What I first noticed about Sydney was legs: lots and lots of legs and tanned skin. Short shorts and short skirts were in, apparently, as was immaculately applied make-up and carefully considered outfits that I can only guess were the latest fashion. Regardless, I felt positively shabby, although I’m not sure that’s a feeling unique to Sydney: many a city with its slick citizens does that to me. I guess I’m just not a true city girl. But despite being on the road for five months where my limited wardrobe was starting to bore me, I didn’t feel ready to trade up to business suits and high heels. Nope, I’ll leave that to the professionals. So I retreated away from the lack of eye contact and the busy streets, away to teeny Belmore Park where I sat and wrote and watched Sydney walk by. And then I spotted a young girl wearing an I LOVE NZ top. Blatant and brave. I had been well-informed about the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand.
After the high of getting to Australia, I came crashing down to reality when my home sweet hostel turned out to be a bit of a dirty dive. (And they had lied online about having free WiFi). Pity. At $29, this wasn’t even the cheapest hostel around, so I hate to think what some of the others were like. On the plus side, the location was central and my roommates were lovely, albeit ten years younger than me.
Having found the free city tour in Cusco to be a winner in winning me over, I joined Max and more than twenty other tourists on a free three hour walking tour of Sydney. Max, having grown up in the city, really knew his stuff, introducing us to Bob in Australia Square, telling us stories of the Brits arrival at the Rocks, showing us the 3D model of Sydney (located in Customs House) and of course taking in all the famous landmarks including the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
This is the rocky part of Sydney where the military first arrived and created barracks. Some horrible stories of the time include a 17 year old boy who was hung for stealing some food. Make an example of him, why not?!
Something quite shocking is the devastating impact that the British had on the indigenous culture and people, particularly in terms of diseases which wiped out much of the Aborigine population (who are thought to account for only 1%-2% of Australia’s current population).
Nowadays, the Rocks is a much more quiet, quaint part of Sydney. It’s older and lower and with a cuter vibe and small cafés dotted about. There’s also the free Rocks Discovery Museum where you can find out more about the history of the area.
I’m glad that this part was preserved and not ripped down to create a more bog-standard cityscape. Luckily the Green Ban worked so rather than demolition, it ended up in regeneration.
Making our way down through the Argyle Cut and onto Argyle Street, we heard stories of gangs (such as the Forty Thieves) who used to roam the streets, battering and bruising people with socks stuffed with sand. Times were truly horrible: not only was there the threat of being bashed about, but also that of being press-ganged. This is said to have happened in a few places, including one of the oldest pubs in Sydney, the Hero of Waterloo: they would give you lots of free drinks and once you were suitably inebriated, a trapdoor would open, you would fall through, pass out and wake up a slave on-board a ship far out at sea. Nice.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Nicknamed The (Ugly) Coathanger by people who were moved out of buildings when the bridge was being built, it isn’t actually possible to just walk across it without booking onto a tour. And at $200-$300 (depending on which of the climb experiences you choose) it’s not cheap. There’s also the option to do it at night. Spot the Luna Park in the distance, reached easily by catching a ferry from Circular Quay.
The Opera House
The sail design for the opera house was thought-up by a young Danish guy, beating 232 other competitors. The story has a few bitter touches, though, and whilst visually it is so distinct and unique, it fails to do its job in terms of sound quality.
Near by the Opera House is a blocky residential building which is often cited as one of the ugliest buildings in Sydney, particularly as it blocks the views to the park. But it hasn’t put people off paying up to $16.8m for an apartment there.
Overall, Sydney felt like a proper city with its high skyline and people rushing around and smart suits and dresses all over the place. And high heels. The centre didn’t feel too big though. And I can’t even support the city of legs statement. The idea of getting the camera out to shoot lots of slim girls in short skirts felt totally wrong, I’m sure you’ll understand. Just take my word for it.
Free Sydney Sights Tour every day at 10:30am and 2:30pm meeting at the big anchor statue by the Town Hall on George Street. There is also a free Rocks tour at 6:00pm every day. It is usual for there to be about 25 people in a group, but it can be much lower. Guides make money through tips with $10 a recommended amount for the three hour tour (tours could otherwise cost you at least triple). My guide, Max, has a blog on all things Sydney. Take a look at www.maxfranklinssydneyjungle.blogspot.com.