Several minutes after we left Singapore for
Sydney, we crossed the equator. Unlike on the globe in our den,
there is no line on the ocean showing a traveler that this momentous
occasion is happening. I was shocked. Our flight took us over most
of the Australian continent. In North America, we think that
Singapore and Sydney are pretty close if we ever think about
Singapore and Sydney at all. Actually they are 200 miles farther
apart than Philadelphia and Delft so it was a pretty long flight.
After a while, we came into Australia in the northwest somewhere
west of Darwin and east of Derby. Like much of Australia, itís the
middle of nowhere. We went for a several hours and 2000 miles and
barely saw anything from the air resembling a human settlement. All
this desolation is referred to as, pardon the expression, the bush.
Anything more than 50 km from urban or suburban areas is the bush
which is almost everything.
Sydney is a place where an American is
immediately comfortable. The history is similar. The British first
arrived there in 1788 and the city has grown up with similar
influences and in a comparable time period as large cities in the
eastern U.S. The British Union Jack is still on their flag and the
British monarch is still the official head of state, but this a
matter of growing controversy. Older folks, who grew up singing God
Save the Queen, like it that way. Younger folks see no real
connection to the British and want it changed.
We got to Sydney late in the evening, but no
matter, we were there. I read The Thornbirds almost 30 years ago and
have had a fascination with Australia ever since. Probably even
before. The late hour and our tiredness were overtaken by adrenalin
and a sense of having finally arrived. Sleep could come later. We
were in Sydney!
We left the hotel and headed to
The Rocks. The Rocks is an area right next to the
Sydney Harbor Bridge. It has been faithfully restored to the way it
looked in the 19th century. During the building boom of
the 1960s through 1980s in Sydney, some developers wanted to level
it for high rise expansion. A lot of Sydneysiders (is that a great
name, or what?) were not happy about this. There were protests and
clashes, and eventually a compromise was reached. What remains today
is an area of beautiful shops and restaurants, and even
Sydneyís oldest pub.
Thereís something to write home about.
It was getting close to midnight and there was
nobody around. I knew where we were on the map. I always know where
we are on a map. We headed a little to the east between a couple
buildings and when we emerged, we saw the
Sydney Opera House bathed
beautiful white light, across Sydney Cove. It is a magnificent
Opera House has a fascinating story. For a
long time, Bennelong Point, the site of the
Opera House, was a
military fort. When the harbor began to be used by coal-fueled
ships, the location was a tram shed. In the late '40s, Eugene Goosens,
the principal conductor of the Sydney Symphony, temporarily laid
down his baton and put on his salesmanís hat. He spent a lot of time
convincing people that Sydney needed an opera house. He succeeded.
In January 1956, an international competition was announced for the
design of an opera house. There was a panel of judges who met to
decide. One came from far away, the U.S. in fact, but he was delayed
getting there. The others went ahead with their work and came to a
decision. When the late judge arrived, he found the choice made by
the others to be marginal and he reviewed the discarded designs. He
liked one by a Danish architect named JÝrn Utzon. Somehow he
convinced the others that this one was the best and Utzonís design
was ultimately declared the winner in January 1957.
Work began in 1959 and was supposed to last about
four years. The original cost was estimated at $7 million. It soon
became apparent that the building as designed was unbuildable. Back
to the drawing boards. Utzon came up with something called the
"spherical solution" which means that all the sails with which we
are so familiar could be cut from the same sphere and therefore had
the same radius. This new design was technically feasible to build
but it drastically altered the price tag, the final cost being about
$102 million. It also delayed the completion date by about ten
years. Next time youíre a little late or over-budget, point to the
Sydney Opera House. You may be building the next masterpiece. But
back to the story. In the mid '60s there was an election and a new
government was formed. The new guys had had enough of the cost
overruns and Utzon was fired. He left Australia, never to return. He
has never seen the Sydney Opera House. While the exterior design is
his, most of the interior is not.
The first performance at the Opera House was in
December 1972 by the Sydney Symphony to an audience of construction
workers and guests. This was a test of acoustics. The first public
performance was nine months later in September 1973 and the Opera
House was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth on October 20, 1973.
Coincidentally, this is the same day as the
Saturday Night Massacre of Richard Nixon fame.
In 1999 there was a project to redesign some of
the interior spaces. JÝrn Utzon was rehired. Because of his advanced
age, he did his work from afar and his son, Jan Utzon, was his
representative in Australia. Today he is 88 and unable to make the
long flight from Denmark to Sydney. He has still never seen the
Sydney Opera House.
Bennelong Point and the Opera House sit on the
right side of Sydney Cove, the Harbor Bridge is to the left, and
Circular Quay is at the base. (By the way, you can actually
climb the bridge for a
spectacular view at a spectacular price!) This is a ferry terminus and it works
like a train station. Ferries are a common means of public
transportation. The first two days we were there were very cloudy.
On our final day, a Saturday, the clouds blew out and it was
beautiful. The pictures reflect that. We spent much of the day at
Circular Quay people-watching and just being in this vibrant place.
That evening we thought weíd go somewhere a
little farther away for dinner. We took a bus to a neighborhood
called Paddington. There are lots of places here that have the same
names as places in London. Hyde Park is another. Paddington is a
pleasant neighborhood where the tour book said that some of the
homes were only 14 feet wide. Evidently the writer had never been to
a Philadelphia rowhouse like the one I grew up in. We found a pub
called London. What a surprise. I had kangaroo. Try to get that in
Delft. We left the restaurant and headed back to the bus stop. The
neighborhood was dark, not well lit, and I realized that the sky was
cloudless at night, the first time it had been that way since we
arrived. I looked up into the clear southern sky and there it was; I
saw the Southern Cross for the first time. And I understood why I
came this way.
Part of why I came this way was to do some more
observation of the sky, my first such observation in the southern
hemisphere. Weirdness exists in the southern hemisphere sky. Or to
be less chauvinistic, itís different in some ways that I didnít
expect. I knew that the sun appears to go the wrong way across the
sky, from right to left, instead of left to right as weíre
accustomed to seeing it. Thatís because the sun is in the northern
sky; it still goes east to west. But the orientation of the moon
is different. There was a full moon that night and I noticed that
the face of the "man in the moon" was totally different. He seemed
to be smiling rather than frowning. This was because the moon was
rotated almost 75į from the way we see it in Philadelphia. Think of
a globe. Think of the angle of your body on the globe. Now think of
us down under in Australia and the angle of our bodies looking at
the same moon. Get it? I never thought of that before. And Mr.
Pierce never told us about that in junior high school, either. Also,
I noticed the belt of Orion the Hunter. In the northern hemisphere,
the three stars in the belt appear almost horizontal. In the
southern hemisphere, they were almost vertical. It could drive an
amateur star-gazer nuts.
There are chotchkah shops everywhere. Donít know
what a chotchkah shop is? Ask your friendly local Jewish person. We
saw these key rings with a furry sort of thing attached that looked
big enough to hold a couple chestnuts. They were in a lot of stores
and eventually I picked one up to look at it. They were kangaroo
scrotums. Scrota? Somehow, being a carnivore, I didnít feel too bad
about eating one, but this crossed the line. There are also stores
around where one can buy a didgeridoo. Naturally if a person is
interested in buying one, he would want to play it, so I did. Lynn
says I wasnít exactly "playing" it, but I was playing WITH it. You
blow into the business end with your lips flapping like a baby's does
when heís blowing bubbles. The didgeridoo makes a sound. We heard
people really playing them but I donít think that instrument is
capable of "Hello Dolly."
Sydney is famous for something else that I never
knew about. On the third Saturday in October about ten miles west of
central Sydney in a town called Eastwood, there is a festival in
honor of a woman named Maria Ann Smith. Mrs. Smith, like many women,
was a grandmother but thatís not why she was famous. She was
and she developed the strain of apples that bears that name on her
Eastwood farm. I love
Granny Smith apples so this is as good an excuse as I will ever need
for going back to Sydney in October. Every year.
It was not a surprise that we never saw an
Outback Steakhouse. Everything is an outback steakhouse. Besides, I
think thatís an American company. What did surprise me was something
I had always believed and now I think Iíve been lied to. Fosters. I
donít think itís really Australian for beer. Not once anywhere did
we see a place that served Fosterís. Whatís an American to think?
See all my pictures of Sydney.
See videos from Sydney