I was excited back in 1999 when I found out that I had a public service job in Canberra. ‘Poor you, Canberra’s so boring!’, friends and random strangers in Brisbane would say. To many people being forced to relocate to Canberra seemed worse than a death sentence, like those early convicts who were transported to Australia for the term of their natural life.
I love living in Canberra. Other than a posting to Taiwan, I have been proud to call Canberra my home since 2000. I am constantly discovering new things and amazed by the natural beauty surrounding me. I was privileged in 2014 to be a social media Ambassador for VisitCanberra during its 101 Local Humans Campaign. I feel it is grossly unfair that people, who often had never been to Canberra (or who last travelled as a student on a forced excursion many years ago), judge my home so harshly.
The only advantage to the Canberra bashing is that the hordes stay away and let us enjoy the serenity in peace. But the secret is out now thanks to the third edition of Marg Wade’s book, Canberra Secrets.
I have been privileged to call Marg a friend since 2013 when we met in Taiwan. Marg is a keen writer, intent on details, not content to just include things unless she has personally inspected them. Previously a teacher, she is meticulous in her research and methodology. She is the ultimate Canberra expert.
The first edition of her book, published in 1999, was motivated by her being sick of people bagging Canberra. She wanted to tell stories about the city she loved. She told it so well that her book sold out. Canberra Secrets was awarded best locally produced book by Chief Minister Jon Stanhope in the ACT Writers’ Centre awards in 1999.
Marg has been working on this book for three years. But that’s not all she has been working on. Nearly a year and a half ago she quit her stable public service job to pursue her love of Canberra full time, opening Canberra Secrets tours.
I bumped into Marg a few months ago conducting a tour at the Australian War Memorial. I sneaked up on her, hiding behind others in her small group before popping out to say hi. In the process I learnt many facts about the sculpture of Simpson’s Donkey – I have probably passed by it twenty times, yet never stopped to pat it for good luck, nor known anything about the sculptor (Peter Corlett if you were wondering).
With her in-depth knowledge of Canberra (and its secret places) she is developing a name for high-end bespoke tours (as well as regular monthly tours). She speaks with passion about behind the scenes tours she is working on, and the people she meets.
So what about these secrets?
At the book launch this week I learnt about several Canberra secrets including:
- That former Prime Minister Chifley used to place orders for the Manuka butcher – housewives often rang his number by mistake and he never let on.
- King O’Malley’s pub, where the book was launched, was named after the former Minister for Home Affairs, who was an avid teetotaller and fudged his American citizenship to get elected.
- 17 of the 52 painted wooden horse on the Merry-go-Round in Civic include the name of each apprentice who repainted it.
- First class musical performances are hosted regularly in aid of charity – Music at Midday at the Canberra Theatre Centre featuring the Royal Military College Band has raised over $300,000 since it started in 1993.
From a foodie perspective, Marg covers off nicely on the vibrant food, wine, craft beer and spirits scene that Canberra is becoming increasingly well known for. If you want to know the must visit restaurant and cafes, or if you are planning a wine tour, Marg’s discerning choices will put you in good stead. Nor does she neglect local foodie businesses including Urban Providore Australia, The Cook Grocer, FoodLovers (great for gluten free foods), and my kids favourite for ice-cream, Frugii.
The cover, which features the impeccably chic Erna Glasford aka @simplycheecky, is but one of the many beautiful pictures included the book. The imagery alone will draw you in and paint a lasting image of a stunning city set in an amazing bush centre. Canberra is so much more than just Parliament House, and should not be defined just by the politicians that visit.
I bought two copies: one for our personal use, and a second for our AirBnB guests.
Canberra Secrets is available at all good bookstores including Paperchain Manuka (who have been requesting that Marg write a new edition for years), or direct from Marg online.