Thursday 6th March
I arrived back in Sydney after an absence of nearly 2 months and contacted Maze Backpackers as they offered a free shuttle service. Luckily I was already in the correct terminal and near the correct luggage carrousel and was told it would be half an hour. I wanted to be at the Rocks by 6pm however I still felt I had time and it seemed silly to pay for the train if I could travel for free.
The check in took ages as the girl on the desk was having issues and punching away at different keys before asking for help. When I’d booked it, I had been slightly paranoid there would be an issue but luckily what ever problem existed was resolved and I made my way through the Maze hostel. It was literally a maze. It looked small from the outside, but inside it was huge with different coloured zones on each floor with a range of corridors heading off in all directions. Luckily my room was easy to find so I dumped my bag and headed to the bus stop.
In hindsight I could have probably walked quicker than the bus took though eventually it got to the stage where I knew my only hope was that the bus made up some time. Thankfully it did and I arrived outside Cadmans Cottage at 18.00. Before I had left I had posted a message telling people my plans for the night and to invite them along though this was more in hope than expectation as I knew it was a Thursday evening and very short notice. I was pleasantly surprised when Gaby from my trip across the Nullabor had said she’d meet me and she was already there when I arrived.
I had wanted to do a tour of ‘The Rocks’ and I had the same guide that had led mum and I during the 3 hour city tour a couple of months before so I knew what to expect in terms of his delivery. Whilst Gaby and I weren’t sure whether some of the stories were more myth than fact the stories about the areas early, modern and more recent history were still interesting.
We left Cadmans Cottage and passed a statue of Governor William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) who was only in charge for a short time as he suffered a mutiny by the army. He must have had a way with people! We then walked up a steep street which was once notorious for being an open gutter meaning ‘The Rocks’ could apparently be smelt from the coast before they could be seen.
Next we saw a number of the old style houses before walking through the Observatory Hill and past two of the pubs claiming to be the oldest in Australia (on different technicalities). We also saw an area of ‘The Rocks’ that had been excavated and where evidence suggested George Cribb had produced illegal alcohol something which police had suspected at the time but never proved. We also learnt that many of the residents have tied ribbons to their doors in a symbolic statement of solidarity as the government wants to move them out so they can sell the land to developers.
I had been told to visit the Australian (Heritage) Hotel more for the novelty value than any other reason because they made pizza toppings with various Australian ‘Bush Foods’. In the end I ordered half a “Coat of arms” Emu and Kangaroo) and half a “Crocodile”. I admit it sounds a weird combination but apparently according to the waitress it’s what every tourist orders.
There were lots of different craft beers on offer and as I couldn’t make a decision I just opted for the beer of the month. We also decided to get a dessert and whilst there were only two options I was torn because the choices were Pavlova or Chocolate Brownie. As I was having an Australia themed night I went for the former however I am aware New Zealand claims they created it and Australia ‘stole it’.
During the tour we were told there were 3 pubs claiming to be the oldest and ‘Hero of Waterloo’ had an interior most likely to reflect how it would have appeared in the 1800s so we opted for that one. It was nice to have shared the evening with someone as being alone wouldn’t have been so much fun and it was interesting to share experiences of the West Coast. Eventually we headed back to our hostels, stopping off in Circular Quay where I said a final goodbye to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. When I got in I was pleased that no one from my room was already asleep as I hadn’t had time to make my bed when I’d left and everyone being out allowed me some space to sort my bag.
Friday 7th March
I had planned to wake up quite early to visit the museums but I was feeling quite lethargic when I woke up and it was late morning by the time I actually left the hostel. I walked through Hyde Park and as I got to “The Domain” I got photographed by the Google Car. I wish I’d known it was there so I could have struck a pose. Instead when ever someone wants a street view of the Botanical Gardens they’ll get me head down lost in my mobile phone.
Eventually arrived at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. There was a tour of the 19th Century Australian collection at 14.00 so I decided I’d come back for that. Instead I therefore started the day at the Hyde Park Barracks where I was able to use my YHA card so entry was only $5. Entry included a free audio self guide around the museum which would hold my attention for longer but still allow me to explore at my own pace. I’d been advised it would take between one and two hours so I wouldn’t need to rush to still be back in time for the art gallery tour.
I was glad that I was visiting the museum and art gallery towards the end of this trip because it held a lot more significance for me. The names of the early settlers were more familiar to me than they were 3 months ago, I remember when over 1 year ago I couldn’t even say Macquarie now I could probably sit a test on how he transformed Sydney. It was the same when I eventually went around the art gallery. I believe I was the only non Australian in the group but I was also the only person to have been to Lake St Clair In Tasmania, which in 1875 was the subject of the first painting by an Australian to be acquired. I knew who the Indigenous artist Albert Namatjira was and had been around the West McDonnell Ranges where he had painted. It all meant more than just names on a display.
The Barracks were designed by an ex convict Francis Greenway on the instructions of Governor Macquarie who wanted Sydney to be a colony and more than just a penal settlement. The barracks were to house the ‘most useful’ convicts and they would eventually build the many other grand buildings such as the hospital that Macquarie envisaged to achieve his goal. The Barracks museum provided information on Sydney’s early convict history and are one of 11 sites across Australia that have been Heritage listed by UNESCO. It had some interesting displays, especially one on how old rat nests in between the floorboards have been the source of finding out about daily life within the building over the centuries.
I also liked the panorama of how Sydney appeared in 1822 as it was interesting to see how much the view had changed and which buildings had survived. I had assumed that there were immediate tensions between the Aboriginal population and the new settlers however this appeared to be misguided. Displays indicated how the new settlers went to Aboriginal sporting events and one observer of the day stated how popular they were amongst the new settlers. Sadly as the city expanded tensions escalated which ultimately resulted in numerous wars and the modern day issues the two totally different cultures appear to face in trying to co-exist. I have loved Australia and I truly hope a solution can one day be found that satisfies everyone.
I made my way back to the Art Museum where I joined the guided tour and it was interesting to see how the styles of Australian art changed throughout the decades. Perhaps the highlight for me was seeing one of the famous Ned Kelly paintings by Sidney Nolan. After the tour had ended I was going to have a look at some of the other displays on Aboriginal art work but despite really enjoying the day I was suffering from museum fatigue.
I made my way back through Hyde Park and thought I finally saw a Possum but it could quite easily have been a rat. There was a busker playing Hallelujah and despite having just told a charity seller / chugger I was in a rush I couldn’t help but listen and reflect on my time away. I returned back to the hostel where I quickly got changed before I left to meet up with Gaby at the Paddy Markets. As it was her last night in Australia Gaby was planning on having a Kangaroo kebab but I had to leave before she ordered it as I got a message from Jonathan telling me to meet him at his apartment near Bondi Junction.
I quickly said goodbye to Gaby and made my way to Bondi Junction and using the GPS on my mobile phone managed to find the address without any major issues. One of the few places that I wanted to visit was Watson’s Bay as I had heard that it gave good views of the city sky lime and Jonathan kindly agreed to drive me there as it was only slightly north of Bondi.
The view from Watsons Bay towards the city was very nice and we did a short walk around the cliffs and we saw the Hornby lighthouse and a number of derelict turrets from the second world war. Whilst initially there were ominous looking clouds and there had been a few drops of rain luckily any sudden downpours held off as I didn’t have a coat and had dressed for a night out rather than a walk. As we made our return to ‘The Gap’ the sunset was beginning and this made the cities skyline look particularly impressive though it wasn’t possible to see the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House as I had expected.
We arrived back at the car and returned to Bondi where we went for a few drinks at a German bar called Bavarian Bier Cafe. Jonathan’s housemate from Liverpool joined us and we all ended up all ordering the same burger and the same beers though this at least made us popular with the waitress as it was easy to remember. It was a good evening that lasted longer than I expected and it was great to meet up again as it had been about 3 years since we last saw each other when we went to Budapest with the ‘Berko Boys’.
Saturday 8th March
I spent the morning and early afternoon relaxing because I knew that it was likely to be a late night as that evening I was going to be seeing Bruno Mars in concert with Victoria. When we got the tickets back on 26th May last year I only really recognised a few songs. I had however become much more accustomed to his music over the past few months as his tracks have been played regularly on the tour bus play lists.
It seemed the others in my hostel room also intended to spend the day not doing very much though they were there for the music festival which had prevented me booking accommodation at the YHA. We got in each others way a bit and it wasn’t really helped by the fact we had tried to be quiet as the guy below me slept until 14.00 in the afternoon.
Eventually I left to meet Victoria at Epping so that I could collect my smaller backpack which contained the winter clothes I’d packed for Russia. When I did the Transmongolian before arriving in Australia it had sounded a great idea however now I faced the issue of trying to find space for a scarf, gloves and hat in an already bulging bag. It had all fitted in when I’d left and technically I’m now carrying less weight.
After dropping off my bag at the hostel we made our way to the Sydney Entertainment Centre where the concert was taking place. I had hoped, somewhat naively, that I had assumed I would be able sell my spare ticket for the gig I couldn’t make to a tout but unlike in the UK they didn’t appear to be out in force. We made our way through to the arena where we decided to stand quite near the front though this meant we had a side view.
The arena wasn’t that full before Miguel started but quickly filled up though I have to admit I don’t think I had heard anything by him before or if I had I didn’t recognise it. He tried to warm the audience up for the main act and at least tried to interact with us compared to some backing bands that just play their set list without uttering a word to the audience. During the interval I was going to get some popcorn and a beer though I feared it would be like UK prices so decided not to though Victoria had got a Champagne and popcorn which was surprisingly reasonable.
We made our way back inside and decided to stand in the middle looking head on towards the stage which had been changed to look a bit like a jungle. Bruno Mars started predictably with “Moonshine” as it was the Moonshine Tour. Like Jack Johnson he made the crowd sitting down stand up so they could dance though it wasn’t really until “Marry You” That the crowd around us became a bit more active. Bruno Mars put on a really good show and I was glad that he played the older songs I recognised. Victoria and I have been to a lot of events and it seemed a fitting way to say farewell until next time.
We were going to stay to see if we could get an autograph but in the end we left with the main crowd and tried to quickly get back to the station as Victoria had to catch a train home. We said our goodbyes not entirely sure when we’d next see each other but knowing the other was only a whatsapp message away and headed in our opposite directions.