If you’re going to experience Sydney you may as well start at the beginning . It's a very good place to start, so they say. For modern Sydney, that beginning is The Rocks.
Travel like a tourist - at home
I’ve always loved Australian history, but even in primary school was a bit disquieted about the glossing over of any reference to the tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal history and culture well before the British settled here. One thing we are starting to do well is to acknowledge that history – and that we wouldn’t be who we are as a people without it.
And I love those stories about Australian larrikinism – especially the one about Francis de Groot riding in to cut the ribbon at the Harbour Bridge opening before the Premier, Jack Lang. Apparently there was almost an uprising by the new guard (of which de Groot was a member) against the ‘socialist’ Lang. I’d heard about this before, and D H Lawrence has even written about it in Kangaroo. I’ve tried reading the book a number of times, but have never been able to get more than a quarter of the way in.
All these stories, and more, were told on the Sydney Walking Tours I downloaded from the Sydney Visitors site. Stories about the people who built the bridge, those who died in the process, and the betting on whether the arches would actually meet in the middle – all told in a broad ‘Strayan accent.
The view from the Bridge (and yes, that is with a capital B, it’s how we all refer to it) is amazing. What can I say about it? Even though I was trying to get ‘different’ photos of the icons, you really can’t go past getting the panorama shot of the harbour, with the Opera House, city and of course, the obligatory boats! It’s the shot everybody wants of Sydney Harbour and you can only get it by walking across the Bridge.
Getting towards the end of the bridge walk you come up on the best situated public housing block in Sydney - perhaps the world. The flats themselves look pokey, but they do have balconies and some have a view right across Sydney Harbour to the Opera House. Not bad!
Once across the Bridge it was time to move onto the next tour. Given Sydney’s convict beginnings and that rum was once the official currency, it’s not surprising that there’s (still) a pub on almost every corner. My ancestors even had a pub at The Rocks many, many years ago. Unfortunately that’s not still in the family – or even in existence any more - but the Rocks used to be my local when I lived with my sister BC (that’s Before Children).
We’d go to the Governor’s Pleasure on Friday nights, the Hero of Waterloo and the Lord Nelson Saturdays, and The Lord Nelson & The Orient on Sundays. There was also The Mercantile (Australia’s oldest Irish pub), The Fortune of War, The Five Bells, and The Observer (great drag show). And, of course, lunch at Phillips Foote. One of the pubs we didn’t go to, but which I’ve always wanted to try and which now looks fabulous is The Glenmore. It’s at the top of the Argyle Stairs and has amazing views – and a very good wine list.
And Sunday afternoon at The Hero you can still listen to the world’s greatest Jazz band.
Can anybody remember the name of the pub across the road from The Orient? On the corner of Argyle and George streets? It went from being a pub to a police station and now it’s a couple of cafes.
So while I was trying to follow the tour that I’d downloaded, I kept getting sidetracked by things that I already knew, a lot of which wasn’t on the guide. Mind you, there were a lot of great stories and some that I didn’t know – like the ‘dungeon’ under The Hero of Waterloo (one of my locals), where the publican used to trap drunk young men to shanghai them into the merchant navy.
The Rocks is right next to the city, and the juxtaposition of the old and the new, the small houses, high-rises and the gardens is fabulous. And while I knew that The Rocks was a working-class area, I didn’t know how many ‘toffs’ lived there as well.
The tapes were great, and it’s a cheap way to see and learn about Sydney at your own pace. The only bad thing was I got so wrapped up in it all that I didn’t make it as far as the Opera House. Oh well, I guess that leaves something for another day.
But it did miss one of the best things I found at The Rocks – the Rocks Discovery Museum. For a gold-coin donation (or not, if you don’t have it) you can learn about the history of the Sydney region, including the Aboriginal history. It was fascinating, and it seems from some of the stories that Australians were larrikins well before Cook got here!
As a tourist, I also downloaded a Sydney app to help out with the day. But it didn’t. One of the things I really needed to know if I was going to be walking around all day was where are the public toilets? I checked on the app, and it gave me a map of the entire Sydney region – well, everywhere except where I was. Luckily, I already knew where the public toilets were (Circular Quay station), because otherwise I would have been in trouble and had to cross my legs all day. And it’s not easy to walk around like that.
The other thing I really needed was water – where could I refill my water bottle? Sydney can get very hot and wandering around all day you need it. The only place I found was public toilets. Not very inviting!
I stopped for an hour for lunch at The Orient Hotel with my daughter, who works in the city, and sat in a few places to take in the view for a while or listen to a story on the iPod. Otherwise, I was just walking and taking photos.
All in all, a great day. Lots to see and hear for visitors to help them understand something of the Australian way of life, and how we got to be who we are.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow, but first I need to put my feet up for a while.
Cost for the day:
Two self-guided walking tour downloads $20.00
Lunch at The Orient Hotel (including a nice glass of wine) $25.00
Bottle of water (filled up from home) Free
Apple for a snack $0.80