What Canberra is and how it relates to the rest of the country can only be understood by someone who has lived and worked in Australia for a while. The basic facts are that it is the federal capital, conceived in 1908 but not properly functional until the late 1920s, sitting in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and forming the seat of the federal government. Around that government an infrastructure has been planned and developed based on public servants and good works. It has a reputation for being worthy but a bit boring.
Those are the basic facts. Explaining how it affects everyday life in Australia, how Australians respond to it and how it functions is much more complex. If you were to think of Australia as a basic family property, including a house and outside space, I would suggest that Canberra is Australia’s garden shed.
The garden shed traditionally is the domain of the father, the head of the household. Consider him to be the federal government and the public servants who work for it. It’s where he goes when he wants peace and quiet to consider the matters of the day. It sits within the garden area of the property but is a self-governing territory, much like the ACT within New South Wales. The rules there are also slightly different: for example, it’s fine to store pornography and fireworks within the shed but they are frowned upon, and indeed legislated against, in the rest of the property. Often the father will come out of his shed and inform the rest of the household that he has made decisions that affect them all. There may have been consultations but these are usually just an exercise in public relations and have no bearing on the final decision. The father has spoken.
The house and the garden are the domain of the mother. Consider her to be the state governments. She actually runs the property on a day-to-day basis, making sure essential services are running (cooking, washing, cleaning, homework, sports, pocket money). However, the father in the garden shed considers that he knows best and will proclaim laws that the mother does not think are in the best interest of the rest of the family (her constituents). There is therefore a constant battle between the mother, who really runs things, and the father, who thinks he does, over how the property will be run. And who can come and stay in the spare room.
The father, although he makes sorties into the rest of the property when he has to, is under the impression that the garden shed is a fantastic place to be and, if he had his own way, he would be happy to stay in there all the time. Everything is within easy reach, he’s built all the facilities he needs – indeed they’re often of a better quality than their equivalents in other parts of the property – and while it can be a bit cold on winter mornings, it soon warms up in the sun.
The mother and the rest of the family, although they pop their heads in when they have to, would prefer to spend as little time as possible in the garden shed. You have to walk down a long path to get there, its character – clean lines, dull efficiency – reflects only the father’s view of things, and all the exciting toys are back in the house.
Garden sheds often house homebrewing facilities and Canberra is a big enough garden shed to house two forty gallon plastic bins and their associated plethora of tubings, in the forms of the Zierholz and Wig and Pen Breweries. The Wig and Pen is quite possibly the greatest brewery in Australia, certainly my favourite, and I will discuss it in a later post.
The Zierholz Brewery is not too shabby either. Based out in the only suburb of Canberra I know of that has two porn warehouses, Fyshwick, Zierholz is run by German-born Christoph, a man who knows how to make Bavarian beer and make it well. The Brewery runs as a small-scale industrial-chic beer hall (with an excellent pork-based menu) but also supplies a few favoured outlets within the ACT, one of which being The Pork Barrel Cafe, located just around the corner from Parliament House. I was in Canberra for business and took the chance to have a beer with my brother-in-law, one of the people who help Dad create the Garden Shed rules (I may be stretching this imagery too far: he’s a public servant).
My first drink on this rather warm evening was 43. Zierholz German Beer, which despite it’s rather generic name is a version of the classic Kolsch from Cologne. Dry, appetising, and just the thing to quench a thirst but get the tastebuds raring for more. I then moved on to the intriguingly-named 44. Zierholz Swill, which they don’t appear to make any more, but from memory was a sessionable english bitter-style beer, probably close to their amber ale. Having now exhausted the establishment’s Zierholz taps, I thought I’d give Redoak another go, given that (at the time anyway) one rarely saw their beer on tap outside of their own premises. 45. Redoak Bitter was malty, biscuity and perfectly ok, but probably no better than the far less pretentious Little Creatures Rogers Ale, which I thought it closely resembled. I finally got to the actual Zierholz brewery in early 2011 and can highly recommend it. They are now selling five-litre kegs of six of their beers to take home. I’m wondering if I would be able to take one on the plane back to Sydney as hand luggage. The little Dash-8s that usually do that route aren’t pressurised: would this cause a mid-flight beer explosion?
Speaking of flying back to Sydney, the next day when I did so I apparently drank 46. Cascade Light in the Qantas Lounge and in the plane. Why, I’ve no idea, as full-strength beers would have been available. Perhaps I was poorly.