top of page

Route 50 Watson to City

Date: 2 February 2023

Route: 50 Watson to City Interchange via Lyneham, O’Connor and Turner

Sights: Brindabellas, Tilley's Devine Cafe

Weather: 16 C - 27 C warm and sunny

Time taken: 4 hour round trip

At this time of year the hills around the ACT have usually browned off to the point where they are turning yellow. This is not true of this year, nor for the last two. Since 2020 the La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific means that higher than normal sea temperatures give the Australian east coast far more rain than normal, and lower temperatures.

A hill we see from our apartment windows has turned from vibrant green to a dull green with underlying brown. Not yet at the yellow stage. The hill to the right of the Gungahlin tower-blocks is known as the ‘Camel Hill’. The collection of trees on the top look like an outline of a camel, from where we are. On days like today, in the summer haze mist, the hills behind merge into the sky and the camel can be seen clearly. On cold days with a huge drop in temperature in the night we often wake to find a heavy mist has blanked out the hills behind and the camel stands out proud.

I keep a keen eye on the weather as I am making a temperature blanket, in fact two. One started on 1 June 2022 the other on 1 December 2022. Each day is made up of the season, and low and high for each day. I note down the temperatures each day and crochet a hexagon to represent that day in the evening. June, July and August saw many shades of blue (-6 - -4 C Cloud Blue, -3 - 0 C Cornish Blue) moving to greens in Spring (12 - 15 C Turquoise, 16 - 19 C Teal). We are now at the end of summer and we have not had one day over 35 C (34 - 37 C Spice). While this is a relief for some, I feel cheated. There are two colours (37- 40 C Tomato and 41+ Lipstick) I am unlikely to use at this stage in the seasons.

Gardening in Canberra can be hard work. It is not just because of the weather. Hot and dry in the summer, very cold and dry in the winter with most of the rainfall in spring. Many gardens are looking past their prime at this stage in the cycle. It is not just the weather that is hard to contend with but also the soil. The first couple of centimetres is poor quality soil and then you hit clay; hard, compacted and not very easy to plant anything into.

Growing anything here takes persistence, diligence in watering and lots of compost.

There are community gardens across the ACT that work on different models: Lyneham Commons is one plot that all work on, focusing on food, just like Incredible Edibles in Yorkshire, UK. Dickson Community Garden has individual plots; and See Change runs a food scraps collection service that hot-composts veggies into something that can be dug into gardens in 6 weeks. (All except mango pips that take a little longer.) There are also micro-forests: public places where the community have been given grant money to grow natives to cool the local climate and produce pools of intense vegetation to benefit the community.

The Watson Micro-forest will provide habitat for native wildlife, absorb carbon, and offer a shady and inviting place for locals to meet, play and relax. This oasis will reduce the urban heat island effect, lowering the temperature by up to 6 degrees! The park will be more useful, and the surrounding area more valuable.” Watson Micro-forest website.

My bus trip on Route 50 did not take me past the Watson Micro-forest but it did take me to the heights of Watson. Situated on the flanks of Mount Majura the bus terminus is high above where we live, giving a view towards other mountains that surround the ACT.

My trip to get to the beginning of the route had been uneventful; heading up Antil street to Dickson shops, past the outdoor swimming pool, once around the shops and then back onto Antil Street heading for Phillip Ave. I know this part of Dickson and Watson well as my son attends Dickson College and I have been called on, many a time, to come and get him, or take him if it is raining. He usually does this trip on his bike using the bike path. The bus pulls into Watson shops, but does not stop there; it continues to head north climbing up the edges of Mount Majura. I can see the lights at the GIO Stadium, in Bruce, about 10 kms away. The bus driver tells me it is the end of the line and I will have to get off. I explain I want to go back the other way but I cannot as his bus is changing from the 50 to R9 and will be taking another route. I will have to wait for the next bus that is a 50.

As the bus driver is escorting me over the road the next 50 turns up. Driver 50 explains to new Driver 50 that I want this bus. No, he is an R9 too. Now there are two R9s, one on each side of the road. I will just have to wait the 25 minutes until the 50 turns up. Driver 50 gets back onto his bus and heads off to where the bus can turn around. New Driver 50/R9 tells me to stand in the shade and we can chat.

He tells me about the plum trees just behind the bus stop. How he loves to grow his own fruit and veg. We discuss the difficult conditions in Canberra and he explains about the raised beds in which he grows tomatoes, spinach, peppers, chilli, potatoes, rosemary, parsley, sage, thyme, oregano and other herbs he did not know the names of. He also has an orchard with plums, lemons, two different types of persimmons, apples, pears and olives. He does not like to grow peaches and nectarines because of leaf curl and the treatment it requires. I tell him about what I am doing travelling on buses and offer him a card. He does not take it but tells me about weeds like dandelions and mustard weed that you can pick and eat, and no one has to garden it. Make use of what is around. He tells me when he stops for his break, in places like this, he will walk around and collect weeds for his sustenance and that of his adult children. He tells me how to cook them:

  • Blanche weeds in boiling water.

  • Refresh in cold water.

  • Sautee off with garlic, good quality olive oil and maybe finely chopped onions

He tells me his mouth is watering just with the thought of weeds in oil for dinner.

He tells me dandelions and mustard weeds are a little bitter and not to everyone’s taste but it is a ‘good bitter’ He tells me his mother taught him how to do this and he has shown his children. He is Italian and they know about food, and the connection between gardens and food: how it is grown, the effort required, the love that goes into tending it and most of all the understanding that this is part of life, an essential part, just like exercise and cleaning your teeth, that has to have time made for it.

I am not sure I will be walking around picking weeds anytime soon, sounds like a bit of an effort to me, but I can relate to his enthusiasm about growing your own and then eating it. Nothing ever tastes the same as a tomato grown in your own garden, picked when red and ripe and still warm from the sun.

Our conversation moves on from gardens to public transport. He thinks, and I agree, that all public transport should be free. He suggests that a little more, ‘just a few cents’, on local taxes or rates and no one would notice, but everyone would be able to use all buses and the tram, free. He tells me he has been working as a driver for 17 years and it is the best job he has ever had. Before that he was in ‘fruit and veg’. He thanks me for the chat. Lovely way to pass the time of day.

R9 Bus Driver has finished his hand rolled ciggy and his break so he is off. Up to the roundabout to turn and then towards Belconnen. He stops at the bus stop on the opposite side of the road, lets the two passengers on and then hops off the bus again. He wants one of my cards after all.


Luxembourg is a country just a little bigger than the ACT. Population 641,000 (ACT 432,000) Half the working population in Luxembourg enter the country, each day, from Germany, France and Belgium, usually by car. The government of Luxembourg has put in measures to encourage more people to use public transport for this trip. Buses, trains and trams will be free. There are also large sums of money (AU$16.6 billion) being spent on an upgrade to cycle paths and an extension of trams lines. The cost of running public transport across the country is AU$ 825 million. Passenger contribution by way of fares only accounts for about AU$64 million. The Luxembourg government decided this was an acceptable loss and the treasury would cover it. No one has lost their jobs with this transition. There are now more people assisting with travel and routes than checking tickets.

Tallinn became the first city in Europe to make PT free for its residents. A referendum in 2013 saw 75% of the city dwellers vote in favour of no-cost transport. Residents pay $2 for a “Green Card” that will then allow them to use all forms of PT free. Unsurprisingly, the numbers of people using PT have grown. This scheme is so successful the Estonian government is looking at ways to roll it out across the country. Visitors to Tallinn do have to buy transport tickets.

Other European cities are also trialing free public transport as a form of climate mitigation. Germany has five cities with trials currently, with a view to rolling it out more widely if enough people use it. More people on buses, trams and trains means fewer cars on the road. The roads are improved for everyone.

There are a few free forms of public transport in Australia: in Melbourne (free tram zone) and in and around Perth (Central Area Transit or CAT) but these tend to be measures to encourage tourism.


My bus Route 50 turns up at the scheduled time, is one minute early according to Next There. As the bus winds its way back through Dickson shops, over Northbourne Avenue, past the Lyneham shops and through Turner we pass some iconic places. Tilley’s in Lyneham is iconic. Established in 1984 and named after the Bordello Queen of Sydney in the 1920’s, Tilley Devine, it has grown a reputation for good food, great music and a non-threatening atmosphere. In 2003, owner Paulie Higgison, introduced a policy that groups of men drinking could only stay if they had at least one woman with them. Behaviour improved. The policy was dropped two years later but Tilley’s still has the feeling of an all-inclusive space.

The large outdoor area is usually full of people having coffees, taking a rest from dog walking, or catching up with friends. It is an easy walk from our place and we love to indulge in good coffee and cake some weekday mornings. I have only been there once for dinner and it seems to have a different vibe. Two places in one!

The bus enters the city from O’Connor, showing an unusual view of ANU. There are cyclists everywhere: standing at each of the four roads leading into the crossroads. Uni students are not back yet but the car park is already full. I see the first signs of Autumn: Belladonna lilies with their pink trumpets bobbing in the breeze, and red leaves just edging some of the trees. Footy being played instead of cricket on ovals. It is still warm to hot most days but the change is coming.


bottom of page