Often overlooked as a tourism destination, the ACT is brimming with world-class attractions, stunning nature, a peaceful environment and unique events. Canberra, Australia's capital city, is a hub of arts, culture, dining, and nightlife that is not to be missed. Today, we've partnered with ACT local Luka Musicki to learn more about what's on in Canberra and the ACT in 2024. A member of the Harbour City Bears in NSW and various organisations in the ACT, Luka will take us through some of the fabulous queer points of interest in Canberra.
But first, who are the Harbour City Bears? Luka describes them as a "community of fun-loving, furry guys who are always up for a good time." Based in New South Wales, the Harbour City Bears (HCB) are a community group that hosts inclusive events for hairy gay older men, their friends and their admirers. Luka first came across the group in 2019 when his partner (whom he affectionately calls "The Quokka") suggested he join the group. After years of feeling somewhat out of place among the gay community in Canberra, he suddenly found his people, and he was included as part of the bear community, where he could contribute his young energy for hilarious and fabulous shenanigans to create positive outcomes. He elaborates, saying, "I realised there was a whole community of like-minded guys out there who shared my love for all things (bear)...the camaraderie and sense of brotherhood among the members of Harbour City Bears was palpable, and I knew I had found my tribe, and the group welcomes a bear spectrum of people, all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, energy, furriness and boldness to try new things."
Above (left): Here is a picture of Luka at his wildest at one of the bear events. Growl!
Above (right): he is a picture of Luka in a bear suit amongst his various bear colleagues!
As he attended more events and outings, the Harbour City Bears helped Luka "feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin." Over time, Luka became more involved with the group, eventually joining the committee as a consultant. Notably, he brings his expertise of Canberra and the ACT to the group to help other LGBTQIA+ travellers make the most of their time in Australia's capital. This is an extension of the group's core mission: "Whether we're organising inclusive events during Mardi Gras (i.e. Bear Essentials) or weekly pub sessions, Harbour City Bears is always looking for ways to impact the world around us positively. And, of course, we also know how to have a good time!" You can learn more about their upcoming events as part of Bear Essentials 28 here.
Above: mixed images from the 2023 Mardi Gras/Sydney World Pride and HCB Social Events.
Since moving to the ACT in 2017, Luka has built up a wealth of knowledge about the region through "being open to discover things with people, and to try different experiences, whether it is restaurants, outdoor activities, or socialising with people." He has come to know Canberra as a "hotspot for queer travellers" which is often overlooked in favour of other capital cities. Today, he'll run us through some of the best things to see and do in the ACT and Canberra.
Arts & Culture
If you are a lover of the arts, Luka recommends The Kaleidoscope Exhibition, a showcase of LGBTQIA+ artworks that runs concurrently with the SpringOUT Festival each year. The exhibit typically takes place from October to December and is held at the Belconnen Arts Centre. FUSE Magazine, the producers of the event, describe it as "a celebration of all that makes this wonderful uniqueness [in the LGBTQIA+ community], the diversity of perspectives, lived experiences and shared ambitions."
Above: mixed images from the 2022 and 2023 Kaleidoscope Exhibition. The top left image is a picture of Luka with ACT Minister for the Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Tara Cheyne MLA. The two bottom images are Luka’s paintings that he has contributed to every Kaleidoscope exhibition.
As the capital of Australia, Canberra is also home to world-class arts and cultural institutions. For anyone interested in the arts, you can spend a day absorbing work by renowned Australian and international artists at the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia. Or, spend a night out at The Street Theatre or Canberra Theatre Centre in Civic, two performing arts venues where you can find comedy shows, live music, and theatre performances.
Above: photos from the 2023 SpringOut Comedy Events at the Street Theatre with Luka as MC.
For those interested in heritage and history, Canberra also has lots to offer. To learn more about Australian history, visit the Museum of Australian Democracy and the National Archives of Australia. At the National Museum of Australia and the International Flag Display, you can learn more about world history and cultures. Luka also recommends The Australian War Memorial to anyone who is visiting Canberra:
"It is one of the most significant museums in the country and offers a unique insight into the history of Australia's military involvement. The museum's collection includes a vast range of artefacts, including aircraft, vehicles, uniforms, and weapons. Besides, the War Memorial offers a moving and emotional experience, with the opportunity to reflect on the impact of past conflicts on the nation and its people."
Other attractions Luka recommends are Questacon, which is home to interactive exhibits about science and technology, the Rainbow Roundabout in Barton, which is a great photo opportunity, and Telstra Tower, which is an iconic architectural landmark.
Dining and Nightlife
Canberra has lots to offer for foodies, with highly regarded restaurants across all cuisine types. Chez Freds is the legacy of Chef Frederic, who accompanied explorer Jacques Cousteau for twelve years as a private chef. Inspired by these travels, the restaurant serves classic Italian and French dishes with a twist. Cartel Tacos combines the traditions of Mexico with the punchy personalities of the chefs to create a unique experience that strives to change how people think about tacos. Champi restaurant serves authentic and nostalgic South East Asian flavours, while Au Lac puts a vegan twist on favourite dishes like Pho, Laksa, and Pepper Steak. Al Manoosh’s menu features traditional Lebanese cuisine made with fresh, local ingredients, and Abell’s Kopi Tiam, is a Malaysian Chinese fusion restaurant with character.
Luka also shared his personal dining recommendations in the city. For a cuppa, Luka suggests local gem The Cupping Room, “a trendy coffee shop in Civic that offers some of the best coffee in town.” For a dinner out, head to Tiger Lane, Canberra’s Pan-Asian dining precinct. While in Tiger Lane, follow in Post Malone’s footsteps and dine at RAKU, a modern Japanese restaurant serving up a gourmet dining experience. If you’re planning a special event in Canberra and you want queer-friendly catering, Luka recommends Sitting Ducks Catering Company managed by Danny Corvini, the Creative Director of Canberra’s iconic YES!Fest.
You can also take a trip out of the city to the wine regions in nearby New South Wales. Luka specifically recommends wine tastings at Murrumbateman Winery – this is one of the oldest wineries in the area, and it’s also dog friendly! Other wineries to consider are Shaw Wines and its onsite restaurant Olleyville, Mount Majura, famous for its tempranillo, and Clonakilla, critically acclaimed by Langton’s Classification of Australian Wines.
After dark, the city lights up with vibrant nightlife, with many LGBTQIA+ focused and friendly locations. One such venue is Cube Nightclub, a hotspot for the gay community in Canberra which hosts drag shows and features ARIA-accredited DJs. Luka describes Cube as “a home away from home with a sense of family so unique it cannot be compared.” Another unique venue is 88mph, a retro-themed nightclub with a range of offerings that includes drag shows, karaoke, cocktail making lessons, and arcade games; Reload Bar and Games brings a similar vibe, with video gaming and specialty cocktails. For a lineup of noteworthy headliners and celebrity appearances, consider dropping into Fiction Club, or stop by Mooseheads for themed events and confetti cannons. If traditional clubbing isn’t your thing, Molly Bar is a classy and exclusive jazz bar and Highball brings more vibrant, tropical vibes. For the very best drag shows in the ACT, follow Phish and Phreak Entertainment, who produce iconic drag events at various venues.
If you have extra room in your budget (and in your suitcase), Canberra has a plethora of shopping options. One iconic shopping destination is the Old Bus Depot Markets, a weekly indoor market that takes place every Sunday. Here you can find fresh produce and local goods in a restored heritage building. The markets have been an integral part of Canberra’s local culture since they first opened in 1994, and continue to support local small businesses, artists, and producers. You can even prepare for your trip to the markets by browsing their list of suppliers in advance. The Haig Park Village Markets are also worth a visit, with a focus on fresh food, produce, and live entertainment. Bring a picnic mat and some friends and enjoy the Sunday morning sunshine while supporting local vendors.
For vintage lovers, make your way to the suburb of Fyshwick, where you will find boutique stores like Canty’s Bookshop, Designer Op Shop Emporium, and Dirty Janes. Luka also recommends a visit to The Green Shed, a dream destination for anyone who frequents Op Shops. Here you can find deals on pre-loved clothes and homewares and assist in the company’s mission to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. A trip to Landspeed Records is also sure to be worthwhile for anyone with an old soul.
Canberra is also home to several festivals and events throughout the year. The most notable for the LGBTQIA+ community is SpringOUT, an annual pride festival held every November. Luka, who produced and MCed a comedy event for the festival in 2023, provides more details about the history and scope of SpringOUT:
"SpringOUT is a large LGBTQIA+ organisation supported by the ACT Government [and] is Canberra's only pride festival....It is a month-long pride festival that celebrates Australia's most LGBTIQA+-friendly city and its LGBTIQA+ community in all its fabulous diversity....The Canberra SpringOUT Pride Festival started in 1999 with just two volunteers and a pride rally. Recently, in 2023, SpringOUT had 37 events spanning over the month of November (with some events going from late October to early December 2023). The Festival included comedy, dancing lessons, dance parties in nightclubs, plays, choir, workshops, drag shows, sports, Pink Tennis's Bushdance, Panel workshops, walking tours, inclusive pride-themed activities, FUSE Magazine Big Gay Breakfast (Big Gay Brekkie), SpringOUT Pride Community picnic, an art exhibition (Kaleidoscope Exhibition), and much more!" This year marks the 25th anniversary of the festival, so it's sure to be even bigger and better than ever before.
Above: 2023 SpringOut Event with Luka – Bisexual Panel event, Comedy event, and Big Gay Brekkie
Another event that is not to be missed is Pink Tennis’ Bushdance, which takes place each year during SpringOUT. One of the largest LGBTQIA+ events in Canberra, Bushdance is an annual fundraising event organised by the Canberra Gay and Lesbian Tennis Club and sponsored by FUSE Magazine. Running for more than thirty years at the Yarralumla Woolshed, Bushdance is a night of live music, delicious BBQ, and endless dancing. This event is a great way to experience the hospitality and vibrant energy of the Canberra LGBTQIA+ community.
Another event to consider attending is Floriade, which takes place from September to October to celebrate Canberra's stunning wildflower season. Luka explains that "Floriade is a flower and entertainment festival held annually in Canberra's Commonwealth Park on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. It features extensive displays of flowering bulbs with integrated sculptures and other artistic features. Floriade comes from the Latin word floriat which means to design with flowers." In 2024, the festival will run from the 14th of September to the 13th of October, with a wide range of free events each day as well as ticketed workshops and events.
Canberra is also the birthplace of Spilt Milk, one of Australia's most anticipated music festivals. With international headliners and Australian stars alike, Spilt Milk is a must-see event for music lovers. Finally, Enlighten Festival lights up Canberra each year in March. An arts and cultural festival, the event usually features a lineup of food and drink experiences, musical performances, interactive events for the family, and, of course, the iconic projected art installations. In 2024, the festival will kick off with a film festival and will conclude with the Canberra Balloon Spectacular.
In Canberra and the surrounding areas, there are countless ways to experience the stunning landscape and native wildlife. If you want to explore while getting social, the Canberra Frontrunners are an LGBTQIA+ social group that meet every Saturday morning. Luka explains that the group either "walk, run, or cycle together and get coffee afterwards! Free to join in, and pets are welcome." If water sports are more your thing, you can get active with one of the ACT's many Dragon Boating clubs, which welcome trial members for free!
Above: different pictures from the Canberra Frontrunners in 2023, including during SpringOut.
If you would rather see Canberra on your own, the National Botanical Gardens have several hiking and biking trails to explore. Luka also has a few recommendations for those who want to enjoy a day out on the hiking trail:
"The Mount Ainslie lookout offers stunning views of Canberra and is a great spot for watching the sunrise or sunset. The National Arboretum Canberra has over 94 forests of rare, endangered, and symbolic trees from Australia and around the world. It's a beautiful and peaceful place to explore, and ...The Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is a beautiful park with several walking trails, picnic areas, and a wildlife sanctuary. It's a great place to get up close to some of Australia's native animals."
Above: at the National Arboretum Canberra, there is the AIDS Gardens of Reflection area.
If you would rather spend the day by the water, Lake Burley Griffin is a beautiful man–made lake. While it is not suitable for swimming, it is a perfect destination for other water sports like rowing and kayaking. Luka also recommends Kambah Pools, a nude-friendly beach, as well as Pine Island Reserve, which is a swimming-friendly destination.
For anyone in the ACT or NSW, Luka also recommends joining the Harbour City Bears: "From bear runs to bear bashes, there's never a dull moment when you're a part of this group. So if you're looking for a community of fun-loving, furry guys who are always up for a good time, come join us at Harbour City Bears. They always promise to welcome anyone with open paws!"
A good way to stay up to date on all things LGBTQIA+ in Canberra is to follow Fuse Magazine, an LGBTQIA+ lifestyle magazine with tips of things to do in the ACT, updated information on events and exhibitions, and a directory of queer resources and groups. Stun Magazine is another valuable resource, with news coverage of all things related to the queer community.
There are also other groups that Luka recommends joining when you visit the ACT. If you want to learn more about what’s happening in the LGBTQIA+ community in Canberra, check out Queerberra and Fuse Magazine Message Board. If you are looking to get social, Canberra Queer Clubhouse is a group of young queer Canberrans who have monthly social gatherings. Finally, the Canberra Bi/Pan Community is a smaller, more focused group where you can meet like minded Bi and Pan Canberrans. Alternatively, you can follow Luka directly to learn more about what’s on in the ACT.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion while in Canberra, or you just want to commemorate your trip, Luka also recommends a few local queer and LGBTQIA+ friendly photographers: Hannah Beth Photography, Andrew Sikorski of Art Atelier Photography, Douglas J Robinson, photographer and visual artist Nathan J Lester, and Wolf Sverak Photography.