Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A Month in Australia 1

A Lorikeet demands food on my Sister's balcony.
A Flickr slidehow is found here.

1/19/2013  My Sister Jan’s family apartment in Artarmon overlooks North Sydney and a wonderful assortment of trees, palms and other tropical growth. Because of the recent heat, I expect a brown, desiccated landscape, but it rains the first day, the temp is low 20’s (it was 46C the day before, I luckily arrive with a “cold” front) and the vegetation is green, the recent fires apparently being caused by the growth of grass and underbrush after two years of abundant rainfall (and often started by young pyromaniacs). The trees are rich with avian life including hysterically laughing Kookaburras, Rainbow Lorikeets, Willie Wagtails, Noisy Miners, Pied Currawongs, Friarbirds and let’s not forget Galahs. A pair of beautiful Lorikeets land frequently on the balcony or window sills noisily demanding handouts.

1/20  The second day My Sister takes me to downtown Sydney, an area Jan lived in for several years.

The city is huge, modern, affluent and sophisticated…and spectacular. Several long bays crenellated with coves brings sailboats 20 km inland before meeting a fresh water river. The past is well preserved in old colonial buildings and parks and it all reminds me more of London or Paris than New York or Toronto.
We visit the Rocks, a downtown area of old sandstone 19th (and one 18th!) century buildings, and some cobblestone streets, now full of businessmen, shoppers and tourists. Sydney is well preserved, and they claim to know the exact spot where Captain Cook planted the English flag in 1770. There are many beautiful parks full of palm, fig, banyan and eucalyptus trees, numerous huge old colonial buildings and vistas of the water, Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
I don’t know why, but I never realized how huge the iconic Opera House is, or realized that the roof is distinctly patterned with tiles. Funny how these ubiquitous travel mega-symbols like the Eiffel tower, Statue of Liberty, Acropolis, Big Ben, Forum, Taj Mahal, Giza Pyramids or Mount Fuji seem somehow hyper-real when you first see them.
1/21  Today Jan took me to Ku Ring Gai national park.  A boardwalk led us over some mangrove swamp and then the trail headed up into the bush along the heights on both sides of the tidal river. I fell in love with the open forest with Gum and Eucalyptus trees. Lots of rock and vegetation, but always open to the sky. The trees often in convoluted shapes and sometimes appearing to ooze out of rocks. We see a beautiful black and green Goanna lizard, about four feet long, and find the huge pile of leaves that are a Mallee Bird nest. The bush is loud with cicada and shrieking Cockatoo and the continual lovely spicy scent of eucalyptus in the air. A sign points out an area of flat rock, where 23 axe-grinding grooves have been made by Aboriginals, with two bowl shaped depressions they used for water to wet the axes.
There is still some traces of an English orientation here. The row of little shops across from our local rail station have an English feel, although they have substantial marquees for shade. Like the British, the traffic system often uses roundabouts and drives on the wrong side of the road. Local names on the map are old country, Epping, Chipping Norton, Liverpool, Penrith, Paddington, Habersham. Of course other local names are Turramurra, Wooloomooloo, Wahroonga, Woy Woy, Kirribilli or Toongabbie. The suburbs we drive through remind me vaguely of Orange County or Millbrae in California, or maybe Etobicoke with palm trees.
1/22  I spend the day downtown taking photos in St Andrews Cathedral and the Queen Victoria Building, which looks suspiciously like the inspiration for the Eaton Center.
1/23 I walked through Hyde Park again and down into the Royal Botanical Gardens, a huge park near the harbour where I found a vast assortment of tropical trees of amazing shapes. What a city!! Then I walked back taking the main drag, George Street, through all the office buildings and skyscrapers. The streets are crowded, a mixture of business dress, surfer casual, or European chic in the case of many women. There are many Asians, but I only see about seven aboriginal faces all day. As befitting the major city in the country boasting the worlds 12th largest economy, Sydney is impressive, but still has charm and great style. I’m impressed, it trumps Toronto in many ways for sure.

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