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Routes 80 & 81

Date: 21 August 2023

Route: 81 & 80

Sights: Brindabellas

Weather: 0 to 16 C

Time taken: 6.5 hours round trip

Australians like things nicely packaged: sharp edged and defined. Seasons are part of this. Seasons run for exactly three months each; Summer, 1 December to 28(9) February, Autumn, 1 March to 31 May, Winter, 1 June to 31 August and Spring, 1 September to 30 November. We are now sitting at the end of Winter; the days getting longer, the temperature rising and the change of season noticeable in the flora and fauna of the ACT. I set off on a day that saw frost on the oval opposite us, fog moving in as the day began, and the sun coming out to encourage people to relinquish puffer jackets and long coats.

Aboriginal peoples of Australia have a different way of defining seasons with signs given by nature. Australia is a large country and the aboriginal groups across the land have different ways, and names, for the seasons. Here in the south-east there are six distinct seasons with different names given by different nations. We are on Ngambri, Ngunnawal country. It is high (600 m), cool, and fire prone in summer. Hot dry winds from the interior blow across the plateau. One of the seasons is “false spring” and usually happens in European-Australian-defined winter (June to August) where temperatures rise, plants start to blossom,

Image: Sovereign Land

but it is only a short lasting state that reverts back to cold, windy, winter days before the daily temperatures starts to rise again.

The wattle is in full swing although the early blossoms are starting to fade and wither. Cootamundra Wattle is still dominant but other varieties with less striking yellow flowers and more foliage are appearing. Daffodils and narcissus making way for pink, white and mauve blossom. Bird life is also very active. There have been warnings of swooping magpies, something that happens for about eight weeks each year, but has started early this year. The cockatoos are also active in large, noisy flocks. We discovered they had been active on our balcony; the fairy lights that adorn our balustrade have been chewed through and no longer work. I can not imagine it was the Indian Mynas or the currawongs that did this. Cockatoos are known chewers; nothing is safe.

My aim today is to get to Tuggeranong and then do two of the buses from there that cover the furthest south of the ACT. Banks is the most southerly tip. The 80 does a loop from Lanyon Marketplace to Banks and back to Tuggeranong. The 81 takes a different route from Tuggeranong through Bonython, a loop at Gordon then on to Lanyon Marketplace. All this does not sound too tricky on paper, so I set off.

To get to Tuggeranong I get the R4 (Belconnen to Tuggeranong via City) in the city. The bus is packed. I wait for the many passengers to get off before myself and a couple of other people get on. We are here for the long journey to the south. One woman makes herself comfortable and pulls a book, a real book, out of her backpack. She reclines in the seat and reads. No checking a phone (there are a couple of people doing that), no staring out of the window (a couple of people doing that), and no talking to anyone else, either in person or by phone. Time to herself. What did we all do before we had the constant distraction of phones?

I wait for the 81. Tuggeranong bus station is set out so well. Easy to see signs, platforms clearly labelled, direction of the buses easy to determine. I check the indicator and see an 81 is approaching in a matter of minutes, no need for NextThere. I enjoy the emerging sun and wait, entertained by the magpies swooping the smaller birds. This territory is theirs and they will not give away the potential scraps to any other birds.

The bus turns up with a welcoming driver and we set off.

As we head out of Tuggeranong we pass all the edge-dwelling shops: Officeworks, Petbarn, BCF. These are the large (in area) shops that do not occupy shopping centres but are clustered around the edges of shopping centres. They give way to car yards and then we turn into a suburban street and the landscape changes to housing. The gardens are all looking lovely. A variety of tightly manicured spaces, wild and unkempt and gardens that have been given over to car parking. They all look good in the cool but sunny light. Blossoms abound in gardens and on street trees. Magnolia just unfurling with white, pink and purple flowers, some the size of dinner plates. And there are people in their yards; tidying, clipping, mowing, playing with dogs and children. It feels like the hibernation of darker and cold months is fading.

The bus skirts Point Hut Pond in Gordon. Play equipment, shared pathways, BBQs and birdwatching are encouraged here. Gordon, named after the poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, was developed in 1987. The streets are named after sports men and woman. The views to the Brindabellas can be glimpsed between dwellings and on the many roundabouts, that the bus is having trouble getting around. The wheels bump the edge of the raised surface of the traffic control with all the passengers jolted each time.

We arrive at Lanyon Marketplace. My plan is to get the 80 from here to Tuggeranong, it does the Banks loop first. This should not be a difficult task; there are only two bus stops. I get off at the one on the same side as the shopping centre. There is an 80 there. I hop on.

I was so busy looking at the scenery, which is stunning, I did not notice we were not heading into Banks. What to do? I realise we are heading back to Tuggeranong. I could just stay on the bus and then go home, but that would mean I would miss the 80 and Banks. It is such a long way to come by bus, I decide to do the route from Tuggeranong.

It is easy to find the correct bus platform here. A man passes me keeping his attention on a magpie that looks like it could be a swooper. He is rolling a cigarette and the bird has an eye on the papers. The man sits. The bird takes up a position on the same seat and sings. The man looks up at me. He tells me the bird is busking. He tells me about the three magpies he has taken to feeding in his garden. He tells me they are taking liberties. He tells me they first walked into his living room looking for the dry cat food. He tells me the young one will eat out of his hand. He tells me they make themselves at home now, they sit and watch telly, they like his bed, they scare the cat. The magpie is still singing but has hopped down from the seat and is making its way to the other passengers who have food. Another appears. They sing a duet.

The man gets on the 74 and wishes me a good day.

The 80 turns up just behind.

When we arrive at Lanyon Marketplace I realise I was on the wrong side of the road to catch the correct bus before. Both buses go to Tuggers but they leave from different sides of the road. I know this is not confusing for everyone but I find it very difficult. The signs give the suburbs the bus is travelling through but that is not a help to me if I do not know where the suburbs are in relation to each other. I have no idea if Conder comes before Banks or if Gordon can be reached via Lanyon Marketplace. I know the R5 leaves to the city and I know which bus stop, and which side of the road, to get it from, but only because I have done it before. The signage is not good or clear for someone with no geographic understanding.

The bus travels along Templestowe Street as it winds its way into the heart of Banks (named after Joseph Banks, botanist). The ACT extends some way south from Forsythe Street but this is the limit of the public transport bus system and housing. Unlike the north of the territory NSW is a way off. The rest of the territory south from here is mostly the Namadgi National Park. There is not much in Banks, apart from housing. A small shopping centre has an IGA, a couple of takeaway shops but I could have missed it had I not seen the sign with Banks Shops emblazoned across it.

We arrive back in Lanyon Marketplace, at the same bus stop I was at an hour earlier. I get off to catch an 81 returning to Tuggeranong to finish the final leg of my journey.

While waiting for the bus two late middle-aged men turn up. One is dressed in double denim, the other in a fake leather jacket with badges down the lapel. He has a bald head, recently shaved, the other a full head of grey hair with matching goatee. The bald one is doing most of the talking. They have a litre bottles of Coke each and six large packets of chocolate between them. They open one bar each and then swap. The conversation they are having is hard to follow with the flow being interrupted by “We will share this later” and “I don't like the one with nuts in” and “He will get such a shock to see us”. The banter keeps up until Tuggeranong where they head into the shopping centre “for more supplies”.

To get back to the city I opt for the R4. It is quick but it still takes nearly 45 minutes. A young woman who is dressed little a Barbie-like gets on; her pink outfit matches her pink skin with her hair a darker shade of pink with blue highlights. She tells the driver she does not have a bus ticket, she has forgotten it, he tells her to sit down anyway. She thanks him, nodding her pink head towards him. She takes her place on a seat with her small pink backpack, plugs herself into her pink phone and the bus takes off. I have seen this before; young people, usually still at school or college, say they have no money on their cards or they have forgotten it and the drivers let them on. One of the drivers told me they have been instructed to do this so there is no agro and the drivers do not get threatened. Verbal abuse must be an issue as signs have appeared on the buses as part of a ACT government wide campaign about not being aggressive to workers, on buses, in hospitals, and libraries. The photos on the ads on the buses show a driver with quotes like “I can’t help you if you shout at me” and “I can not help you if I don’t feel safe.” A considered response to a growing problem. Transport Canberra also put out on their social media sites some feed back they had been given from a passenger about how lovely it was to be greeted by the bus drivers in Canberra: for someone to say ‘Hello’ as you entered the bus just makes your day. I agree with this. Violence is never OK and a small, sincere greeting can set the tone for the journey, and the rest of the day. It is not the bus driver’s job to police who pays and does not.

The R4 makes its way along Athllon Drive towards Woden Temporary Interchange.

There are always many people who get on at Woden. The R4 is one of the fast routes into the city. There are about 20 people waiting at the platform, some of them enter from the rear door once the passengers leaving the bus get off. One young woman with black hoodie, torn jeans and thongs on her feet gets on the bus. She has dark skin and an aboriginal flag badge on her hoodie. She sits in front of me, pulls up her hood. All the other passengers sit down. The bus driver yells at the young woman to come up to the front of the bus. “You have not paid, this is not the procedure”. She tells him she can’t find her bus pass. There is no action from her to look for it in her bag sitting next to her on the seat. He tries again, “You have not paid, come up to the front”. She stays put. “I have forgotten it”. “Now you are lying, that is not nice to me. Come up to the front”. She stays put. Some of the other passengers, including myself, are a bit twitchy: it is making us all feel uncomfortable. He tries one last time “Come up here and talk to me” His tone is not pleasant; he is not shouting but it still sounds menacing. She is not going anywhere. He gives up, slips the bus into gear and we take off.

Writing this a couple of days after the event I am still unsure what it was exactly that made me so disturbed. Was it his tone? I can not work out why he let the first woman on but argued with the second? Did they have a history? Has he seen her before? Was it the clothes she was wearing, not as nicely dressed as the other woman? The fact she tried to slip onto the bus through the back door and not be noticed, and maybe more importantly, not asking his permission? Maybe he is a racist. Was it that I did not say anything and just sat, with the other passengers waiting for it to play out. I am still puzzled by this. Maybe it was a man trying to assert his dominance over a woman and like any bully he picked on someone who looked vulnerable. Just as a cheery hello sets a tone, so does an unpleasant interaction between driver and passenger. This has stayed with me for days.


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