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Route 51 Dickson Interchange to City

Date: 8 May 2023

Route: 51 Dickson to City

Sights: None

Weather: 2 - 13C sunny, cold wind

Time taken: 2.5 hour round trip

Some bus journeys are not momentous. They do not take in the Canberra sights. They do not take hours. They do not end up at a shopping centre. Some of the shorter routes offer up other glimpses of Canberra that can only be seen by bus, bike and when you walk. The 51 does just that.

It is a short walk from our home to the Dickson Interchange. I have to cross Northbourne Ave which can take some time. I have never understood why a city with such a small population has three lane roads in and out of the city. Northbourne also carries the light rail (tram) which makes crossing the road take a little longer. The traffic lights are called by the tram (rightly so) but it does mean as a pedestrian I find myself standing at the pedestrian crossing with no traffic coming my way and I still can not cross the road until the lightman goes green. Visibility along Northbourne is very good, at least half a kilometer, so sometimes I, and most other people, cross against the pedestrian lights, which technically, is jay-walking, but it is safe, so why not?

I got to the bus stop in the shade of one of the large buildings across the road. All waiting for a bus walked along the platform to stand in the sun. Canberra has the most amazing autumn/winter weather. It can be cold in the mornings (yesterday was -2C and it will get colder) but a cold start almost always guarantees a sunny day. Finding places to access the sun can be the problem, but today, at the bus stop I can wait in full sun. How glorious, even if the wind was icy.

A woman offers me a seat next to her, but I figure sitting on a cold metal seat will numb my bum, so decline. Her long grey hair around her shoulders jumps around in the wind tunnelling through the gap in the buildings where the bus stop is located. Her hair is the same colour as her clothes and her Ugg boots. As she attempts to roll a cigarette in the wind, she asks if I watched the Coronation. I tell her the truth, no. It held little interest for me, or her, it turns out. She tells me about the cost, about how all those people in the UK had to pay for the pomp and many people were homeless and starving, not to mention those doing it tough. She tells me she thinks it was feudal; the king with everything and the masses with nothing. I agree. As the paper for the cigarette blows away along with the tin lid, her chasing after it, she tells me the Universe is telling her not to smoke now, so she gives up and puts the tin back in her pocket once the lid has been retrieved and placed firmly on top of the tin.

She then moves on to the government. This is budget week and great things are expected of the Labour government who are seen as the saviour of the working class. Relief from cost of living pressures have already been flagged. This woman tells me she hopes they don’t stuff it up and they get another term, so they can really make a difference. She tells me she holds Morrison in contempt, just as he did the people who put him there: five ministries which no one knew he was in charge of! (She is referring to Scott Morrison, previous PM, who under crisis provisions, Covid, made himself minister of health, treasury, finance, home affairs and resources. Four of the five Ministers concerned did not know he had done this!) She tells me the Liberals got what they deserved and she hopes the Labor Party stays in power for years as they get things done. I have to agree. We chat to and fro about the 10 years of the last government where nothing was done: climate change, health, education, tax reform. We are clearly on the same page.

The 51 arrives. I wait for her to get on. All the other buses scheduled to stop have already done so while we have been talking, so I assume she is getting the same bus as me. She waves me on, her yellowed fingers pointing the way to the front. She yells she likes to sit and chat to people who are waiting, never gets the bus!

Before the 51 heads towards the City it does a little loop around North Lyneham along Cossington-Smith Drive, taking in the park, playground and the shops. I have been to the newly opened Hide and Seek Cafe a couple of times and it is great. This is the more modern section of Lyneham, built in the 1980s. Most of the houses are the standard three bedroom with garage but a couple of them catch my attention; the huge staircase leading to an oversized frontdoor with not one but two access points from the garden. Looking like something from Gone with the Wind, it is out of place here among the yellow and red brick boxes. A newer house that gives the impression of Ned Kelly. The other thing of interest is a garden; a replica of parliament house adorns the front garden, the flag pole as high as an olive tree on the nature strip. I think these people like living in Canberra.

The 51 heads out of North Lyneham back along Mouat Street to enter Lyneham. We pass Next Gen Gym, the National Hockey and Netball Centres and the Old Canberra Inn. This is the closest thing that resembles an English pub I have seen in Australia. Originally built as a coach stop between Queanbeyan and Yass in 1897, it became a residential home later and finally in the 1970’s a pub. It has low ceilings, a small bar and many rooms. Wood beams, a piano and hessian coffee sacks decorate a large room to the rear leading to a garden with large wooden tables. There is a nod to modernisation with QR codes on each table to order food and drink, but this place feels old.

The bus turns into Lyneham and heads towards the City. O’Connor is one of the oldest suburbs in Canberra, first gazetted in the 1920s. It is most famous for the Tocumwal Houses. During the 1940s the housing shortage forced the government to do something drastic. They relocated 200 houses from the NSW RAAF Base Tocumwal and situated them in O’Connor. The eight courts where the houses ended up are now a heritage listed area.

The rest of O’Connor is like much of the inner North; green, leafy, with wide nature strips and generous roads, but it is changing. Many of the original houses have been knocked down, including the many blocks of social housing, to make way for flats, mostly low rise, at the rear of Northbourne Ave. A couple of the public housing blocks have been heritage listed to be subsumed into the new developments. The inhabitants of the social housing have been moved to newer suburbs with more modern flats without the structural issues of the older places, but it is not the same. Northbourne Ave has become a corridor of apartment blocks and hotels.

Turner, the closest suburb to the City, is the same. Older places making way for higher density dwellings house a mixture of students (Turner is just north of ANU), public servants, other professionals and down-sizers. The 2021 Census tells me the average age of occupants is 20-34. There are very few under 15s (7.7%) compared to the national average (18.2%). David Street, the main thoroughfare, does not run parallel to Northbourne, running north-south, but diagonally across the suburb to give site lines to Mount Majura one way and Black Mountain the other. Now more people get that view.

We arrive in the City. Most people who have joined the bus have alighted at ANU, a couple of stops before. I am the sole passenger by the end. I wander around the City looking at the op shops (charity) and purchasing a few things for dinner. Garema Place, merging into Canberra Walk, is a pedestrian route that runs the spine of the Canberra Centre. Originally designed by Burley Griffin as the forecourt to the railway station, that was to be located in Bunda Street, in the heart of the city, it is now a space hugged by King O’Malleys (pub), food outlets such as Dosa Hut and Ms Boa, the Red Cross op shop, a games and shoe shop, and an old fashioned carousel. It is used as a site of protest (the Grannies for Refugees are out today), of play and recreation, events like Harmony Day and as a lunchtime haunt for those who want to be outside. The ACT government have added seats, temporary gardens, a giant chess board, table-tennis tables, and lights to the trees to make it more user friendly, but the whole place lacks something and is tired. The painted circles of bricks around the large London Plane trees are warped and now a trip hazard. The huge steel cushion sculpture does nothing to invite people to sit a while, especially when heated by the sun, and The Big Swoop sculpture of a magpie eating a chip offers curiosity but nothing to reinvigorate the space. Plans are underway to make the area more appealing: single level walkway, better lighting, more outdoor seating, more trees and gardens to cool the space in summer and to add to attraction. I have had my say on the My Say website to give them ideas. I am afraid though, it may always feel a little sad. Unlike European pedestrian spaces no one lives here; no dwellings above the shops and this makes the space soulless.

The day has heated up nicely and I feel overdressed in my puffer jacket. I strip off my scarf and head to the bus stop. The bus stop has one of the bus signage posts that tells me when the buses arrive and depart. The trouble with them is they are hard to read because of the font and where they are located high above head height, but they become nearly impossible to read when the sun hits them. I defer to Next There. 13 minutes. I watch a crow being swooped by a peewee (magpie lark) and then a magpie; the crow stood its ground to have first dibs on the chip packet.

The 51, when it does arrive, three minutes late, is an electric bus. This is the first time I have been on one, there are only about four currently. It smells like a new car. It is so clean and shiny. I really enjoy the bus trip home passing things I have missed; not one but two Buddhist Monasteries, one Vietnamese, one Thai. I enjoy the quiet ride only interrupted by the door bell like sound when the bus is travelling less than 20km/h. So new and quiet. It will be great when more of the buses are electric, not just for the environment but for the passengers. It may invite more people on. For everyone who rides a bus or cycles around, or walks their journey, it improves car travel for those that drive. Bus travellers should be thanked, even when on unmomentous journeys.


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