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Feeling the Power of Canberra
In the early 1980s, the organising bodies of Australian football (VFL) in Melbourne and rugby league in Sydney (NSWRL) started developing visions on conquering Australia via expansion of their leagues. Their first salvos were aimed provocatively at each other's direction. Specifically, the VFL moved the South Melbourne Swans to Sydney, right in the heart of rugby league territory. The NSWRL canon didn't quite have the same reach, but Canberra was in pop gun range and so in 1982 the Raider's were born. In terms of strategic conquests, the VFL was going for Mayfair, while the NSWRL aimed for Old Kent Road.
At the time, Canberra was a backwater. It had a population of around 200,000 people, most of whom worked in the public service where they had a reputation for staring at walls all day. So bad was its reputation that the new club didn’t even want to base itself in the Australian capital, preferring to play out of the adjoining NSW town of Queanbeyan.
For its moniker, the club wanted something with a regional flavour so considered Senators, Capitols and Warrigals. Eventually, the club decided to go with an allegory of the Australian taxation system so settled on Raiders represented by a Viking.
As for the colours, although Canberra is by far the most left-wing region in Australia, the choice of green had nothing to do with making political statement; rather, it was used because no other club was using it. (Logically speaking, perhaps there was a reason for why green was still available. As far as fashion talk is concerned, green has never been spoken about as the new black, even in the horrid fashion era of the 80s.)
Early years for the Raiders were tough as the club found it hard to persuade quality rugby players to move to Canberra and play in a green jersey. Struggling to recruit players from outside the region, the Raiders started developing their own. It proved to be a ladder to success.
The club reached the height of its popularity in 1989 when it defeated Balmain in what many people consider to be the best Grand Final ever. Post match celebrations united Canberra and for the first time it was possible to say that there was a community in Canberra. Furthermore, Australians outside of Canberra started to recognise that the ACT was a real place, not just somewhere to buy pornography and fireworks.
With success, however, came corruption of the ideal. In 1995, the club helped establish Rupert Murdoch's Super League, a rebel competition that excluded the traditional ARL clubs. To justify the defection, the Raiders calimed that it was a victim rugby league head office. For public servants accustomed to hearing similar complaints all day and ignoring them, it was not a persausive argument. Consequently, the community decided to reject the Raiders and follow the newly established ACT Brumbies rugby union team instead. Raider crowds started to resemble what ex-PM John Howard may have pulled if he organised a slide show of his crazy crazy university days.
Post Super League war, there has been a slight return of the crowds, but for a city of 300,000 people, they have remained a little on the small side. For example, in 2011, the average crowd of the Canberra Raiders was 11,390 while the average crowd of the Nth Queensland Cowboys, a team that plays in a city with half the population, was 16871. This was almost 50 per cent higher than the Raiders. For public servants accustomed to staring at walls all day, perhaps the Raiders just offered too much sensory stimulation for them to handle all at once.
Roy Morgan research
2004 - When compared to other NRL supporters
2006 - When compared to other NRL supporters
When Tourism Australia has put together its commercials to promote Australia to the world, scenes from Canberra have never been included. It is not that Canberra is inconsistent with the image it is going for. To the contrary, Canberra has the clichéd kangaroos and beautiful landscapes that have featured in almost every Tourism Australia commercial in the last two decades. Perhaps Canberra had been avoided because the mere mention of it seems to make people cringe. For example,America travel writer Bill Bryson spent his time in Canberra by coining slogans such as "Canberra, why wait for death" and "Canberra, gateway to everywhere else."
Canberra is very much the Utopian city that makes the Utopian dream somewhat ill conceived. Much of the thinking behind the Canberra utopia can be traced to American architect Walter Burley Griffin who, in 1910, won a world-wide competition to design Australia's capital. Griffin was heavily influenced by the concept of a "garden city" outlined in Ebenezer Howard's book "Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform", published in 1898. Howard believed in environmental determinism, and blamed poor surroundings for the moral and social failings of urban life. As a solution to moral decline, Howard proposed self-contained cities of about 30,000 people surrounded by parks and ‘home farms’ in which every house would have its own garden.
Howard’s theory was almost as innocent as that of a man and a woman walking naked in Eden before biting the forbidden apple. Nevertheless, it inspired Burley Griffin, who went on to state:
Ironically, rather than be a beacon of moral virtue, Canberra became known for four 'P's' that represented four different vices of humanity - pyrotechnics, pornography, pot and politicians. The home gardens were great for growing marijuana and the privacy that low density living allows seemed conducive to the take up of porn. Today, Canberra is one of only two Australian cities where x-rated pornography is legal to purchase. Occasionally federal politicians have made noise about banning porn, only to have the adult industry threaten to expose their hypocrisy if they go ahead.
The threat certainly isn’t a hollow one. Many moral individuals have come to Canberra to serve their country, risen up the ranks to become prime minister and duly had affairs with sisters, their comcar drivers, their biographers, their secretaries, other married ministers, and they have stumbled in hotel lobbies without putting their trousers on first. With prime ministers setting such an example, it is no surprise that the average MP might think their compatriots may have something even worse to hide.
In 1967, the National Capital Development Commission was established to fulfil the spirit of the garden city as Canberra grew beyond 30,000 people. It decided this could be achieved with the "Y-Plan." The plan aimed to decentralise Canberra into seven different districts roughly in the shape of a Y. Each district would have a town centre, which would be the focus of commercial and social activities. The districts would also be divided into smaller suburbs each with their own shops and schools.
In theory, having self-contained districts would reduce the need for the car. In practice, a city designed to reduce the need for the car became dependent on it. Because few people had the employment and residential mobility that allowed them to live and work in the same district, they had to drive massive distances everyday. As residents found themselves living and working in different districts, Canberra planners had to build a Las Angeles style freeway network to serve a population of less than 300,000 people. Some of the area between the districts became parks that no one used. Some became cork farms, sheep farms, or just sun-burnt grass that was too expensive to maintain. Attempts to provide quality public transport failed because public transport doesn’t work well in low density populations.
Like many things in Canberra, the Ron Andrews Cameron Offices didn't go exactly to plan, and neither did their demolition.
Why kind of country has four codes of "football"?