Walkabout in Sydney
To my left: two children being taught. (Ordinary.)
To my right, Sydney harbour, the Harbour Bridge, that Opera House and the backdrop of skyscrapers that form the central business district. (Extraordinary.)
In front of me – next to the lapdog – a cup of tea. (Ordinary.)
On the deck, Mrs B – between setting tasks for her students – planking and stretching in the name of pilates. (Er, extraordinary?)
Its funny how tea can make things normal isn’t it?
From our living room window
When we were planning our jaunt in deepest, darkest winter, the views from the apartment in which I am now sat in seemed impossible. Yet, armed with a mug of tea it’s as if I’ve lived here all my life. We are situated in a block of flats on McMahons point. The flats are so very waterfront that a stumble outside the front door would have splashy harbour related consequences. Ours is a private jetty whose neighbour is the harbour ferry stop. (More of which in a moment.) We’re on the 11th floor in an immaculate condo that has a straight-from-the-brochure outlook.
So much so that last night we sat as a family in the darkness with the blinds and windows wide open watching the city just being. Ferries every few minutes, trains and cars across the bridge, helicopters buzzing, skyscrapers illuminated with aircraft beacons atop their dizzying spires. Flying foxes swoop by on their nightly hunt. (The term ‘bats’ doesn’t provide them the scale they deserve.) The glow of cloud theatrically polluted by light forming an orangey backstage curtain for the whole scene.
It’s a town that ranks consistently in the top placings of oOoooh-wish-I-lived-there lists. It’s easy to see how and why.
It is as the locals might say – in their accented vernacular – an effluent city.
Presently, it’s also heading my own un-coveted ‘quickest-drainer-of-the-wallet’ list. Mine good-gunter-bosch it is an expensive place. Fifty Aussie dollars seems to be the minimum cost of everything or multiples thereof. I hand them over like fivers back home. (I may well have been quietly sobbing at the time. The recipient of my hard-earned may well have been stifling a hysterical there’s-one-born-every-minute laugh as I walk away, but I can’t be sure.)
At barbecue with quite a view!
Get a grip now Beer. Suck up the financial punishment, enjoy the moment.
(A pause from typing and I am eyeing the smallest Beers wondering which internal organs are spare. Mine are all beyond redemption I fear, with little value other than to medical scientists. I regard my arm and leg wondering if they are soon to be lost to me. You need a sturdy, industrial supply of cash to live here. Gone are the good ol’ days when it was cheaper down under. Damn you mineral resources of the outback! Blast you industrial mining boom! Dashed 21st century global economics! And silly, silly Beers for touring the cheapest countries first: we have been inadvertently training ourselves to spend little and expect a lot. D’oh. Time to recalibrate.)
The McMahons point ferry stop is in perfect, distracting line of sight from my desk. The sizeable magnolia and green vessels – all individually named craft: presently the Scarborough dating from some years ago by the look of it – have the regularity of any other city public transport. They even queue up to berth on occasion, like buses waiting for a stop. (Scarborough I later note from aboard went into service in 1984 and can carry a couple of hundred commuters.) The ferries are not only a great transport solution for a harbour city, but offer unparalleled sightseeing on the cheap. Ha!
Then – happily – the next day Sydney becomes a more generous host. We hop on a ferry to Darling Harbour – Daaaaa-ling as a local might say – to see what we can see. As we dock, the National Maritime museum beckons, so we wander across Pymont Bridge to have a peek. Said bridge now carries pedestrians and supports a monorail. Clearly a more robust structure with a now redundant swivel section in its midriff for shipping to pass through. Were it an old man, you wonder, would he be embarrassed by a fall from grace, being reduced to tourist traffic or proud to be of service to a new generation in a world city?
Anthropomorphised bridges aside, the dramatic Martitme’ building welcomes us with kindly volunteer greeters. My smile lasts until I see the admission prices. Clearly our guide book – circa 2008 – needs an update. Chatting to our spritely greeter we get talking about Sale, Cheshire where he hails from and how a spell in Bolton caused him to flee to Oz some 57 years ago. Bolton an do that to a man we chuckle. As we are about to say bye-bye to the museum he whips out a free family pass with a wink.
Aglow from such generosity, we head for HMAS Vampire. Commissioned in 1959 and serving until 1986 this destroyer makes a fine exhibit. We wander the upper decks with Beertours serving as confident – yet clueless – guide, trying to capture young imaginations. We’ve been aboard many watercraft on out trip thus far, but this is the first one that was armed. I struggle to convey the seriousness of the ship, what it must’ve been like to serve aboard her.
I fail more on the submarine HMAS Onslow moored next door. To port even. (Smug seafarers look in my eye? Possibly.) We wander along the deck/top/roof of the sub’ and descend into the for’ard torpedo room. If I struggled to get across what Naval life on the ocean wave was, I lose my grip entirely as we try our best to explain life under it. Luckily there are volunteer guides who point at particular tubes/wires/valves/bombs/batteries/controls and explain their significance. Entering service in 1969 the sub looks (exactly) as old as I feel. She’s been on a bit of a journey too, after being built on the Clyde and serving out the cold war hunting Ruskies in their subs. It’s with pride we’re told that the boat never let loose a weapon in anger.
Explaining torpedoes to kids inevitably makes them sound like fun, which is hardly the point. When we come ashore to the housed exhibition and regard a beautiful scale model of a cruise liner the point is better made: “sunk by torpedo off Cape Town, 1942. 48 souls perished.” We shudder. Or at least I do. We also shudder at the prospect of being sewn up in a tin can for weeks at a time with 68 colleagues. Blokes. Sailors. Austraaaaalian blokes at that. Strewth.
Leaving behind the museum we head to a wonderful kiddies play park with the most intriguing of water features. So intriguing that Morgan fails to notice our departure. We walk off with him in plain view. At 100m we wait amongst the crowd for him to realise we’ve gone. Belatedly he does and utterly fails to panic. He hangs out until we go back for him. This causes a family argument that is only solved by noodles, Bento Box, fried fish and drinkies at a Chinatown foodcourt. Ah, the joys of family life.
In one branch of the family, we are told of the wince inducing “March OR DIE” approach to vacations. How we chuckled. So it is with some embarrassment I realise that we are in that mode right now. By the time I frog-march the tribe as far as Hyde Park, there is a revolt and we take to the train. The novelty of a double-deck train takes the edge off things and we mosey out to the Opera House.
At this point I undergo complete memory loss. IE: At no point in my past has anyone in the Beers declared an undying love for Opera. Not once. Never. I refer to amnesia because the ladies insist that they are avid Opera buffs and simply must attend a performance of The Magic Flute the following evening. I accept my recollection fault, get out the (weeping) wallet and move us home for a quick barbie with a stupendous view.
We split for the evening. Girls to Mozart, boys to the park. I shall leave the former to JB and the latter to MB to describe. Suffice to say the bloke evening involved more japes, fart gags and running around. And flying-foxes.
We all arrive home both late and elated. The evening gone we are straight to bed only for the grown ups to be awakened by drumming blasts of gale force wind – although this might have been my kebab . We open the blinds to see flags rigid in the storm and huge fists of cloud bunching over the city. Our rings-ide seats offer a dramatic scene. One which is utterly lost on children the next morning. They slept through.
Our last day in the city starts with a lie in of sorts – see Sleeping Arrangements – and a school morning. We’ve errands to run, things to pack and items to post home. When you’ve been on the road for a while, your “last day” in a location turns less cram-it-in and morphs to sort-it-out.
Armed with ice-creams – a temporary cure for tired feet – we regard the city from the Observatory bandstand. I try to imagine a Victorian convict brass band playing a rousing march on this spot and fail.
Distraction is at hand though in the various shapes of the fitness fanatics. Utilising public parks for their sadism, personal trainers – there must be a more appropriately derogatory term – push paying clients to the edge of cardiac arrest. One lady in particular is nanometres from barfing and her once pale skin amusing shades from pink rose to plum.
All in the name of… what exactly? In Sydney there are many places to sit and watch the world go by. Yet the world going by isn’t old ladies walking their poodle, it’s more likely a statuesque blonde (M/F) putting a class of willing, paying masochists through their Boot Camp paces.
Ten minutes in the Botanical Gardens and you’ll see sprints, squat thrusts, press ups, jogs, cycles, star jumps. The only strolling appears to be undertaken by tourists. Swooping on the other hand is the preserve of the Flying Foxes…
For Flying Fox, read fruit bat. Specifically, the grey-headed variety with a wingspan of around a metre. The colony camping in the Botanical Gardens have been the death of 57 rare and notable trees to date and the authorities are in a pickle. A protected species camping in a public park: quite difficult to shoo them off without upsetting someone/breaking the law. So whilst they are a tourist attraction and mighty impressive squeaking take-off show at dusk, 23,000 of them are more than a nuisance. Morgan loved them and they make quite a spectacle.
The ‘Gardens flora is delightful and also hosts all sorts of local and migrant birds. One particular tree has a flock of magnificent, deafeningly noisy white parrots. Sadly, all I can think of is a puerile gag ending with the line “you’ve clearly had a Cockatoo up there madam”.
Best end this post there methinks. Am rambling now.
Where in the world?