Beautiful Bus Shelters of Canberra

Canberra Museum and Gallery 2018

In 1974, Canberra architect Clem Cummings designed a new bus shelter for Canberra. It was modern, efficient and built to last. Now, over forty years later, almost five hundred are still standing. They have become as much a symbol of our capital city as red telephone boxes are to London.

You only have to travel along any Canberra street from the city centre to the outer edge to see how these retro shelters put a particular Canberra stamp onto even the most suburban location. 

It was this clear sense of place that attracted me to make the body of work. One intention was to create a portrait of Canberra unlike any other, but mainly, I just wanted to celebrate an overlooked and very cool seventies’ structure.

I spent the past six years photographing every Clem Cummings shelter on the streets of Canberra.  This wasn’t as repetitive as it sounds, because although the shelters all seem the same, they can vary hugely. 

Like Tikis of the suburbs they have a distinct face and their expression shifts as the light changes throughout the day. Even the most uninspiring shelter comes to life in the hour before sunrise and sunset, or at night as deep shadows are cast under a street lamp.  They can be found in both rural and urban settings and their surroundings vary with the seasons as leaves fall or blossom grows.  Compositions are created using lamp posts, telegraph poles and signposts, and altered as rubbish is discarded, bins are put out and graffiti is added.

Since starting the project I’ve enjoyed hearing stories from locals who’ve shared the experience of waiting and often freezing in these shelters as school children - from the seventies, eighties, nineties and beyond. It’s most satisfying that nowadays I no longer hear people calling the shelters ugly.

If these drawings evoke memories and help Canberrans notice and appreciate a distinctive part of their culture, I’ve done my job.