Pinocchio. All that neatness and prettiness, so far removed from the struggle for existence.” Historian Keith Hancock recalled his impressions of returning after an absence in his autobiography Country and Calling. “Canberra, now that I saw it again, both irritated and charmed me. Charles Hawker used to say that it was a good sheep station spoiled.”
The same put-down has been repeated in countless clichés since, from “soul-less city” to Prime Minister John Howard’s air of surprise as he remarked, after the 2003 bushfires that killed four people, injured several hundred and destroyed 491 homes, that Canberrans were reacting just like other “normal” Australians to their loss.
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