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?”
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?