Crossing the Ditch to Sydney, Day 1

March 22, 2019

March 15, 2019, Sydney, Australia — Going to London, we ‘hop the pond.’ Going to Australia, we ‘cross the ditch’ from New Zealand. The ditch can be rough going... this is the Tasman Sea, after all. But it wasn’t too bad...yet. Guest Services always has green apples available, and bowls of candied ginger for the mal de mer-prone.


Just before 6 a.m., we sailed into the world’s largest natural harbor. I pulled back the drape just in time to catch the Sydney Opera House in the distance.


​I had two major objectives in Sydney: A photographic walking tour with a professional photographer, and the Opera (see subsequent post). We were still at the cruise terminal when our first photo op popped up... this young excursions guide with her giant red Viking umbrella.​


​We took a harbor ferry from the terminal to Circular Quay, in the heart of Sydney. You know me and architecture...​

So, on to shots taken on the Photo walk. Alfonso, our instructor guide, knew the best vantage points.


 Inside the Australian Hotel, a very funky place that I was happy to photograph...

​ ... or have a beer at... but I wouldn’t want to stay there.

In the distance, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, built in the ’30s, during the Depression. Several of my friends* climbed it — up over 1000 steps up over the top! I just noticed, this photo reminds me of Hopper. 



And this one reminds me of O’Keeffe. Both painters greatly influenced my artist husband, David.



​Many of Sydney’s original buildings were built by convicts, of local sandstone...

But before our photo tour continues, I know you’re all anxiously awaiting today’s history lesson.


In the mid-17th century, the Dutch East India Company, always looking for more spice sources, sent explorers in search of Terra Australis Incognito. This was the ‘unknown land of the South’ that ancient Romans and even earlier thinkers just knew had to be down at the bottom of the planet — because the planet needs a counterweight, lest it fall over. Finding naked Aborigines who weren’t interested in trade goods and had no spices, the Dutch pushed on and left the continent for others to claim. Enter our old friend Jim Cook, who arrived in 1768 on the first of his three antipodean voyages. By 1770, he had claimed the entire east coast (which became New South Wales) for Britain. The first colony was established in 1788 in Botany Bay, just south of present-day Sydney.


But how do you populate a new British colony on the other side of the world? Who would voluntarily pick up stakes and travel into the unknown? Not many. 


As most of us were taught in school, Australia (including Tasmania) was ‘settled’ mostly by convicts deported from Britain. Not that they had a choice. Up until the Revolutionary War, Britain had sent its convicts to the American colonies, and some 25% of all 18th-century immigrants were convicts. But the War of Independence ended that convenient solution. I’ve got an idea: Let’s send them to Australia! 


But what’s a ‘convict’? Not a murderer... they were all hanged. In fact in the late 1700s, 222 crimes — including petty theft — carried the death penalty. Someone I met sometime somewhere descended from a convict deported to Australia for stealing 3 sheep. Some were not thieves at all — they were debtors pulled out of English debtor prisons. Or political prisoners. Or someone who was caught out at night after curfew without good reason, who could be arrested and deported. Whatever the stated sentence in number of years, it was actually a life sentence, because even after his (or her) time was served, he (or she) had no money to buy a ticket home. It’s all very Dickensian. 


The British Royal Navy sent out The First Fleet of convict ships in 1787, loaded with 1,000-1,500 poor wretches. Small problem: they forgot to add in a few farmers and some livestock. So the ships arrived and the new ‘settlers’ couldn’t feed themselves. They managed to hold out until The Second Fleet arrived in 1790, under the whip of an old slave trader captain known to be ‘a demented sadist.’ Most of those new convicts were sick and dying. In 1791 The Third Fleet of 11 ships arrived with 2,000 more convicts plus some military and some bureaucrats — and some provisions.


Once here, depending on the place the convict was sent and the original ‘crime,’  he could end up in a prison or as an indentured servant to a free settler, i.e., as free labor. Convicts didn’t just live in the prisons— they had to build them first, and much of the rest of the new colony’s infrastructure on mainland Australia and also on the island of Tasmania. 


Reforms by Lt. Gov. Richard Bourke in the mid-1800s led to the emancipation of many convicts and the end of convict ships. After 80 years, the transports finally stopped in 1868. By then, a total of 806 ships had transferred between 150- and 160,000 convicts. 


Today, I was told, Australians are proud if they can prove they’re descended from one of the original convict ‘settlers,’ as about 20% are.


By 1854, only 66 years after its founding, Sydney had become a European-style city.


Back to the photo shoot... as I said, our guide took us to good places: 



And he taught us a gimmick... 




After the photo walk, I visited the Contemporary Art Museum. I call this harbor shot ‘Through a Screen, Darkly.’ 

The museum has an extensive ​Aboriginal and Aboriginal-inspired collection, including this painting on bark... 

Study them: What animals do you see in these found-wood sculptures? 

In the museum shop. Study them: What artists do you see in these sox? (Read the labels.)

I always run into brides when I travel: Rome in 1969, Venice in 1998, Shanghai in 2018, among others. 

*My crazy bridge-climbing fly-boys, Shaun and Josh, who make up one half of the Viking Vocalists quartet. They are daredevils. 

Wildlife encounter on my post-prandial walk around The Rocks, the very fun harbor-side area in Sydney. In about three weeks, I hope to see one of these in the flesh. #

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