The Bush Capital

As you travel between Sydney and Canberra, the impact of the drought is fairly self-evident. I mean, there are “green droughts” where all looks okay on the surface, but deep down the soil is dry. But that’s not the case this time, as I noticed kilometre after kilometre of brown as we travelled to Canberra this weekend. Still, I noticed a couple of paddocks were still quite heavily stocked (maybe overstocked) with sheep on a couple of occasions.

Even in the midst of Canberra itself, where they’re currently on Level 2 Water Restrictions, I noticed the environment lacked some of the green evident when I last visited in August this year. Despite the over-arching presence of Lake Burley Griffin and the abudance of evergreen trees, Canberra is a part of the Australian bush and it really shows, and not just environmentally.

In fact, one of the most obvious ways in which it shows is in the gay social scene in Canberra, which mostly seems to be based around just one club, smallish house BBQs (we attended two this weekend, both of which were great fun) and larger one-off events including the annual Bushdance at the Yarralumla Woolshed.

I’d first been to the bushdance about 10 or 15 years ago, and had enjoyed it immensely. And then a few months ago I had the idea of paying a return visit, especially since a good mate now lives in Canberra. As was the case 10 or 15 years ago, the dance was an absolute hoot. Larger than it was then, and maybe less “authentically Australian country”, and maybe a little more “Brokeback Mountain” this year, I still thought it was one of those great grass-roots events that maintains a strong level of authenticity.

I really like the lack of pretension evident at this event, as the inability of almost everyone to dance properly seems to act as a great leveler. It didn’t matter that one of the people in our group was a native French speaker who found it difficult to understand the directions, as we were all in the same boat. Still, I was told by one bloke, a friend of a friend, that I was a good-dancer, so I’ll happily take the compliment. Maybe, like the girl on “Dancing With The Stars” who’d received lessons, I should have revealed that growing up in the country, learning how to bush dance was par for the course.

My mate who came with me, Scottish by birth, also said it reminded him of ceilidh dances, with many of the dances common to both. And I guess that’s how Australian bush dances originated, with Irish and the Scottish immigrants. However, I wonder what my Irish and Scottish ancestors, who during the 1800s would have done these dances in nearby places like Braidwood, Bombala and Cooma and Gundaroo (yes, I’m an authentic country boy), would have made of the site of about 500 gay men (and a prominent sprinkling of lesbians) dancing to the tunes they would have also danced to. I suppose, however, in the days when the men often out-numbered the women 10 to 1, and everyone knew everyone else, it may not have been all that unusual.

But everyone still knows everyone else in the area, or so it seems in the gay community of Canberra at least, where the idea of “six degrees of separation” could easily be reduced to just one or two. As evidence of this, I ran into an old mate from my days in Wagga and we chatted for a while, which was good. I also spoke with another bloke from my Wagga days who I hadn’t seen it about 15 years. We both concluded it might have been the last time I’d attended the dance that we’d seen each other, with him living in Victoria and me in Sydney during the intervening period.

Mind you, the two degrees of separation might just be a gay thing. At the BBQ this afternoon for example, two people working in a similar profession, knew instantly of a third and fourth working overseas. Small world, eh? But maybe that’s one of the things I like most about Canberra – quite local and parochial, but also quite international – leading me to believe it’s probably a place I could happily live.

Overall, it was a great weekend, especially as I was hanging around with some nice people doing some fun things. And then I came back to Sydney where something shitty happened almost immediately, as I seem to have left my phone in a cab. Thankfully, I recognised it was missing pretty quickly, as soon as I got my bag out of the back and had checked my pockets, and as much as I tried to hail Silver Service driver T-7922 down, he was off in a flash. And even though I’d reported it within minutes (like less than 5 minutes of him driving off), so far the people at the Call-Centre have been little or no help. He hasn’t responded to their messages so far, though I remain hopeful since the phone was on silent, and a few attempts to call it have rung out, meaning no one has replaced it with their own SIM card. I guess they – those at the Call-Centre – assume I was just another pissed customer who left their phone behind and ironically, since it was me, I wasn’t. I was just one happy little camper who’d had a nice time in the bush, who was just a little absent-minded.

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