Allan Takes Aim Blog

The Two Canberras

Posted on: 27 July 2011

First published The Chronicle Canberra Tuesday 26 July 2011

My home bookshelf is filled with a range of books many of them non academic in content. But some people in Canberra fill their bookshelves with ‘classics,’ hoping that visitors will think them people of learning. Unfortunately I’ve seen these people filled with embarrassment when, on being asked a question about a book, it becomes clear that they hadn’t read it.

Because TWO CANBERRAS is a book of opinions and because it addresses issues in Canberra about which I have expressed strong opinions it is a book I will read again and again, first because it is eminently readable and second because Professor Jenny Stewart, the author, presents her opinions with great lucidity. That being the case, I cannot imagine anyone not being able to understand it.

The TWO CANBERRAS is a book that will appeal to people with a real, not confected, interest in Canberra’s architecture and community. I think too, that Professor Stewart’s opinion that Canberra is two cities not only indicates her involvement in the city’s life, but that it is likely to attract contrary opinions.

That The Canberra Times, The Australian, Online Opinion, Public Sector Informant and the ABC have published and broadcast Professor Stewart’s opinions also shows the importance of what she has to say. Adding to its importance are her comments on national issues and perhaps more important to some people, the state of Australian Cricket. 

The book has eight sections: Beyond growth; On the knowledge; Unplanning the national capital; Governing the city state; The national interest; Meaning well; Preoccupations; and Public Service with articles on population, planning, public education, training, housing, transport, governance, pets, drugs, alcohol regulation, issues that constantly invoke a community’s praise or condemnation. Depending on their personal likes or dislikes it is a book that people will either praise or damn.

I do not agree with all of Professor Stewart’s opinions and nor do I think she expects everyone else will either. Nonetheless I feel sure she hopes that, whether or not readers agree or disagree, the TWO CANBERRAS will set people thinking about how the Canberra community could work better.

That said, I am of the view also, that if our local parliamentarians are really serious about Canberra’s future, not only should they read this book they should be proposing that it become part of the curriculum in Canberra’s public and private high schools and colleges. Who better to read and discuss the issues the book contains than those from whom will come people who will form Canberra’s future governments. 

As an example, take the first article “Resilience.” In this article Professor Stewart gives her opinion on the various interpretations of the word. Not only is the piece worth reading for her opinions it also sets the stage for her opinion on many other issues about which, I have no doubt, readers will either agree or disagree. Two Canberras indeed.                  

Another intriguing article is ‘Unknown Knowns.’ Had former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ever read this article I doubt he would have made the statement in Feb 2002 that gave him fame and made him look foolish: “We know there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Let me add that you won’t be left not knowing what Professor Stewart thinks when you’ve finished reading her ‘Unknown Knowns’ article.

But no opinion book about one or two Canberras would be complete without comments about planning, an issue Professor Stewart opines on in her article ‘Unplanning the national capital.” She also opines on some of its more memorable political fgures such as former Chief Ministers Kate Carnell and Jon Stanhope and perhaps the less than memorable John Hargreaves.  

Professor Stewart’s common sense book is non ideological. However after reading it, and I hope many people do, they may come to form the opinion that Canberra’s current model of government is not one that best suits the Capital.

The TWO CANBERRAS available at the Paper Chain bookshop, Manuka, and Co-op Bookshops: Price $25 (incl. GST) 

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