The Accidental Tourist in the Emerald City

How glorious is summer in the Emerald City* at the moment. A completely different summer from last year of course in so many ways, not least the lack of intense searing heat, the choking smoke and the devastating fires, but of course the ongoing pandemic and its long-lasting (the new normal?) social ramifications. Currently in NSW masks are compulsory in all indoor settings, so ‘have mask, will travel’ is a constant niggling reminder, but there are promising musings from our premier that restrictions will be eased back to pre-Christmas settings by next week. Here’s hoping. 

No, this summer is the opposite of last – we’re now in the middle of the opposing weather phenomenon to El Niño, with La Niña influencing the east coast with increased summer rain fall and, in the far north tropics, more cyclonic activity. Since we’ve been back from the Daintree, they’ve had two cyclones barrel across the top end, though the last one fizzled out to sea. 

As for the East Coast, there have been practically no fires of any consequence, very few scorching above-40 days (other than last Spring oddly – before La Niña kicked in and, in news just to hand, this following week – actually now!) – just the occasional rolling storm and downpour and, as a result, one of the largest (and loudest) Cicada infestations in many a year. 

One of our favourite things to do on a balmy summer’s day is to play the ‘accidental tourist’ – that is, wander through the city with a vague-ish notion of direction. Of course the weekend has to start off with the usual early morning swim – sometimes in the ocean pool at Bronte or, as of this morning, a harbour swim at Nielsen Park – then a wander into the city via the Botanical Gardens, along the harbour wall at Farm Cove and then swing around over to the Opera House and Circular Quay. The Opera House never fails to impress – its size and position for one thing, but its billowing white sails still take your breath away. Not bad for a building that started construction in 1959 and finished in 1973! She hasn’t aged one bit – still gleaming white against the jet-blue sky and sitting beneath the towering arch of the Harbour Bridge with the ant-like figures taking on the infamous Bridge Climb. 

One of the most intriguing plants in the Botanical Gardens is the Wollemi Pine, one of the world’s oldest and rarest dating back to (and unchanged since) the time of the dinosaurs. There are believed to be less than 100 adult trees known to exist in the wild in just three stands – just outside of Sydney in a secret pocket of hidden canyon rainforest 200ks away in the Wollemi National Park. 

Thought to have been extinct for millions of years, a bushwalker and ‘modern day explorer’ happened to stumble upon some odd-looking pines whilst abseiling, noticing the unusual look of the leaves – resulting in one of the most significant botanic finds in centuries. I recently found out that a specially deployed team of remote area firefighters helped save these super endangered trees from last-years raging fires – though due to the remoteness of the canyon, the trees remain incredibly vulnerable, particularly from lightning strikes. 

So, back to being the ‘accidental tourist’….after swinging around Circular Quay we meandered over to the newly developed Barangaroo – once a grimy disused container terminal on the edge of the CBD, now a spectacular 22-hectare waterfront precinct of parks and gardens, bars, restaurants, boutique shops and, one massive (oversized) hotel / casino. The Crown, or as locals have nick-named it, ‘Packer’s Pecker’, after its hapless billionaire owner, James Packer. It’s the last thing Sydney needs, but there again, money talks, as Packer’s phallic Pecker rose to giddying heights on the edge of the CBD seemingly without any care or concern from local government… though in recent months, his entire Australian casino enterprise has been embroiled in shady dealings with the so-called Chinese underworld, so his licence is now under serious review. 

The whole Barangaroo development isn’t due to be completed until at least 2025. Meanwhile, over towards Cockle Bay and the entirely reimagined Darling Harbour precinct, the new ‘ribbon-like’ W Hotel is due to open mid 2021. There’s a ton of building and development happening in Sydney at the moment. After years and years of enduring mayhem with the light-rail construction we thought we’d finally emerge to a bright gleaming finished city. Fat chance. Nope, there’s even more happening in this city – not least the underground metro system and the unnecessary new football stadium. With so many buildings going up it’s hard to keep pace. Some of them however are looking quite promising… more to come on that. 

So plenty of things to do for an accidental tourist in Sydney in the coming months. 

*The Emerald City moniker was coined by playwright David Williamson in his 1987 play of the same name. Emerald City is a razor-sharp satirical portrait of Sydney that nails the long-held rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne – a feud stretching back so far that it’s become entrenched in the Australian psyche. 

‘Williamson himself moved from his native Melbourne to Sydney in 1979, and this loosely autobiographical story follows screenwriter Colin and his publisher wife Kate packing up the family to make the same shift, seeking fame and fortune in the optimistic ‘Emerald City’ of the 1980s.’ 

While Kate describes Sydney as “a city without a soul” compared to artful Melbourne, Colin rejoices in “images of lushness. Green leaves spilling over sandstone walls, blue water lapping at the sides of ferries. Flame trees, jacaranda, heavy rain bright sun,” as opposed to ‘Bleak City’ down south — “Everything in Melbourne is flat, grey, parched and angular. And everything is controlled and moderate… Sydney has always felt like a city of subtropical abundance.”

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Richard Turner says:

    A great ‘Accidental Tourist’ essay + photos. Thank you!


    1. Thanks Rich! So gorgeous here at the moment. Wish you could be here. x


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