Volume 4, Issue 3, (Originally Published on Monday 12th August 2013)
Canberra cops a lot of flack. Indeed, ‘Canberra bashing’ can legitimately be described as a national sport. Walk down Pelham Street and ask Joe Blow what he thinks of the nation’s capital, and chances are he’ll tell you it’s ‘boring’ or ‘the pits’.
Why is this treasure trove so maligned?
I guess there could be a variety of reasons.
Perhaps Joe Blow is a philistine? Or maybe he’s never been to Canberra but is a sporting fellow and so enjoys a spot of Canberra bashing? As I see it, however, the most likely explanation is that Joe Blow’s only experience of Canberra is a dreary school excursion long before he was old enough to appreciate the city’s delights.
Case in point, during the Easter break I was in the public gallery in the High Court watching oral submissions in the case of Director of Public Prosecutions v Keating when a group of school students filed in and took their seats.
Not surprisingly, they had no idea what was going on. Leaving aside matters of statutory construction, ‘retrospectivity’ and Chapter III, the students probably didn’t know much at all about the function of a court.
Bored senseless, they quickly began fidgeting and whispering to one another. Within five minutes they were led out by their teacher, probably en route to Parliament, followed by the War Memorial, each institution boring them as much as the last.
If this sounds familiar, if you too suffered through one of these school excisions and the experience turned you into a ‘Canberra basher’, I urge you to give the city another chance. Canberra might be boring for the school-aged, but for a law student it’s the best.
My Easter trip to Canberra was quite brief, lasting all of 30 hours. A friend and I had arranged to drive to Sydney on the Tuesday, and when we saw that the High Court was sitting that Wednesday, we decided to stay in Canberra Tuesday night and spend the bulk of the next day at the Court and the neighbouring National Galley before continuing on up the Hume to the harbour city.
It’s fair to say that watching oral submissions in Keating was an experience I will not soon forget.
As a law student, I’m very familiar with reading the Court’s judgments. Indeed, a considerable chunk of my life is spent with my head in CLRs.
What I was not hereto familiar with was what goes on inside the Courtroom – the extraordinary oral advocacy and the entertaining repartee between the bar and the bench. I left the Court with a real admiration for the skill of the barristers.
At various points in her submission, counsel for the defendant, Debbie Mortimer SC, was interrupted by Justice Hayne, who peppered her with complex questions about her submission.
Ms Mortimer’s cogent and eloquent responses, given under immense pressure, were extremely impressive.
But Canberra has much more to offer the law student than just the High Court.
How about a trip to Silo, the brilliant Kingston bakery for a 3⁄4 latte and a spot of pollie-perving?
Or to the National Gallery, Australia’s greatest cultural institution, to check out the remarkable permanent collection?
Or to the winery Clonakilla to sample their 97-point Shiraz Viognier?
In conclusion, I urge you to give Canberra another go; it’s a true treasure trove.