Australia Day

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Flag of Australia  ,
Friday, January 27, 2006

Yolanda, Rachel and I board the Qantas flight to Sydney in the warm summer sunshine. The flight is a smooth one with some good views of the wild sea of the Bass Strait crashing into the North Tasmanian shore, although cloud envelopes us on the approach to landing in Sydney. Yolanda calls her brother (and flatmate) Edwin who drives out to meet us. Edwin, his Scottish fiancee Alison, and Yolanda live so close to the airport that we only have to wait 5 minutes before he rolls up in a big green Toyota to pick us up.

Sydney is cloudy, hot, and humid - we have become used to the pleasant cool sunshine of Tasmania. The traffic isn't too bad though because its a public holiday - Australia day. Yolanda informs us that we can go and see the fireworks later on that night. I ask her what Australia day signifies but she's not sure.

The disadvantage of living so close to an airport is obvious though as we enter their little flat in Leichhardt and a Boeing 747 thunders overhead. However other than the aircraft noise, the pad is excellent with a huge selection of shops and trendy restaurants downstairs. Edwin and Alison also have every conceivable electronic appliance available in the flat, and Rachel immediately tests out the collosal black leather massage chair positioned in the middle of the living room.

Edwin is helping Alison to finish off her MSc thesis which is a detailled analysis of fatigue in workers operating medical ultrasound equipment. She seems remarkably unfatigued though as she only has a short conclusion to write and the document to print out. We manage to persuade everyone to go out for a bite of Italian food to eat. I have a real craving for penne pasta with tomatoes which is wonderfully fulfilled in a place just downstairs. Afterwards we buy some supplies in a supermarket and two staff members in there don't know what Australia day signifies either, despite wishing me a good one.

In the afternoon Yolanda, Rachel, and I take the bus down to the harbour area and wander along the waterside enjoying the views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. There are crowds of people out and about and Rachel comments that there are lots of cleavages, bare flesh, and tanned bodies to look at. I thought Australia was supposed to be more conservative than England in that regard, but it certainly feels like Leeds on a Saturday night.

We wander through the Botanical Gardens looking a the strange collection of unfamiliar trees and shrubs where ponderous ibis hunt for grubs in the tightly mown grass. As we are heading back to the bus stop a tipsy white Australian man with a goatee calls loudly to passers by to attract their attention. On a collision course, but not wanting to get involved in a pointless conversation I wave at him and walk on. He shouts at us as we pass: 'go back to your own fuckin country then'. Welcome to Sydney, I think to myself.

In the evening we meet up with the rest of Yolanda's family including her Mum, granmother (now 87), and long-haired fundamental physicist brother Alvian. We enjoy an enormous banquet in a Chinatown restaurant. Rachel thinks the combination of dishes might be even tastier than what she has eaten in Hong Kong.

Just before 9pm Rachel, Yolanda and I wander down to Darling Harbour where the Fireworks are promised. There's a colourfully lit stage in the middle of the harbour where entertainments are already in full swing. As the dancers move around the stage, multi-coloured spotlights swirl around the sky lighting up the downtown buildings. Giant screens on top of aluminium gantries light up with images of everything Australian, and loud music with a bass pedal of digeridoo creates a trance-like atmosphere. A deep Australian voice, like Richard Burton's in War of the Worlds, booms out poetry over the PA system. We hear phrases like: 'we are a meaningful people' and I wonder why they need to say that. Soon the fireworks start and we are treated to a spectacular show where light, sound, and fire fill me with sensation but somehow leave me empty.

Next day we head out to the Blue Mountains where we hope to do a little hiking. As we drive out through the suburbs it all feels familiar as we see sights like McDonalds, Ford dealerships, and DIY stores; a facsimile of the outskirts of every Western city. The highway ends and we park up not far from the town centre of Glenbrook on the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park. We hike through the sparse bush spotting lyre birds and a pair of strange wide-eyed birds of prey that appear like a cross between an owl and a falcon. We reach a cave where there are 10,000 year old aboriginal hand prints scattered over the walls and ceiling. It is hard to imagine that the Aboriginals lived a stone-aged existence for 60,000 years in Australia, which abruptly came to an end only 150 years ago. The walk is tough-going because of the humidity and heat, and I realise I haven't sweated this much since trekking through the rainforest in Malaysia.

We drive further into the Blue Mountains stopping in Katoomba, where we buy iced coffee to wake us up, cool us down, and give us energy. We find a place to park amidst the crowds and wander on some 'highly managed' walkways where we get a view of the 3 sisters and other geological features from the top of the escarpment. The forest really does have an ethereal blue tinge, apparently from the oil given off by the gum trees. We only last 1 hour in the 35 degC heat and we breath a sigh of relief as the air conditioning in the Toyota kicks in as we cruise back to Sydney.

In the evening we meet a very laid-back looking Alison and Edwin who take us out to a trendy Thai restaurant in Newton. Despite being the biggest Thai restaurant I've ever seen the service and the food are faultless. Edwin and Alison tell us with relief that the thesis is now finally finished. As regulars they are recognised by the manager and we get a free dessert of ice cream and fruit.

In the evening we pack our stuff ready for leaving to New Zealand the next morning. We have enjoyed our stay in Sydney, but some of the exotic gloss has now rubbed off. And I still don't know the meaning of Australia Day.
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uncle_davros on

January 26 1788
This was the day Captain Phillip sailed into what is now known as Circular Quay, so, we celebrate the birth of Australia on this day. Hence our country celebrating bi-centennial celebrations in 1988

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