My love affair with Sydney

This site covers the following topics Sydney cultural tourism, Australia, New South Wales, multiculturalism, race, ethnicity, scenery: I have provided this hidden list for search engines that ignore meta tags.

Why do I love Sydney? Let me count the ways (and thank you, Mrs. Browning).

My first visit to Vienna, I didn't really get outside the Ring: I didn't need to, because there was enough for me to see in that small part of the city. My second visit, I moved outward, and found a great deal more. I have been to London three times, but I am only really familiar with Paddington, South Kensington and a few bits of Earl's Court. As a rule, every city I have been to as a tourist has been like that. Sydney, on the other hand, is where I have lived since I was a few months old. I like to think that I know Sydney in a way that no tourist ever can, but there are still gaps in my knowledge.

The Sydney that I know best, the Sydney that visitors see and admire, is the part that spreads around a harbour. There is water everywhere, either in broad vistas or in glimpses. Even when you are out of sight of the water, people think water, sailing, swimming and beaches.

Sydney has beautiful weather. Even on a cold and rainy winter day, you can get out and play in it. You may need to be a Sydneysider to appreciate it, but there is a joy in walking around the rocks, somewhere on the harbour, with the waves splashing and the rain dripping. There is even a joy in swimming in the harbour in winter. It may be a little on the chilly side, but no more than the Aegean in spring. It takes a little getting used to, but it is easy to do.

There is also the Sydney that visitors never see, the Sydney that stretches 30 kilometres north and south of the CBD, and up to 60 kilometres west, northwest and southwest. I live near Manly, long pushed as "seven miles from Sydney, and a thousand miles from care" (which makes it almost part of the CBD!), but there are gems out west that I have never seen.

A busker playing the er hu at Circular Quay. A busker playing the bagpipes at Circular Quay on a winter day: note the thongs (aka zoris, flip-flops or jandals).

Pictures: A busker playing the er hu or Chinese violin at Circular Quay on the left and right, a busker playing the bagpipes at Circular Quay on a winter day: note the thongs (aka zoris, flip-flops or jandals).

With 4 million people, Sydney has a cultural vibrancy that really only came to the fore in the 1970s. That was the time when the Sydney Opera House opened, we elected a new government that everybody thought was the bee's knees, and we began to realise that there was more to Sydney than WASPishness.

Buskers aside, most of this side of Sydney will be hidden from you, because new arrivals tend to be shunted to the outer suburbs. So far, nobody has worked out how to make money from presenting multicultural Sydney, so you may not see much of it, but 40% of the people on New South Wales were born overseas, and most of those live in Sydney and its surroundings.

They are all around you: the rich mix of people you see around Circular Quay will include many tourists, but it will also include many Sydneysiders, out enjoying the city. The extended families at picnic spots in the Royal National Park or on the grass behind the beach at Maroubra will all be Australians too.

You can see a small part of Sydney's Chinese community in the region around Dixon Street, though there are many more people of Chinese origin scattered through the suburbs, and you can see a bit of Italy in Norton Street, Leichhardt, but you can also see traces of Italian and Greek cafe culture all over the suburbs. Cabramatta is known to Sydneysiders who have never been there as a Vietnamese hub, but if you visit the area, you will find some brilliant Serbian Orthodox churches. The point is that these Sydney residents are Sydneysiders first, and theme park presentation is low on their list of priorities. You will find unusual cultures in surprising places, but you will need to look for them.

There are a few examples to be found, but if you are alert, you will find incongruities -- I saw the Manly-Warringah pipe band playing near Manly beach recently, and soliciting donations to their kilt fund. The tune they were playing was a Maori song, and at least two members of the band were clearly not Scots in terms of their genetic inheritance. Sydneysiders don't care: they may grin a bit if they notice, but for the most part, it all just blends in.

Speaking of the pipers, I need to get a picture of Quong Tart's statue in Ashfield to add here. He was a Chinese who graced Sydney in the 19th century, and who spoke English with a strong Scots accent. Some people even called him "Quong Tartan".

Saying that Sydney rubs along is not to say that there aren't still racial tensions, but they are mainly on the margins. Google Cronulla and race, and you will find out about one of Sydney's more shameful recent episodes. Hopefully, it was the last of its kind. It blew up out of rival gangs competing for 'turf' and taking far too long to learn to share.

Another thing that I love about Sydney is that there are always flowers out. On the day that this page was started, July 13, I counted five species of Acacia (wattle) in flower near my home.

Cadman's Cottage. The last remaining (I think) cast-iron gentlemen's urinal in Sydney, under the bridge at the northern end of Cumberland Street.

Pictures: The last remaining (I think) cast-iron gentlemen's urinal in Sydney, under the bridge at the northern end of Cumberland Street (left) and Cadman's Cottage on the right.

There is nothing old in Sydney (at least so far as other parts of the world would understand it), so we are forced to squander our love of the old on fairly new things like Cadman's Cottage, which dates from about 1815, and items like the cast-iron urinal that I photographed recently in Cumberland Street. A woman stopped to let me take my photo, and observed that it was the oldest toilet in Sydney. We have to cling to such relics, and even buildings from the 1960s may be found on our National Heritage register.

The conversation about the cast-iron dunny is the other thing I like about Sydney. People make eye contact, they say g'day, and they mean it. It's like being in Ireland or a Greek village, where that sort of thing comes naturally. I suspect we are losing it, but I am doing my bit to make people reimpose it, and I hope you will do the same. Here are some of the sights that make me happy:


Honeycomb weathering in sandstone, Botany Bay. Bachelor's buttons, Kunzea capitata Manly Wharf, late on an autumn afternoon.
A Sulphur-crested cockatoo, seen in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Forty Baskets beach, Manly-Spit walk. Rowers on Sydney Harbour, ANZAC Day, 2006, returning from a dawn service under the ANZAC Bridge.
The University of Sydney's gothic sandstone, from Victoria Park. Flannel flower, Actinotus Isopogon, drumsticks
Let me go back a moment on the question of "nothing old in Sydney". The rocks are old, the life forms are truly venerable, the rock art is ancient: it's just a matter of learning how to think, isn't it? That is a part of Sydney that is left off the tourist itineraries, I suppose because people can't make a lot of money out of it. Go for a bus ride, or ride on a ferry, or visit a few of the more out-of-the-way landmarks, or simply take a walk. Failing that, visit a few beaches, or go to a park for a picnic. There is a lot more to Sydney than the CBD, it is all ancient, and well worth a look.

One last reason, but only for those with broadband: I have created a gallery of all the pictures I have assembled for this site. Look at what Sydney has to offer, aside from the few I have added in here.


Grevillea sericea North Harbour Reserve, on the Manly-Spit walk. Opera Quays: the walkway from Circular Quay, heading for the Opera House. This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/syd/love.htm, first created on July 13, 2006. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on March 17, 2008.


© The author of this work is Peter Macinnis. You are free to point at this page. Copies of this page or set of pages may be stored on PDAs or printed for personal use. You can't contact me at macinnis@ozemail.com.au, but if you add my first name to the front of that email address, you can -- this is a low-tech way of making it harder to harvest the e-mail address I actually read.
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