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Like Queanbeyan (with apologies to the Like Canberra campaign)

By Catherine Russell — March 05, 2013

queanbeyanIt’s no fun being an ugly sister. Where one sister is having parties, is lauded like a celebrity, sophisticated and talked about. The other is mentioned in passing, given the hand me downs and talked about for all the wrong reasons.

It’s rather like living in Queanbeyan. Canberra is about to get her bling on to celebrate and no one has invited the ugly sister to the party.

As the ugly sister, we have been unfairly blamed for sewage in her lake, mocked for our apparent bogan ways, ignored for our underbelly and at every turn we bear the brunt of Canberra’s sarcastic jokes.

We are accidental sisters, the kind forced to share a room yet so completely different that an argument is forever brewing.

Just like all stories of ugly and beautiful sisters, we secretly lust after something the other has.

For Queanbeyan it may be the attention Canberra attracts, for Canberra it may be the authenticity that Queanbeyan easily displays.

I should know. I have been pretending to be a Canberran for nearly six years.

But it is time to embrace my ugly sister and declare that I am Queanbeyanite.

I belong to that breed of New South Wales people who flit across the border daily for work and life, yet enjoy the luxury of main street, more traffic lights than round-a-bouts and a real local council with a Mayor and everything.

We are aware of what Canberra thinks of us, of the bogan jokes and requests to show our passport when in the ACT.

Where Canberra was created, Queanbeyan is real.

Where Canberra was perfected, Queanbeyan is authentic and quirky.

It is true. Queanbeyan was not my first choice when moving to the region but after one too many inspections with up to 40 other people in Kingston and Ainslie, I started to look further afield.

How could I still be 20 minutes to work and not paying a fortune in rent? Queanbeyan. Where could I live and still stroll to a coffee? Queanbeyan.

And so I announced to my extended family and friends that I had found a house in Queanbeyan. People were aghast, they pulled open the real estate section to get me to reconsider, they told me stories of late night assaults, of tattooed bikie gangs dumping drugs on my lawn, of suburban houses operating as brothels and of police raids.

But I was sold. Queanbeyan it would be, but just for a short time I thought and then I will move into Canberra proper.  That was some years ago now and I have become a Queanbeyanite.

Initially, it was not a tag I embraced. I preferred to keep a lid on my location and would mumble when people asked me where I lived.

Things started to change for me when the Queanbeyan river flooded. Drawn to the spectacle, I donned by raincoat and gumboots and went down to the river. Behind the flimsy police tape sat two men and an esky, shirtless, shoeless and drinking beer in the fold out chairs as the river kept rising.

Priceless. You wouldn’t see that in Kingston.

At that point I realised, I hadn’t seen a drug raid, or a bikie gang in full flight, or a suburban house operating as a brothel. It was just a community with a bit of an underbelly but in a way that too is part of its charm.

You can roll up to buy 2litres of milk and stand next to a legitimate bikie or play in the park and be asked to join an Indian family for dinner and find out they have just migrated to Australia or get talking to a teenage mother in the waiting room of the hospital and share a few tips about motherhood that might make a difference.

You do see things that are confronting from time to time, where people are battling or struggling. Its grounding, it makes you grateful – its real people void of pretension.

I love that it is a real community that doesn’t hide or gloss over its quirks and boganism.

If given the option to be the beautiful sister Canberra or the real but ugly sister Queanbeyan. I would choose the latter.

And as Canberra’s party day rolls around, we may not be officially invited but there are a few that are who prefer instead to swell the streets of Queanbeyan with ACT number plates for the day.

It’s when Canberran’s realise how good we have it – over the border. That maybe our fearsome reputation is a brilliant tactic to keep the masses out.

Now that the Like Canberra campaign has wrapped up, maybe it’s time for Like Queanbeyan…what are the things you love about it?

About Author

Catherine Russell is enthralled by public affairs in Canberra and the world at large; the issues that impact people from all walks of life; start memorable dinner party debates; fuel politics; create our advocates; and drive social media commentary. Consultant, mother and partner Catherine presents the HerCanberra perspective on the headlines.

View all Catherine Russell posts.

(12) Readers Comments

  1. Inky
    Reply →
    March 5, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Completely agree. I live in Canberra and shop in Queanbeyan. Best range, prices, feeling of reality, pool, theatre, Indian food – the list is endless – and … the quietest Medicare, the best boys barber and a charming craft charity shop next to Target and Medicare.

    But let my grandmother-in-law tell it best. In the 1950s she was told she had a short time to live. Never having swum in the sea, she decided to leave her Cotter farm and go to Bateman’s Bay. When she and her husband arrived in Queanbeyan she asked to stop, had a cup of tea and then drove right back to the Cotter. She reckoned she’d seen the best. Lovely post, Catherine

  2. Catherine
    Reply →
    March 5, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    That is a lovely story Inky about your Grandmother in law … thanks for sharing

  3. Jen
    Reply →
    March 5, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Great story and so true! I’m originally from Canberra but have been living in Queanbo for 6 years and love it. The sense of community is very strong and somehow in all it’s glory it kinda works. The people are as interesting as they are colourful and the town continues to grow and get better. Good food, great coffee, theatre, pool, plenty of shops and an abundance of wide open spaces to play in. I’m not sure I would want to move back to Canberra……

  4. Tracey
    Reply →
    March 5, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    I could not have said it better myself I love it here in Q town people are friendly it is a community with all sorts of people and I would not live anywhere else. I moved here 20 years ago after growing up in Canberra and thought I’d only live here for two years until I could convince hubby to leave but changed my mind after 12 months and now I love love love my home town

  5. Nik
    Reply →
    March 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I think people really overstate the crime and ‘bogan’ factor of Queanbeyan. I have seen worse is supposedly upmarket areas of Canberra like Reid, Turner, Campbell etc. Either way, what the heck is wrong with the average bogan anyway? Some of the nicest people you’ll meet sometimes!

    I love living in Queanbeyan, I like that I can walk places, that I’m 15-20 mins from the city (closer than a lot of Canberra suburbs), that there are actual pubs that serve good meals and have a nice atmosphere. There isn’t much I don’t like about the place actually. I like that people from Canberra bag the place, though they’ve never been there. Let them continue their hate, otherwise they would drive up property prices!

    • Catherine
      Reply →
      March 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      well said Nik – it is a great place, I love it.

  6. Catherine
    Reply →
    March 8, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Great read Catherine! I completely agree. Married a born and raised Queanbeyanite – think the small bogan town did a good job raising him! Looking forward to raising my girls in such a community minded place.

    We don’t need to show our passport going into Canberra… not all Canberrans, but “those” who think we are the ugly sister – should pay a tax. A tax to enjoy our little slice of heaven. Where else can you see people in their PJ’s at woolworths at 4 in the afternoon?

    More to the point – Queanbeyan should be seen as Canberra’s Great Wise Aunt – after all, we have been here for 75 more years…. we know all the family secrets – luckily we don’t pass them on to Canberra or they’d steal some of our charm!

    • Peta
      Reply →
      March 8, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      I swear I wrote my own name – not yours!!!!

  7. Q-town gal
    Reply →
    March 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Catherine, this is a fantastic piece! I was born in Queanbeyan and haven’t needed to move, I really love the place! I used to “mumble when people asked me where I lived” as well, but now I’m in my late 20′s, and friends that moved into the ACT when they were 18-20, are ever so quietly sneaking back over, to have families and settle down! I like The Q theatre, 121 Hair, Riverside Cafe and new-look Royal. My single girlfriends don’t complain about the defence personnel coming through either!

  8. Jen
    Reply →
    March 15, 2013 at 10:24 am


    I am so glad that you are promoting Queanbeyan. I am 56 –born and bred in Queanbeyan – and proud of it.

    Queanbeyan was here long before Canberra was thought of.

    My ancestors were Irish immigrants – given land grants at Michelago. My ancestors eventually spread their wings and moved to Queanbeyan. Muli-culturism thrives in Queanbeyan.

    My grandmother was a pioneer nurse – a Queanbeyan identity. She is mentioned in historical books and received a BEM for her services.
    She used to travel – by horse and dray – to Canberra – which was then a shantytown to deliver babies.

    You mentioned bogans. A trip to Charny, Wanny or the shopping centre at Tuggers will provide you with a birds eye view of boganville. . Why come to Queanbeyan when it is all on a platter over the border. 

    Underbelly – go to Civic on a Friday or Saturday night.

    I love the river – it is real not created. I often walk my dog. We see platypus (it is one of the few rivers in NSW that have these), people, children and dogs, walking, running, and playing and watercraft cruising by.

    I enjoyed a coffee in the mill house this morning, which is now open for business.
    It took me 15 mins to walk from my home.

    I have friends in QBN and in Canberra. I spend all my working days over the border.

    A huge majority of Defence personnel live in my area. They are proud to say they live in Queanbeyan.

    I never bash Canberra. I promote both our cities. We are sisters. I am proud to work over the border, live in Queanbeyan and to be part of both communities.

  9. March 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I am unashamed to say that I was schooled in Queanbeyan (and can actually read & write), and survived the so-called “roughest school in NSW” (The Telegraph no less): Queanbeyan High School. I love the fact that we have real corner stores, rodeos and parochial pride by the tonne – and not a white collar in sight.

  10. Michelle
    Reply →
    September 26, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Shhhh, Queanbeyan is our secret!!!

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