Cold Light, Canberra and my first #TBR20

A little while ago I signed up for #TBR20, vowing to read 20 books I already owned before buying or reading more. I’ve already failed: I accidentally got Harry Sadler to send me a copy of his novel Small moments, and I can just tell I’m going to buy The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson after reading an incredible story of hers published in the current Canary Press magazine.

But anyway… I’m partway through two of my TBR20 books – Suddenly a knock on the door by Etgar Keret, and Slow Water by Annamarie Jagose – and I’ve finished Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse. I don’t plan to review all the books I read, but I did want to publish this extract from Cold Light. The book’s hero, Edith Campbell Berry, attends the opening of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra in 1964, having fought for many years for the lake’s existence. She thinks on Canberra’s future and the vision she has sounds like my perfect city. It isn’t all that much like the Canberra I grew up in, and I wish ECB could be Australia’s Prime Minister now…

weetangera
Weetangera’s “shopping square surrounded by a park … meeting hall and tavern for drinking coffee or a bottle of wine with nuts at the end of the day”.

Some of her dreams for Canberra had come right, and the rest would come right in time. Fingers crossed. All children could walk safely to school on their own, or ride a bike or a horse. On waking, everyone would see the sky and the sun when they looked out their window and would never live in the shadow of tall buildings. Toilets would be indoors and separated from the bathroom. The houses would not have front fences but become part of the street park, and all neighbours and passing people would say hello as you hosed the front garden – maybe low hedges could be allowed. Paths to the front door would curve; would not be a dull straight line from street to door. The back garden would be for the privacy of the householders to do as they pleased. People would be encouraged to eat out more, instead of each family eating alone every night hunched over a quarrelsome table. In the local cafes, people would come to know each other and draw up their chairs and chat about things that mattered.

menzies LBG
PM Menzies ‘opening’ Lake Burley Griffin

Every neighbourhood would have a shopping square surrounded by a park, and would have a meeting hall and a tavern for drinking coffee or a bottle of wine with nuts at the end of the day. There would be public squares – piazzas – where young people could be diverted from ‘the mischievousness and folly natural to their age, and under handsome porticos may spend the heat of the day and be mutually serviceable to one and another’, as the Italian Leon Battista Alberti urged in the 1400s. She had read this out to Gibson and anyone who would listen at the Congress.

Animals and children would be everywhere and allowed into cafes.

Everyone would be in a permanent conversation about the Canberra dream, including those who did not live in Canberra. Canberra was the only city in Australia that was everyone’s business. Already, everyone had an opinion about it. Through argument, everyone would help make it.

cold light

And people would travel to work together, swiftly and colourfully and cheerfully, in the smart trams and buses of the city – the best in the world. And on the brightly painted buses and tram cars, on some days, there would be a surprise – a famous person shaking hands; a renowned singer singing; a champion sportsman signing autographs – and there would be poetry and jokes on placards in the cars, and roving musicians.

And the lake ferries would be the same – gaily painted and be-flagged on special occasions – taking people to and from work from lakeside ports. The lake would echo with music played by roving musicians or the employees themselves on their way home in the evenings- accordions, flutes, recorders, guitars. Not too loudly. And not tin whistles; she had no fondness for the tin whistle.

Vale Edith Campbell Berry and your dream of a better Australia.

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