Près les ramparts de Sydney
One of our lecturers, retired British Navy, thinks James Cook was the greatest captain, navigator, explorer of them all. Cook sailed into Botany Bay in 1770, claiming the whole east coast of what is now Australia for England, calling it New South Wales. The Aboriginal peoples had been here for 40,000 years. They remained part of the Sydney city population up until the late 1800s, when they decamped. Europeans settled Sydney in 1788 when 11 vessels in ‘The First Fleet’ loaded with 1400 convicts, soldiers and a few others were sent here from Britain. Up until then, Britain sent their convicts to the colonies, where many became indentured servants. But when they lost our Revolution, the Brits had to find someplace else to send their convicts. I read that these convicts weren’t the worst. Remember your Dickens: people could be jailed or even hanged for being in possession of a forged bank note, stealing a piece of food, etc. So those who were ‘transported’ weren’t all hardened criminals and, once they’d served their time, many became part of the new society and the new economy.
Sydney boasts the world’s second largest natural (not dredged) harbor after Rio. Their famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, finished in the 1930s during the Depression, was called ‘The Iron Lung’ because it breathed new life into the city. At around 5 million, the population is just larger than Melbourne’s, and is about one-fifth the country’s total. As you might expect, most people, at least those of European extraction and the many immigrant groups, live near the coasts.
There are also around 40 million kangaroos — including the wallaby who made headlines last month as he hopped across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge in the early a.m. He was captured and returned to the park lands outside the city from whence he, presumably, came. Fortunately no headlines were made by our Viking passengers who foolishly volunteered for the Sydney Bridge shore excursion. This began with a mandatory Breathalyzer test then moved on to harnessing and hooking tethers to the rails so they could climb up, up, and all the way across the uppermost curvy part of the bridge. Took about three hours. All lived to tell the tale. Sydney was an overnight. Our first day, I took a tour that bussed us all around the city and to the famous (why? just because it’s topless?) Bondi Beach for a photo op I could have done without. That tour’s highlight was the hour+ tour inside the Sydney Opera House. There are six theatres, and they present 1500 performances every year — opera, ballet, drama and the philharmonic. We saw two of the theatres, including the one I would return to later, the opera venue:
Complicated story of the Opera House’s financial backing (politicos got involved, of course) and its design by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. The plan was finished in 1959 and completion was scheduled for 1962, at a cost of $7 million AUD. Fourteen years later, having endured a two-year work stoppage and costing $102 million, it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth. So 2023 will be its 50th anniversary.
Interesting fact: The design idea came to Utzon when he was peeling an orange and saw how a sphere (the rind) could be divided into parts. Those parts of the SOH were pre-fabricated then assembled on site. The outside of the shells (some call them sails) is ceramic tiles, each individually attached, that reflect the sun and are cleaned naturally by rain. There are no gutters: the water sheets off the sails like so many waterfalls and is carried by pipes into the harbor.
That was the Viking tour highlight. The whole day’s highlight was, of course, the performance of Carmen for which I’d bought my ticket on August 28. About 80 of us from the cruise went. Do open this link – https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/carmen-sydney#media-id=1299872653360534 – and look at the photos. It was a fun production, colorful, and humorous. Break-dancing adolescents and an excellent corps de ballet added to the fine singing. Sold out crowd since this was opening night of the season.
Second day in Sydney, since I’ve had a relapse with the Ship Bug, I took it easy. Only walked 11,783 steps. Spent half a day wandering around, starting at the QVB: the Queen Victoria Building, built in the 1890s as the Municipal Market. It reopened in 1986, all refurbed into an elegant galleria of high-end shops.
The photo above is not two shots, it is only one: the two-story view looking up the escalator. Turn round and you see these windows:
Then a stop at Sydney’s oldest pub, the Lord Nelson, for fish & chips and a pint. Felt like I’d walked into Morse.
After libations, I wandered around the area near the harbor called The Rocks, the first part of the city to be settled by Europeans, and stopped at The Rocks Discovery Center, a small history museum of the area.
Back on the ship, I lucked into dinner with my friends Les and Ellen who were with Michael, the Cruise Consultant (left) and the dance instructor (on my right), my friend Matthew. I may be speaking to that cruise consultant one of these days... Photos of the meal will follow —I’m off to a jazz piano concert now. #