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Route 31 - Belconnen to City Interchange



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Image: Big Swoop Garema Place


Date: 10 January 2023

Route: 31 Belconnen - City Interchange via Lyneham

Sights: Lake Ginninderra, Belconnen Arts Centre, Gorman Arts Centre

Weather: Fine 32C

Time taken: 3.5 hours round trip


I have a friend who is suspicious of buses. He trusts trains and trams as they run on rails so can not deviate from the route. Buses are in the hands of the driver who might get it wrong, or worse, drive where they like. I always argue that this is not the case, the drivers are trained, why would they go the wrong way? I have travelled on buses all my life and never has a bus gone the wrong way, I say.


And then it happened, twice!


In the first weeks we moved to Canberra we tried to get out on the buses to see a bit of the whole geographic area. The first time we did this we set out to get the first bus that came along at the closest bus stop to us. We hopped on the bus expecting to go to Belconnen, as that is what it said on the front of the bus, which we did get to, in the end, but we took a little while extra. As we travelled to Bruce we heard the driver “Shit!” We were sitting close enough to hear what he was muttering. Some other passengers started to pay a little more attention to what the bus was doing. He yelled out towards the back “Gone the wrong way. Just got to turn around and go back.” The skilled driver found a place to turn, and got back on the route.


I told my friend. This just confirmed all he thought about buses.


On the day I took the 31, it happened again. In the same place too.


The ACT is a series of townships joined together in one geographic area known as the Territory to the locals. Belconnen, Tuggeranong, Gungahlin and Woden are planned urban satellites, centred on shopping centres. There are other shops around, each suburb having its own set small set of shops, a restaurant, a hairdresser, take away, or bakers is typical.


I found it hard to get my head around this type of urban landscape. I grew up in London which is an organic mesh of villages that have grown up and blended. In this planned landscape shops are hidden in the centre of suburbs with signs to where they are located on the main roads, just so you don’t miss them, I suppose. It is for this reason finding petrol for our cars can be a little bit of a issue; you have to know where the petrol stations are and not just hope you will pass one en route.


Each of the suburbs has its own feel. The older, more central suburbs, anywhere in the Lentil Belt of the Inner North, feel established, well-treed, and well lived in. On the edges of Gungahlin, Belconnen and Tuggeranong there are many new, planned suburbs which are still finding their character. Shops and schools have been built, trees planted, gardens designed and nature strips greened but they are not there yet.


As I move on the 31 from Lyneham, established, to Bruce, newer, the sites change; fewer trees, green hills at the end of streets (land yet to be developed), and new housing, student accommodation, and a sprinkling of commercial lets, mainly medical. The University of Canberra (UC) has its main campus in Bruce along with the University Hospital that boasts 140 in-patient beds, 75 day patients spots with rehab and mental health needs catered for. From here I can see the tower-blocks of Belconnen.


Image: Main street ICanberra; many people, not enough housing. In a bid to get more people into the small space the ACT government has added a number of tower-blocks to its planning. These are mainly situated in the satellite towns, with the largest at Belconnen. As the bus rumbles its way past Lake Ginninderra these towers loom over the streets, people and lower buildings. They cast shadows across the roads. The tower-Image

blocks would not be out of place on the Gold Coast, in Melbourne or Sydney but the glassy, shimmering monoliths dominate the central space of the town centre and are out of place.


We arrive at Belconnen Town Centre at the public service morning tea-time; the only people out on the street have a coffee in hand on their way back to work. I get off the bus before the bus interchange at the shopping centre as I can walk around to get a feel for the place.


Image: Belconnen main street


There is not much to feel. Belconnen Town Centre is devoid of character promoting feeling. The sad looking park opposite the Westfield entrance has seen better days. The Canberra Roses (photo) need more light. I walk past the Belconnen Arts Centre, a new looking, glass building with bright signage and posters. I get to the broad-walk with its few restaurants, none open, on the lake. It appears to have all the right ingredients for a great place but there is something lacking. There are a few dog walkers, walkers and cyclists around. The bike paths are very well sign-posted with all new roads having bike paths as part of the plan.




 

Image: Lake Ginninderra


This is an artificial lake made in 1974 to collect stormwater discharge from the surrounding suburbs. The lake was formed by the construction of the Ginninderra Drive embankment that had to be lifted by 1m in 2004. The lake is home to much wildlife including Black Swans, moorhens, ducks and an Australian native called the Rakali, or native water-rat.


 

It is heating up outside. Maybe that is the reason there are not many people around. That or holidays, it is still January, schools have another two weeks off. I head to the shopping centre.


I am hit by the icy air as I enter the main doors. From the outside this building cold be a tram depot, or railway station. Low compared with the towerblocks, long and concrete. The biggest signs outside state “Westfield” and “Car Park”, there is not much else to tell you what is going on inside. I could be anywhere; London, Doncaster (Vic), Milan; all shopping centres feel the same with the same kind of shops worldwide and this one is nearly empty.

I buy a small hand made, hand painted dish from a woman who sells Turkish goods. She is so grateful; tells me I am the first person to buy anything in two days.


On a hot day in the middle of the school holidays shopping centres used to be packed. People looking for entertainment with their children, buying things for them to go back to school, getting out of the heat, going to a movie. Maybe it is holidays, or Covid or hard times but this shopping centre has seen better days. Busses stopping at the interchange, and there are many; R8, R2, R9, R4, 31, 44, 30, 24,40, 41 and 32 that I can see, people spill off into the shops but it is still not enough to make the place feel well used. I head to the interchange for my return journey, passing through doors with advertising telling me I get 3 hours free parking if I sign up for the Westfield app.


The jolly bus driver knows the regular passengers, chatting to them as they get on. We set off. We near the boundary between new and old suburbs and a passenger yells out, “You’ve gone the wrong way!” The driver, only slightly perturbed, finds out if any of the 5 passengers wants the UC hospital. No one does, he carries on; no turning in tight spots for him. What are the chances that twice in one year buses go the wrong way, and at the same place too! Something about the intersection? Something about holiday timetable?

Image: Belconnen Bus Interchange



I break my journey home in the city to get my bag fixed at the wonderful Redpath’s, in Garema Place; shoe shop extraordinaire. This is an old fashioned shoe shop selling only high quality shoes; Doc Martins, Birkenstocks, London Fly, Naturista, Redback, catering for both men and women. The shop smells like a shoe shop; leather and polish and glue. They also have a shoe mending service that fixes bags too.


I wait for my bag outside watching the birds, mainly sea gulls and pigeons waiting for food scraps. The magpies are interested in everything especially Big Swoop and the people who stop by to have their photos taken with the instillation, warbling to other birds in the London Plain trees above.



Once the strap is done I head home, back on the 31. I have choices about which bus to take or the tram but decide to completer the round trip. A man in hi-viz, and very few teeth, tells me about his bike and bus journey home. He likes to cycle but the journey home is a bit much these days so he makes use of the carriers on the buses. (photo) I have not seen anyone put their bike on a carrier before and ask him to show me when the bus arrives. It does not look like it will be too hard. He tells me the female drivers are much more likely to assist than the men as they just do their jobs and don’t care too much. He then tells me he wants more sun or his tomatoes are just not going to get ripe. This might be the week. He checks his phone for the time. Tells me the bus is running late. I think he must have used an app to find when the bus arrives and ask him which one. He tells me he is good at cycling but completely computer illiterate. I check my app, Next There. No bus coming. Then it arrives, turning the corner and coming into full show. Maybe my app does not work around corners?


The bus stops, I am shown how to lift the bike, and the important step of securing it so it does not wobble or worse, fall off. On we hop, and the bus passes through the leafy suburbs of Anislie, with the Footy club, Braddon, passing the Gorman Arts Centre, and Dickson, and the busy outdoor swimming pool. This driver does not take any wrong turns.




 

Image: National Archive


Originally built as a hostel for the public servants moving to the new Canberra from other cities in 1924, this building has gone through iterations as a migrant centre and is currently an Arts Centre. It was the original building in Braddon where the public servants had to walk across paddocks to get to their place of work, closer to the city centre. Designed by a commonwealth architect, J S Murdoch, and given the name Hostel No 3, it was renamed in 1927 when Clarence Gorman, first Federal Capital Commissioner, died. Originally it had a red tiled roof the same as the Melbourne and Sydney buildings. The building reflects the Garden-city style of the original Burley-Griffin plan with courtyards, connected walk-ways, and a planting sympathetic to its setting.


Re-opened in 1981 as the current Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centre, it houses 5 theatres with spaces for rehearsals and studios for artists, groups from classical music, community choirs to acting for children and public art. It offers the potential for anyone with a creative idea to grow that idea.


 

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