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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Americans abroad: Sydney

A journey to Australia inevitably begins or ends or circles back to Sydney. At least, ours do. Sydney is the largest city in the country. When I was a kid and barely knew where Australia was, I remember that list of largest cities from publication pages in books: New York, London, Toronto…and Sydney. So I knew it was a place I would someday go.


And my cousins' apartment in Sydney was the first place I ever stopped in Australia, when we visited four years ago. But before catching up with them, I need to catch up on The Discreet Traveler. Faithful readers may recall my visit to the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Built in 1965, it was the “new” mosque when my aunt Janet visited two years later. It is thanks to her that I made a point of going there and being photographed in front of the very 1960s wall where she was pictured in this very ’60s miniskirt.

Photo courtesy of Janet Knowles Haisman
No robes being handed out when she visited! It’s a great picture, and it just goes to show that there are fashions in religion, as in anything else. Covering women in this part of the Islamic world was not a thing in 1967, and it may not be a thing in the future. 


It is probably thanks to my aunt that I’ve done all this traveling in my life, not just to the National Mosque.


So we continued the family theme by visiting our American cousins. They've been in Sydney for a while now and are pretty well ensconced here. It helps that they get to travel a lot, and visit the U.S. frequently. It also helps that this is the view from their balcony.
Sydney Harbour Bridge

They're an easy train ride from the airport, and we settled in for a stress-free weekend enjoying Sydney. Only slight issue was that over the weekend, the train system was doing what it does on so many weekends back in the U.K.: Track repairs. Instead of the easy train ride across the river into town, we had a bus replacement to content with. Still pretty much of a cinch after some of the public transit we used in Africa and Asia. Or Budapest!
Queen Victoria Building

If you stay on the train long enough, you can get out of town to Cronulla. There's a beach there which we were fortunate enough to visit with our friends. We last saw these friends when they hosted us in Bakio in the Basque Country. But half the year they spend here. Back in June in Spain, their little daughter was quite shy with us and didn't warm to having company. What a difference eight months make in the life of a two-year-old.

We started Sunday afternoon at Luna Park, another slice of history that became decrepit in the 1970s and was luckily saved from the wreckers. Luna Park is a loony replica of a classic 1930s American theme park. Its funhouse, named after Coney Island, remains basically unchanged, and it's fun to watch 21st-century kids playing on giant slides, pinball machines, and other wonderfully analog things that I remember from my own childhood.


From Luna Park, we took another integrated part of Sydney's public transit--the ferry--across to Circular Quay.

I never knew this until I was a young adult, but there's a famous building in Sydney. It's the Opera House and, like the Eiffel Tower, it's an icon of the city that was hated at first. The Sydney Opera House's construction went on throughout the 1960s and it finally opened in 1973.



The area around Circular Quay is called The Rocks. There's a lot of shopping and dining there now, but The Rocks were almost destroyed in Sydney's building boom during the 1960s. Are we sensing a pattern here? Fortunately, a group of neighborhood activists at the time were successful in preserving this part of history, and today it's a really interesting place to hang around. 

In one afternoon I saw a Muslim mom watching her kids in a 1935 funhouse, a Sikh family waiting for the ferry, and a butch-femme female couple having their portrait painted in the Rocks. Even if it weren't for the skyline, Sydney would be a pretty cool city.

Our last night in Sydney we had an unexpected opportunity. Social media being what it is, one of our friends had shared a post from a musician she's a fan of, and tagged us because she knew where we were traveling. The musician, Erin McKeown, was the opening act at the Sydney Opera House, and needed a couple of volunteers to help her at the merchandise table before and after the show. Were we interested?


T. said sure! We'd been backpacking through Asia for months and freely admitted we weren't up to speed on the music, but by the time the audience started to arrive, T. was hawking CDs (and, by gum, a vinyl record) with authority. Yes, you should buy this one, this is the new one. Of course Erin is a fantastic guitar player! You'd better buy now, you'll be kicking yourself after the show when we run out of albums.


Well, we did run out of albums and there was a customer to whom T. said "What did I tell you?" In between, we thoroughly enjoyed Erin's music, and were amused by the podcast that was the main act. All the rest of the audience seemed to be millennial cult followers of Night Vale. The loudest cheer for these U.S. artists was for the recollection that in 2014, the president of the United States had not been a national embarrassment. That, and Erin's use of the term "queer." She had said there would be a mad rush after the show, and there was.


Erin McKeown. Check it out. We loved the songs, and we got to sing along in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House. What will these travels bring next?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another fine read, beginning with a lovely tribute to Auntie Janet as the inspiration for your traveler's spirit; and ending with a delightful account of your Sydney Opera House sales and show adventure! G & P