Madison Tonkes, a year 12 student in Melbourne, writes: Throughout history, cafés and coffeehouses have been instrumental in political and commercial activity. They have long been synonymous with great thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Isaac Newton and have been the hub of social and political movements.
Today’s cafés have their origins in these earlier coffeehouses, and this cosmopolitan coffee culture is something the major cities of Melbourne and Sydney have embraced.
Drinking a coffee; be it a latte, short black, a flat white or a Grande Cafe Mocha, no sugar, no whipped cream with half skim/half full milk; the whole routine is symbolic of culture and urbanity — of sophistication, and civility.
Upon a recent visit to Canberra, I was disturbed to learn that good coffee is incredibly hard to come by in our nation’s capital. And let me tell you, there’s nowhere one requires a coffee more than when one is in Canberra.
While being hauled along the various attractions that this town offers, the call of a coffee became irrepressible. It’s the only thing that could keep my eyes open during the drives around bizarrely placed ring roads, roundabouts and official state buildings.
Parliament House awaited me. The building itself is impressive, but what this magnificent building contains is anything but.
It was dispiriting to learn that such an important place — the heart of the nation if you will, where the decisions that shape Australia are made — was so lacking in spirit and enthusiasm. The hallowed halls through which we walked were hollow. Seemingly worn down by the monotony of their existence, the passion sucked out of them; and the people who filled them, the same.
After various security checks, I found myself witnessing the hilarity that is Question Time. As my peers and I sat in the public gallery, we couldn’t help but feel saddened at what unfolded before our eyes.
It’s clear parliamentarians feel the need to take action on the big issues; climate change being one of them. In doing so, they retort to repetitive queries on the taxation of petrol in lorry deliveries of fruit in a town of 220 people in regional Queensland. In fact, the debate resembled the sensation of driving through the constant barrage of roundabouts, which are peppered throughout the city.
It was comforting to know, we’re certainly in safe hands here.
After an hour or so, we decided we couldn’t take anymore of this dizzying assault on our intelligence, and went in search of a coffee within Parliament House. It turned out to be much like the political debate, weak and insipid.
Onwards to the National Portrait Gallery, where the café menu promised a macchiato. At last, a vague indication of culture and taste!
I placed my order and the waitress looked at me, bemused by the request. You’d think that to work at a café, knowledge of coffee would be a pre-requisite.
As I sat in the gallery café, with my demitasse and saucer, I couldn’t help but notice the others around me, sniggering at my order. I had to wonder if this was the only time this cup was ever used. Given the waitress’ surprised reaction to my request, I decided it was highly likely.
While the gallery staff might not have had much experience making a macchiato, the result was rather pleasing; but the price, not so much.
At almost five dollars for a relatively small coffee; culture doesn’t come cheap in Canberra and nor is it readily available.
It is a place that opts for vast, open areas of ornamental gravel and cold, unwelcoming state buildings, rather than the vivacity and soul so apparent with other Australian cities. That sense of urbanity and civility, the sophistication and intelligence that should be so prominent, was absent in the streets and institutions. Instead an IGA and various charcoal chicken outlets were all that Canberra’s central shopping district could offer.
Maybe, if the manifestation of coffee culture were to be embraced within Australia’s capital; just maybe, if we were to corral Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott into a café where the barrista knows how to prepare that highly sought after macchiato, they might leave the hubris behind and work for the good of the nation.
Maybe then, we’ll finally exit that dizzying roundabout and actually get somewhere.