I arrived in Sydney, the furthest east I have ventured during my 11 months in Australia.
I checked in an showered, a needed refreshment after 12 hours on a greyhound bus, and went exploring.
I joined a tour outside of the town hall, on the main vein of Sydney CBD, George street. The Town hall is one of the eldest buildings in Australia, a key marker for the first settlers.
Further along the street is the Queen Victoria building, originally built to house markets but instead houses upmarket shops. Queen Victoria’s statue out front is actually a more recent addition when Dublin decided they no longer wanted her in the 70’s. From here the tour took us through one of the many underground passages which crisscross underneath Sydney. We popped out through a very nice display of birdcages hanging in an alley, a now permenant piece of art marked with the calls of the many native birds who would have resided in the CBD before European settlement.
London and Sydney share a lot of place names, notibly Hyde park which we passed through. At the top of the park stands a rather grand hospital. Governor Maquirie, whom much of Sydney is named after decided a notible settlement needed a remarkable hospital. When the British government disagreeed as it only serviced convicts, Maquarie approached three distillers agreeing to give them exclusive rights to selling rum if they would build him a hospital. As such the hospital is in three distinct styles, three seperate parts but architecturally impressive.
We passed through St Martins Place, heart of the banking district and home to the recent Sydney siege. The Lindt cafe remains closed but a more permenant photo commemorates the flowers which flooded this square a few weeks before.
Finally towards the end of the walk we got to the iconic markers of Sydney. Beyond circular quay the harbour opens it to reveal the Sydney Opera House on one side and the bridge on the other. In between ferries and a cruise ship fill the docks, surrounded also by the cultural heart of museums and galleries.
The Sydney Opera house design was chosen in 1956, Sydney’s answer to Melbourne hosting the Olympics that year. The Danish architect supervised the project however was pushed out before completion as it went so overbudget. Since then it has been the face of Sydney but has also been a canvas for a number of protests, including 2 men who climbed it to paint “no war” on the largest sail. They were sent the hefty cleaning bill!
We ended the tour at the base of The Rocks, the oldest and quaintest part of Sydney where convict settlement first began. In those days it would have been a harsh life! The bridge was an unpopular addition to the area in 1934 as many people were pushed from their homes to make room. They nicknamed it the coathanger. On the day of the opening ceremony there was speeches and grandeur. Moments before the ceremonial ribbon cutting a man, dressed in full military regalia and on a horse, rode through the ribbon slicing it with his sword. He was carted off and fined £5, the ribbon hastily retied and the bridge opened officially!
Patricia and I climbed to the road level and walked the footpath alongside the bridge. The view was incredible.
That night, Ricky and I had tickets to see a show in the Opera house. It was a caberet show called Club Swizzle in one of the underground stages of the opera house. The bar dominated centre stage, a big band playing. Dancers and gymnasts frequented the stage, the waiters vaulting over one another and running up the pole. It was all hosted by a very camp New York comedian and hilarious audience participation ensured when two guys were called up on stage to have a pole dancing competition. When one guy turned out to be a theatrical director and incredible at hoisting himself up the pole it was hilarious, mostly to see the face of his competition drop!
I met Gita, a friend from Africa, near her home at the base of the Blue Mountains. It was a short drive up into the area and we took lunch at a cute restaurant in Katoomba which was decked out like a treehouse. After good catch ups we went to the very touristy Three Sisters lookout.
Summer in Sydney is certainly bustling and there was a big area set aside for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations. Lanterns enclosed walkways and colourful sculptures found themselves planted in fountains.
I found the beautiful inner city sanctuary of the Botanic gardens situated just behind the opera house. The lush gardens and manicured lawns made an amazing inner city sanctuary, a great view of the bustling city from the tranquility of the park. I walked around to Lady Maquaries chair, the spot where the governors wife used to sit. Since then the view has improved as now from this spot the harbour bridge and opera house align to form a picture perfect postcard.
In the evening I joined a walking tour of The Rocks. We started outside Cadmans Cottage, Sydney’s oldest building, home to John Cadman, convict and architect to the colony. The site also remembers William Bligh, the first governor and survivor of the mutiny on the Bounty.
6pm is a great time to work the streets around this area and hear stories of the convicts and robbers, gangs and smugglers. We passed through an alleyway which is nicknamed Suez Canal, used to be controlled by ‘The Push’ a gang which lured unsuspecting passers by into the alleyway which would have been full with sewage. In fact the whole area would have been wisest avoided.
The rocks area was nearly demolished in the 70’s to make way for flats. It resulted in builders strikes and workers strikes, choking any development. As a result the area was saved and only one block of brutalist flats got built. The rocks is currently undergoing another protest. The rent controlled houses owned by the government house tenants with blood ties to the original tennants. They pay a low council rent and are on 99 year leases. As the area is in a great location the government are trying to force out tenants and sell the houses. Three of these tiny properties have gone for between 2-4 million. The area is currently hung with yellow flags and posters about the tennants in an attempt to stop being rehomed.
The heritage pubs in the area also tell fascinating stories. In The Lord Nelson they found trapdoors leading to a cellar filled with handcuffs and entrapments. The theory is that punters who had one too many would find themselves the next morning press ganged into working on a ship. We ended the tour on Observatory hill with an amazing view over the city.
Saturday morning means market time in Sydney and Ricky and I headed for the Rocks markets. The stalls were an amazing mix of eclectic homemade goods, jewellery made from clockwork,
We took lunch at an old pub in the rocks area, an old fashioned courtyard.
I was joining Gita that evening for a 1950’s birthday so spent the afternoon stocking up on outfits. Glamed up in red lipsticks and big skirts we sipped on punch!
I returned to the city and took a walk around which in the humidity wasn’t the wisest idea. My wanderings took me around the Chinese New Year festivities at darling harbour, the eclectic Paddy’s markets and finally to Hyde park where I had a picnic.
The heat has obviously got to me and I fell asleep, awoken half an hour later when an Ibis had stolen my picnic. Ibis’s are Sydney’s answer to pigeons, a rather more glamorous but intimidating bird with its thin pencil like beak.
The bird was frustrated as it pecked the soft cheese and found its beak stuck together. Then he spent a good 15 minutes trying to break the cellophane surrounding the bread!
Too scared to interfere I moved on.
In the centre of the park is an impressive ANZAC memorial, a big cenotaph with exhibition below. This reflected on the role the soldiers played in the First World War, namely Gallipoli, with interesting relics such as badges and letters from sweethearts!
In the evening there was big celebrations for the Lunar New Year, celebrating the beginning of the year of the sheep. We joined the crowds at 8pm, the barriers closing the road and the crowd 3 metres deep with people.
A marshall walked the road letting off firecrackers to scare away the evil spirits, then dragons, rabbits, sheep and snakes came past on bikes, rollerblades and those bouncy, springy feet things.
The parade was making its way around the maze of Sydney CBD, getting to us with an array of fireworks, flame throwers, marching bands, dancers, dragons on stilts and of course sheep themed costumes, sheep shearing stations and a giant blow up sheep. It was of course a colourful and musical parade!
Sydneysiders are made up with a 17% Asian originating population, so it’s a big part of the modern sydney culture to recognise Chinese New Year!
Despite a week of rain forecast, Sydney’s summer was showing determination as I caught the bus to the southern beaches, Coogee. From this white sand beach there is a beautiful 5km clifftop walk via Bronte beach to the famous Bondi. The jagged cliffs weave in and out revealing little Fishermans harbours and inlets with locals cooling off in the water.
My favourite little spot was Tamarama beach, with surf and beautiful sand, a coffee spot and relatively few people, it ticked all the boxes. Pressing on you turn the corner to see Bondi in view. Despite it being described as commercialised, it’s quite a site with its long open beach.
Before coming to Sydney I had heard people talk about Bondi both describing it as part of Sydney but also making it sound a world away. With the sun beating down, that’s exactly how it feels, especially as I asked a few people on the beach how to get back to the city and no one seemed to know!
At the bus stop, covered in sand and reluctant to leave, I met a friendly Dutch traveller who became my guide and friend for the bus and subsequent train ride.
In the evening I met Gita, Nick and Linda for an African reunion dinner at a pub in The Rocks. Despite all looking rather cleaner than we had done on the overland truck all those months ago, it was an evening of laughs as we reminisced over the trip.
Beyond the beautiful tourist sights of sydney, it also marked then end of my planning and the next few days involved frantic decision making as to whether to get a job, travel the east coast or leave the country. The only type of jobs which seemed to be going was selling life insurance at a call centre. I went for an interview however my heart wasn’t in it and I was almost relieved when I didn’t get it. Decision made, I would leave the country.
On the Thursday night I went with my friend Adam, Adelaide friend and wannabe blog celebrity to watch Foo Fighters at the Olympic Park. We got there early and enjoyed a few drinks, gaining access to the front section of the arena which turned out to be gold when the band played and we had great view with loads of space. The band were great, lots of energy, even joined by the drummer from Rage against the Machine for one song.
Next, a stopover in Canberra!