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Route R4 Belconnen to Tuggeranong

Date: 23 January 2023

Route: R4 Belconnen to Tuggeranong via Woden and City

Sights: Black Mountain, ANU, University of Canberra, Lake Tuggeranong

Weather: 25 C cloudy then fine

Time taken: 3.5 hours round trip

Canberra is a place that was brought into existence by an act of Parliament to get New South Wales to cede 2,360 square kilometres to the new Federal Capital Territory, later changed to Australian Capital Territory. A new geographic area had to be established because neither of the two major cities in Australia, Melbourne and Sydney, would agree to the other becoming the capital. A compromised was reached by Federation (1901) enshrined in the Australian Constitution, that Melbourne would be the host of the parliament until the new government location was found, but the capital would be in New South Wales, somewhere between Melbourne and Sydney but at least 160 kms from Sydney. And this land would be given, at no cost, by NSW, and owned by the new federal government, known at the Commonwealth. After a geographical survey was carried out in 1908 the current location in the foothills of the Australian Alps was chosen as the site. It took many decades for the departments to follow the federal government, with the High Court finally relocating in 1980. Canberra is a new place.

Of course Canberra did have a history before white settlement. There is evidence to suggest that Aboriginal people lived here, speaking a variety of local languages for as long as 21,000 years. Rock paintings, burial sites, stone tools and camps give proof that people were here long before European settlement. The idea of Terra Nullius (the land of nobody) is ridiculous as proved by Eddie Mabo in his historic court case. When James Cook claimed this land for the British in 1770, citing Aboriginal people as not having any leaders or politics therefore could not make any kind of treaty with him, British law was imposed on people who had lived here for thousands of years. These people were pushed out by white settlers, cutting them off from hunting grounds with fences, or killed off, mainly by introduced diseases like influenza and measles, but also by more violent means. It was only as recently as 1968 that First Nations People were counted in the census. Those that are left are still fighting for recognition in the Australian Constitution.

The land that was ceded by NSW is high (elevation 600m) on a plateau, surrounded by large hills. This accounts for the cold winters, with very cold mornings, (sometimes -6 C) bright sunny days and mist that hangs around even in summer. The average January temperature is 29 C with a low of 14 C. Not too hot in summer, and acceptably cold in winter with many days of full sun, although when the wind blows in from the Brindabella Mountains it can feel like -10 C.

The journey on the R4 is the first time I am going south of Lake Burley Griffin towards the towering Brindabellas.

The R in R4 stands for Rapid. The buses take less circuitous routes through the suburbs and run every 15 minutes. The route to Tuggeranong will be along the main roads to the satellite town, not winding through the many suburbs. In order for me to do the whole route I take the R1 (tram) into the City to catch the R4 to Belconnen. The bus stop, or platform as they are called at the interchanges, has many people waiting, but not all for the R4. There are 10 R routes altogether, including the tram, that head to the more populated suburbs or satellite towns. If I am to take all the buses over the year I am going to get to know the hubs well.

The bus arrives, I was correct, only a small number of the waiting public get on this bus. As we head out of the city and along Barry Drive we could be in bushland. The eucalyptus trees, mostly sheding bark, stand out with their nude trunks. Canberra is called the Bush Capital for a reason.

Barry Drive hosts not one but two universities. The Australian National University (ANU) is at one end and further along is the University of Canberra (UC). The man sitting behind me, (he got to the back seat first), says to his companion when he sees the sign, “UC, look at that, it is just a car park”. He is not wrong. From the bus there are no buildings to be seen: just a huge unpopulated car park, surrounded by the bushland. The carpark will be full to bursting with drivers circulating to find a good spot in just a few weeks at the beginning of March when the students return.

We arrive at Belconnen and I am reminded just how ugly it is. Tower-blocks, concrete, no outward signs of a shopping centre and a lot of glass. I notice an attempt to beautify the green, rippled concrete I missed before; graffiti style dragonflies, water and fish. Even such lavish effort can not overcome the ugly.

As I have at least 15 minutes until the next bus, back the way I came, I sit and read and have a coffee. The coffee, just inside the shopping centre, is good. I spy a woman who is herding a small child with a trolley. The boy is staring at the ground intensely, walking fast in a determined way. He turns, walks back, she follows him guiding him with the trolley. “He loves his own shadow; is fascinated by it” she tells me as she passes. They get a little further on and he turns again to follow his shadow back the other way. The woman is so patient, following and guiding with full attention. They leave my sight. A couple of minutes later the small boy pops up next to my seat to get a closer look at the plants behind me. He rests his arms on the tall pot, his head on his arms and stares at the raggy palms. The banana tree in the middle is too tall to be in his eyeline. The palms are moving, everso slightly, in the breeze; they too have a shadow. “ He likes plants and the way they move too” says the boy’s mum. The boy looks delighted. Now he is closer I can see he lives with Down Syndrome. Two bigger boys, maybe 9 and 12, run out of the nearby toyshop, yell something to their mother, and take off again. “The big boys like the shop, and we wait, don’t we?” she asks the small boy. She tells me about having three boys, and the thought that the last one might be a girl had made her worry; she did not know what to do with girls. She told me the youngest was just the same as the other two, “rough and tumble”. The boy turns towards her and gives her a huge hug, “The same but more loving” she says as she hugs him back. The bigger boys return and they all head off to buy school supplies. School goes back next week and there appear to be many people doing the same thing; barbers with queues outside and shoe-shops much more busy than the last time I was here.

I race out to catch the next R4 to do the full route to Tuggeranong.

The bus driver seems cheery enough; hellos to all who board but he is a man in a hurry. As I sit in my usual spot I see a man running to the bus; the doors shut and the bus is off. The man is left cursing on the side of the road. The driver must have seen him, another couple of seconds would not have made a difference, surely? He puts his foot down as we leave the interchange. He races the lights, most of the lights, all the way back into the city, on to Woden and then to Tuggeranong. My app tells me the bus is not late so what was the hurry?

The bus flies along, jerking and rolling. The R buses are supposed to stop at the major places and only get hailed at the smaller stops. We approach UC (with its tag line, Truth. Compassion. Wisdom in large letters at the main entrance), a young woman stands up but is propelled back into her seat. She stands again. The bus driver pulls into a stop, but pulls out again without stopping and keeps going. The young woman has walked towards the front of the bus, pushing the button to stop the bus, it keeps going. He does stop at the next stop, it is a long walk back for the young woman, the R stops are fewer. As she leaves she is busily texting, to tell who she was meeting she would be late? This bus driver has attitude.

The driver races the next set of lights, as they are going red. He makes it, just, but then has to slam on the brakes as the bus has been hailed by new passengers at the stop just the other side of the lights. This is hard work; being thrown around as the bus lurches and jumps forward. We have another 20 minutes before the final destination. I feel ragged when I alight.

The other interchange we visit on the way to Tuggeranong is Woden. It is all looking like a bit of a mess. The ACT government is investing in public transport and an extension of the tram line from the city to Woden is now being built. The construction is happening at both ends. The city end has major construction to lift London Circuit so the tram line will be able to get around Vernon circle (a very big roundabout) and on to Commonwealth Ave and then over the bridge across the lake. The Woden end, where the tram will eventually terminate, also has work being done to start of the infrastructure needed for a terminus. The bus interchange has moved to a new, adjacent plot with the existing carparks becoming a maze of one way streets. A friend of mine who visits the Hellenic Club to have coffee with a friend told me about having to stop, text her friend to say she would be late because she was lost in the maze. Luckly, the friend was too. No coffee time lost.

As we leave Woden the suburbs change. More trees, newer houses and more bushland. The three people left on the bus, after Woden, are silent until a phone goes. A women with stylish clothes, visible sleeve tattoos and dreadlocks answers it with an irritation in her voice, “Yes, i am just getting off at Mawson for ciggies” she says. Mawson offers many things, ciggies included. It has the best Lebanese bakery, Indian and other Asian supermarkets and a butcher that knows most of his customers by name. It is easy to miss as it is situated off the beaten track a bit. Like many of the smaller shopping centres in Canberra you have to know it is there to find the delights, or you just fly past on the main road.

We head along the main road through more trees, a mixture of European and native, it comes as a surprise when we turn a corner, there are higher density units in large banks. We must be nearly there, and sure enough the next stop is the interchange.

What can I say about Tuggeranong? It is not ugly like Belconnen, not messy like Woden but it certainly has something lacking. The shopping centre looks run down with many shops up for lease. No speciality shops, nothing much of interest at all. It did not hold my interest, so I returned to the city on the next bus.

As we head back along the Tuggeranong Parkway I look back past the National Museum, with its distinctive red sculpture, Arboretum behind, past the lake, to the stunning hills in the distance. They always look different. Sometimes moody, sometimes bright and lush, sometimes snowcapped. What an outlook for a city to have. That surveyor picked the right spot. As we turn into Vernon Circle I am reminded how close nature can be: rabbits covering the roundabout. Everywhere I look I see rabbits. I know they are introduced but just like other Europeans they have made themselves at home here.


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