Saturday, 30 January 2010

Australia Day

January 26th is the national holiday. It was sunny and bright, so we took the train down to the harbour to take in a few of the festivities. We arrived on the steps of the Opera House just in time to see the end of the traditional ferry race by several of the old Sydney boats, painted in cheerful red, blue and yellow.

It was quite an obstacle course for the skippers through a churning mass of spectator boats. Both they and the ferries themselves proceeded through clouds of foam, more noticeable in the camera record than it was to the naked eye.


There was a fireboat spewing water...


and a sail-past of tall ships.  Although we missed this, there were a number of the vessels still competing for space in the harbour.

Some spectators brought their own protection from the sun,

while others found the Opera House sails provided handy triangles of shade.

Millions of photos have been taken of the harbor from the platform around the Opera House, but there's an attractive view in the other direction, too,  into the Royal Botanical Garden which curves around the waters of Farm Cove, the spot where the First Fleet anchored in 1788.


Unlike many botanical gardens, it's free. Signs at the entrances encourage the public to enjoy its many attractions, while also hoping for donations.

Today some of the larger trees were also being sought out for the shade they cast. The tall tree in the centre of my picture above is a Norfolk Island pine, broad enough to shelter quite a crowd...

although not as effectively as the spreading Moreton Bay figs ( Ficus macrophylla) that share this park-like area,


and have the added advantage of providing seating for some.

From under this one's spread we watched a demonstration by a search-and-rescue helicopter,


which dropped two men into the water,

and winched them back up again.

Note the quintessential Aussie Akubra hat on the man in the second photo.

To reach the nearest train station on our way home, we headed for Macquarie Street, which runs directly south from the harbour. A prestigious downtown address, it is lined with medical specialists' offices on one side, the state library and parliament buildings on the other.

Closed to traffic on Australia Day, it becomes the site for an open-air vintage car display. Every car you can imagine is represented, from Armstrong-Siddeleys...

to Hudsons... 

to Morris Minors ...

to Australia's own iconic Holdens (this one complete with matching vintage caravan.)

There were woody wagons...


and weird little Italian cars I'd never heard of.

There were even a few recent models, surrounded by admiring men.

I, of course, was more interested in the reflections of palm trees in the shining paintwork.

At home that evening, we could hear the ubiquitous fireworks exploding over the harbour. It hardly seems any time since the last lot. In fact, if you look at my first photo of this post, you'll see a grid hanging from the arch of the Harbour Bridge, part of the scaffolding for the New Years' Eve display not yet taken down.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Riding the Manly Ferry

When visitors to Sydney ask me what to see and do in the city, my answer is always the same: go to Circular Quay and take the ferry to Manly.

The ride is cheap, the harbour views are unbeatable, the ocean beach at Manly is beautiful, and for those who like walking there is a waterside path following the harbour shoreline all the way to Middle Harbour.

We had already planned that we would make this journey at least one more time before leaving Australia. Tuesday seemed like the perfect day : clear, sunny but not too hot, with temperatures in the mid-twenties. We took the train to Circular Quay. Looking down from the elevated platform, we could see our ferry arriving.

This is the slow ferry. Those in a hurry prefer to take the HarbourCat, which does the journey in about half the time. One was just leaving as we boarded our boat.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran a summer poetry competition on the subject "the Harbour".
The winner, just announced, took these two ferries as her theme, riffing on Robert Frost's famous poem The Road Not Taken. It sums up our own feeling about the experience.

The Ride Not Taken

by Tina Matthews

Two ferries moored at a harbour pier -
Knowing I could not ride on both
To get to my place, it was clear
The fast, new ferry would get me there
A ferry to Progress: first stop - Growth!

But I took the other, old and fair,
And sat outside with the sun at my back,
Travelling to I-don't-know-where,
With iPod commuters who couldn't hear
And would rather have ridden the HarbourCat.

I heard the sea and I felt the spray -
Oh, I know folk throw their rubbish in!
But a subsidiary of the STA
Casting this fine old boat away
I proclaim to be a greater sin.

On land, in water and in the sky
Pollution mucks up every sense.
Two boats converged at a wharf and I -
I took the one that delights the eye,
And that has made all the difference.

We too sat outside with the sun at our backs, and watched Sydney's well-known skyline recede in our wake.

We passed Kirribilli House, the Sydney home of Australia's Prime Minister, which faces the Opera House across the water.

The country's previous prime minister, John Howard, refused to live in landlocked Canberra, the nation's capital, preferring this abode and commuting at taxpayer expense. Hard to blame him on a day like this.

Halfway through the voyage, we crossed paths with the other ferry on the Manly route, heading for the Quay.

Manly itself is on a narrow spit of land between the harbour and the Pacific Ocean. Disembarking at Many Wharf, we made our way with other beachgoers along the Corso, the pedestrian mall thatlinks these two bodies of water.

If you look closely at the first image, you can see the small, white jets of water in the pavement that continue all along this strip to the great delight of children.

A pub on our route provided an opportunity for a mirror shot:

The ocean beach, like many beaches on the east coast,  is lined with huge old Norfolk Island pines.

We sat on the grass in the shade of these to eat our picnic lunch before moving to a bench in the sun for a little while.
Michael surveyed the swimmers...

or was it the sunbathers?

There was virtually no surf on this day, although the following day saw many of the beaches, including Manly, closed because of the dangerous swell.

Back on the harbour side of the peninsula, we set off on the coast walk, passing a group of children in their characteristic sunhats frolicking in the shallows. School uniforms are worn by most Australian schoolchildren and the sunhats, in whatever the school colour might be, are regulation wear for outdoor activities on sunny days.

The path was wide and level, affording us views back towards the ferry wharf,

over marinas,

and down into secluded bays.

Strategically placed benches provide walkers and locals with spots to  sit and contemplate the scenery.

Not wanting to make it a really long day, we left the path about midway along its length,  hopped a bus back to the city, and another to home again.

Monday, 18 January 2010

More Newtown

Every little walk we do in this neighbourhood brings fresh delights. Last Saturday we set out on foot for Eveleigh markets, a food and produce market held once a month in a cluster of old railway buildings.

On the way we passed a mysterious street sign,

a modern fresco,

and this fine row of terrace houses facing an equally fine row of fig trees.

In this inner city area there are few back lanes, and even if there are, the backyards are often too small to accommodate a parking space. As a result, streets are lined with cars at all times.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Road Art

If you take the route from the airport to downtown Sydney, and avoid the expensive underground tunnel, you will travel along Anzac Parade and South Dowling St. A red light at the intersection with Cleveland St. will give you time to admire this innovative planting:

Returning towards the airport allows you to see the Volkswagen's back end:

Sunday, 10 January 2010

South Head

January 7th was a hot day so we thought a walk along the coast would bring us some welcome sea breezes. We drove to South Head, the bluff that forms the southern entrance to Sydney Harbour. Looking outward from here, all you can see is the ocean;

looking inward, through typical Sydney red tile roofs, you can see the famous opera house and the "coathanger", as Sydneysiders affectionately call their bridge.

South Head lighthouse dominates the high ground.

A protective fence around it warns off trespassers in misspelt English. I am collecting quite a portfolio of misspelt official signs in Australia. You would expect government departments to get somebody to proof-read their messages. Wouldn't you?

A short trail leads along the top of the cliffs, providing views south along the coast towards the lighthouse above Bondi Beach

and northwards across the harbour entrance to North Head.

We took full advantage of these opportunities.

The trail passes above the notorious Gap, which used to be a favourite suicide jump for depressed locals.

There have been no recent suicides, but a man was convicted last year of throwing his girlfriend to her death over the fence.

Although the scenery was stunning, breezes were non-existent so we abandoned plans to walk further and retreated to the relative cool of our little house.