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The Last Ride 53 Dickson to Museum

Map of Christchurch bus routes. Available in hard copy too.

Date: 28 November 2023

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

Sights: Black Mountain, ANU, glimpses of Lake Burley-Griffen, The National Museum

Weather: 19 C cloudy, with showers

Time taken: 45 mins one way

What I have learned from riding buses in 2023

I set out, at the end of last year, to look for a project to do while I was not employed in paid work. I wanted something to do on a regular basis, (a reason to get out of bed?) but what  I really was looking for  was a subject to writeabout.  I have long been a scribbler: blogs of travel (UK and Australia), lists of songs with stories, short stories and creative non-fiction articles.  To write well I need to do this on a regular basis with an ongoing challenge that I can get my mind working on.  I set myself the challenge of one bus route a week and 2000 words about that trip.  It takes discipline for me to do the second.  Find a place to write, (home is always too small and too busy with too many distractions) set myself up and then, write.  I have many books about how to write, and in Letter to a Young Writer by Colum McCann he states, in order to call yourself a ‘Writer” you have to…write!  Seems like a simple thing to say but sitting, at a good time in a congenial place, in the correct frame of mind is not something that is always available to me. 

The bus project was attractive as we were new to Canberra and travelling on buses would give me the added bonuses of a better sense of the shape of the territory, (I have a terrible sense of direction and can only navigate with experience or the GPS), tell me a little about the history, and give me an opportunity to talk to people I did not know as I went on my way.

So as a final post, for those still with me, and those that have joined recently, I have come up with a list of things I have learnt over the last few months from riding the buses in the ACT.

Public Transport in Canberra is good.

The ritual of leaving the house to catch a bus, something with purpose, is a joyful thing.  I decide on where I am going, how to get there and then pack my bag; water, sunnies, hat (for cold or hot) phone, wallet, note book and pen.  It is akin to getting ready for a work day but not the same.  Once on the bus of that day I really did concentrate and focus on what was going one around me.  Looking out of the window and seeing the scenery, which is often stunning in the ACT, was an extra treat.  I got to see much of the ACT that people who have lived here for years have not been to. 

There are many things I would change about the bus network, but it is a great service for a large country town.  Buses and light rail are better in the centre than on the edges or outskirts of the ACT, but this is the same in many cities around the world.   As Canberra grows into the city it is designed to be and grows the numbers of people living in the territory, the public transport system will have to grow with it: more buses on a more regular time table that go to more places on the outskirts.  Capital cities should have good transport systems for people who live there but also for people who visit.  Buses to all the tourist attractions like the National Arboretum and the National Zoo should be available to both tourists and locals.

Most of the bus drivers I talked to where dedicated to their role with many of them expressing how much they loved doing what they did.  Most of them where friendly, greeting passengers with a hello or a smile.  Most of them drove really well.  One of the drivers was so surprised and grateful I told him this.  He told me many people say thank you, as they leave the bus, but he had never been told how well he drives, (and he had been doing the job for over 10 years).

As well as a few new or reinstated routes (there used to be a bus to the National Arboretum) I think the higher levels of Transport Canberra could do with some pointers, maybe even get out on the buses to gather feedback.  The communication is not good.  There are no longer paper maps or timetables available.   Someone in the higher escolons, who clearly does not ride a bus, has decided we all have smart phones so can access the information we need through them.  I understand this thought, but as a regular user of the service I like to look at a map, not just to see where I am but where I am going.  It is the only way to connect the routes so you can find out which bus to get.  Printed maps are available at the interchanges but they are on the walls and not hard copy that can be taken away. The timetables are also available online and this is helpful but a hard copy timetable would be great too.  I have printed some off so I know times of particular buses but having a leaflets with the timetables and the route on a map, for each of the routes, would be even better.  Not everyone has a smartphone, apps or a printer.

Communicating with strangers is beneficial for me, and them

Talking to people I do not know is something I do not always feel comfortable with but opened myself to the possibility that it would be a good thing, and it was.  In his book “Hello, Stranger” Will Buckingham explains that the space in which strangers speak to each other is a ‘what if’ space, a subjunctive: it allows for possibilities.  He gives examples of his travels in Pakistan where he opened up to strangers and gained so much.  My trips on buses were not as exotic, or as adventureous as Buckinham’s in Pakistan, but I learnt about magpies, history of the Griffen original plan, how Canberra has changed over time, and, most importantly, what a great place it is to live.  Buckinham and I did have something in common; we both learned how to trust, ourselves and others.  

There is a moment when I first start to talk to another person, a hesitation of sorts, where I wonder if it is the right thing to do.  Am I intruding? Will I find something to say to engage them? What will they think of me?  But once I am past that, the conversation usually moves on like most conversations do.  I am more comfortable and confident in speaking to strangers now.

This act of talking to others builds a connection that can improve mood, mindset and builds understanding.  Seeing the world, even for a short time, through the eyes of someone else is a gift to the reciever, widening worlds and experiences.  

We have become people who live our lives in bubbles: home to car, car to work/school/shops and back to car to return home.  The places we used to stop and pass the time of day with others are disappearing or the way we interact with those places has changed: post offices, libraries, shops, sports events.  Ticketing and shopping have moved online with standing in a queue, as much as we all hated doing that, a thing of the past.  The queuing provided a vehicle  for interactions.  I once had a memorable conversation with a young man waiting to buy tickets for The Cure.  He told me how Robert Smith had saved his life and now he had to see them in person.  I was a witness to this.  Maybe buses and waiting for buses are one of the last vestiages of a past life, more interconnected life?

The key for me in all the conversations, was to listen, and fully listen to what was being said; to hear the unsaid words.  Listening is not just a case of hearing words but of being present in the conversation: no playing with phones, fidgeting with hands, bags or hopping from foot to foot, which I do when I am cold.  Listening with attention and presence is beneficial to both speaker and listener.  The speaker feels heard and will leave with a feeling of connection.  The listener learns something.  This was illustrated so well by a women at Tuggeranong. When I talked to her she told me she had been here since 1962 and had seen the place change and grow.  Now in her eighties and living on her own she thought the bus trips she made daily stopped her from being socially isolated and lonely.  Sometimes she shops.  Sometimes she just goes for a ride and chats while waiting for the next bus.  The conversations she has with people she does not know offers her knowledge or “just being part of something bigger.”  She told me she does not get this from anything else she does.  She thanked me for the conversation we had and for making her day.

Doing things for myself is important

I recognised a few years ago, part of who I am needs to be feed a constant diet of creative things.  I like to sew, crochet, write, take photos and problem solve but this is not enough.  I was still left with something inside that was not fulfilled. Completing this project has given me more than the set out objective of writing.  It was something that I made a priority in my life and made sure I worked my other obligations and chosen activities around it.  Tuesdays became the day I travelled on buses and Thursday the day I wrote about it.  Making everything and everyone else move around this was of benefit: I got it done, but it also showed me that doing a project, with no monetary value, is just as important as working with pay outside the family or no pay inside it. 

This year sees the end of 38 years of parenting my children.  My youngest is now an adult and is moving on from school.  I am going to allow myself the time and opportunity to do more things for myself and to make them a priority.  This may sound selfish but after many years of putting other people first and juggling their needs around my own I would like to find out who I am.  Being creative is one way to do this.

Of course this does not mean I am going to run away or do a Shirley Valentine, even though I feel the urge sometimes, but this project has showed me that once I set my mind to do something it is achievable, I can be tenacious and I do finish things.

On Tuesday 28 November I finished the project with the same bus route I started it with; the 53 Dickson to the National Museum.  (This also co-insided with an article about my project being published in the RiotACT).  I had put out an invitation to regular readers to join me on this journey.  I had two takers.  Having wound our way through Hackett, Ainsley, Civic, ANU we arrived at the museum.  The coffee shop is great and we indulged.  Sitting on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin we talked about buses, public transport around the world, how Transport Canberra could be improved, and how many other buses my companions had done.  It was the best way to end this particular journey.

End Notes:  Photos are all from a recent trip to Christchurch. The New Zealand government changed policy to make public transport a priority and to make it easier to use and more accessible. I experienced Christchurch but heard from people I talked to other cities have even better transport systems: great routes (all wheel and spoke with an orbital) and fantastic frequency.

Last week I appeared in the RiotACT and on local ABC 666

I have set my sights on a project for next year as I want to keep up the writing and expand what I do. I will not start the next project until 2024 but watch this space.


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