Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Omar bin Musa – poet, novelist, rapper, woodcut artist. I’m blessed to live in Queanbeyan, NSW, on beautiful Ngunnawal-Ngambri Country, with my books, art and chilli plants.
What do you love about Canberra?
The thing I love most about Queanbeyan and Canberra is the bushland, the watercourses and the hills – the fresh air, the smell of eucalyptus and bushwalks. I was blessed to grow up with so much greenery around me. The English biologist Thomas Huxley once said, “To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery of wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.” During the pandemic, I quit writing to study horticulture at Tafe (CIT Bruce), and as I was learning more about plants, I was able to turn some of these artworks around, and see the same streets I’ve been wandering since childhood with totally new eyes.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Dickson Asian Noodle House – hearty hawker fare, with a duck laksa (or “ducksa”, for those in the know) as the creamy, decadent centrepiece. I also have to shout-out a former workplace, Kingsley’s Chicken in Queanbeyan. I’d go for the “M1” – three pieces of crispy Southern fry, chips, gravy and drink, plus a small coleslaw. As the famous slogan goes, “Unbelievable chicken, awesome chips”.
It’s your birthday – how do you spend it?
I’ll start the day with a workout at Muay U Thai kickboxing gym in Fyshwick – nothing like that morning endorphin rush. Then I’ll shower, and wander over for a coffee and baklava at the Millhouse Cafe in Queanbeyan. I’ll get up some swaying steps over the iconic Suspension Bridge, go platypus-spotting in the river (at time of writing, I seem to be the only person who’s never actually seen one there), before stopping to say hi to Queenie the Platypus and Morty the Snail, two majestic local identities/statues. Then I’ll head into Braddon to treat myself to some resplendent new jewellery at Kin Gallery, get lined up by Sez at The Barbershop, and once my fade is crispy and popping like Kingsley’s Southern Fry, I’ll cruise off to Kambah Pool for a lazy swim with mates and some slices of chilled watermelon. After a few hours in the sun, it’s time to start thinking about dinner – so it’s off to Deji Asian Supermarket in Dickson to stock up on fish cakes, bean sprouts and fresh rice noodles, then cook up a smoky char kway teow for dinner, with an Okinawa bubble tea from Super Emoji to wash it all down.
Where do you go for brekkie?
Kyo Coffee Project in Braddon, another former place of employment. I like posting up in the window, trying to distract the staff with yarns about music and food. Food-wise, the chilli eggs are wild, and if you’re lucky, Indonesian chef (and fellow woodcut artist) Jon Priadi Barajo might even blow your socks off by using our special collaboration “Killernova” sambal.
Do you have any favourite shops?
Sancho’s Dirty Laundry – for cool, weird, kitsch knick-knacks and very fly streetwear from all over the world. Paperchain Bookstore in Manuka is where I shop for fiction and poetry – it has an impressive and expansive range. And the Canberra Glassworks shop (yet another former place of employment) is full of vivid, ethereal art. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the viewing platform of the hot shop and watch the glassblowers at work. Magical stuff.
When you want to impress someone, where do you take them?
I like taking people to the top of Mount Ainslie or to the National Arboretum to take in the panoramas of broad blue sky like nowhere else. The Australian National Botanic Gardens is also pretty unbeatable – the banksia garden and cool rainforest gully are my favourites.
What’s one of the most underrated places around Canberra?
There are places of immense natural beauty only 20 minutes’ drive from the heart of Canberra. The diamond chain waterfall of Gibraltar Falls, with its views out into the valley and ancient axe grinding grooves, for example, or Googong Cascades (a good place for a dip at the height of summer), with its stunning rock formations.
Where do you go to get away for the weekend?
I love getting in my car with my prawning gear and heading down to the rugged, windswept South Coast of NSW, especially around Narooma and Tuross Head (there’s great prawning in Coila Lake). In the colder months, it’s heaven to curl next to a fireplace with a book, watch the rainbow lorikeets bomb about in the coastal grevillea, or get some sashimi-grade tuna to make hinava (Borneo ceviche).
Who makes Canberra a better place?
Kojo Ansah aka Citizen Kay is a rapper, music engineer and all-around legend who makes Canberra a better place. He kills it both on stage and behind the scenes with his high-quality music studio, helping numerous local musicians of all genres, whether it be rap, pop or folk, fulfil their visions. An arts scene is fuelled by the energy of true believers and dedicated enthusiasts like Kojo.
Is there an essential Canberra song?
All City by Koolism is the essential Canberra song, referencing “the Summernats shemozzle”, the ACT Brumbies, Floriade, “scenery to die for” and the isolation that makes you “fiend harder for mics” and hone your skills at home. As a young rapper, All City made me proud to be from here. There’s something to be said for being from a smaller place, outside the cultural epicentres of Sydney and Melbourne – it gives you self-sufficiency, inventiveness, drive and a unique perspective.
Omar Musa’s poetry and wood cuts collection Killernova is available in bookshops now, or via Penguin, $39.99
This is the first “My Canberra” – a regular column discovering the places and spaces that captivate and entice Canberra’s well-known residents.