Natasha Rudra is the Lifestyle and Entertainment editor for The Canberra Times. Natasha chatted with ANU student Rebecca Bayliss about whether the capital can (finally) claim to have a bustling café and nightlight culture of its own.
RB: Canberra hasn’t always had the reputation of a lively café and bar culture, what changes have you noticed over the past few years?
NR: Well, I came to Canberra about seven years ago and I remember when you could not get a meal after 8:30pm on a Friday or Saturday night, so things have definitely changed. I think it’s for a couple of reasons. One, there’s been a bit of a renaissance in Canberra pride – people are proud to be from Canberra. Two, there’s been a lot of growth and stability in the public service, so you have still got a lot of people who have good salaries and good jobs, but are single and they’re looking for fun, and have a disposable income. The third thing that has had an impact is that you’ve really had a change in culture. I used to joke that Canberra people only wanted to go out between 6pm and 7pm on Friday and Saturday nights. And I feel like that’s changing. Now, there’s more of a culture of, ‘you know what, I’m going to go out on a Tuesday night, or I’m going to get a drink on a Wednesday night. Or I’m going to go out with my friends, or go to the movies on a Monday. So it’s definitely a combination of these things that have contributed to a more lively food culture in Canberra.
RB: Students are well aware of cafes near the city, particularly Braddon and New Acton. But there’s also a thriving restaurant culture in the Canberra suburbs as well, right?
NR: Canberra suburbs are really interesting. For one, there are a lot of them! Often these suburbs throw up little gems of their own. Down where I live in Woden you’ve got a hub of cafes in Curtin, and in Lyons you have that cool little place Stand by Me. In Farrer you’ve got Fox and Bow. There’s even an Ethiopian restaurant in Pearce! So people have to go off the beaten path, and cross the lake every now and then!
RB: I think a few ANU students who live on campus need to hear that…
NR: I definitely urge students to cross the lake, you might find something a little different in the ‘burbs. Which is one of the joys of living in Canberra.
RB: What about the latest surge in expensive restaurant and cafes in Canberra. How can students enjoy that funky, eating-out scene on a student budget?
NR: I must say, I do sympathise with Canberra students, because this is a pubic service town. It is a town with a very large middle class. Even a graduate salary is three or four times what you would earn as a student. So, it is a challenge because a lot of the market is geared towards that public service crowd. I mean, you just need to go to Highball Express and get a cocktail, or other cafes where brunch may cost you $30 or $40. It’s definitely a little hard when you’re a student, but again, I would suggest either you do what I do – how do I phrase this politely? Have a drink or two before you go out…
RB: Students are well versed in that technique!
NR: I guess things like the Hamlet (Lonsdale Street, Braddon), or the Mandalay bus (Braddon) are student staples. The Westside shipping container in Acton is great as well. There is something to be said in having a riotous time on $5 house wine, and three plates of dumplings at the CBD dumpling house before you head to Mooseheads.
RB: It’s interesting to consider what audiences these cafes, restaurants and bars serve. As students, it doesn’t feel like the majority of them are targeted towards us, but we want to be part of it still.
NR: Take heart from the fact that basically all the public servants who these cafes and bars are geared to, they are trying to recapture what you have currently. That loose, fancy, don’t-care attitude of being a student, young and beautiful, always having a great time. So they are actually aspiring towards your kind of lifestyle, although sadly they do have much more money than you. I do apologise for that.
RB: I suppose that’s something we are just going to have to accept.
NR: We may not be there yet, but a lot of culture is often changed by students who make their own culture.
RB: Do you think Canberra’s reputation is starting to change for the better?
NR: I think it is starting to change. We still need to push back against the notion where people say ‘Canberra’ but mean ‘the government’. That change needs to come from Canberrans being proud of their city, and pushing back against this negative image, and sometimes not giving a shit about what people say about Canberra. If we continue to be ourselves, and be proud of what Canberra has to offer, that will change the city’s image. It’s definitely changed, but there’s a lot more to go, and it must come from within.