Looking down on Sydney from one of its many skyscrapers, what is most striking is the sheer extent of the harbour. It seems to twist and turn forever in an endless melee of coves and bays. Having checked it out on Wikipedia, I note it is indeed “the world’s largest natural harbour”.
The first humans discovered the area around 50,000 years ago, having treked down from south-east Asia. Around 30 Aborignal clans were noted as inhabiting the area when James Cook landed at Botany Bay in 1770. Today public functions start by giving thanks to native ancestors, followed by elaborate blessings in dance and song. But two hundred years ago European settlers showed little such respect to the Aboriginal people, whose numbers were decimated by guns, germs and steel.
The majority of the early European population were also treated with brutality, Sydney being primarily a penal colony at the outset of its colonial existence. The chief crimes of those transported to New South Wales were to be poor (as poignantly imagined in Kate Grenville’s wonderful book ‘Secret River’), opponents of imperialism (markontour is currently listening to The Fields of Athenry), or guiltly of trying to organise working people to demand better wages and voting rights. If they survived the nine month journey they were either dragooned into convict construction gangs, or the lucky ones were dumped to fend for themselves in an alien landscape.
Fortunately Australia is a land blessed with enormous natural resources, and those that survived had the chance to thrive. Today this is an evidently very wealthy society and, as is the post-industrial story, one that is rapidly depleting the natural bounty upon which its success is based. Aussies, or at least their federal political leaders, have yet to come to terms with the notion of being part of a global eco-system, rather than masters of it. While markontour visited, the newspapers were filled with stories of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching, even as politicians debated opening a new mega-coal mine that would further add to marine and atmospheric pollution.
Fortunately, Sydney has three times elected one of the world’s most progressive and able mayors, Clover Moore, and so while Australia’s overall carbon footprint remains one of the world’s worst, Sydney is investing wisely in LED streeting lighting, building energy efficiency, cycle-lanes, and constraining urban sprawl.
Markontour’s second stay in Sydney was again brief and work-focussed so these pass-notes are very partial, but it seems a pretty exciting place
To the visitor, Sydney is almost defined by its Opera House. It is such an extraordinarly beautiful piece of architecture, and so supremely in keeping with its setting, that it’s hard not to sneak down to the harbour every night just to stare at it (I know I did). The classic view is from the across the dock by the Harbour Bridge, but up close you notice the shell-like detail on every one of the gleaming white tiles. I imagine that the tourist melee can get a bit much, but in autumn at midnight it was pretty easy going and I would have happily lain down until dawn in its shadow were it not for too many meetings the next day.
You can tell by the geographic proximity of the places detailed in the blog that I didn’t go anywhere further than walking distance from the Town Hall in Sydney, and the Museum of Contemproary Art is also off Circular Quay. I had barely half an hour to look around, but judging by the wonderful Grayson Perry exhibition, this is a place with taste.
Eating and Drinking
Talking of late night haunts, on the basis of just one visit Baxters has become one of my global favourites. The only entrance is from a scuzzy back alley and through a non-descript door that feels like the trade entrance to an off-licence, but inside Baxters is a place of late night boozing beauty. Its tunnel-like, basement form encases an entire wall of whiskey, stretching up high enough for the bar-tenders to require ladders to reach some malts. The slightly damp smell brings to mind the glorious Gordon’s Wine Bar off Villiers Street in London, and the clientele is similarly nonchalant about their nocturnal conversing and drinking.
Tapavino, 6 Bulletin Place
A self-styled “celebration of sherry, wine, food and friends”, Tapavino is a lovely little tapas near the Sydney Recital Hall, from whence we came following a joyous Songhoy Blues Brothers’ gig. There’s not a massive amount for veggies here, but everything was delicious and the bartender-chosen Spanish wine slipped down a treat.
Nomad, 16 Foster Street
A popular Australian/Mediterranean restaurant, where most of the food is to share and it’s a tough choice between great wine and beer. Lively with large tables made for big groups, I liked it a lot and the chocolate mousse dessert was gorgeous, but just too rich to finish.