Monday 22nd February was our wedding anniversary, and we celebrated with a night at the Sofitel Darling Harbour in Sydney. We masked up and braved the train – our first journey on public transport for months – arriving to a warm welcome around 11am, where we ditched our bag and went off for a walk around the precinct. The Eora people called Darling Harbour ‘Tumbalong’, meaning a place where seafood is found, and when Europeans came along they called it Cockle Bay. Once a working port, with warehouses and rail lines, it was transformed into a tourist precinct in 1988 as part of our Bicentennial Celebrations. Since then it has had several revamps and extensions. It is home to the Maritime Museum, Sea Life Aquarium, Wild Life Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Convention Centre, and the Exhibition Centre, as well as numerous restaurants and some shops (the latter looking a bit tired and homogenous). Our room on the 20th floor overlooked the Central Business District of Sydney from the Cockle Bay end of the waterway. It acquires different names as you pass under the bridge in the left hand side of the below photo. On the right, the former IMAX theatre and restaurants are being rebuilt. The pontoon and dinghies also on the right is an outdoor floating cinema! The texture in the photo is dirt on the window 🙂
At this stage the day was sunny and bright, temperatures pushing towards 30’C (86’F). After a delightful outdoor lunch of a shared tapas plate we wandered along past the Maritime Museum, much of which is outdoors (natch, it’s where the boats go!). The HMAS Onslow is always popular, but closed at the moment. Submarines weren’t designed for social distancing at the best of times.
The ferry terminal Pyrmont Bay Wharf is at the end of the boardwalk, and we jumped on board to be taken around to Circular Quay. Our ferry, Bungaree was put into service in 2017. Six of these Emerald Class were commissioned. One was to be named Ferry McFerryface but the Maritime Union seamen – quite rightly in my opinion – refused to crew it with such a silly name. It transpired it was a politician’s personal pick (dohhh!). It was then renamed May Gibbs, after our beloved children’s author of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame, the gumnut babies who live in the bush. You can visit the home, Nutcote House, that inspired her stories by taking a ferry from Circular Quay to Neutral Bay (not open Mondays or we would have gone there.)
The newest redevelopment in Sydney is an area now called Barangaroo. Again, this entire section of waterfront was part of the inner-harbour cargo movements, and Bill worked here on conventional and small capacity containers ships until the late 1990s. At the end of the point stands One Barangaroo. This phallic symbol is intended to be a casino and hotel complex, however the operator Crown Casino, part of the empire of the mighty media Packer family, has been found by the New South Wales regulator to be unfit to hold a licence due to money laundering and links to organised crime. Which makes it something of an impotent phallic symbol in my opinion (and that’s the polite version of how I described it to Bill).
The ferry crosses over to that side of the waterway to a new stop called Barangaroo Wharf 1, then across again to another peninsula point, Balmain East, before turning north-east to cross the face of Lavender Bay on Sydney’s north shore. As I write in my manuscript, “McMahons Point on one side and Milsons Point on the other, are twin peninsulas extending into Sydney harbour like the long fingers of two hands cupping Lavender Bay between their protective palms.” Tourists can alight at Milsons Point for a very pleasant walk around to Wendy’s Secret Garden, which is hidden in the greenery of this long-distance photo.
The big excitement at Milsons Point is Luna Park, where the laughing clown face waits to welcome revellers to its amusements. Beside the wharf is an Olympic swimming pool which is about to be closed for renovations. Then passengers pass under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and look towards the Opera House as the ferry heads for its final stop at Circular Quay. I’ve put in some sample photos with titles that can be viewed by clicking on them in the gallery (I hope). One is out of focus but I thought it was fun to compare the contrast between cultures: Opera House versus Casino.
We hadn’t organised ourselves to do anything special. Tosca was playing at the Opera House, but that is not Bill’s thing. Some other theatres were operating but had already sold their limited allocation. So we opted to go to the cinema – another first since COVID reached us twelve months ago. Would you believe we were the only two in a cinema seating around three hundred! We saw The Dry, based on Jane Harper’s book of the same name. Given that the drought ravaged Australian landscape was practically another character, it deserved being viewed on the big screen. With time to kill, we wandered around the Opera House. Most people think of its architecture as sails, but from a certain angle, I see conquistador’s hats. See my point?
When we left the cinema around 6pm, it was a different day outside. The temperature had dropped dramatically. It was overcast and windy. We decided to jump on the ferry and go back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel, a complimentary bottle of red and a note from the management acknowledged our special day. We drank this later, ensconced in fluffy bathrobes after having showered off the stickiness of the humid day, while we watched the night view from our hotel window.
But first, it was a drink in the downstairs bar then off to dinner, again along the Darling Harbour waterfront. I joke that we had dinner by candelight, thousands of wattage worth. We sat outside under a warm heater, and watched the few couples who came along for a Ferris wheel ride. This is new since the last time we visited, and I think the attraction must be the view from its height, although the planning would never had factored in a loss of trade from a pandemic. Lit up, it presented a pretty picture, and as we walked the short distant back to the hotel, I noticed that it too had its own colour changing light display: red, green and blue. And what looked like pink but may have been an optical illusion. I’ve only included one example in the photo gallery.
What would we do without electricity? Earth hour is coming up this Saturday 27 March. It would interesting to see if all these offices and businesses complied. All the same, it was a pretty picture from the 20th Floor.
… and so to bed …