Canberra's Time Capsule: The End of One Very Big Year

To (finally) commemorate the conclusion of Canberra’s seemingly never-ending Centenary year, a time capsule is going to be sealed within the column that has recently been constructed on City Hill. It will contain one hundred entirely unique objects, commissioned or chosen to represent to the Canberrans of 2114 exactly how worthwhile and interesting the city that they have inherited is. Given that one of those objects is a giant skin-coloured flap of canvas that is apparently one of the toes of the Skywhale, it will be interesting to see what kinds of conclusions they draw.

Because the time capsule clearly couldn’t be interred until random members of the public had been given the opportunity to look at and judge the contents, all of the objects were on display in a public gallery in Petrie Plaza between 22nd February and 2nd March. The exhibition was curated by Craft ACT. They worked in association with Canberra CBD Ltd, the organisation that commissioned and funded the creation of the statue in which the time capsule will be sealed. The exhibition was launched with an evening event attended by those deemed, by whoever is in charge of making those sorts of decisions, to be the Very Important People of the city. ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher opened the exhibition, and gave one of a few brief speeches. Various political people and diplomats rambled around the displays, interspersed with chiefs of local business and many guests from the areas of art and music.

While it was certainly interesting to see the one hundred objects that, supposedly, most represent Canberra, it was a little hard to see the justification for some of them. It was an odd mix of the mildly exceptional and the startlingly banal. For every unique work of art or genuinely historic item thrown into the mix, someone had contributed a restaurant menu, a MyWay card, and a brochure or three. There were badges, political memorabilia, small pieces of buildings, and gym membership cards. While it was easy to criticise many of the items for being utterly usual, it does seem to make more sense than having an entire collection composed of things like bits of the Skywhale. They were chosen to show the daily life of Canberra, and, hopefully, that is what they’ll do. Keeping that justification in mind, some of the items really did seem fairly pointless. There was, for instance, a proof of parking ticket from 13th February 2014. Doubtless, a historic occasion.

One of the most striking aspects of the exhibition was the presence of many, many letters, penned by some of the better-known people of Canberra. While all of the official past-future correspondence was from politicians, diplomats, or prominent Canberra businesspeople, everyone who visited the gallery had the opportunity to jot down their own message to the people of the future in the visitors’ book. Clearly, most people had trouble deciding exactly what crucial message should be passed down the generations. It was more or less sixty slightly passive-aggressive pages’ worth of “Hello. I’m dead now, but YOU all have fun.” Then again, what other message would fit this kind of situation?

Katy Gallagher referred to the letter that she had written, addressed to the Chief Minister of 2114, in the speech which she gave at the opening of the exhibition, stating that “It’s very hard to write a letter that will only be read long after you are dead.” Because of the constant awareness of the fact that the objects would next be seen at some unimaginable point in the future, the entire exhibition had a very strange feel to it. It’s all very well staring at a parking ticket, but there’s something extremely odd about staring at a parking ticket which will next be examined closely, as an object of some interest, in one hundred years’ time.

The exhibition was quite poorly attended, and it seems unlikely that massive swarms of people will attend the Tuesday morning sealing of the Canberra Centenary Column. Perhaps it is simply hard to muster interest in something that has been designed specifically to have no relevance for your generation. Or, perhaps, it’s because the Centenary Year feels like it’s been going on forever, and no one can quite believe that they’re still making a thing of it.

Nonetheless, making a thing of it they are – the sealing of the time capsule will occur at 11.30am on Tuesday 11th March, on City Hill. This is the last event of Canberra’s year of celebration. We should probably make the most of it. After all, the next one won’t be for a hundred years. Although, given that the future people of Canberra will spend that time puzzling over bus tickets, café menus and nondescript pieces of hot air balloon, it sounds as if it will be quite an event.