I remember a conversation I had with a mate many years ago.
It was one of those conversations that stick with you. Perhaps it was because we were such young men, looking for our place in the world.
The talk started with him exclaiming that he wished he was “more normal”. He felt abnormal and, in some ways, he wished he was more like everyone else.
In context, it was quite a strange thing for him to say.
His life was one that most would die for.
His job was pretty rare – I suppose if it were to be described in a job ad it would go something like – Wanted: international rock god. Must like the whole world throwing themselves at your feet. Must like complete adulation and women desperately wanting to sleep with you. Desirable – willingness to have millions of dollars.
But he desperately wanted to be more normal.
The conversation, as I have said, has stayed with me for more than three decades.
I have had similar conversations, often with very successful people.
I have often thought about being more normal too. There have been periods in my life where I deeply desired it.
But as the years went by, I started to become pretty comfortable with not being “normal” and embraced “not normal”.
And that leads me to Canberra.
Now that I am leaving, having lived half of my life here, I pause to reflect on the place.
I have, like many, had a love-hate relationship with Canberra. Some days I adored it, some days I have been pretty down on it.
But, in the main, I have come to love the place.
And why this love has grown is that it is not like anywhere else.
I am lucky to be a very mobile person. I can pretty much go anywhere. With my best mate living in Sydney, I have often ‘escaped’ Canberra on weekends. I love Sydney and we pack in a lot of fun times when I am there.
But I am always pretty happy to return to Canberra. I like Sydney but have no desire to live there.
When I come home to Canberra, I breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the lack of traffic and the ever-present car horn beeping that now seems to be the dominant aural feature of Sydney.
Cutting to the chase, I love the beauty and open space of Canberra.
It’s not like anywhere else.
We are very different to the big cities. And it’s a difference that, to the right people, will be very enticing. I stress, the right people.
I have always thought that the brand truth of Canberra is that it is simply beautiful. It’s exquisite. And that is worth a lot in a world where beauty is becoming all too rare.
The same dynamic is central to our status as a planned city.
Many Canberrans moan and groan about that. We should be more organic, more ‘anything goes’.
It’s a shocking thought.
And it’s all about being like everywhere else. It’s about becoming as ugly as Sydney. Sure, Sydney has a beautiful harbour but that is about it. Go one block back from the harbour and ugliness stretches forever. Unplanned chaos joins up into a visual mess.
Canberra, through its careful planning retains a beautiful order that, I contend, is so special and should be protected.
And that is my main take-out of Canberra.
It’s not like anywhere else.
And it should embrace that.
On that note, I say goodbye to this wonderfully unique town full of wonderfully unique people.