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Route 53 - Dickson Interchange




Date: 29 December 2022

Route: 53 Dickson Interchange to National Museum via Hackett, Ainslie, City, ANU

Sights: City centre, ANU, glimpses of Lake Burley-Griffen, The National Museum

Weather: 19 C cloudy, with showers

Time taken: 45 mins one way


Before I start my year of bus travel I am going to give one route a practice go. I want to see if there is enough potential in the bus trips and I have enough, or can make enough, to write about on each trip. Sophie Cunningham, in a Kill Your Darlings course on essay writing tells me that there is extraordinary in the ordinary and I just have to look for it, and then write about it in a way that others feel too. Look for the details: what people wear, how they interact with others and with me, small, but everyday things, that happen on each trip. I am also encouraged to look for repetition, in ideas, incidences, themes, moments. I am good at noticing things; details, moments, but can I remember them? I dig out a small note book to be carried at all times so these things can be documented.


The Inner North is very well serviced by buses and the tram. Dickson Interchange is about 4 minutes walk from our apartment. The 53 runs every half hour or so and travels to the National Museum. The Museum is located on The Acton Pennisula on Lake Burley-Griffin, at the edge of the Australian National University (ANU). I have chosen this route as it is close to home, takes less than one hour and winds its way through the older suburbs of Hackett and Anislie.


In her Ted Talk, Why you should talk to Strangers, Kio Stark explains why this is a good thing and how it can transform our lives. Talking to strangers makes people visible. Using our senses, not categories we rely on (male, female, young, old), frees us, and it offers us something we all need; The Quick Social Interaction. This quick social interaction gives us blast of intimacy; an emotional experience that gives us resonace or meaning. When we talk to someone we know well we expect something from them; to know us, we expect them to understand us and the things we say. With strangers we expect nothing and explain everything; the whole story. It is easier to be open with strangers as we know we will not see them again. Stark ends her Ted Talk with an invitation to begin to talk to strangers in our own lives and gives us ways this can be done: make eye contact, triangulation (talking about something you are both looking at, statue, garden), giving a compliment, use a social conduit like a dog or a baby. She ends with a warning, be prepared to give up personal information.


I set out on my bus route journey today with all the methods in the back of my mind, determined to be involved in at least one conversation. It turns out these strategies where unnecessary as the conversation, or monologue, came to me.




In the Twixmas between Christmas and New Year it seems the whole of Canberra is closed. Government departments, parliament, restaurants, even some shops, so the numbers of people travelling by PT is far fewer. This accounted for no one at Dickson Interchange Platform 2. I knew I had some time to wait, this was deliberate, so I could chat if I the opportunity arose. I sat, I took photos of buses going the otherway. I watched the small number of people who got off the tram and wandered to the Dickson shops. Then a woman, mid 70’s sat next to me, parking her tartan shopping trolley in the space between the bench and the glass sided shelter. She told me she was waiting for the 51, it would be 20 minutes. My bus would be there in 8. Then she told me about her husband who was in a nursing home as he had broken his hip, and how she visited him most days as his children lived too far away. I thought the conversation had finished. She then explained to me that she had only been living here (Australia) for 10 years since she married him when she was more than 60. They had first met over 50 years ago on the borders of Vietnam and China. He was Chinese and she was half Chinese, Vietnamese mother. He moved but wrote to her. They continued to write when he got married and then moved to Australia. Both he and his family got angry about her writing so she stopped. After his first wife died and he divorced his second wife he tried to get in contact with her through writing to her. She had moved after her marriage, but he located her through neighbours and friends. Her husband died. This was his chance, he travelled to see her but she told him she had to look after her mother. She did this for 5 years with him in Canberra and her in Vietnam. Her mother died, she married him and moved to Canberra. My bus was on its way. I have had some cards printed to explain my project to people who are interested, I gave her one. “Your bus” she exclaimed, as it pulled up at the stop. We had just enough time for me to say thanks and that hers was a romantic story, and for her to hug and give me a gentle kiss on my cheek. As the bus pulled away I saw her reading my card and tucking it away in her purse.


What a start! No need to rely on ruses to get a conversation going. No need for compliments, triangulation or conduits, or me giving away personal stuff. The bus ride was going to be mundane after that. Kio Stark was right; listen closely and people talk to you, freely. Maybe I should just sit at bus stops and not take the buses, be like Forrest Gump?


The cheery bus driver ushers me onto the bus. With or Without you by U2 is playing. The one other person on the bus, gets off at the Hackett shops. When we near Ainslie a few more people get on, but it is by no means full. I love being on the bus as it winds it way through the older suburbs full of red brick, single storey homes, mature deciduous trees, green spaces and little clusters of shops you have to know about in order to find them. (Fantastic Thai place, Siam Twist, in Hackett)


The buses only stop if there is someone at the bus stop or if someone on the bus requests the stop by pushing the button. I expect this is why the bus is driving so slowly. With fewer people travelling, fewer stops. This speeds up the time for the route, so the drivers drive more slowly than usual to keep to timetale. This does have benefits: more time to see the scenery, less jolting to sudden stops to get over the many road calming measures (speed humps) through ANU.


The rain starts in big, intermittent heavy blobs, the bus driver turns the windscreen wipers on. By the time we get to the city there are just three of us. All three of us get off at the last stop the National Museum. The car park is packed. New cars arriving are being directed to the overflow car park.


Established in 1980 with the passing of the National Museum of Australia Act, the collecting commenced with a donation from the Australian Government Collections. The site on the Acton Penisula was confirmed in 1997 and it finally opened in 2001. The Act prescribes what the Museum should offer the public; three interrelated themes:


  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture

  • Australia’s history and society since 1788

  • the interaction of people with the environment.


This is much as Gough Whitlam (Labour Prime Minister elected in 1972) had envisaged the museum when it was first proposed in 1975 by the committee he set up to investigate the possibility of such a cultural landmark, before his dismissal by the Governor General, in November 1975. (We have much to thank Whitlam for) The themes/galleries laid out by the committee where: Aboriginal Australia, Social History and the Environment. The National Museum is now a cultural and geographical landmark, sitting on the Acton Peninsula with its ribbon sculpture, it can be viewed from many places in the inner city.

By the time I get to the Welcome to Country garden it is raining harder. Time to pick up my walking speed. I race past the new established grey-green eucalypts with their juvenile leaves, and the majestic, carved, sand stone obelisks, towards the steel Welcome Wall, with its warning signs that steel can get hot when hit by the sun, who knew! Better to be safe than sorry. I get to the chasm of the entry, filled with people milling about waiting for the rain to stop. The cavernous foyer area is echoy and loud; filled with people who have nothing else to do today as most things are closed. I browse the shop, have a coffee and a short interaction with a barista who gives a sharp response of “Yes, apparently” when I suggest that judging by the numbers it must be coffee time. Maybe he would like to be enjoying his own Twixtime?


Time to head back to the bus stop. The rain has stopped, just a shower. I give myself time to chat but there is noone else there. I watch a large herd of wood ducks foraging in the grass then attempt to cross the road to greener pastures. Some cars slow down but some encourage the ducks to waddle faster, the drivers concentrating more on a place to park or turn around than on the look out for ducks.


The bus arrives. I embark. I used my ACT Seniors, My Way card. The driver tells me there will be a few minutes until we leave as he is early and cant go until the next scheduled time. I sit up the back, my preferred position, so I can view who gets on and off. As it turns out that is no-one, until we get to the back of Civic and the Canberra Centre. A huge influx of people, who have all departed by Ainslie. (I think this might be the place to be and give a note to self, and in my book, that I will investigate soon). The only people left on the bus are me and a man with a girl of about 5 in tow. Neither of them are used to buses as they have to shown how to use My Way machine, and how to tap on. The girl’s princess fairy dress with a puffy tule rainbow skirt proves a difficult thing to keep under control as she steps up to the front seat, near the driver. The man, I am assuming, father, pats it down to enable her to sit. She is squirming with excitement, looking out of the front window. Good job the rain as stopped as the wipers would impede her view.


We arrive back at Dickson Interchange Platform 1. I get off, thanking the driver as I tap off. The girl and man have a quick chat to the driver and stay on the bus. They are having a good time, going to keep going.


On the short walk home I think about the things I have seen, who I have chatted to, conversations I have overheard. Sophie Cunningham is correct; there is extraordinary in the ordinary. Anything can be written about. Watching man and child enjoy something so very ordinary is the gift of my day. I ponder if I will see the chatty women again, maybe I will get to hear more of her romantic story? Canberra is a small place, even though we have not lived here long I do bump into people I have met, often.



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