xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Sydney and the Bush.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Sydney and the Bush.



The first time I visited Sydney I was nineteen years old and I slept on a camp stretcher in the store room of the Cremorne Garden Tearooms, just a very short tram ride away from the Taronga Park ferry landing. It was kind of creepy, but I soon got used to the scurrying noises of the rats and the thumping humping of the possums in the roof. I tried not to think of the large and furry triantalope spiders and other creepy crawlies that inhabited the darkness of night in that store room.

In those days I used to spend my summer holidays in Melbourne with my cousin, Maurie Carr and his wife, Bobbie. Her real name was Thelma but we all called her Bobbie. In January of that particular summer, while I was in Melbourne, I received a telegram from my Uncle Ray inviting me to come and stay with him in Sydney for two weeks. Uncle Ray was a yachtsman competing in the 16 foot skiff Australian Sailing Championships on the magnificent Sydney Harbour. Like the many hundreds of yachtsmen visiting Sydney for that event, my uncle had been billeted out, which is how I came to be bunking down in the Cremorne Gardens Tearooms.

Since then I have visited Sydney many times and have always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of this most exciting city. In  March  this year I was in Sydney once again, this time with the beautiful Lesley, after we had spent the previous nine days sailing in the sumptuous luxury of the Queen Mary 2. Unlike my first visit, this time in Sydney we were ensconced in the comfortable and very well appointed Menzies Hotel, which is in Carrington Street, one short block away from hustling, bustling George Street.


Our rather splendid hotel.

After our very well organised disembarkation from QM2, we taxied to the Menzies, arriving at about 10-00am. Check in was not till 2-00pm but I had contacted the Menzies and been told that we could leave our luggage there whenever we arrived. A very cheerful and friendly young man on the desk welcomed us and said that there were no rooms available at present  but suggested if we came back at about Noon he should be able to book us in.
One entry to Wynyard Station. Opposite our hotel.


After checking in our luggage with the Concierge, Lesley and I made a beeline across the road to Wynyard Underground Station and purchased two Senior Travel Passes at $2.50 each. What a bargain. These tickets allowed us to travel on any train bus or ferry and were valid until 4-00am the following morning. This would have enabled us to cut loose in some dimly lit den of iniquity in Kings Cross until the wee small hours. Lesley and I resisted that temptation and generally finished up safe and snug back at the Menzies well before 4-00am.


Armed with our travel passes we caught the underground train from Wynyard to Central where we alighted and viewed the fine old architecture of the Sydney Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Building, which has been magnificently renovated inside its grand fa├žade to provide shopping arcades for trendy, upmarket fashion houses, jewellers and a host of other attractive shops fronts.

Then we boarded a bus for Circular Quay where we gave a friendly wave to the grand old Queen Mary 2, taking centre stage in front of the passenger terminal with the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a backdrop. From the Quay we walked into The Rocks area to visit the Sydney Visitors Centre to pick up some maps and other useful information.

The Rocks is now a famous tourist precinct consisting of many of the original buildings that were constructed in the 19th Century from “the rocks” that were part of the large sandstone outcrops there. From the earliest days The Rocks was frequented by sailors, prostitutes and other unsavoury characters. In 1900 an outbreak of bubonic plague made the government move to demolish all the buildings. This plan was thwarted by World War One. 

In the 1920s many houses in the Rocks were demolished as part of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Second World War delayed any further demolition. In the 1960s it was decided to continue the demolition programme but this scheme fell foul of building unions and “Green” groups who wanted the area kept intact.

As it happens, a very distant cousin, Owen Magee, was the engineer who was given the job of developing the area into the brilliant mixture of old and new that makes it such a wonderful tourist attraction and vibrant living area today. Owen was the first cousin of my Magee first cousins, John, Noreen and Patricia (sadly deceased) who were the children of my dad’s sister, Margaret.

After graduating from Aquinas College, Owen joined the army in 1943 and saw service overseas at Wewak. He later completed a degree in engineering at the University of Western Australia and was involved in many major building programmes for the defence forces in Australia as well as Korea and Vietnam.

At one stage Owen was the youngest Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Army and finished up as a Brigadier before retiring from the army in the late 1960s. He was put in charge of the Rocks Redevelopment Project and spent fifteen year working with the competing interests of building developers, politicians of various parties, businessmen, building unions and environmental groups. 

His completed  project was voted to be an outstanding success and built at no cost to the NSW or Federal government. When he started in 1970 about 200 000 people visited the Rocks each year. When he finished in 1985 the figure was well in excess of 2 000 000. Today the figure would be even greater. Owen died in 2006.

Sydney is fortunate that it still retains so many of its major historic buildings. The Town Hall, the Queen Victoria Building, The Old Post Office, the Commonwealth Bank and the Customs House are just some of the fine examples of 19th Century and early 20th Century architecture still on display. 

Unfortunately in Perth we managed to knock down most of our historic buildings in the 1960s and replaced them with glass and aluminium CD stacker look alikes. At least we still have the old Museum, the Art Gallery and the Town Hall to remind us of the grandeur of the built  heritage that we knocked down and carted off to the tip.
The Old Post Office building in Martin Place, sydney.

After exploring The Rocks, and armed with a few maps from the Visitor Centre, Lesley and I caught a bus back along George Street to Wynyard and the Menzies Hotel where the very pleasant young fellow at the desk told us that not only did we have a room but we had been upgraded from Queen Size Double to King Size Double. But wait. There’s more. Yes Sir, we were on the eighth floor with a window view overlooking Wynyard Park. Our date with unexcelled excellence was to continue. The king sized bed was so huge that at night if I wanted to speak with Lesley I had to call her on her mobile telephone. (Well, maybe not!)


Lunch in Wynyard Park.

While lunching in Wynyard Park I noticed that there were a whole line of buses lined up in Carrington Street, opposite The Menzies. One of these indicated it was going to Palm Beach, one of our very favourite destinations. We clambered on board for the very enjoyable45 kilometre ride to that wonderful beach. We passed over the harbour bridge where we again saw the majestic Queen Mary2 completely dominating the foreground. All of the passengers craned their necks and strained to get a view of the mighty ship. I resisted the urge to leap up and say, “Hey, everybody, we just travelled into Sydney on that ship.”



We passed onto North Shore, across Spit Bridge, past wonderful beaches such as Dee Why and Newport, passed Avalon beach and along Barrenjoey Road and Pittwater where millionaires’ mansions dotted the steep green hills. Finally we drove in to Palm Beach, surely one of the greatest beaches anywhere. They even use the northern end as the setting for one of Australia’s  favourite soapies, “Home and Away.”

The Home and Away end of Palm Beach.



Manly man at Manly beach.

And that is basically how we spent the next six days, happily using our travel passes to board buses, trains and ferries to Manly Beach, Taronga Park, Bondi Beach, Kings Cross, St Mary's Cathedral, Darling Harbour, The Maritime Museum and of course the Opera House. The weather treated us kindly, except when we were at Bondi Beach. Just as we were about to leave the storm clouds gathered, the lightning flashed, the thunder rolled and heavy rain started to fall. It was a fairly typical sudden Sydney storm or Southerly Buster as the locals call them.


St Mary's Cathedral. It was the bells of St Mary's that called American sailors back from the war zones.
Lesley in the Lush Bar while the storm rages over Bondi Beach.

We had about 200 metres to travel across open ground to reach our unprotected bus stop so we were forced to take shelter in a cosy little bar in the Bondi Pavilion. There was a group of Japanese college girls in the bar, plus a couple of English backpackers who were trying to chat them up. Unfortunately, we did not see how successful their chatting up was because after about twenty minutes the storm blew itself out and we moved out of the bar and up to the bus stop.


The rainbow after the storm.

On my first visit to Sydney I wanted to visit the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch Australia playing a Test Match against England. On a Saturday afternoon I went to Castlreagh Street where several trams were waiting at the terminus and some trammies were standing around talking and puffing on their cigarettes.

I hopped on board the first tram in the line and after about five minutes two trammies hopped on board too. One was the driver and the other was the conductor collecting the fares. As he came to my seat I asked him if the tram was going to the cricket ground and he said it was and the fare was threepence each way. I paid the money and he moved on.There were not many passengers on the tram and eventually the conductor came back to where I was sitting.

“Visiting Sydney, are you?” he enquired.

When I told him that I was indeed a visitor he then asked, “Are you from Newcastle?” I said no.

 “Are you from Wollongong, then?” Again I answered no.

He then asked if I was from Penrith or Golburn and again I said I was not.

He gave a very perplexed look and said, “Well, where the heck do you come from?”

“I’m from Perth,” I smiled proudly, hoping to give him an everlasting impression of all of us friendly folk in the west. He was as stunned as if I told him I came from the dark side of the moon.

“Perth!” he exclaimed. “That’s a bloody long way away.” I agreed, but he didn’t hear my reply because he had quickly moved up to the driver’s cabin, no doubt to tell him that they actually had a person from Perth on their tram.

That was the attitude of most Sydneysiders in those days.  It was Sydney or the Bush. There was Sydney and there was the Bush and not much else in the world really. Of course most American tourists still think that Sydney is Australia.

Well, Lesley and I really enjoyed our stay in Sydney, but after six days we set off early one morning in our hire car, over the ANZAC Bridge, through Parramatta and into the bush on our way to Katoomba and the beautiful Blue Mountains about 80 kilometres away. We had seen a lot of Sydney and now we were to see a lot of the Australian bush as we spent a week travelling south from Katoomba, via Jenolan Caves, Kosciusko National Park into Victoria and eventually to Melbourne. It was the third time that Lesley and I had driven from Sydney to Melbourne, but the scenery we passed through this time surpassed anything we had seen before.

Replica of Captain Cook's Endeavour. Built of course in WA.


One of Australia's greatest treasures. Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.

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