23 to 26 January 2020
Canberra to Sydney via Goulbourn, 280km
It’s fair to say that after a brilliant few days in Canberra we were a little bit over the idea of spending time in Sydney. How was Sydney going to top our experiences in the High Court and Parliament in Canberra? Besides, we were learning that our favourite places in Australia were not its iconic cities but its ordinary country towns and its big, big landscapes. After seeing so much of Australia already and being on the homeward stretch we could so easily have driven on passed. But I couldn’t leave Australia without seeing the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, could I? Plus, we’ve learnt that sometimes when your expectations are low, that’s when you uncover hidden gems…
So we continued down the Hume Highway towards Sydney. At Goulbourn we stopped for coffee and to tick off another Big Thing. The Big Merrino is very definitely big and very definitely a boy!
We arrived in Sydney in the suburb of Burwood on the hottest day we have experienced yet in Australia. With temperatures at over 40° and smoke haze hanging heavy in the air the view of the city from our 14th floor apartment was non existent but the welcome in the neighbourhood was warm. It was Lunar New Year while we were there and in this area with a big Chinese community celebrations were in full swing. The wishing tree was full of New Year messages, some more political than others!
Burwood is 20 minutes by train to Circular Quay in the heart of Sydney, a journey long enough to play around with the seating arrangements! On these modern trains you can move the seats around to ensure you are always sitting facing forward or backwards or all together with your friends, whichever is your preference!
My first views of Sydney’s iconic harbour were rather clouded by smoke haze, torrential rain and a dirty great cruise ship but you can’t fail to be impressed by that bridge and that opera house.
In between showers we managed a walk around the harbour and through the botanical gardens where we spotted a sleeping possum nestled in the nook of a tree.
Amongst the modern city buildings, Sydney’s colonial past is never far away. Arthur Philip, founder of the original penal colony that later became the city, stands looking out to the harbour, behind him the City Hall and other civic buildings that grew up as the city expanded.
But this wasn’t the terra nullis that gave those colonialists their right to claim it as their own. This was the land of the Gadigal people who lived off the land and the fish in the harbour.
And there is evidence that the British were not the first to find the security of its waters. Items found around the harbour suggest that at the very least Chinese and Maori whaling boats were already trading in the area.
But there was no mistaking it was the British who settled here. It’s the teapots that give it away.
We spent most of our few days in the city exploring the area around the harbour called The Rocks. Still full of the wharves and wharehouse buildings of the early European settlement
and if the teapots weren’t enough of a hint that it was the British who started all this the number of pubs confirmed it!
But in the backstreets of The Rocks, behind the cafes and markets full of tourist, we found an area that caught our attention. Tiny cobbled lanes and terraced houses that spoke of the working class people who made their homes here, families living around the docks in two up, two down houses of the kind you find in east London. Thousands of people were crammed into the tiny streets where sanitation was poor and disease rife. Rats from the docks brought the plague in 1900 and most of the slum housing was pulled down.
Susannah Place, however, survived thanks to the quality of its build but was taken into Government ownership. Four houses remain frozen in time, telling the story of their occupation and their occupants from 1844 to 1990. Built by an Irishman, Edward Riley, who came to Australia on the assisted migration scheme, they were home to 100 families until the last occupants left 170 years later. At no 62 Ellen and Dennis Marshall resisted requests from the Government to move out long after the other houses fell vacant, only finally leaving the terrace completely empty in 1990.
The interiors we weren’t allowed to photograph as they are so fragile but you can sneek a peak here and they were extraordinary, preserved rather than restored, just as they were left, some not decorated since 1900. A guided tour of the four tiny terraces comes highly recommended by us if you find yourself in Sydney. This is that hidden gem we hoped to stumble across. But book up, there are only three tours a day and only 8 per tour.
On a drier second day in Sydney we returned to Circular Quay for a walk across the Harbour Bridge and back, not climbing over it like some high up there but along the pedestrian path. The views were just as good I reckon.
With the sun starting to come out we took the ferry out across the harbour to one of Sydney’s iconic beaches, Manly. The opera house was shining more brightly as we went passed.
Oceanside there was definitely a storm brewing as a huge surf life saving club competition was going on all along the beach. It was all a bit baffling for the untrained eye, sprinters on the sand, swimmers diving through the surf and surf skis heading out to sea.
It was very busy in the harbour on the return trip, sailing yachts everywhere enjoying the great wind. How everyone avoided each other was a mystery but what a backdrop for a day out on the water.
On Australia Day we had one last stop to make in Sydney, coffee with Stefan’s Dad who just happened to be staying near Bondi Beach whilst we were passing. With everyone out to celebrate their national day Tamarama and Bronte beaches were pretty crowded.
26 January is the day on which Australia marks the day that Britain declared Australia terra nullius thereby giving them the right to claim it for the empire and beginning the continent’s modern history. Only it wasn’t an empty land, was it? From this fraudulent start, Australia has spent the last two hundred years systematically destroying the First Australians place in their country and only more recently trying to make reparation for the harm they caused. But if you really wanted to make reparation, and really wanted your national day to be properly inclusive, you would just change the date wouldn’t you?
And with that we drove out of the city and headed up to the land of the Gundungurra and Darug people in the Blue Mountains…