Ch 9 — Canberra now

From Canberra — Australia’s National Capital by Crispin Hull
Ch 9 — Canberra now
Canberra remains primarily the seat of the Australian Federal Government, but in the 100 years since federation it has grown to be much more. Only between 10 and 15 per cent of the employees of the federal bureaucracy live and work in Canberra. And the federal bureaucracy now employs fewer than one in four of the workforce. Sure many are employed or run businesses that supply the Government or those who work for it, but that is also true of the whole country, given that the government sector is such a high proportion of the economy of any modern democracy.
The Canberra workforce has diversified in recent years. A strong information-technology industry has developed, growing from government contracts, but now supplying the private sector elsewhere in Australia and exporting. Similarly with Canberra’s growing defence industries. Many city businesses supply goods and services to the more than 70 diplomatic missions in the capital and the city is the venue for a thriving national and international conference business.
Canberra is a major supplier of services — particularly health, education and retail — to the surrounding towns of NSW. It supports the surrounding agricultural region, notably the nearby fine-wool industry which thrives in a climate of low rainfall, cold winters and a scientific and high-technology approach. The Canberra wine industry — begun when CSIRO scientists noted the suitability of soils and climate – regularly produces award-winning vintages. It is ideal cool climate wine country because there is little or no rain in the growing season. Canberra is host to the annual National Wine Show at which medallists from each state wine show compete.
The most recent Federal Government cutbacks — first by the Keating Government and followed by the Howard Government — affected the city far less than those of the Fraser Government two decades before. Despite the reduction in Federal employment throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, unemployment in Canberra is the lowest in the nation.
When statistics are gathered, the Australian Capital Territory often stands out with enviable characteristics compared to other states and territories: highest life expectancy, highest education, lowest unemployment, physically fittest, most likely to attend a sporting or cultural event, highest educated, highest earning – but highest taxed per head.
Canberra’s climate and facilities lend themselves to outdoor activity. At 500 millimetres a year, it has half Sydney’s rainfall. It has four distinct seasons, unlike many other parts of Australia. Most winter days in Canberra are sunny and mild (around 15 degrees maximum), with cold nights, often below freezing. The minimum winter temperatures — displayed every night on the nation’s TVs — give the city’s climate unjustified bad press because most people are asleep when the minimum temperature hits. Spring is the wettest season, but because of the distinct winter, Canberra blossoms like few other places in Australia. Summer is hot and dry. And in autumn, Canberra is at its best. The large number of deciduous trees in streetscape plantings make the city a delight to walk, cycle or drive through.
Canberra has three recreational lakes — Lake Burley Griffin, Lake Ginninderra and Lake Tuggeranong — allowing for strong rowing and sailing competitions and recreational boating. Power boats are not allowed. Each lake has recreational cycle paths around it, making ideal facilities for triathlons. The Snowy Mountains ski fields are less than three hours away. Namadgi National Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve provide extensive bushwalking and wildlife activities. Mountain biking is popular on designated tracks closer to the city.
On a more organised level the city is host to the Australian Sports Commission Institute of sport which was opened in 1981 to train elite athletes, through the Australian Institute of Sports programs, and to help sport at lower levels. The institute was set up in response to Australia’s dismal performance at the 1976 Olympics. Since then, performance at elite level and participation at lower levels has improved dramatically.
From the late 1950s, the National Capital Planning Authority set apart generous amounts of land for sporting ovals and other sporting facilities in every suburb. With the good climate it makes for the highest sport-participation rate in the country.
Aside from the easy access to the main national cultural institutions, Canberra has a busy cultural life of its own, with a symphony orchestra, repertory, and several dance, theatre and other performing arts companies. Annually it has several festivals. The Floriade festival in spring has huge displays of flowers both exotic and native attracting people from around Australia. A folk festival at Easter, a multicultural festival and the Canberra Festival in March (which includes the astonishing hot-air balloon festival with sometimes as many as 50 hot-air balloons in the air over the city at the same time) add to the calendar. Canberra invariably finds itself on the itinerary of major travelling international and national shows and bands as they stop in on their way from Sydney to Melbourne.
Canberra is much more than the nation’s capital.

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