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Route 902 Woden to Hume to Woden

Date: 30 May 2023

Route: 902 Woden to Hume to Woden

Sights: None

Weather: 6-14 C cloudy but clearing

Time taken: 5.5 hours round trip

This week is Reconciliation Week in Australia. It is marked with activities, concerts, events, talks and a public holiday on Monday in the ACT. Many of this year’s activities are geared around the referendum vote to be held in October or November to recognise First Nation’s Voice in the Constitution. The question will be a simple one requiring a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but the difficulty will be to get a Yes vote from the majority of people in the majority of states. This is always the difficulty when passing a referendum in Australia. Very few succeed. The more educated and enlightened states are practically guaranteed a Yes vote: Victoria and NSW are showing that in polling already. Queensland and the Northern Territory are going to be harder to get across the line. And all of us have to wade through the rubbish that is being spouted by the people who will vote No; it will divide the country, nobody else gets a voice yarda, yarda, yarda. I have yet to hear a journalist or reporter challenge these assertions. “Mr Dutton, just how will a Voice to parliament divide the country?”

The ACT government is firmly behind the Voice and this can be seen in social media posts by the politicians, interviews they give and the number of First Nation’s flags around the city this week. My bus journey to Hume from Woden was lined with flags; from Vernon Circle (which usually has the ACT flag), through the city, along the Lake, and in Woden. The only other flags I see are for the NSW and Queensland Rugby League game; State of Origin, being played in Adelaide, for some reason. Coming from Victoria, which is not a League state, I find the sport a little strange, but understand the flags of the First Nation’s Peoples. We should all recognise them and use them as a reminder of the difficulties all First Nation’s people face in this country, their country.

I get to the Woden Temporary Interchange and use the very good signage to work out which bus platform I should be at. The 902 only goes once every two hours so I know I have some time to wait. It is just about the only bus that has the same timetable during the week as at the weekend. If the service was reduced any further it would not exist. Coffee first then waiting.

I walk the narrow and enclosed route to the shopping centre to find coffee. It really is an unpleasant walk. A couple of sharp 90 degree turns that mean I cant see around the corners combined with the high ColourBond fencing segregating the works that are going on leave me feeling uneasy. I would hate to be doing this at night or early evening. The coffee, when I find one, is good.

On my return trip I nearly collide with three men going the other way all glued to phones and not looking where they are walking. I know this is only a temporary measure but it is still unpleasant.

At the bus stop I sit and wait, and wait. I check Next There. Bus is 19 mins late. Great. A CDC bus pulls up at the platform. These are buses run by the NSW bus people that come into ACT territory. They are easy to spot as they are white and older looking. These buses service the population who live in NSW but work, play and shop in the ACT; Queanbeyan, Googong, Jerrabomberra.

A great many people get off. As the bus is just about to shut its doors a woman in a pink, hand knitted jumper, trying to run with her walking frame appears. The bus driver holds the doors. She asks if he goes to the Canberra Hospital. He says no, get a City bus. She does not understand what he is saying. She is flustered now, talking quickly and asking again what bus to get. The driver shuts the doors and pulls away. She deflates, sits on her walking frame and sighs big sighs. I approach her.

We look at the map on the shelter together and work out which bus: the 57 goes around the hospital, some others stop at the edge. She heads off to the next bus stop to find the 57. A man sitting on a bench tells me she could get the R6 or the 902. They both stop at the hospital. He has a lisp, a very bad shave and a disability that looks like he may have had a stroke. He unplugs his head phones, touches his phone and moves to get up, I offer to walk up to the next stop to tell the woman. He settles back down.

I find her trying to make sense of the bus timetable on the post of the next platform. She looks relieved when I tell her that the 902, the bus I am waiting for, will get her to the hospital. She follows me back to the stop; she is still flustered. She tells me has to visit a friend and this is the first time she has done it by bus. She tells me she comes from Belconnen and just getting to Woden was a trial. She tells me she is fine on the buses she always takes but working out which bus to take and then and where to get the bus from is stressful. I agree with her. Maybe the powers that be at Transport Canberra should do some testing of this with people who use the buses? Asking the people who use the system and are most affected by it should inform the decisions they make about signage, where stops are, how to navigate the bigger interchanges, the information given to passengers; both how it is delivered and when.

By the time we get to the bus stop her breathing has slowed and she looks better. I tell her about the man, sitting, who knows about the buses. She tells me she is stupid; everyone should be able to work this out. I tell her she is not stupid; she probably does things the man and I don’t. I ask her about her jumper; intricate pattern, even tension made with love. She tells me she is very proud of her jumper.

The bus arrives. She asks the driver about stopping at the hospital. He says he does. All three of us get on the bus. I tell the woman I hope her day gets better. She thinks it will.

The 902 runs across the southern part of the ACT; from Woden to the hospital, through Garran onto Red Hill and Narrabundah to the edge of Griffith and Fyshwick then out through Symonston to Hume. It is one of the few buses that is a cross link. No need to travel into the City to get a bus back out again. I would have thought more people would use this service, as it does take in the hospital, Narrabundah College and CIT Fyshwick. But there are just the three of us on the bus.

The woman gets off at the hospital, the man at the Narrabundah shops, I stay on to do the loop. We head out along the Monaro Highway to the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), otherwise known as The Prison, for that is what it is. Situated in fields, it has razor-wire around its boundaries, a large car park and terse sounding instructions for visitors about following the blue line. We sit at the stop for a while. I hear the music the bus driver is playing. No one at the stop: he moves on.

The bus enters Hume, an industrial area. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tells me according to the 2021 Census there are 395 people living at Hume, 94.3 % male. This is an increase from just 6 people in the 2006 census. Most of them Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, I suspect, although that information is not available. The AMC was built in 2009, named after a penal reformer from the nineteenth century who worked in Tasmania and Norfolk Island between 1836 and 1844. The growth in population in Hume is all in the prison. Wikipedia tells me the area is named after Hamilton Hume, (as is the Hume Highway, Hume Council in Victoria) explorer. The streets in this area are named after industrialists and businessmen. Maybe the owners of the very large four wheel drives outside most of the businesses know this? This is an all round blokey area.

The bus picks up a few passengers on its journey through Hume. We stop, again, at the prison, still no one gets on. The driver opens and closes the door several times; just to get some fresh air in, maybe? I am struck by how rural this area is. Once a little out of the city, the farms and grazing land and the hills stand in stark contrast to the built up suburban areas. Even though we had a wet spring the land is now browning off. The summer was cool but not much rain fell. The taller grasses are dying off leaving stalks of yellowing seed heads. The green underneath is covered with autumn leaves in some areas and exposed in others. I spot sheep, horses and cattle on our journey to Hume; a reminder that this city is new and carved out of a rural space. Something easy to forget when I live in the Lentil Belt with roads, traffic, houses and planned plantings.

Back at the Narrabundah shops the man I saw at Woden gets back on the bus. When we catch up as we get off the bus at Woden, he tells me he went to see his doctor who saw him early so he could get the same bus, so he did not have to wait the two hours for the next one. Nice doctor!. We journey along Hindmarsh Drive towards Woden. When we finally get off I give one of my cards to the driver. He asks if I learnt anything? Before he listens to the answer he tells me many people get on the bus and just go for the ride as it is a loop. What did I learn?

This question has me pondering. Time on the buses is thought time for me. I know I am not the only one. Many years ago I had a friend at uni, doing an honours thesis. He would often ride the bus to uni and then get the next one home straight away as he said he did his best thinking on the bus.

On this journey, probably because of the week it is and the places we have passed, I am thinking about Reconciliation. There are many people in this country who believe that this will just happen on its own or if we ignore it it will go away. But it will not. The Voice is about First Nation's People talking and the rest of us listening. Colonisation has left a long tail that we are still grappling with. We should be facing this. I will be voting Yes because this is something that has come from Aboriginal people themselves. The Uluru Statement from the Heart (2017) set out the wishes and demands of First Nation’s Peoples and this is the first step. Aboriginal people have lived with the decisions that have been made for them since white settlement. This can change now. We will all benefit. Until we actively make a change the status quo will remain and nothing will improve. Outcomes for First Nation’s People will remain below that of non-Aboriginal people; living fewer years, higher incidence of chronic disease, not doing as well at school, lower paid jobs and filling prisons.


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