When we first told people we were moving to Canberra, non-Aussies would invariably ask where Canberra was, while Aussies would usually say something like: “What do you want to go there for? It’s freezing.”
But we’d seen the pictures of sunny Australia from afar, and had already gone through our wardrobes ditching thick jumpers and winter coats in anticipation of year-round pool-life in the lucky country.
So, now we are knee-deep in our first Canberra winter, how cold is it?
Well, the first thing to say is that, after 10 years of living in Scandinavia, we have a pretty high tolerance threshold before we declare anything to be officially cold. To give you some comparison, last winter in Denmark, we frequently saw temperatures of well below minus 10 degrees Celsius. In fact, there were weeks on end when the temperature never actually made it above freezing point.
At the same time, Scandinavian homes are built to handle this. Our old house had underfloor heating and triple glazing such that, even in the midst of a sub-zero spell, we would often need to open a few windows to get the indoor temperature to a more comfortable level.
So far, this winter in Canberra, I think temperatures have dropped below zero once, maybe twice, and even then, only in the small hours of the night. I’ve certainly never seen frost on the ground, or needed to scrape it off the car, and even though it’s mid-winter, daytime temperatures will often reach the mid-to-high teens.
So we must be toasty, right? Wrong.
To move here from Scandinavia is to appreciate everything that is right about northern European house-building skills. Canberra houses are not built to retain warmth. The gaps between doors and their frames are large enough to make an eastern European carmaker feel smug.
The heating – largely blasts of hot air from ceiling ducts (and remember, heat rises), to coin a phrase from Blackadder, is about as effective as a cat-flap in an elephant house. To get toasted, you stand under the vent Star Trek transporter-style. To freeze, you move a few centimetres to the left or right. Radiators or underfloor — and therefore, ambient heating, seem rare here.
And that’s to say nothing of the rickety, single-glazed windows which leech heat and provide zero insulation. I am dreading the arrival of our gas bill this quarter.
But I have to reserve a special mention for a place in Canberra with its own particular climate – the Canberra Stadium. As season-ticket holders for local rugby league team, the Canberra Raiders, we can attest to the special, isolated micro-climate that the stadium builders have managed to establish.
Canberra Stadium is a concrete bowl, sunk into the landscape and, presumably, with some kind of underground piping that is connected, across the miles, with one of Antarctica’s subterranean lakes, providing a constant flow of ice-cold water, cooling the stadium’s superstructure to a minimum of ten degrees lower than anywhere in the surrounding area.
It really is a feat of genius. Over the course of a couple of hours, the cold seeps up through the ground, into the concrete, grips your feet in its icy fingers and creeps throughout your body with ghostly coldness.
When the football World Cup is staged in Qatar, they should sidestep all the shenanigans about whether to hold the tournament in summer or winter and just hire the lads who built Canberra Stadium to construct their facilities. No one would overheat, I guarantee it.
So, is Canberra cold? In truth, not really. Not by the standards of anyone who has lived anywhere that has a proper winter. But is it cold in Canberra? Absolutely. It’s bloody freezing.