On Saturday I formed part of the devoted Bill Bryson flock accompanied by a packed crowd of equally eager-eared, Zimmer frame pushing, grey-hairs. Avuncular, charming Bill held court as a sort of literary Bruce Springsteen. No cocaine here; any pills popped by punters at the show would more likely have been statins, aspirin or krill oil.
Bill has been a bit on the nose with Canberrans in the past for mildly derogatory, yet amusing comments made in his book 1996 Down Under where he wrote; “Canberra, awfully boring place. Beer cold, though.” Then he thought for a bit more and decided to come up with a new slogan for Canberra. First he wrote, “Canberra — There’s Nothing to It!” and then “Canberra — Why Wait for Death?” He concluded his brief excursion to with ‘Canberra is a gateway to everywhere else’… Queanbeyan I suppose?
Bill has been to Canberra six or seven times now and has tempered somewhat; he ‘mea culpaed’ himself in spades by seducing his adoring audience with earnest flattery about the Capital, Australia and Australians in general. We were described as being as ‘ironic as Iowans ‘(whence he hails). It’s okay now, he loves us.
He was asked about what Canberra could do to boost itself up the world table of sought-after places to live and as a preamble his response described efforts to walk around Lake BG on each previous visit. On this occasion he said he plunged off into the wilds fronting the east basin or, “into the bit of the lake on the right” to attempt an epic aquatic circumvention. After a couple of hours or so, encountering only the odd empty park bench he become worried the Capital had been depopulated in ‘On the Beach’ style. He settled, with less bold ambition, to merely seek somewhere to have a coffee. After four hours he conceded defeat and returned bewildered, exhausted and in the nick of time to just make his own gig. His advice to us was ‘we need talk about the Lake’. The venue sang with applause.
On his tour he had already visited Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane and Bill was eloquently intoxicated in referring to the river and the couple of South Banks he came across. To paraphrase, his central theme was; ’stop being so precious about the lake; grab it embrace it, love it, use it’.
In the forum in the Canberra Times on Saturday 22 March a long piece on front page introduced us to the beaming Malcolm Snow; our new chief executive of the National Capital Authority who declared his passion to ‘mix things up’. Our freshly minted CEO has now inherited the poison chalice of the obergruppenführer of the lake. He was quoted as saying “when you travel overseas you admire cities in the world that seem to be able to mix up and incorporate users activities which make them really interesting places to be, these places seem to be able to support a great diversity of activities socially, demographically, economically and culturally”, he said that he sees “common DNA” between the lake and Brisbane’s highly successful South bank where he had been CEO for six years.
Welcome Malcolm and thank you for your spirit, let’s hope that your ambitions do not end up as quixotic tilting at windmills and your “desire to increase the scope for people to use the lake” does not end up in that waste basket of crumpled dreams. Don’t be in the middle. Bring it on.