The 30th of January.
The day after the 30th of January, the 68th year of my life I woke suddenly and early as is my habit in this strangely familiar place, Sydney, Australia. I’m woken by a pair of Lorikeets, their ratcheting call like the intermittent flaring of two welding torches; a neighbour across the road feeds these green, red, blue and yellow birds on her window sill. I listen for a while, then, without moving, my body tells me it aches from the exertion of yesterday’s swimming at Bondi Beach.
The sun returned to Sydney yesterday after a long absence as it often does following a holiday weekend, this time, Australia Day 26/01/2013. Five us piled into the ever willing Honda Jazz and set off south from Killara to cross The Bridge and venture to the South Shore with one specific destination in mind. As a diversion we stopped off at Cooper Warf to stroll along Finger Quay, skilfully transformed into a marina, apartments and restaurants; the surrounding area, gentrified to provide yet more of the same. Conservation is rampant. The lesson learned almost too late, is that historic buildings and their setting remain a priceless legacy to be kept intact, used and reused according to some present and future function; for the moment eating drinking and sleeping is in high demand in this city with so much to offer: no use a game reserve with no animals.
Next stop Paddington, a once wild and inhospitable neighbourhood south of the of the inlet of Port Jackson. In the second half of the 1800’s when the army barracks were removed to a site on Paddington Ridge, the area was parcelled up into lots and sold to small developers to build houses for the construction workers; terraced house for maximum profit. These garden-less, cramped, dark little houses didn’t appeal to the upwardly mobile and by the 50-60’s the area was ripe for renewal. Now an area of steep street after street lined with beautifully embellished terraces, the famous ‘iron lace’ balconies, barge boards and brackets, glimpses of Port Jackson Sound, soon attracted galleries, restaurants, cafes and fashion boutiques.
We decided a future visit on foot was necessary, even mandatory. Temperature increasing and Bondi Beach was next and final destination.
Some months ago I had torn from a life-style magazine in my doctor’s waiting room of a picture of a restaurant called Ice-cube; a gleaming white glass cube over-looking the expanse breathtaking sweep of Bondi Bay.
Bondi is an Aborigine word meaning ‘sound of waves crashing over rocks’.
We feasted on excellent ‘fish and chips’ (banish all images of ‘fish’n chips’ from your mind, immediately) watching the breakers sweep into the bay, spewing over retaining walls, flooding the 50m pool fashioned from the blackrocks of Mackenzies Point. Here is the The Ice-cube Swimming Club established in 1906 in order to train Bindi’s famous life-savers. As a quaint but necessary requirement, diners dippers and lolligaggers alike are are required to produce ID in return for membership; it’ll look good on my CV alongside my FBI record.
Yesterday was my birthday and I was about to realise a dream I always thought of as unattainable, but thanks to my hosts, JGW and CP I was about to swim in the surf on Bondi Beach.
I won’t bore you with the details save to say the water was deliciously cool, the surf bullish and boisterish.
Fitness fanatics, bronzed body-beautifuls walked, ran, jumped and gender bent, cavorted on the promenade and lay gently cooking on the beach in significant numbers. In the blinding bright light and against a backdrop of houses and small hotels coloured like pastel fancies on a patisserie counter Bondi bloomed. In common with much of the city, Bondi is shaking off its working class. Blackpool of the Southern Hemisphere image to become an egalitarian resort.
Fabulous and what a birthday present!
On the way home we stopped off and clambered up on a narrow path through rough scrub to South Head, together with its sister sentry North Head, stand guard at the mouth of Port Jackson Sound and the Port of Sydney. One hundred foot of towering rock edifice, on this day pounded by the mighty ocean. Out in the Sound, a distinct line separated darker freshwater tide from the lighter more saline sea, emphasised by a bead of tiny white sparkling specks stretching into the distance, were sea birds feasting on food caught in maelstrom.
So the story goes, Captain Cook recommended Botany Bay to be the site of the first settlement. He had noted but not explored the inlet now named Port Jackson. When the First Fleet of 11 ships containing 1530 persons, soldiers, convicts and settlers arrived in 1787 under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, Botany Bay was thought unsuitable for moorings. The following year, 1788, January 26th, a settlement was established at a point in Port Jackson Sound called Sydney Point in preference to Botany Bay, proclaimed Australia Day and the rest they say is History.
You can tell I’m suppressing guilt…