It’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?
Catherine Russell declared at the age of four she would move to New York, get desexed (the cat across the road had been desexed and it sounded cool) and become a writer. Canberra may not be the big apple and writing media releases and speeches as a day job may not be her childhood dream buts its enough for this aspiring writer who is constantly plagued by ideas for her blog as she navigates the perils of single working motherhood. (And no she is is not desexed) Visit www.cathmaccanberra.blog.com for more!View all Catherine Russell posts.