Earlier this year, the fabulous Farz Edraki performed this letter at ‘s You Are Here event, ‘I’m Not There’. This Thursday, Canberra plays host to the Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture — details at the bottom of this page. We thought we’d pay our homage to the brilliant lady (Edraki or Mahoney? You decide.) by giving you that hilarious open letter in print.
Marion Mahony Griffin, Walter Burley Griffin’s wife and creative partner, sends a letter to the city she helped design, 100 years after its inception. By Farz Edraki.
Marion here. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I hear it’s your birthday. Happy birthday! You’re looking pretty swell for 100; but then again, I’ve been dead for over 50 years so what would I know?
Hey, has that letter from the Queen come through yet? And how’s Queanbeyan? Word around the traps is that it’s been granted city status. Really? — I mean — that’s great, great.
Canberra, now that we’ve got the small talk out of the way, let’s get down to the real reason I’m writing.
We need to talk.
You see, I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Canberra. You know the lake? Big blue thing in the centre, separating South from Northside? Yeah. That’s the one. It’s beautiful. Children ride their bikes around it in the summertime; fat tourists straddle segways in autumn; families picnic along the water’s edge — a real treat for Territorians.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out what Robert Menzies had decided to name the lake: Burley. Griffin.
Seriously, Canberra? I drew all of the watercolour designs that won the 1912 Federal Capital Design Competition. Walter was too busy smoking pipes, and inhaling enough snuff to fuel his Prairie-school inspired “vision” of the Bush Capital, to put in any actual grunt work. Without blowing my own trumpet, this city wouldn’t have looked the same if it weren’t for me. Period.
And yet, not three years after I died, Menzies goes ahead and names the lake after Walter. And that’s fine; don’t get me wrong, I love the man. Obviously. But you can’t blame me for feeling at just a little miffed about it all. I mean, not even Lake Mahoney-Burley-Griffin, or better still, just Lake Mahony? C’mon, Canberra. Have you really forgotten me? Have you really forgotten I championed for Canberra’s design?
Just between you and me, Canberra, Walter wasn’t even keen on entering the competition. I had to persuade him. That’s right. You can thank me for the roundabouts.
I’d also like to take credit for the layout of the Parliamentary Triangle, the white-to-off-cream colour scheme in Barton, and the view from Mount Ainslie. Mooseheads, I can’t take credit for. And definitely not that weird sculpture outside the front of the National Museum; you know, the one that’s trying too hard to be a skate ramp. What’s the deal there?
For Gods’ sake, you even named the water jet in the lake after Captain James Cook. The man gets a suburb named after him, too, and not to mention his legacy is standard textbook material in most state primary school curricula.
I’m not there in any of the signs marking Canberra monuments. I’m not there in most historical accounts of Canberra’s inception. I’m not there in the 2013 Centenary celebrations.
That hurts, Canberra. On the topic of the Centenary, what was the go with the fireworks? The end was spectacular, sure, but did you really need to play the “happy birthday” song twice? And those random letters floating around the lake; did they really spell “country”? I didn’t see the o, r, or y, I admit, and at first thought you meant something different altogether…
Anyway. I digress.
I didn’t know whether to mention this as well, but why not; let’s talk about the roadworks. They’re everywhere. I get that you’re growing, Canberra. But there’s a limit. Barry Drive is a mess; so is Majura Parkway, and Kings Avenue underpass. It’s like you’re defining your identity as a work-in-progress. Transient. Let’s be honest, you’re just making Tuggeranong look good.
Look, it might seem like I’m disappointed in you. Embarrassed. Angry, even. That’s not true. Don’t get me wrong, Canberra, you’ve come a long way from the first draft drawings on my table in Chicago, Canberra. Back then, you were only a sketch on a silk canvass, only an etching on an easel, a musing on my mural. Look how you’ve grown.
From Floriade to Enlighten, to Dickson Asian Noodle House to High Tea at the Hyatt, Canberra Roller Derby League to Brodburger, Skyfire to Summernats, Questacon to the lawns on New Parliament House, Kangaroos on Mt. Ainslie to the angry-looking teenagers in Garema Place, Bad Slam to Tim Tams, 24-Hour K-Mart to the Hyperdome: there’s a lot to like about you.
The lake thing will always bug me, sure; but at least there’s a Mahony Court in Weston Creek.
Here’s looking at you.
Marion Mahony Griffin.
Annual Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture: Caroline Pidcock – 15 August
The Walter Burley Griffin Society will host the fifth annual Marion Mahony Griffin Lecture this Thursday 15 August with The Magic of Australia presented by Caroline Pidcock.
Caroline Pidcock is an architect with genuine interest and experience in sustainable built environments.
The lecture will look at some of the issues the Griffins were most concerned with and consider how ‘the magic of Australia’ impacted on their time and work here and their ideals over the last 100 years. Ms Pidcock will also explore where these ideals may take Canberra in the future, and how they will align and build on the inspirational legacy of Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin.
Bookings are essential: http://www.trybooking.com/CHPJ