Growing up in Canberra in the early ‘90s, there was a sanctuary just across the road from my flat in Havelock House. Amongst the industrial car yards and garages of Braddon was a gay oasis situated in a non-descript building.
In the dark, Meridian felt like a zoo of sorts. At a time when alternative subcultures and gayness went hand-in-hand, every person was colorful and there to dance the night away at this little nightclub.
When my relationship broke up in Sydney in early 2016, when I was 42, I had the freedom to make some big life decisions. It felt like the best place to question and process everything was in the very town that I remember not a lot happening in: Canberra.
At first, coming home was about landing, processing and buying thermals, I arrived in May after all. I’d never needed a drivers license before when I’d lived in inner Sydney or NYC. Pushing my four year-old son 1.5km to childcare and back in a stroller while he was wrapped in two blankets, the wind whipping at us as it gusted through the Woden valley, I damn-well needed one now!
In my 23-year absence, Canberra itself had changed. But not as much as the real estate development sign I saw on my first walk to Woden breathlessly proclaiming ‘Live in the Centre of Everything’. I had to laugh hard at that.
It was reassuring to go from Sydney where everyone is trying to fit everything into each day to Canberra where people proudly proclaimed they did nothing on the weekend and it was bloody marvelous!
No longer is Canberra’s queer culture hidden away, now it’s proudly on display.
It wasn’t until September that I could think of going out beyond cafés and parks.. and boy was I pleasantly surprised. Winter might be shit, but the Canberra spring was alive with blue skies and gay activity!
Firstly, my future wife Erin, introduced me to 16West, a gorgeous lounge bar that was in the Melbourne building at the time. We went to watch a drag competition, which was as moving as it was entertaining. Such a warm welcoming space and definitely classier than the Meridian!
Then came the Bush Dance, an incredibly popular event that people came from interstate for. My wife’s competitive side was quickly revealed during the dance offs where it was therefore established that I was the weakest link.
Next came Fair Day at Gorman House. I was familiar with Sydney’s Fair Day as being Mardi Gras’ family event but Canberra’s Fair Day was a lot more personable and smaller. What a great way to become familiar with all the services, communities and support groups available in Canberra. My very shy and anxious son came right out of his shell once he realised that the treasure hunt was for merch!
My favorite family event was definitely the SpringOut community picnic. Entertainment galore, face painting, halloumi burgers, sausage sizzle, popcorn and slabs of giant rainbow cake. Nothing creates joy like a jumping castle with adults and children alike taking turns bouncing from one side to the other and giggling away and playing chasies. What a wonderful way to bring everyone together to play!
Now when my wife and I walk hand in hand through Braddon, with my son skipping along, I’m saddened by the loss of Meridian but it has been replaced. No longer is Canberra’s queer culture hidden away; now it’s proudly on display.
The Rainbow Roundabout, same-sex couples and gender-diverse people sipping coffees with friends and family. We’re an important and valued part of the fabric of this city now.