Canberra Day Oration, by Robyn Archer AO

Canberra Day Oration, by Robyn Archer AO

Posted 12 March 2011 12:00pm

Seed now, blossom in 2013, flower for another hundred years.
The Canberra Day Oration, 12 March 12 2011
By Robyn Archer AO, CdAL, OC

Thank you and I will begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we gather on today, the Ngnunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I’m sure also, that we all spare a thought today for the people of Japan, our colleagues in the Japanese Embassy here and I personally express concern for the Japanese friends and colleagues who have taught me so much about tradition and culture.

I should warn you that I frequently do take my audiences along sometimes mysterious and initially directionless paths; but stay with me, and I guarantee to get you home safe in forty minutes or so.

I’d like to set out from what should be an obvious point. On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, last Tuesday, at Government House in Yarralumla, the singer Deborah Cheetham spoke briefly about the change that had occurred since she sang at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. The Welcome to Country was included in the ceremony, but prior to the broadcast content that went to millions. A decade later, the welcome to country or acknowledgement of traditional ownership is rarely, and then noticeably, omitted from official ceremony in Australia. So this might be a good place to start our weekend ramble. For unless we too fall into the gross mistake of conjecturing Terra Nullius, you have to go back a very long way, a very very long way, to conjecture a time when there was nothing on this land where Canberra stands today.

Being an expert on pretty much nothing at all, it’s clear I’m not a geologist nor an anthropologist, neither botanist nor even much of a gardener, try though I may try to spare a little time for the plants in my care from time to time. A gypsy largely forgoes the prolonged pleasures of geographical stability. But a vague general knowledge leads me to the uneducated guess that before there were people here there was plant life.

I’m not sure if evolution involved seeds or not, or whether seeds belong to the second generation after original evolution. Given that whatever topic one alights on in Canberra there are both collections and experts to verify it (it is after all one of the unique attributes of this unique capital), I’m sure there’ll be someone in this audience to enlighten me afterwards.

I have used my Centenary of Canberra mantra as the title of this oration – ‘seed now, blossom in 2013, flower for another hundred years’. But the first point I need to make is that the idea of seeding ought not to imply that nothing went before it. We can buy seeds, we can grow, we can propagate – but where did the seed come from? And, unless we’re talking genetic modification, which I’m not, the answer surely involves a history of millions of years.

So if I talk about ‘seeding’ now, there has to be an implicit understanding that an epic history lies behind it. And it’s obvious that the metaphor is flawed anyway. If I use this phrase with regard to the way we are approaching the Centenary of Canberra, it’s obvious that whatever my colleagues might have seeded five years ago, or the plant matter we seeded 18 months ago when I started in the role, this would probably not blossom just three or four years later . Gardeners of Canberra, tell me now, if I plant a seed, could it actually have blossom three years later?

[Lots of nods – yes this is possible]

I know that some species can flower for a hundred years.

But, you know what I mean. We may well be seeding things for the Centenary of Canberra, but there’s a lot of history that precedes us.

I’m not really interested in the flash in the pan event. I’m not a party girl. I stopped going to parties around 1983. Yes I’m from Adelaide, but that’s not the reason. I’m not your classic wowser. It was the time when I was performing my one-woman show, A Star is Torn, at Wyndhams, in the West End of London. This show was just me and two pianos. I sang and spoke for two hours with one small interval. It was a marathon.

I slept for 8-10 hours. I had a small window in the afternoon where I could talk to people, do interviews and business etc, and then around four in the afternoon I started preparing the voice and the body. I’d walk from Belsize Park over Primrose Hill through Regent’s Park into the West End (about 90 minutes), have a morsel to eat around 5.30 and then begin the real preparation in order to hit the stage at 8pm in peak form.

For a year I did this, six days a week. After the show there were approximately 2 hours when I could go to supper with one or two people and talk quietly. It was simply impossible to be in a loud atmosphere where I had to raise my voice, or one in which there was cigarette smoke. So, during a year of such discipline, I fell out of the habit of partying. Still, I had already had a lifetime of excellent parties by then, so I feel no loss, and it’s given me the benefit of aspiring to more than one-night wonder projects.

I have, since then, taken the long view of almost everything except my own life. I never have any long view of my life, never have personal long-term plans. I am wholly reactive to the offers that come my way. This may simply be the result of chronic childhood illness which made the goal of taking the next breath long-term enough. Or maybe I am just a hopeless rambler.

Whatever the cause, it has encouraged me to accept only those offers which allow for a vision and the long, rather than the short, sight of any proposition. I think all of us in the mature phase of our careers; share a sense of needing whatever we do to be useful and to have a life beyond our own term. So my approach to how we celebrate the Centenary of Canberra has been with a long vision from the start.

These city-wide opportunities come along rarely and you have to use them wisely and carefully. In this instance I think you have a chance to kick-start the national capital for another hundred years. And indeed the kick has already started.

That said, there will of course be a huge celebration around March 11th (the public holiday), on the eve of the actual birthday itself, now just two years away to this day. But I think even that offer of celebration to Canberrans and visitors alike, will be coloured with the hues of history and memory as well as the rich palette of the future.

The courage and high-mindedness of those who started pre-Federation, and then maintained, the debates which eventually led to searches, surveys, a bold international competition and an unlikely winner, will all be acknowledged during our celebrations.

To characterise the nobility of these debates as just a stoush between Sydney and Melbourne is a tragic misunderstanding of the palpable labour of nation-building which shaped the first hundred years of the Commonwealth of Australia, and the conception, birth and infancy of its new capital. And it’s the present and future visions which will determine how the national capital, and indeed the nation, evolves over the next one hundred years.

I was interested to read, because foolishly it hadn’t occurred to me, that part of what needed to happen here, once the site for Canberra had been confirmed in 1909, was reafforestation and conservation, rather than clearing. One instinctively has the sense of clearing before building, but in this instance there had already been a long history of timber clearing by the pastoralists, so the first move, even prior to the competition and the winning entry, was to bring back the green. Just hold onto that thought for a while - we’ll return to it.

Because long before an actual site appeared, long before geography and dirt and water and trees, the notion of the symbolism of the new capital, what it would stand for, was ever present in these debates. While linked inextricably at that time with ties to the ‘motherland’ on the one hand, and on the other, ignorance of the Indigenous population and its complex value systems and connections to country, nevertheless the ideals that were expressed are significant.

I am indebted to a number of publications that continue to guide me on my Centenary journey, but in particular to Dr David Headon’s The Symbolic Role of the National Capital. He quotes Sir John Sulman from 1896:

“No people can live without ideals and these ideals to be
effective must find expression in action. It is surely well
that we should enshrine all that we hold dear in the
preservation of our liberties, and our rights, in a fitting
setting.
We may find fault with our representatives as
individuals, and become irate at the inefficiencies of
departments, but, after all is said and done, they
represent to us as free a system of government as the
world has ever seen. Let us by all means try and make it
better, and the way to do so in connection with the Federal
City is to treat it as a matter of grave national concern.
If we show that we regard our system of government as
worthy of admiration and respect, its members will, at any
rate, try and live up to the reputation.”

It seems to me that between then and now there has been an awful lot of ‘clearing’ and that there’s a lot of reafforestation to be done in the landscape of idealism.

Somewhere along the line, Australians have diminished their overt respect for our system of government. Strange that our media, along with the rest of the world, so praise the new idealistic quests for democracy in places like Egypt or Libya, yet remain so doggedly despairing of our own brand. Perhaps it just needs re-freshing. Perhaps the new school curriculum units around civics and citizenship will do that. I hear many people in Canberra speak with admiration of the young people in Cairo ; but in this last week I didn't see the people of the ACT marching to Capital Hill to demand their democratic rights. I have however heard hints of a march on the capital to protest the inevitable pain (read price) of a sustainable future. What was it Nino Culotta said about Australians? ‘They’re a weird mob’

Whether it be the people themselves, or just the way the media represents/misrepresents public attitudes, the sense we have is that the nation has grown cynical about government, and Canberra, over many years now , as the symbol of government, indeed synonymous in the media with government, has had to absorb a great deal of that cynicism.

I believe that Canberra’s Centenary gives us the one in a million chance to turn things around again. It’s like George Clooney in the Perfect Storm – there’s just one moment, if you work hard at the wheel, when you can whip the boat around and run with the tide. Well, alas, his boat went down, but ours won’t. This is a chance to re-launch if we’re on the ocean (perhaps at our port in Jervis Bay), to re-imagine and re-plant if on the land, in some ways similar to those which Sulman described more than one hundred years ago:

“Such a chance as we now have of showing the world
what we can do has rarely been vouchsafed to a young
nation. My aim in writing these articles is primarily to direct
public attention to our unequalled opportunity, and to arouse
a patriotic interest and a justifiable pride in the future capital
of our Commonwealth.” (Headon, Symbolic Role)

The Centenary of Canberra offers a similar opportunity – to bring back that sense of pride in our capital. This is the place where our ideals should be enshrined, every bit as protected and valued as the national treasures and cultural assets we hold here on behalf of the nation.

Our ideals and our ambitions for the future should in fact be the most prized treasures at the heart of the capital. And we should surely judge governments and individual representatives by how well or how ill they uphold those unassailable values, not the other way round. The capital and its symbolism rightly ought not to be judged by the perceived or actual failure of any government or any individual representative.

It’s interesting that the Centenary of Gallipoli has so early become a no-brainer. My grandfather was in the Light Horse regiment, his brother served in the army too: both my parents and an uncle served in the second world war, so my connection to these celebrations were all part of my upbringing.

I too might have been marching on Anzac Day along with Little Patty and Big Pretzel, had I not been banned from touring Vietnam as an entertainer when the RSL discovered my ASIO file, and realised I had stood on the same platform with such dangerous dissidents such as Don Dunstan in anti-Vietnam moratoria.

But the shared values of ‘mateship’ and sacrifice in the face of a doomed campaign, with such a tragic loss of young lives, appear to have gained poll position over the peace-time values and future aspirations which our national capital symbolises.

Yes I can easily understand the desire to capitalise on the symbolism which Gallipoli seems to have acquired. The same happens in the wake of natural disasters – there’s something which the media and the people together rejoice in: the apparently robust ability Australians have, to face disaster and help each other out.

It’s less easy for me to understand how we often fail to take the opportunity to celebrate the less dramatic, but often just as challenging battles Australians face, not in terms of loss of life or wounds, but in the championing of ideals and vision.

There are multiple battlefields, and serious skirmishes aplenty , certainly threatening reputation and advancement and therefore the quality of the lives of those warriors’ families, for those attempting to sustain things like a just democracy , with just laws, and equal rights – and I mean equal- for everyone. Such a simple idea, but so apparently complex and difficult to put into practice.

These are the kinds of values which ought to be symbolised by our national capital, and celebrated on the occasion of its centenary. I know Aldo Giurgola inspired these values in the team he led to build us a new Parliament House (25 years old in 2013) very much in the spirit of the origins of Canberra, and according to many of the principles which the Griffins seeded here.

Though perhaps we would be better to think of propagation in the case of the Griffins, since the ideals and vision of the City Beautiful and the Garden City had been seeded in Walter Burley Griffin long before by an earlier sequence of visionaries such as Whitman, Emmerson, and Sullivan.

How and when the diminution of respect for democracy and the Capital might have happened, is a subject for historians of the twentieth century. Our luck is to have the chance to reverse it again – to participate once more in an act of conservation and reafforestation of ideals, values and pride in our national capital.

For if it’s true that our government and our democracy feel less valued and less respected at this moment, then what better way to reclaim that higher ground, than to do so through the city which should symbolise the very best of what we are.

There are many members of my generation who have been critical of America – the Vietnam War, global cultural imperialism, the nuclear capability monitored on our soil – but I have frequently defended America on two counts.

Firstly, they had the courage to fight for their independence from the motherland quite early. I don't have to remind any of you that we’re still not quite there. And secondly, they have managed to retain their Capital in Washington as a potent symbol of their democracy.

Again we can probably turn to moments in American cinema where scenes in the capital are used to stir the heart – Mr Smith Goes to Washington is one. But I think that sense of pride and occasion has been sustained there to this day. Can you imagine it here? Cinematic usage here would surely be more in play with The Chaser’s War on Everything wouldn’t it? Taking the piss.

Can you really see the slow-mo proud walk of a young idealist to Giurgola’s brilliant architecture, the scene working on screen to stir the hearts of an audience? It doesn’t quite work does it?

Well, you know, it could, almost …. as long as the heroic lead were someone very young, or someone unexpected – a Muslim woman for instance, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander: a biopic of Eddie Mabo with heroic images of the High Court. In fact, the day Kevin Rudd said ‘Sorry’ nearly got there didn't it? The national righting of a wrong, spoken with dignity and significance in that house in this place and the very people whom it most affected standing there too.

What do we do to recreate that feeling more often? How do we manage to re-capture the hearts of a nation in the context of its capital? What do we do to stop the media constantly referring to federal government decisions as ‘Canberra said today …’ , making the name of this city synonymous with all the unpopular decision but rarely with those which find favour.

How do we get back to the feeling that abounded when Labor Senator Arthur Rae stood up in the second session of the fourth Australian Parliament and said:

“Such an opportunity will never arise again, and we should
endeavour to obtain the most up-to-date plan for a Capital
which the mind of man is capable of evolving. This is the first
time in the history of the world when one nation has owned a
 whole continent, and has been able to create a city of its
 own will for the purpose of a Capital. It should be a city
which will be an object of pride, and I might almost say of
veneration to future Australians.” (Headon, Symbolic Role)

The paradoxical thing is that Canberra always has had and still has operating here the best talent, the most up-to date ideas which the mind of man is capable of evolving. In design, science, education, international relations, and indeed in the nurturing of a great democracy, the very best have been here and worked here.

We are celebrating their stories in our Canberra Diaspora project – it’s online now www.canberradiaspora.com.au. Have a look, share your story.

This has always, since inception, since the bold idea to create a new capital and the courage to fashion an international competition, and the boldness to let an unlikely design win and be realised, always been a site of incubation and innovation.

One of the most important things we can do, on the occasion of the centenary, is to remind the people of our nation that this is a twenty-first century site, most worthy to be the repository of their national treasures and host to their very safe successful system of government. The symbolism of the capital and of their democracy is something to cherish and to feel proud of.

The Centenary of Canberra can be a platform on which we reinstate respect not only for the capital, but for all that it symbolises. If celebrating Canberra still feels risky to some, then this is the best opportunity we will have to overcome that risk – to use the sense of risk brilliantly to ensure that one need not be apologetic about our capital. This place is not going to go away and we would do well to respect that. In fact, I have seen how people from all over the country, from cities to the remotest parts of Australia, have a genuine sense of pilgrimage and occasion when they are asked to bring their work and their ideas to the capital. People do feel that their work and their passion has meaning when they bring it here – whether they raise their voices in a spirit of collaboration or a spirit of anger. Canberra does have that significance.

The program for the Centenary is based on the very highest ideals, and couched in the very finest streams of creativity we can find, nurture and afford. The celebration becomes a year-long showcase of the best of our thinking and achievement. Yes there will be fun, and joy and awe, but in the service of ideals and values that are pivotal to the nation’s future.

Clearly I haven't got all the answers. But having already planted the odd seed we’re taking a multi-patch approach. And apart from the lovely big bash (which I hope will be uniquely different from other big bashes on similar occasions – less passive, less boastful and more participatory) on March 11th 2013, we are trying to invest in things which have the future in mind.

Two days ago a clutch of inner-city activity began under the title YOU ARE HERE.

On Thursday night I was crammed into Smith’s Alternative Bookshop (a Canberra icon which opened its doors of independence in 1976) with a bunch of mainly young people there to listen to two very clever young Canberran writer/performers delivering conjoined monologues. You couldn't get another person in the door. It felt great. Yesterday a smaller group joined an artist discussion led by the visitors from Urban Theatre Projects – the younger participants left with fresh ideas to approaches to their work. Last night outside the large vacant corner shop, young Canberrans (and not a few visitors from interstate who had got the word via social media) curiously and flamboyantly costumed queued to get into the occupied shop for a high energy ‘prom’.

Do pick up a program for YOU ARE HERE and put paid to the silly idea that there is nothing creative going on in Canberra. All these kids need is a bit of space and some air – and we’ve been delighted to give it to them.

Yesterday the Chief Minister launched our Friendship City project Dollars for Dili in which we ask every citizen of the ACT to donate a dollar to be put towards capacity-building projects for young people in Timor l’Este. $358,000 will build an activity hall for activities, including leadership training for the potential 15,000 scouts in that young nation. Jose Ramos Horta is now Chief Scout of a nation in which young people are in the majority and literally represent the future of that country. It will also help the Scouts and Rotary build separate toilets for girls and boys in schools. Girls are staying away from school because they don't have their own ablution blocks. This simple project will bring them back.

The ACT Government has kicked the project off with $20,000, so ladies and gentlemen, go the website and give generously – knowing that on the occasion of the big birthday of a very lucky, happy and healthy city, it is better to give to our nearest neighbour, than to receive. This is a project specifically directed at the 358,000 people who live here.

Yesterday we also officially launched The Canberra Diaspora, which is mostly about people who don't live here – those who have contributed and gone away – or those who have a rich story of immigration. At the same time ABC local radio 666 has devised a parallel program of story–collecting. Full Circle will gather local stories of Canberra throughout 2011, 2010 and 2013 towards on-air broadcast, podcast and online publishing and ultimately a multi-media exhibition and a gift to the city at the end of 2013.
Already we can anticipate a superb legacy of the Centenary year – the gathering together of so many rich stories to create a new multi-dimensional view of Canberra.

Last year we acquired the Canberra Bells, a beautiful correa, as our Centenary flower which will be ready for the public to buy in 2012, and a fantastic recipe for the Canberra Cake which Janet Jeff’s created and baked for us again yesterday. Made of local ingredients and oh so good for you, you can get the recipe by going to our website canberra100.com.au.

And early next May we will launch a terrific project to coincide with the anniversary of the advertising of the international competition. It is a project which asks us to look at the rich history of innovation this city stands for, but also brings that spirit into the vibrant present and future.

We will continue to roll out what we can of our huge raft of programs as they are contracted and are at a stage when they can legally be made public. One year from today we will be announcing highlights of the program for 2013. I can assure you we will not be announcing a performance of the Rolling Stones.

We intend to create, and create here. We intend to demonstrate the wealth of local and national talent as befits the national capital. And we are trying to do things which will go on from strength to strength in the future.

At the same time, our national institutions have generously agreed to promote Centenary of Canberra awareness through their touring exhibitions – the CSIRO, Questacon (in 2013 celebrating 25 years of discovery), the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Gallery of Australia have all already signalled that. I have no doubt others will follow suit.

My benchmark of whether we succeeded in making the very best of this opportunity will be to return in 2015 and see that the landscape has changed for the better: that the things we planted grew strong, that those who were unconvinced in 2011 no longer viewed its capital with cynicism: that in fact after 2013, people never looked at Canberra in the same way again.

This celebration of our (and I speak not only on behalf of you in the ACT, but as a South Australian) our Centenary is about re-imagining what Canberra is and can be. It is about realising its potential both as a city in its own right, and as a potent symbol of nationhood. And as much as we respect and acknowledge the noble history of its origins which we celebrate, it is every bit as much about looking to the next one hundred years. This requires an emphasis on innovation and sustainability.

This city already has the highest number of green buildings per capita of any city in Australia and the national organisation Green Buildings Australia is largely supported by ROCK, a private enterprise located at Belconnen. Per capita we have the largest number of cyclists of any city in Australia. We’ll celebrate that in 2013.

We have the globally best-rated university in the country and our other tertiary institutions and schools are excellent. We hope to have the first electric car network. Canberra is doing its best to set the standard for environmental sustainability – and what a great legacy that will leave in the wake of the original Griffin plan and its sense of sitting beautifully in the landscape.

Canberra is already changing. You can’t blame folk in the rest of the country for not being able to see that right now. Most will not be aware of a new airport which contains state-of–the-art technology. Most will be unaware of the way the new Arboretum is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of 2003 (the 10th anniversary of that tragedy and the courage of Canberrans will happen at the very start of the Centenary year). The Arboretum is a splendid project, because it has a vision beyond political terms of office and way beyond our lifetimes. I love big ideas.

Our job is to use the Centenary of Canberra to encourage a new, refreshed and realistic look at Australia’s national capital and to re-imagine its next hundred years as an exemplary 21st century city and seat of government, just as the Griffins and so many others had imagined it for the 20th century.

At New Acton a new complex is on its way. The Nishi building is anticipated to have an environmental rating of 8. The design/construction vision is awesome– not just remarkable apartments with the very best thinking around environmental sustainability, but the intention also to evolve an arts and culture profile for this building as the Molonglo Group has already started to do for this precinct.

In that other often much forgotten circle of Canberra’s life (the fourth dimension to the concentric construct of local, regional, national and international), the more than one hundred embassies that connect this city to the entire world, I know the Embassy of the Netherlands has been fighting the GFC for a couple of years in trying to start work on the brilliant design for their new building. I long to see this project realised – the design alone is truly inspirational for us all and for the nation.

And Canberrans have been talking. The recent Canberra Conversation revealed that the citizens of the ACT have sophisticated views on the future. Most understand that there needs to be change. The team of surveyors, and Scrivener in particular, were confident that there would be enough water here for 250,000 people.

They were right. Now there are 358,000 people, both water and land is scarce, and choices will have to be made. And by the way if you haven’t made it up to Parliament House to see Dave Headon’s exhibition yet, you should. Daring, Devotion and a sense of Destiny is on for one day more at Parliament house: it pays tribute to the surveyors and all those who were here at the very start.

People here have the kind of courage that change will demand. Many cling to the notion of the bush capital, those trees and green spaces which make this city so pleasurable for those who are lucky to live here. Many also understand that this may not be sustainable: they have said, in surprising accord, that they understand that development is necessary, as long as there are principles and philosophies behind it. The founding ideals and planning principles that made this city 100 years ago seem to have seeded and propagated in the greater part of the citizenry.

Aesthetics and cultural dimensions remain part of the desire for this city’s next one hundred years.

Now, these things are not the kinds of aspects or projects I might normally include or even list in an arts festival brochure – but the Centenary of Canberra is not an arts festival. Artists will play their role of course, but so will scientists, sports men and women, great thinkers, newly arrived refugees, architects, planners, environmentalists, children , gardeners, chefs and designers. We are trying to reveal Canberra as it really is, not as the old outworn myth of a place where nothing happens except government (as if that would not be enough). Beyond the seminal quests for a sense of national ownership and re-invoking the idealism which the national capital symbolises, we aim to profile not just the magnificence of our national cultural institutions, all of which are working so hard to provide special projects and special 2013 emphasis for that year, but also to acknowledge the wealth of cultural enterprise at the local and regional levels.

There is already a vast amount of activity in Canberra. Anyone who ever dares to say ‘nothing happens here’ deserves to be forced to do what I do in Canberra. I can be out every night in this city: and for every event I choose to attend, from concerts at Belconnen Arts Centre to lectures at any of our three tertiary institutions or at embassies, to exhibitions at the Glassworks or CMAG and sporting events, there are at least 2 or 3 which I miss.

In these ten days alone I will be seeing and calling in to some 48 separate shows, exhibitions and activities. If I had spare time I would spend it continuing to explore the riches of our collections – an endless and lifelong occupation.

So, we will take that level of activity as read through 2013 , and we are working towards ensuring a proper what’s-on guide , at very least online, which will both keep the public informed of the massive range of choices they have, but also hopefully do something to resolve the crazy cultural traffic jams that still occur.

The centenary year will be crammed; any time in 2013 will be a great time to visit Canberra.

But those things which will receive most attention will be those that present a re-invigorated Canberra. This isn't just a year of reminding people what’s been here, unchanged for the last 100 or 50 or 20 or even 5 years. If the capital is going to keep in step with the other great cities in Australia, indeed even show leadership, it must start refreshing its calendar. We cannot hope to amass the kinds of budgets which continue to create great global cities in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. But we can encourage and nurture innovation and freshness in other ways – through the unique ingenuity which has been here from the very start and which has been often demonstrated in the intervening hundred years.

Every resilient wheat species and 70% of the world’s species were invented here. Every time you get on a plane or use your mobile phone you are using Canberra invented technology. Wi-Fi was invented here, and the CSIRO will feature prominently in our 2013 program. One of the key words for Canberra is creativity. And when the Centenary Unit did initial surveys a few years ago, the word most Australians used about Canberra was ‘achievement’. A very high percentage believed that the Centenary of Canberra was something that deserved to be celebrated by and with all Australians.

Hence our planning of projects which have national reach and significance for the remotest places in the land, as well as for those in cities.

The most unfruitful thing any place keen on regeneration can do is simply just copy something that has been done successfully somewhere else; it will always be nothing more than a comparable or worse imitation. Taking advantage of the unique riches of any place, and applying large doses of creativity to their presentation, is the secret to many aspirations of a twenty-first century city : liveability for its citizens, sustainability for its nation , and attraction for those whom you wish to lure here as visitors. You don't get that with flash in the pan events and this city is worth more than that, much more. Canberra demands for the twenty-first century the same long view which politicians and planners had for its first century, but now re-imagined for what this new century will demand of us, our national culture and our system of government.

I know that the Celebration of the Centenary of Canberra can act as a platform for these ambitions, and I wish myself, my team, the wider team within the ACT government, our governments at the territory and federal levels, our colleagues in the embassies and universities, our partners in corporate and philanthropic support, and you the citizens of Canberra, all the courage, determination and commitment it will require.

In this respect, the Centenary is a once in a generation opportunity. Let’s make sure we use it wisely. We have started the seeding; there are already a few very handsome sprouts.

The blossom during 2013 should be splendid, and we await it just as my Japanese friends anticipate the season in Kyoto – ready to grab the rug and spread it beneath the pink and white profusion, breathe in the scented air, and rejoice in life. Especially today we understand just how precious these moments are, actually, but also retained in memory.

But by far the most important thing in all this will be the sense that the spadework and shoulder we put into this one year will reap rewards throughout the century and, that the capital and the nation will continue to flower.

Thank you

Robyn Archer
March 2011, Canberra and Adelaide