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Cruise Diary: Sydney

HAL blogger Gary Frink currently is sailing on board Oosterdam and will be sending in posts from his voyage.

The year is 1788. Eleven ships of the British First Fleet enter the vast, hospitable natural harbor and drop anchors. Slowly, methodically, sailors of the fleet off-load 736 passengers into life boats for the short paddle to the rocks, forming the shore. That day marked the founding of Australia and Sydney, its oldest and largest city. The 736 passengers were “convicts”, men and women forcibly removed to the new continent to begin the British colonization of Australia.

Two hundred and thirty five years later, with the rising sun streaming through the eight or so shells, representing sails (perhaps of the original eleven naval ships) that make up the structure of the beyond-dramatic, iconic Sydney Opera House, the Oosterdam slowly eased its way into the horseshoe dock area of the largest natural harbor in the world. When ship’s lines were secured, we were attached to the Circular Quay, exactly where the 736, God-forsaken, bedraggled, forced-to-be-founding Australians came ashore. Beyond our bow was the skyscraper-laden, commercial core of Sydney, a four million person, 4,000 square mile megalopolis.



Sydney, here we come!

Jeanne and I didn’t have a plan, but we knew wanted to wander the now-chi-chi Rocks area, where original warehouses and residences have been turned into urban-obligatory museums, jewelry shops and sidewalk cafe-fronting pubs and eateries. It was Saturday morning as our short time ashore began. It appeared to us as if every other small structure along the narrow Rocks streets contained a joint that would have been delighted to vend us its brunch special; one such, extended out into the cobblestone street under a canvas awning, was doing a brisk business in long, steaming, bratwursts, hacked into three pieces and placed diagonally on a bun with sauteed onions. The brats looked great, in a Wisconsin sort of way, and emitted such a delightful aroma, I almost succumbed; this, despite a full multi-egg and yoghurt breakfast aboard ship.

We passed Cadman’s Cottage, the oldest home in Sydney (1816), named for its first owner, John Cadman, a horse thief. Alas, the horse thief’s residence was in a state of resurrection and we were denied entrance. We did enter, however, The Rocks Discovery Museum and browsed a bit, among a very eclectic depository of early Australian pottery and bottles. Next, it was on to George Street and the Rocks Saturday and Sunday open-air market.

“What’s the name of this place?” I asked Yvonne, the barmaid, as she drew me a draft brew and began making Jeanne’s favorite Australian drink, Lemon/Lime Bitter. Well, it’s the Mercantile Hotel, but everyone just calls it “The Irish Pub.” Signs in the place proclaim it to be Australia’s oldest such establishment. “Are you native Australian?” I asked. “Oh, no” came the answer. “I was born in Dublin; been here 40 years, but I go home every year.” At the Walsh Bay end of the Mercantile Hotel, on George St., Jeanne and I settled in a couple of chairs around a heavy metal table, under a large leafy tree. Across from our beachhead was a Rocks Market fresh water pearl vender; next to it, a booth selling bright-colored-to-excess kitchen aprons. Saturday shoppers strolled to and fro.

As I sipped my beer, I was in the mood of a hawk, drifting in the thermal currents, looking for prey to dive upon. I wanted an Australian to speak with me. Finally, a young man, in his 20s, idled by us. “Young man, are you an Australian?” He was moderately startled. “Yes, I am,” he said in a manner that I discerned he hadn’t been put off by my forwardness. “My wife and I are from the United States, here for a few hours, and we haven’t as yet spoken with an Australian.” His name is Angus. “Wow,” said I. That is sure a name that has gone into disuse in the states. He laughed and said: “McDonald’s has made my name famous, what with the beef sandwiches.” I told him that he didn’t sound as distinctly Australian as I had expected. He laughed. “You go out into the back country and you’ll get all of the Crocodile Dundee you can handle.” Fine young man, Angus.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed in 1932, and it is claimed to be the widest bridge in the world and one of the longest single-span bridges. When we were strolling, after our beverages at “The Irish Pub” we found ourselves standing under the bridge, chatting with a supervisor of security for the Saturday/Sunday market. “Are you going to walk the bridge,” he wanted to know. I demurred on the basis of age. “Well, you can walk the steps up two it, it’s only three stories.” He was correct and we did climb the three stories of steps and walk some of the bridge. The direction we went was toward the opposite side of the horseshoe from the Oosterdam, which contains the Opera House on its furthest point.

We walked until we could take an elevator to a sea-level plaza on the Opera House side of the horseshoe. We immediately headed toward the dramatic structure. While we didn’t take a formal tour, we meandered around the building, ending our sojourn in gift shop. We made two over-priced memories-of-the-Sydney-Opera-House purchases: An elegant, hip t-shirt for Jeanne and an elaborate tea towel; those items cleaned out our Australian paper dollars. When I paid, I reached into my pocket and put two or three dollars of coins on the counter, and said to the pleasant young people at the cash register: “I don’t need these, buy yourselves a Coke.” They were actually pleased.

As we left the Opera House, I noticed that the sturdy gift shop bag containing our purchases had writing on one side: “Did you know? That the 1,056,000 off-white and buff ceramic tiles covering the Sydney Opera House shells were made in Sweden.” Nope, I surely didn’t.

We re-walked the dock horseshoe, and as we approached the Oosterdam I came upon two men in uniform; they were dock authority “Rangers.” “I asked what they did as rangers. “We try to keep things running smoothly, Mate.” I practically grabbed the man: “I have been in Sydney for a few hours and you are the first person to call me ‘Mate.’ You, sir, have made my day.” We both were pleased at that concept.

Jeanne and I agree that we could spend considerable time in Sydney, Australia. We know, however, that our glass is more than half full.

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