The Lake from a Different Angle

@heidistratford requested on Twitter a few of her favourite Canberra things:

Fish and chips from Yarralumla Yacht Club + Looking back over the lake from a different angle + Small Stage at National Museum


‘We should be practicing you know…’

Stacey sighed.

‘Yes Jessica, I know we should be practicing. But we’re allowed to take a break once in a while. We’ve been practicing all morning, and for the best part of the last month.’

Jess nodded; her friend was right. But still, this was a big gig, their biggest since forming their two-piece groove band, Small Stage, a year ago.

‘It’s just…performing at the National Museum…it is sort of a big deal.’

‘Yeah, it is,’ Stacey replied. ‘And we’ll be awesome.’

Jess bit her bottom lip and tried to peer into the kitchen area behind the counter in front of them.

‘What’s taking so long?’

‘Hmm, sorry?’ Stacey replied. Jess suddenly became aware her friend was staring up at the sky.

‘I said “what’s taking so long”, but you’ve clearly found something more exciting than fish and chips. What’s so fascinating up there?’ Jess asked, following Stacey’s line of sight and trying to see what was interesting about the clear blue sky above them.

It was a beautiful day, but apart from that Jess, couldn’t see anything remarkable above them. She shielded her eyes from the sun and scanned the sky again, before looking back down at Stacey.

‘Oh, nothing. Just a crazy thought. I just like looking at the full moon during the day.’

Before Jess could squiz her friend more about why that was so interesting, their number was called out, and they were handed two wrapped packets of fish and chips.

‘Yum,’ Stacey said, gleefully accepting the pack. ‘Great idea this, serving fish and chips take-away style from the basement of the Yarralumla Yacht Club. Means we don’t need to go inside and get near any pokies. Shall we sit on the foreshore?’

Jess nodded, and the two friends walked around the club buildings to a lush grassed area on the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin. As they sat down, Jess couldn’t help marvelling at the view. The Lake was having a particularly good day; it was a deep blue colour, and the sunlight was twinkling off its surface. Away in the distance, Black Mountain appeared to rise out of the lake, imposing itself, and the tower on its peak, over the city.

‘Great view, ain’t it?’ Stacey commented.

‘It is,’ said Jess. ‘And this food is good too. If only we could get a decent coffee somewhere around here.’

Stacey smiled.

‘You know, I think I know a place.’

‘Really?’ asked Jess, sceptically. ‘A good coffee? By the lake? It’s a bit of a walk to The Deck.’

‘Nup, not there.’

‘I suppose the coffee’s okay at the Portrait Gallery or the National Gallery, but they’re miles away, and I’m not walking to Lonsdale Street Roasters at Kingston Foreshore.’

‘It’s just here actually,’ Stacey said, pointing towards the water.

Jess laughed.

‘What, in the lake? Or are you suggesting the Lake Burley Griffin water is now caffeinated.’

Stacey smiled.

‘Not exactly. So, do you want that coffee or not? I promise you, it’s delicious, but you’ll have to trust me.’

She stared up at the sky again.

‘It should work…’ she continued, some doubt creeping into her voice for the first time.

‘What will work?’ Jess asked, confused. ‘What does the moon have to do with getting a good coffee by the lake?’

‘Everything,’ Stacey said, meeting her gaze. ‘C’mon, follow me.’

And she grabbed Jess’ hand and led her to the water. She pulled her along the sandy bank for some minutes, staring down at the lake, before stopping at a particularly deep area of water.

‘Okay, on the count of three, we’re going to dive in.’

Jess backed away from the water’s edge.

‘Dive in? There! I’m not diving in there, it will be freezing. And I don’t have any swimmers.’

‘Jess, we’ve been friends for years. Do you trust me or not? We won’t get wet, I promise.’

Jess stared at her friend; with her hair lit fiery red by the sunlight, and her blue eyes shining with excitement, she was managing to look equal parts beautiful and frightening.

‘You’ve lost it Stacey.’

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, c’mon!’

And with that, Stacey grabbed Jess’ right arm and pulled her into the water, at the same time shouting.


For a moment, Jess became aware of the water touching their feet, but then everything went black. It took her a few seconds to realise she had shut her eyes tight. As she slowly opened them, she became shocked about what was in front of her.

She was now standing at the foot of Black Mountain Tower, and as she turned around, she realised Stacey was now holding her left hand. She felt dizzy and very disoriented. Hadn’t they been on the opposite side of the lack a second ago, looking towards the mountain and this side of the foreshore?

‘Different view, huh?’ Stacey said, indicating that Jess should turn around.

Jess spun around and discovered herself back over the lake from a very different angle. In the distance, she could see the Yacht Club, where she was sure they had been only moments ago. But the building was obscured by…well, countless other buildings.

In fact, there were buildings everywhere. All around them. The relatively empty shore line they had been sitting on had been totally transformed.

She suddenly realised she was also completely dry. But the sensation didn’t last long.

‘Look out,’ someone called from the water in front of them, and then a large wave appeared from the water and drenched both the girls.

‘Sorry!’ called the same voice, as a jet ski flew away from there and headed north up the lake. Jess realised the lake was teeming with all manner of ‘leisure craft’. There were boats, jet skis, hover craft, ferries; there was barely a patch of empty water. Jess had never seen anything like this, and certainly not on Lake Burley Griffin. They were all flying around the water, dodging one another and chopping up the water. She wondered how many accidents there must be a day.’

‘Well, when I said we wouldn’t get wet, I meant from the trip.’ Stacey said, trying forlornly to pat herself dry.

‘Where are we?’ Jess said, staring around at the stream of people moving between the buildings immediately in front of them. As she started to adjust to the shock, she saw that immediately in front of them was a strip of cafes, restaurants and bars. Plastic tables and chairs continued in a steady line as far down the foreshore as she could see, aligned to scores of other eating and drinking establishments.

‘Arrebnac.’ Stacey said, smiling.

‘Arrebnac?’ Jess asked, confused, but before she could ask any more questions, an irate girl appeared.

‘Are you buying donuts or not?’

‘Sorry,’ Jess asked. This was all getting too much for her. She has been magically transported to the opposite side of the lake, which now appeared to be full of shops; then she’d been splashed by one of a thousand motorised boats on her usually peaceful lake and now someone was trying to force-feed her donuts.

‘This is the seating area of Dunken Donuts,’ the girl said, pointing to a large pink and white sign that did indeed have the words “Dunken Donuts” emblazoned across it. ‘Either buy a donut, or vacate the area.’

‘We don’t want donuts, we’ll be on our way, thanks,’ Stacey replied and led Jess slightly up the hill away from the lake and buildings.

‘I always forget you have to use the green strip here, otherwise the retailers get cranky.’

‘Green strip?’ Jess asked, confused by yet another thing her friend was saying. Stacey pointed down to a strip of green that had been painted on the otherwise bare concrete all around them. Jess realised the green path followed the outline of the lake foreshore, leading pedestrians both east and west to the endless rows of plastic chairs and cafes.

‘Where are we Stacey?’ Jess asked.

‘We are in the opposite of Canberra – Arrebnac. A place, so the legend goes, you can only travel to, or from, when ‘the moon is full and the sun is out’; or something like that. The book I read it in told it more poetically.’

‘A book you read,’ Jess asked sceptically.

‘Yep, it’s in the National Library; hard to get to actually see it, but I had a friend who worked in the stacks; let me have a quick read. It tells the other side of the Canberra story.’

‘The other side?’ Jess asked.

‘Well, more than that. It tells you how to experience the other side. This is Arrebnac, the exact mirror opposite of Canberra. Not an altogether nice place, I must say. I much prefer Canberra. But they do great coffee by the lake here.’

Before Jess could ask many more questions, including to confirm whether Stacey, or Jess, or both had suffered some form of head injury or mental breakdown, a newspaper was thrust in front of them.

‘Blue Capitalist Daily?’ the middle aged man in front of them said. The man was wearing a three piece suit and urging them to take the paper in his hand. Jess accepted and looked down. The front page of the paper was taken up by a single Headline:

“No Laws”

Before Jess could read any more, Stacey had taken it out of her hand and returned it to the businessman.

‘You don’t want to read that. C’mon, let’s get that coffee. We can’t stay long. It’s hard to judge time here, the skyscrapers tend to block out the sun.

And not for the first time that day, Stacey took Jess’ hand and led her along the green path. Jess wondered how Stacey could tell all the cafes and bars apart, but she seemed to have a place in mind, and Jess was becoming so overawed by the experience, she was grateful Stacey seemed to have some idea about what was going on.

Jess scanned the area beyond the foreshore, and for first time realised Stacey was right about the ‘skyscapers’. What she would think of as the ‘Parliamentary Zone’ on the foreshore opposite was looking decidedly unparliamentary. Ridiculously large towers dominated the skyline on that side of the lake, and there was something else unusual about the view that Jess couldn’t’ put her identify at first. And then it hit her.

‘Where has the Parliament House flag pole gone?’ she asked.

‘Well, there isn’t one.’ Stacey replied. ‘And I don’t mind that actually. In Arrebnac, consistent with Niffirg’s vision, the parliament building is at ground level, with the people. And that’s something our Griffin would probably agree with him on. Capital Hill is auctioned every ten years to the highest bidder, and the old tower demolished and replaced with a new one. From memory, I think a mining company has the lease for a few more years.’

‘The cafe I have in mind is just up here.’

As they made their way up the green path, Jess continued to be amazed by the things around her. It was like she was in a dream; in fact, she must be in a dream. To be in a place that was familiar; so Canberra, yet so very different.

She became aware of someone walking just behind them; keeping stem with them. She turned to look at the figure, when it whispered at her.

‘Don’t turn around,’ the man’s voice said. ‘I can tell you are enlightened women, but we can’t be too careful these days. Here, take this.’

And he slipped a piece of paper into Jess’ hand. It was headed ‘Demands of the ACT Government’, under which were:

  • Cease proposals to introduce roundabouts. Arrebnac is proud of its status as the only city without roundabouts;
  • Our city does not need public servants. We have done fine without them.
  • Do not pass the proposed law through the ACT Legislative Assembly. The Assembly is not there to pass laws.

‘Is this a protest?’ Jess asked, apparently too loudly.

‘Yes, but quiet’ the man said. ‘You know the rules. Only the bigots can protest.’

Stacey smiled and winked at Jess.

‘I might agree with you about the roundabouts, but what’s wrong with public servants, or passing a law. The Assembly has passed hundreds. What’s wrong with this one?’

‘They have not!’ she heard the voice behind her say. It was a very strange conversation; the two of them continuing to walk, facing straight ahead, while carrying on a debate with a man walking behind them.

‘Government should get out of the way of economic development. Laws threaten economic development. We can’t have tape.’

‘Red tape?’

‘Any tape’.

Jess glanced at Stacey who nodded. This really was a different Canberra; no laws.

‘Well, how do people you know, get their rights and responsibilities and stuff.’

‘We have responsibilities, but what was that other word you said,’ the strange man asked.

‘Rights,’ Jess repeated.

‘Never heard of them.’ The man said.

‘You’re joking. You live in Canberra and you’ve never heard of the word “rights”!’

‘I don’t live in Canberra,’ the man said indignantly. ‘I live in Arrebnac. You speak a strange language lady. I thought you looked like a reasonable one.’

And with that, Jess sensed the man wandering away from them.

For her part, Stacey seemed unperturbed.

Jess stared at her as they walked on.

‘This is truly a different place to my Canberra. Allan Jones would love this place.

‘Who do you think is Chief Minister,’ Stacey said smiling and pointing to the piece of paper in Jess’ hand. Sure enough, at the bottom of the paper it said:

‘Allan, do the right thing by Arrebnac.’

Jess just shook her head in disbelief.

‘Here’s the place,’ Stacey said.

It looked to Jess like just another wooden-box cafe, with plastic furniture all around it. Like most of the other places, virtually all of the seats were taken. This city was not only teeming with boats, it was teeming with people. Stacey ordered some coffees for them and they sat down. Quickly, the coffees appeared. Jess sipped with trepidation. What would the coffees in this strange place taste like? As she tentatively brought the cup to her lips, she was shocked.

‘This is delicious.’

‘I know,’ replied Stacey. ‘I wouldn’t have brought you here otherwise.’

Jess sipped her coffee, sat back and tried to relax. She suddenly became aware that the tables around her were slowly emptying of people.

‘Where is everyone going?’

‘Oh shit, it must be getting towards night time. It’s hard to tell here with all the buildings, it’s sort of always twilight.’

Jess realised that Stacey was right; part of her initial disorientation in the place had been the light; it felt permanently overcast.

‘Why are they going home?’ Jess asked.

‘Nothing to do here at night,’ Stacey replied, standing up.

‘I thought this was the opposite of Canberra?’ Jess asked, smiling.

‘It is,’ Stacey responded. ‘But we need to get back. The voodoo magic only works while it’s daylight.’

The two friends began moving towards the lake. As if on cue, a stern voice spoke to them from behind.

‘Please move away from the water’s edge. You are not authorised near the water. It is private property.’

Jess looked up to see a police man walking quickly towards them.

‘Quick,’ Stacey yelled, looking up concerning to the sky. ‘Run for it.’

Jess paused for a moment before following her friend towards the lake edge.

‘Stop!’ called the cop, but before she knew it, she and Stacey were again plunging into the water.

Again everything went black, and Jess found herself on the bank.

She looked around. It was twilight in this place too, but otherwise, they seemed to have returned to the Yacht Club side of the bank in her Canberra.

‘Are we home?’ she asked Stacey.

‘Yep,’ she nodded. ‘But we better get going, otherwise we’ll miss our gig.’

As the two friends began walking towards Stacey’s car, Jess stopped Stacey for a moment.

‘Are we able to go back to that place?’

‘Arrebnac?’ Stacey asked surprised. ‘Sure, every full moon. But I didn’t think you liked it?’

‘I didn’t. It’s just…that coffee was really good.

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