The capital of New South Wales, Sydney is the oldest and the largest city in Australia.
Because of its magnificent harbour and strategic position on the southeast coast of Australia, it is also one of the most important ports in the South Pacific. At the beginning of the 19th century when it was still a small convict settlement and the first settlers had barely penetrated the interior, it had already established trade with the Pacific Islands, India, China, South Africa, and the Americas.
The first sight of Sydney, whether from the sea or the air, is always impressive.
Built on low hills surrounding a huge harbour with innumerable bays and inlets, the city is dominated by the bulk of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of the biggest single-span bridges in the world, and the Opera House, with its glittering white shell-shaped roofs that seem to echo the sails of the many yachts in the harbour. The intricate confusion of water and buildings makes a striking impression either by day or by night.
Because of its history as a great port and its status as the site of the country's main international air terminal, Sydney is perhaps the only city in Australia with a genuinely international atmosphere. Yet it remains a very Australian city, with a nice compromise between the Anglo-Saxon efficiency of its British heritage and the South Seas attractions of its climate and environment.
Sydney is situated on latitude 34 S and has an average mean temperature ranging from 72 F (22 C) in January to 54 F (12 C) in July.
Its warm, sunny, but temperate climate has encouraged its citizens to develop a pleasure-loving and easygoing attitude to life and to make full use of the opportunities for sailing, swimming, and surfing at their doors.
Although the average annual rainfall is 45 inches (1,140 millimetres), much of this falls in short tropical deluges in summer. The humid heat of summer, when the prevailing wind is from the northeast, is tempered from time to time by the arrival of a cold front from the Tasman Sea heralded by a stiff wind from the south known locally as the "Southerly Buster."
Sydney is unbearably hot only on a few days each year when a westerly wind brings the hot, dry air from the inland. In winter, however, the westerly wind is cool.
The City Layout.
The Sydney Statistical Division is spread over an area of 4,790 square miles (12,407 square kilometres) and stretches from the Blue Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east and from the southern shore of Lake Macquarie in the north to south of Botany Bay.
Only about one-third of this region is classified as urban, but more than 90 percent of the region's population lives in the urban area.
A pattern of suburban sprawl, caused partly by the cheapness of land in earlier days and by the ordinary Australian's determination to own his own house and garden, has caused problems for the authorities responsible for sewerage and transport. The sprawl is also in marked contrast to the comparatively small and compact central business district, which is crammed into a narrow rocky peninsula between two arms of the harbour within the five square miles of the City of Sydney proper.
The same contrast can be seen in the style of buildings.
Whereas most of the houses in the suburbs are one-story bungalows built of brick or wood, the high cost of land in the central business district has forced construction of higher buildings.
The rapid development initiated in the 1960s has transformed the city centre, which now looks like a smaller Manhattan rising from the shores of the harbour, though in fact the buildings are not high by North American standards. A rival business centre has sprung up in North Sydney, which is linked to the City of Sydney by the Harbour Bridge.
The standard of architecture is generally mediocre, though there are a few handsome buildings surviving from the 19th century and a few contemporary buildings of distinction, including the brilliantly designed Opera House.
Sydney has one magnificent street, Macquarie Street, which leads down from Hyde Park to the Opera House and is lined by all of the important government buildings of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Yet the general effect of Sydney is attractive, and the innumerable bays and arms of the harbour, stretching into the land and providing unexpected views from almost every street, make it a most pleasing city.
Sydney is also fortunate in having two magnificent national parks within 25 miles (40 kilometres) of the city centre to the north and south. In these parks the natural Hawkesbury Sandstone bush can be seen at its best and forms a refuge for the wildlife of the area.
The mouth of the Hawkesbury River, with its many fingerlike inlets, provides a superb expanse of sheltered water for yachtsmen, while both to the north and south of the city there stretches a string of magnificent sandy beaches, on which the Pacific surf breaks throughout the summer.
Other national parks are within 60 miles of the city centre so that Sydney is now almost completely ringed by national parks--a unique distinction for so large a city.