Exploring Australia 14: Sydney 2

Harbour Bridge from The Rocks, Sydney

Harbour Bridge from The Rocks, Sydney

The following day I started my exploration at the magnificent Sydney Central station.  Sydney has varied transport opportunities, most of which I didn’t use:  the rail-system appears to be comparable with services out of London Waterloo or Victoria, running double-deck carriages that were developed to avoid lengthening station platforms; there is a single LRT tram route which trundles through the station forecourt and disappears off the top-left-hand corner of the street map;  there is even a monorail, similar to the one I remember in Butlin’s Camp, Skegness, in the 1960s.  There is also the waterborne alternative of the Sydney Ferries, crossing the harbour to outlying districts.

I used the open-top sightseeing tour operated by the same company that runs the tours in London, Edinburgh, Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon (and Malaga, Marrakech and Tallinin for that matter) www.city-sightseeing.com.  As might be expected, their tour is comprehensive and the commentary informative.  The open top deck is, of course, a major advantage for photography.  The disadvantage is that the bus exhaust is at upper-deck level, and having wondered about the black discolouring of the seat cushions when I sat right at the back I found after a while that my eyes stung so much I had to sit downstairs.

There is a competing tour company which runs single-deck coaches on a longer route including crossing and recrossing the Harbour Bridge:  in this case, the opportunities for photography are relatively limited by the roof.

The major snag about either tour is that they run only one way:  I did the entire open-top circuit to get my bearings, and then wasted considerable time riding round to get to places that I later realised were within walking distance.  For speed I could, if I’d had presence of mind and read the map carefully, have got around more quickly on the inner-city free circular bus, route 555.  The result was that in the time available I saw a little of a great deal, and my quality experiences were rationed.

One of these was the Queen Victoria Building [http://www.qvb.com.au/About-QVB], an extremely grand former produce market that after many years of neglect is now a lively shopping centre.  The story goes that its demolition was stalled because of trade-union objections to the vandalism of destroying such a magnificent part of Sydney’s heritage.  It fills an entire block but is actually quite narrow:  on the central axis are two entrances with swooping staircases which give close-up views of stained-glass windows that run through two storeys.  It reminded me a little of the Midland Grand Hotel at London St Pancras.

I dawdled productively at the Powerhouse Museum [http://www.powerhousemuseum.com] built, like the Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield, into the former tramway power station.  The original industrial buildings, with overhead cranes and other paraphernalia left in place, are huge enough to lose an entire steam-locomotive, a governor’s saloon, a signal box and the destination board from Sidney Central Station in one corner.  The place is on the scale of Tate Modern on London’s Bankside.  For me, the greatest delight in this superb museum was the Strasbourg Centennial Clock, which tells more time than you’d ever want to know, reproduces exactly the locations of the planets in the solar system, and features on the hour the Twelve Disciples receiving benediction from Christ, with the cock crowing at Peter and Satan keeping a baleful eye on Judas.

Having wasted precious time misusing the bus tour, I was privileged, after meeting some colleagues from the Australian Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies, for whom I’m returning to Australia to lecture next year, to be taken from the Opera House across the Botanical Gardens, by Lawrence West, a retired architect who pointed out all manner of interesting buildings on McQuarie Street and Park Street.  Of these, the highlight for me was the interior of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, a scholarly Gothic design of 1868-1882 by William Wardell, equal in length and grandeur to many of the European originals on which it is modelled.  In comparison, the Anglican cathedral, St Andrew’s, is a more modest building of parish-church proportions on a cramped site next to the Town Hall.

I should have taken the opportunity to ride on the Sydney Monorail in 2010 or 2011.  It closed in 2013 and has been entirely demolished.  I didn’t return to Sydney until 2017.

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