TO BE completely honest, Queanbeyan, it was about the money at first.
We were looking for a place to buy, having lived and worked in Canberra for a few years, and after a few months of going to auctions of Canberra apartments and watching slack-jawed as two-bedroom boxes were knocked down for scandalous amounts, we were done.
What about Queanbeyan? It wasn't far away, it had lovely houses and a proper main street, proper pubs and a river.
Plus, as everyone kept saying, there was going to be a new Defence facility built nearby soon, so really within years of purchasing a home in the 2620 postcode, you would almost certainly be able to flip it to a passing three-star General for a million dollars.
We bought a beautiful old weatherboard cottage on White Avenue. Walking distance to the main street and the river, and the outrageously large and delicious meals at the Royal. It felt like a proper town, with a proper heart. People were friendly. Neighbours talked to each other. We had a cherry tree in our yard, and I used to take buckets of fruit into Parliament House, and ring my Mum in rural South Australia smugly (I grew up on the plains; much too hot and dusty for cherries).
And when the Queanbeyan Show rolled around, we were in pole position. We challenged all our mates (some of whom had by then also moved to the 'Beyan) to enter the cooking categories, and planned a sizeable celebration for all our anticipated ribbons.
There was (and this was in 2002) a degree of segregation in the cooking categories. There were all your usual show classics; scone, fruit cake, sponge and so on, and then there was "Any Cake Baked By A Man". The idea being, I guess, that any cake baked by a man was already something like an act of God, and thus worthy of separate consideration. My partner Jeremy ambitiously decided to enter scones, plus a banana cake in the Man-Category. I plumped for Mixed Biscuit, but all eyes were on the blokes, really. A spirit of intense competition prevailed. Our mate Luke (a Stornaway Road resident) came up with a pretty shaky cake, also banana. We were nice about it, but it really was rubbish. Another mate Michael - a senior Press Gallery correspondent - was sprung in David Jones buying doilies in order to dust patterns in icing sugar on his offering. But Man-Cake honours were taken by our architect friend Alex, with his flourless yoghurt and pistachio masterpiece: Luke threatened to march him and his cake up to the front bar at the Hotel Queanbeyan and identify him as a man who fancied himself too good for flour.
I took out second prize for my mixed biscuit. Not that you'll ever hear me going on about it or anything. Us heroes are like that.