Voice of Real Australia: Imagine living 90 days at a time?

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This is the view at Majura Valley Free Range Eggs. It's in Canberra. Photo: Tom Melville

This is the view at Majura Valley Free Range Eggs. It's in Canberra. Photo: Tom Melville

Always rumbling in the background of Australian life is a perceived divide between the city and the bush. There's limited understanding between the two - suspicion, perhaps, derision. I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that, it's a kind of national sport.

But it might shock you to learn that I think this division between the two halves of Australia's identity plays out nowhere more fiercely than The Bush Capital. Canberra.

The suburban jungle - quarter acre blocks, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, backyard, Colorbond roofing. It was a shock to me, too.

When I was growing up in Canberra the idea of 'The Bush Capital' wasn't central to my understanding of the place. I lived in the suburbs - spaces which are strange and slightly detached from reality, yet perfectly suited to the needs and aspirations of the people who live there. The bands of countryside which separate the city's town centres were mere scenery passing by my window on car rides.

As I got older and a bit more worldly it suddenly twigged that nowhere else I'd ever been shared a similar rural/urban character. I realised those pastures were businesses. They were owned, loved. And remain so. So for the latest episode of the Voice of Real Australia podcast, I returned to Canberra, and spoke to the people who still live on the land - the people who give meaning to the idea of The Bush Capital.

Majura House, one of the oldest inhabited houses in the ACT. Photo: Tom Melville

Majura House, one of the oldest inhabited houses in the ACT. Photo: Tom Melville

Farming right next to town has its benefits. One farmer I met told me he'd had a halloumi wrap and a latte in the city 20 minutes before we met for our interview on his sheep farm. Another makes most of his money from passing traffic at his farm gate, inconceivable in a lot of Australia. Life on the land might be easier when there's a Bunnings just down the road.

But then the bush and the city clash in other, less productive ways, too. In the early 60s, Canberra had about 50,000 people living in it. Now, there's 450,000. That's a lot of quarter acre blocks. And a lot of farmland which belonged to someone. Canberra's leasehold system of land tenure means that farmers can't ever really "own" their farms, and some have no lease at all, so the Territory Government can take it back with only 90 days' notice. How must that feel, living 90 days at a time?

One question I pondered while I was in the capital was what makes a place worth living. Now, Canberra cops a lot of grief - being dismissive of Canberra is as much fun for a lot of us as lamenting urbanisation.

But there's no denying Canberrans are as in love with their home as anyone else in this fine land. I don't know the answer to that question, although I think it has something to do with the name "The Bush Capital". It's the capital of Australia, its political heartland, and right next door is a pocket of primary producers working away, doing what they love.

Everyone agrees they want to keep that bush spirit alive. Another question I failed to answer is how you do it. When people need somewhere to live, and businesses need space to expand, how do you protect agricultural land which could arguably be used in other ways?

But maybe that's the wrong question, and perhaps a better one is: what do you lose if it goes forever?

Find out more about the farmers I spoke to in the ACT in Episode 2 of Voice of Real Australia podcast. Tell us what you think on our Facebook page. Everyone has a story to share, get in touch at

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