Finding the right neighbourhood in Canberra

Finding somewhere to live from 15,000km away is a pretty tough job, and our own experience benefited from a certain amount of serendipity. Even so, there was a method behind our decision to live in Canberra’s Nicholls suburb. It all started with a research trip a couple of years ago.

Ask anyone about the best place to live in Canberra and, like other cities divided by a body of water, there are stark opinions about which side of the water is best. For Canberrans, like Londoners, there’s a north/side divide.

Coming from Europe, we had no such bias, so when we arrived on a research trip a few years ago, we decided to spend a day driving around and getting a feel for the place.

The first thing you realise is that Canberra’s neighbourhoods are like the rings on a tree, they appeared at regular intervals at the outer edges, charting the growth of the city and its suburbs. Only recently a couple of new suburbs were announced as the expansion neighbourhoods for the next few years.

One consequence of this is that each suburb is largely dominated by the architecture and construction preferences of the era it was constructed in. So, if you like older properties, you’ll find them closer to the centre. If you dislike 1960s modernism, then some of the suburbs won’t be for you. If you want brand new properties, then you’ll probably have to head to the outer north suburbs.

This is worth considering seriously because, for example, a raft of mid-20th century properties are currently making the headlines because they are riddled with asbestos, which was a common building material at the time. The so-called ‘Mr Fluffy homes’ are a regular feature in Canberra’s news at the moment as residents, politicians and local authorities debate how best to handle the situation.

For us, given the upheaval we will already be introducing into our children’s lives, we chose to make finding a great public school our top priority. Our research started with the brilliant My School website, which details the recent performance of all schools in Australia. From the information given, we drew up a list of 10 possible schools and then, knowing that statistics aren’t everything, my wife went on a recce trip with a friend from Melbourne, armed with all the questions you’d expect a nervous parent to ask.

Just as important as the schools’ performance were the standard of the facilities, the atmosphere of the place, and their answers to questions such as: “How do you handle incidents of bullying?” and “How do you support children who are in danger of being left behind?”

My wife came home with a shortlist of three schools in three different suburbs, and that’s where we focused our search, using the AllHomes website and RealEstate.com.au.

A cockerpoo dog relaxing in the sun

Finding a home that would take Mr Pup influenced our choice of neighbourhood.

There were two other factors that influenced our choice. First, we needed a rented house that would accept our family dog. I covered the story of that in a separate post ‘Finding a home in Canberra’. Second, given that my job as a communication consultant and corporate writer requires regular phone and Skype calls with clients, my preference was for a home in a neighbourhood that already has the new NBN high-speed fibre-optic broadband that is being rolled out across Canberra. In the end, I had to compromise on that last one.

Our new home will be in Nicholls, a north-western suburb of Canberra, about halfway between the two community and shopping centres in Belconnen and Gungahlin. Our kids are in the process of enrolling for Gold Creek School, which impressed us greatly. And we just know that our kids and dog will love the parks and open countryside that are in easy reach of our new home (notwithstanding the fairly strict rules about where dogs are allowed and where you can let them off their lead).

So I guess that makes us north Canberrans, at least for the next few years. I’m not sure what that means. These artificial distinctions often have little basis in fact. Except in London of course—that lot north of the Thames are a funny lot. Who’d want to live there?

10 thoughts on “Finding the right neighbourhood in Canberra

    • That’s very reassuring. It’s especially tricky when you’re doing it over the internet from afar and you know that every explanation you give makes it sound more like a scam every second. Luckily, we have sorted a house, school and a car, so the main things are all set, but we’ll heave a huge sigh of relief when the plane door closes and we know the jobs list is complete (until our container turns up, at least). Thanks for stopping by — I’m a fan of your blog too, but you know that 🙂
      All good wishes, Mark

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      • My pleasure – it’s a joy to read your writing and so exciting to hear about what’s encouraged the room, where you’re coming from (in a ‘spiritual’ and physical sense!) and what you’re looking forward to. And I’m excited that my blog has helped in any small way to increase your excitement or anticipation re arriving here.

        In all seriousness… I moved to Canberra (from Queensland, not quite so far) without ever having been here, never visited, nothing. No family. No friends. I knew one other person moving down and they knew a guy and we got a house together that I’d never seen til we moved in. I *did* initially live on the southside, but the northside quite literally drew me in and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I know my own experience is no comparison, but despite never having been here and knowing no one, seven years later I’m still here, have bought a house, etc etc. Like I said, I can’t wait to hear more about your journey, and hope the next 29 days before you leave go very, very smoothly!

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  1. lizzygoodthings says:

    Hi there and welcome (almost) to my beautiful home town of Canberra! I’m in Harrison, not far from Nicholls… you’ve made a great choice!

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    • Thank you — actually Harrison was on our short list of favourite neighbourhoods too (great school, plus an NBN connection, which I don’t think has reached Nicholls yet). When we came on our recce trip, we stayed in the Abode hotel in Gungahlin, just around the corner from you. Looking forward to exploring properly in a few weeks time and starting to feel as if we are ‘at home’. Thanks for the kind welcome. Best wishes, Mark

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  2. Aline says:

    Hi, I found your blog by accident and have been reading it today with great interest since we made the move from the UK to Canberra 5 years ago. We have lived in Nicholls, and now in Amaroo which is 5 mins away. Great place to live without any doubts. I hear Gold Creek School is very good. I have no doubts that you’ve got the very essentials (home and school) absolutely spot-on!

    I think you are travelling across as we speak so I hope that all goes well. Our kids absolutely love it here. We got our citizenships this year too. All the best!

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    • Hi there, Thanks for taking the time to comment. You’ve no idea how much this gave us a lift. We arrived exhausted and jet-lagged to a dark, cold, empty house for which we couldn’t work out the central heating controls, so we spent a shivery evening in sleping bags in a single room and it pushed us to the edge, if I’m honest. To know that you have been here five years and look back on your move as a great decision fortified us just enough. Thanks again. Really. Best wishes, Mark

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