Sydney is the birthplace of modern Australia.
Today the Sydney metropolitan area covers around 5000 square km. Sydney is
big, sprawling, brash at times and sensitive at others. Sydney is complex,
where the breathtaking beauty of the Opera House and the harbour on a warm
summer's day lives side by side with the industrial bleakness of
Silverwater. Yet it is Sydney's very diversity that makes it one of the
world's great cities.
The most polyglot of all the Australian cities,
Sydney is admirably racially tolerant. Though many immigrants band
together in suburban enclaves - Vietnamese in Cabramatta, Chinese in
Strathfield, and Japanese on the North Shore -
that their commonality of interests, language and customs initially needs
the reinforcement of proximity. The Asian migration has broadened Sydney
culturally and, of course, from a culinary perspective, just as the
Italians and Greeks did 40 years ago. Someone driving through Campsie, for
example, could think they had been teleported to South-East Asia, with
shopfronts bearing unfamiliar characters to advertise their trade. Where
Greeks and Italians introduced now-everyday items like garlic and chilli,
the Asians have brought with them ingredients such as daikon (Japanese
radish), lemongrass and bok choi so now chefs and suburban cooks alike can
buy them fresh. As a natural corollary, Sydneysiders have a profusion of
choices when eating out: every cuisine in the world is represented from
Argentinian to Zulu.
The wonderful climate, more hot than cold, ensures
Sydneysiders love outdoor recreation. Weekend barbecues
friends or summers at the beaches that stretch from Palm Beach in the
north to Maroubra in the south, are the norm. Sailing, anything from
boards to barquentines, in the Harbour, Pittwater or Port Hacking, as well
as fishing and golf, are all popular pastimes on Sydney's waterways.
The Central Business District (CBD) is
geographically and figuratively Sydney's core. Part of Sydney's appeal is
and much of that has to do with business drive. This city is
one of the most important commercial and financial centres of the Pacific
Rim. Yet while its more modern skyscrapers are jaggedly angular,
preservation orders ensured that the architectural charm and comparative
softness of the nineteenth century have remained a part of the cityscape.
Dwarfed by glass, steel and concrete is the Victorian extravagance of the
Town Hall and Queen Victoria Building, the neo-Gothic of St Andrew's and
St Mary's cathedrals and the colonial genius of Francis Greenway's
Macquarie Street buildings. They survive as a restful contrast to the new,
encapsulating the ethos of the city itself. Only in the Rocks -that time
capsule of Sydney's past, fronting Circular Quay and winding around to
Campbell's Cove -is there any sense of architectural homogeneity.
Warehouses have become restaurants, brothels are now art galleries, but it
is still what Sydney looked like when it was much younger and more
cocksure. But instead of larrikins, touts and shady characters, the Rocks
is full of tourists, souvenir shops, good pubs and live music. (Other
suburbs have retained the grace of the bygone: Glebe, Balmain and
Paddington are perhaps the best examples.) Staff at Sydney backpackers can help you find your way around the city and suggest some local and cheap things to do.
Exploring Sydney from the CBD is like peeling the
layers of an onion -from the inside. To the east are the traditional lairs
of Sydney's 'elite': Rose Bay, Darling Point, Double Bay; also Bondi -a
stronghold of New Zealanders' and Randwick, with its famous racecourse.
Closer in is Oxford Street, the mecca of the gay community and scene of
the biggest homosexual ritual in the world -the Gay and Lesbian Mardi
Gras. It is also famous for its cafe's and cheap, imaginative eateries. To
the south is Kingsford Smith Airport, and the local suburbs of Mascot and
Rockdale. The busiest aerodrome in Australia, it sits on Botany Bay.
Further on is the Royal National Park, the first to be proclaimed in
Australia and the second in the world, which, despite its proximity to the
city, still retains rugged areas of natural bushland, natural swimming
holes and delightful coastal bushwalks.
Across 'the Coathanger', as the Harbour Bridge is
affectionately known, is North Sydney, a secondary business district
filled with advertising agencies, funky eateries and smart young things.
Directly under the bridge is Luna Park, a famous
amusement park, clinging
to the harbour foreshores. The outer north and the peninsula hold Sydney's
alternative 'prestige' suburbs: Palm Beach, Whale Beach, Turramurra,
Pymble and Wahroonga are all sought-after areas. Many are now moving even
further out to 'acreages'; large blocks of land on the periphery of the
north-western metropolitan area -in suburbs like Dural, Annangrove and
Glenorie. But the west is presently the most dynamic player in Sydney's
development. As Sydney galloped across the Cumberland Plain, engulfing
previously separate entities such as Parramatta,
Liverpool, the outskirts have become integrated. Sydney best epitomises
the realisation of the great Australian dream of 'owning your own
quarter-acre': home ownership is regarded almost as a birthright. The west
also contains some of Sydney's most popular drawcards, such as Australia's
Wonderland, great for children, and Eastern Creek Raceway, which hosts
international motorsport events.
Sydney has many landmarks, both geographical and
cultural: White City is the aspiration of every young tennis player;
Taronga Park Zoo flanks the harbour; the Mitchell Library, the best
reference source in the country and Bradley's Head, with gun emplacements
that never fired a shot in anger. Then there's Bondi Beach, which every
overseas visitor has to see, Kings Cross, seedy by day, steamy by night,
and Homebush Bay, home of the spectacular Sydney 2000 Olympics. Though it
perhaps lacks the international sporting sanctity of Lords in the United
Kingdom, the Sydney Cricket Ground is hallowed ground for followers of
both the willow and the pigskin, for not only have some of the greatest
cricket test matches been played there, but all Rugby League Grand Finals.
It is also impossible to omit from a list of Sydney's landmarks the
Entertainment Centre, where performers ranging from the world's best rock
bands to Julio Iglesias and Australia's own Dame Joan have thrilled
audiences for some years now.
All in the one day, there is much on offer: Sydney
has karaoke in a Camden club and Rimsky-Korsakov in the Opera
ice-skating in Ryde and eisteddfods in the Town Hall; there are rages in
Rydalmere or romantic dinners in Darlinghurst, at the same time a street
party is happening in Padstow while Heidelberg School paintings are viewed
in posh Paddington galleries. In this great city, you can get, see or do
just about anything your heart desires.
Like many other large cities, not all of the
city's workforce lives locally. Thanks to improved road networks like the
northern expressway, many people commute from as far away as the Central
Coast and the Blue Mountains. Ferries are used by Sydneysiders as public
transport. A ride across one of the finest natural harbours in the world
will take you to Manly, filled with beachside footpath cafe's and
restaurants. Though not as famous as Bondi Beach, Manly generally has
better surfing, and nearby Fairy Bower is very popular with boardriders.
On the way across on the ferry is Fort Denison, a martello (small, round)
tower that was built after an unannounced visit by a fleet of American
warships in 1839 prompted concerns that the harbour should have some
defences. Despite this, it was not completed until 1857, after the Crimean
War gave rise to a 'Russian scare'. Before the fort was built, the small
island known to the Aborigines as 'Mat-te-wa-ye', a 'favourite rest
place', was termed Pinchgut because really troublesome convicts in the
First Fleet were put there with practically no food. Australia's brutal
colonial past is told in the story of convict Francis Morgan, who was
condemned to hang there in chains. Three years later, the skeleton still
remained on view and the Aboriginals completely avoided the place.
Something else you would see on the ferry ride
would have been the Royal Botanic Gardens, 24 ha (60 acres) of parkland
right in the middle of the city, on the foreshores of what used to be
called Farm Cove. They contain a stone wall that marks the site of
Australia's first vegetable garden, which was planted at the instigation
of Governor Phillip. The Gardens boast huge, old Moreton Bay figs and its
national herbarium displays plant specimens collected by botanist Joseph
Banks on his voyage of discovery with Captain James Cook in 1770.
Alternatively, you could take a leisurely walk in
Hyde Park in the centre of Sydney. One of its most outstanding features is
the Archibald Fountain, which has three tableaux, one of which depicts
Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Just across College Street is the Australian
Museum, a vast, rambling natural history museum with some excellent
hands-on exhibits, and north of Hyde Park is the Art Gallery of
Wales, an imposing neo-Classical building.
Sydney has some excellent restaurants, and they
represent all types of cuisine, many of which have set new standards
food presentation. From intimate eateries to world-class hotel
restaurants; from the cafe's to the innovative, trendsetting restaurant;
from the informal to the formal, Sydney has it all in the line of eating
establishments. Even on weekdays, Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay, to the
west of the CBD, throng with crowds eager to shop, eat or simply walk
around sightseeing. The aquarium here is one of the greatest in the world
while over the other side of the National Trust-classified Pyrmont Bridge
is the Powerhouse Museum, exhibiting planes, boats, cars and steam engines
and is well worth a look. The Darling Harbour complex itself houses a
number of exhibition halls. Abutting Darling Harbour is Chinatown, where
visitors can choose from a bewildering array of restaurants or buy
specialist ingredients for cooking or herbal medicines. There is also the
opportunity to stroll through the Chinese Gardens, incorporating the
Garden of Friendship, a gift to Sydney from the people of Quandong
Province in China. If sushi is more enticing, just a little further west
at Pyrmont are the Sydney Fish Markets, where you can not only buy superb
fresh seafood but dine at one of the many seafood restaurants. Many people
go there at weekends, order a bottle of wine and sit outside savouring
lunch and the harbour views.
Heading west is the Blue Mountains, which, like
Bowral and Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands, used to be the summer
escape of Sydney's rich. These mountains have a wealth of scenic
bushwalking trails, restaurants and gracious old guesthouses. The Paragon
Cafe's in Katoomba for example, has been famous for its chocolates since
the 1930s, and a little further up from Katoomba at Medlow Bath is the old
Hydro Majestic Hotel, which used to be notorious for illicit weekends
away. The Blue Mountains' most famous landmark is the Three Sisters, an
eroded, sandstone rock formation right a the edge of Katoomba.
Sydney hosts a number of events and festivals. In
January, Sydney Festival highlights include Symphony Under the
Opera in the Park. Both events are held in the Domain for free and attract
thousands of summer picnickers; at the same time there is the Sydney
Fringe Festival based at Bondi. The Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a
highlight each March and is televised globally. At Easter it is time for
the Royal Easter Show, held at Sydney Showground, Homebush Bay, and
National Trust Heritage Week. June sees in the Sydney Film Festival and
the Darling Harbour Jazz Festival, and July, the International Music
Festival. August is the time for the annual City to Surf, a run from the
centre of the city to Bondi, raising money for charity. Manly holds its
jazz festival in October; in November it is time for the Australian Craft
Show. December includes Carols in the Domain, the Sydney to
Race and of course the New Year's Eve celebrations, which include a
spectacular fireworks display that is televised all around the world.