Welcome to the second article in a series of many from the “land down under”, Australia. In this weeks adventure, I’m joined by John Campo, a guide contracted through Cityunscripted. I met John near where I was staying in Redfern, an area in Sydney that is gradually becoming more gentrified. In the photo below, note all the four lanes of one way traffic, one of the challenges of moving around the city by car, traffic congestion followed by parking. I believe that’s why public transportation is so popular and well used by locals and tourists alike.
It was a beautiful, sunny day although a little on the cool side when John and I met up on my first full day in Sydney and Australia,, it is spring after all. My goal with the walking tour was to get a good orientation to the city and learn about sites I could see in my remaining time in Sydney. I learned that John is a life long resident of Sydney and has been guiding for about a year or so since retiring from full time work. He also enjoys traveling especially to London and the UK as well as taking photographs.
As we made our way to Central Station for the train ride to the Sydney harbor, John offered a bit of history of Sydney and the development of Australia. First of all, Australia is the largest island and the smallest continent in the world. It is said that the aborigines arrived by boat over 50,000 years ago, a period known as Dreamtime, a central concept in Aboriginal spirituality. The area around present day Sydney was occupied by the Gadigal people, a clan of the Eora nation. In future articles, I’ll expand further on the Aboriginal history and their place in the current state of affairs in Australia.
The modern history of Sydney began with the arrival of what is known as the First Fleet in 1788. After losing the Revolutionary War with the fledgling United States in 1783, the Brits needed a new place to send their prisoners (an estimated 52,000 convicts were shipped to the British colonies in North America). Lt. James Cook first sited the east coast of Australia in 1770 and reported back to British officials that the flora and fauna of the area were abundant and unique. The First Fleet under the command of Captain Phillips, consisted of eleven vessels with over 1000 settlers including 778 convicts arrived in January 1788 at Botany Bay. Shortly after arrival, they moved over to a more suitable place with an excellent harbor to what has become Sydney. The date of that move was January 26 and has become Australia Day, a national holiday not unlike our Independence Day.
All totaled between 1788 and 1868, over 162,000 convicts were transported from Britain to penal colonies in Australia. Most of the convicts committed petty crimes such as shoplifting, not paying dues or taxes or fines, and etc., what we would consider misdemeanors today. Very few rapists and murderers were shipped out to Australia. One in seven convicts were women and were often transported with their children in tow. There were also “political prisoners” whose in opposition to the current government got them a one way ticket to down under. Most convicts stayed in Australia after their sentences were complete and melded into the local society. Early on being a convict was a social stigma, something to be shameful of and held as a close as a secret. More recently, those attitudes have changed and for many being a descendant of a convict is to be acknowledged and celebrated.
With that historical background in mind, John and I took the train to the Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) station. This is the main stop for viewing the Sydney Harbor, the Opera House, and the Harbor Bridge. It’s also where harbor tours, the public ferry system and cruise ships dock their vessels.
After offering suggestions on using the ferry system, we began our walk along the promenade, known as Farm Cove from the dock, past the Opera House, along the shoreline bordering the Royal Botanic Gardens to Mrs. Macquaries Point. On our walk, we noted the many people enjoying the sunny, spring day.
The Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge are what to Paris is the Eiffel Tower and what the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco. Those two icons dominate Sydney Harbor and are never very far from public view. To be honest, in my short stay, I couldn’t get enough of either, you’ll see lots of photos that I took of both these structures.
As we walked past the Royal Botanic Gardens, John pointed out some of the features that I might want to explore on my own at a later time. Through out the Gardens, there is a Trail of Koalas to promote the conservation of koala’s and other threatened species in Australia. Shelly, the featured Koala in the second photo, is a symbol of what lies under the water’s surface with 25 different species of sea life with a reminder to protect our oceans.
The Australians find this exhibit title quite funny, I did too! Bite Me refers to an exhibit of carnivorous plants that have evolved to lure, trap and digest insects. It sounded interesting but unfortunately I had to pass it up on my return visit due to time.
The Botanic Gardens are like an oasis within the city, a stark contrast to the greenery and quiet of the gardens.
Our walk along Farm Cove ended at Mrs. Macquaries Point and the Chair, her husband the Governor, created as a place to watch the activity in the harbor. The Chair was carved by convicts in 1810 at the direction of Lachlan Macquarie, then Governor of New South Wales. The day of our visit, several busloads of Asian tourists from China and Japan occupied her chair for photo ops.
Just below the Chair, is a great place to view the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. After a few minutes of waiting for the crowds to clear, John took this photo of me.
Just a bit beyond Mrs. Macquaries Point we observed this Australian Naval vessel, LO2 The HMAS Canberra, the current flagship of the Royal Australian Navy, in port for rehab and repairs. He said that often the US Navy stops by this port to take on supplies and for R&R.
We walked back towards the Opera House and had an opportunity for a closer look. In addition, we entered the iconic building to check out the gift shop and use the restrooms. John said they were the best restrooms on the Harbor! I agree. We didn’t have time for a tour and beside tickets must be purchased in advance and for a one hour tour it’s $42 Australian or about $29 USD. The Opera House has a very interesting history as one of the most distinctive buildings in the world. Apparently, the building of an iconic structure in Sydney was spurred by the awarding of the 1956 Olympic Games to Melbourne. So the powers that be at the time asked “what could we do to attract attention and a future Olympics?” To them, the answer was all great cities had an opera house so a design contest was held with Danish architect, Jorn Utzon selected as the winner. His expressionistic design was in the form of seashells or waves of the water. While construction began in 1959, it wasn’t completed until 1973 when Queen Elizabeth formally opened the venue. While there’s no direct cause and effect, Sydney was awarded the 2000 Summer Olympics! In addition, it’s been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site and a finalist in the New7Wonders of the World list. Each year about 1.5 million people attend thousands of concerts and events at the Opera House.
Our next stop was the Sydney Harbor Bridge via a long walk along the Cahill Expressway. Along the way, I noted a few interesting buildings in Sydney’s Central Business District. First, is the Switch to tea sign that I’m guessing belongs to one of the many tea companies in Australia. Like the Brits, they love their tea although coffee shops are in great abundance too. The second photo is of the Canada consult, the Embassy of Canada is located in Canberra, the Capital City of Australia.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia located in this art deco style building features contemporary art from around Australia and the world. I didn’t have a chance to visit this museum but those that did were quite impressed.
Along our walk, I couldn’t help but notice the spring flowering trees and shrubs. Back home the leaves were falling off the trees and here they were just budding out.
The Harbor Bridge is also an interesting story that I’ll cover in a future post. Some might say, “it’s just a bridge” that serves a functional purpose. But the design and building of this bridge represents an important part in Sydney’s history and development. The view of the Opera House and Sydney Harbor from the bridge is beyond spectacular.
This photo was taken of the Harbor Bridge from the Sydney Observatory that offers excellent views of the Bridge, Sydney Harbor and North Sydney.
From there we walked to the train station where we headed to Newtown, a funky, emerging, artsy district not far from the Central Business District and the University of Sydney. Of particular interest were the eclectic shops, new age restaurants, and the many murals painted on the sides of buildings. Here are a few scenes from our walk down King Street.One of the most attractive and interesting murals is the Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream” mural. Note in the second photo that John took with my camera that gives context to the size of the mural. He’s as revered in Australia as he is here in the US.
As we made our way back to the Newtown train station, we stopped to quench our thirst at a local tavern. As the day got warmer, I got more parched so the glass of ice water and the smooth half pint of Blonde beer really hit the spot! Light and refreshing, I’ll have to say Australia does beer better than most as evidenced by their fourth place ranking in per capita beer consumption! And for my American friends, Foster’s is not a very popular beer in Australia, it’s mostly made for the export market. More about beer in future blogs!
It was time for John and I to part company, he took me on a good tour of Sydney and provided lots of ideas for things to do later that afternoon and evening and the next day. As we road the train to the point where John would disembark, I couldn’t help but take this photo of our fellow travelers, oblivious to the world outside their phones!
Thanks John for sharing your expertise and time with a fellow traveler. My friends, if you ever find yourself in Sydney and need a guide to show you around, check out John at cityunscripted.com.
Until next week, happy travels!