Fields of dreams
December 17, 2012 § 3 Comments
There’s an enormous residential development taking place in the Molonglo valley in Canberra’s west. Molonglo is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘suburban lifestyle’. The Ngunnawal people were famous for their traditional neighbourhood values with a focus on sustainability for the future.
In charge of this carve-up is the Land Development Agency (LDA).
The LDA’s newly hatched suburbs are called Jacka, Bonner and Wright. These strike me as names that are destined to be given to babies, if they haven’t already. Hold Jacka for a minute while I hang out the washing, would you?
Apparently, Bonner is ‘somewhere to look forward to’, which makes it sound like it will never be finished. Kingston Foreshore urges its residents to ‘immerse yourself’ which is unfortunate given the condition of Lake Burley Griffin.
The other day I rode my bike past Wright, with its street names that sound like pharmaceutical companies (Xenica) or herbal menopause capsules (Amaryllis). The streets have been paved with the world’s finest bitumen. This is in sharp contrast to the usual method of road-making in the ACT, which is to squirt tar all over the place, then dump stones on it in the hopes they stick. Light poles have been pushed into the earth like candles in a birthday cake. Even the driveways are ready: concrete ramps leading to uniform clods of dirt and imaginary residences.
The whole place is pregnant with expectation.
If – like me – you are dreaming of a future in Wright, or having a nightmare about it, check the Housing Development Guide first:
- You must build in a mix of materials including brick, painted brick and, er, rendered brick. You may use stone, timber and metal as ‘relief’, or get a hand job from a sex worker.
- You must choose from off-whites, creams, browns or greys for your colour scheme, which is the same difficult decision that confronts Richie Benaud each morning.
- You must erect a letter box of approved size in the approved location and you cannot use a street number from any other source (for example the Mayan calendar).
- You have to put in a minimum of 2 trees and 20 plants, a front path, and the rest of the driveway. You get 1 tree on the nature strip.
- Shared fences must be 1.8m high, a highly discriminatory standard that allows tall people to see and be seen over the fence while short people remain ignorant and unobserved.
- Extra pressure is placed on owners of corner blocks, whose homes must avoid being dull and uninteresting by adding external features such as windows, and preferably by being two-storey.
- Finally, all indications of life (satellite dishes, air conditioners, clothes lines and presumably children, shipping containers and vehicle carcasses) must be positioned to avoid being seen from the street.
This will not preserve the character of Canberra, it will change it.
I’m reminded of the bit in George Johnston’s book My Brother Jack where the narrator loses it over the manicured subdivision he has mortgaged his life to (Beverley Park Gardens Estate) and defiantly plants a ‘proper bloody tree’.
If all this is a bit depressing, there is always Mingle. Mingle in Molonglo Valley is not, as first feared, a noxious weed. It’s a community development program where you meet people who want what you want. And decide if you hate them.
Let us pray.
Lord, may the imminent citizens of Molonglo enter unto their eucalyptus-coloured dwellings and may they keep Bonner’s unregistered shitheap off the front lawn. And Lord? May the LDA grant them a petrol station and a supermarket; that they may stay out of the queues I’m in.
Further reading: this nice piece on My Brother Jack and the Australian struggle with suburbia, by James Button.