For the next 20 weeks, I have decided to post the opening 500 words or so of each chapter – except Chapter 1. I’m excluding the first chapter as, although it is quite short, it contains a surprising tale of the trip’s beginning. If you want to read it without buying the book, you can either borrow it from a library, or read it in a book store.
So, here we go, Chapter 2. And don’t forget to view the Trip Companion on my website for some great photos.
******************************************************************************2 – City of national parks
Sydney and surrounds
Sydney is my home town. I know it well, so why not just continue north? To do so would have done Australia’s oldest city – famous for its superb harbour and sandy beaches, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and its national parks – an injustice.
The day started with my favourite Sydney activity. I caught the train to Milsons Point, climbed to Cahill Walk, and set off across the bridge, a great way to see the harbour’s sparkling waters and pretty foreshores. It is nonstop activity, a crisscross pattern of bow waves and stern wash as boats go about their business: ferries and rivercats, water taxis, pilot boats, cruise launches, charter boats and private craft.
The bridge is always moving, rumbling with traffic and trains, and expanding and contracting with changing temperatures. I stopped halfway, 60 m above the water, feeling the vibrations of the massive steel structure.
Scores of Sydneysiders had exchanged work shoes for runners and were power walking or jogging to the office. On the western side of the bridge, others were cycling to the city, sensibly separated from pedestrians. While many people cross on foot or by bike, thousands more sit in cars and drive.
I reached the southeast bridge pylon and climbed 200 steps to the lookout and visitor centre. An excellent display discussed the bridge’s history – the decades of argument preceding its building, through to its opening on 19 March 1932. A 10-minute film included helicopter footage of the harbour and bridge, photos taken during construction, and the millennium fireworks extravaganza – without commentary, just background music: it was superb. I watched it twice.
From the pylon lookout I enjoyed panoramic views of the city – the Opera House gleaming against the many greens of the Botanic Gardens, skyscrapers dwarfing Circular Quay, and the bridge arch to the north. In recent times, climbing the bridge has become the thing to do – three groups were going up, one coming down – but the pylon has a display, audio and views – and it’s cheaper.
I left Cahill Walk and detoured through the historic Rocks precinct. It dates back to the beginning of white settlement following the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Transported convicts were housed here; now it’s where old and new Sydney meet: narrow laneways and worn sandstone stairways slip between double-storey brick terraces against a backdrop of steel and glass high-rise.
In the early 1900s, the government, fearing an outbreak of bubonic plague, levelled the site. Part of it became a bus yard, then a car park, protecting over a century of history under a concrete slab.
The concrete is now gone, replaced by the Sydney Harbour youth hostel. Before building began, 20 archaeologists, working with 400 volunteers, unearthed foundations and earthenware pipes. The ‘Big Dig’, as it became known, found around 750,000 artefacts, some dating back to 1790. The hostel has been built above the excavations, protecting an important part of Sydney’s colonial history.
Nurses Walk, a series of stairways commemorating Sydney’s first hospital, led to Cadman’s Cottage. It was built in 1816 for the government coxswain John Cadman, who managed the activities and crews of the colony’s boats. The cottage – one of Sydney’s oldest buildings and now a historic site – is now the Sydney Harbour National Park information centre. I picked up some brochures and walked to Circular Quay, Sydney’s transport hub.