Spend a little time in Canberra and soon enough you’ll find yourself at a farewell. The farewell is to our city what the beach party is to Sydney, and the baby shower is to the 30-plus posse: a familiar social outing. A recent spate of significant departures got me thinking about this issue…
All in the space of a month we’ve lost: the former editor of this very rag, Julia Winterflood, (to the NT and beyond); the irreplaceable raconteur Adam ‘Hadley’ Hadley (to Brisbane – a poor choice for someone who seems to live in polyester and tweed, but digress I shall); and two leading lights of the musical community, Gemma Nourse (of Ah! Pandita and Shopgirl fame) and Peter ‘Kranky’ Krbavac (of almost every Canberra band 2008-2012, plus a writer of note for BMA and the Times), a chap correctly described as ‘the heart and soul of Canberra music’. Gemma and Pete are off to Adelaide. Fair enough.
Will this quartet return? I’m told they plan to. Can they be replaced? Absolutely not. Should we care? Well, yes and no. On a personal level, of course we should and do. These are faces you’re always happy to locate when entering The Phoenix and their contributions towards creating, promoting and supporting the arts in this town will leave a significant crater. But should we ask for the leading figures of our creative community to stay, as some kind of service to us, the audience? ‘Course not.
Canberra’s reputation precedes itself for its inhabitants as much as the wider world and when someone leaves town the town can take it badly. It goes to the mirror looking for a blemish and finds nothing but flaws. The amount of people passing through this place does nothing for the city’s self esteem. Self-help books are written about troubles like these. One could scribe a pamphlet entitled: ‘Canberra – they’re just not that into you’, and it’d sell.
The problem with this defeatist angle is that it ignores an eternal truth within the creative classes; that migration is part of the artistic fabric. Forget the clichés about art and sufferance and the road, but as a rule makers take heart from the world and should propel themselves as far into it as possible. So let it be.
For the city of Canberra, those who leave need to become a motivator. Like the jilted and freshly single dumpee, Canberra needs to renew its gym membership, have the hair remodelled and get some new interests – learn that language, take the jazz flute lessons. In short, Canberra could work a little harder at becoming the kind of place to which those who leave might want to return.
Of course, the other truth is that the holes created by those who have left need to be filled. There’s room in this city to do something interesting and good. Who’s up?