10 May 2011
So many moments in Sydney have been so extraordinary it’s a tough call to pick just one. Partying on Shark Island, naked at dawn on the Opera House steps in the Spencer Tunick installation, moshing at Laneway Festival, watching the sunset over beautiful Bondi from the sun-warmed cliffs… but a recent favourite that encapsulates much of what I love so much about Sydney was just an impromptu decision to go out and enjoy the autumn sunshine. A day of no particular significance, when armed only with a hazy sense of direction and a hastily assembled picnic, my beloved and I battled through the Saturday shopping frenzy and caught the ferry to Mosman.
From the moment we board the ferry and leave behind the madding crowds at Circular Quay, calm descends. The waters of Sydney Harbour are clearer than a busy shipping channel has any business being. As we arrive at the Mosman ferry wharf, the sound of jazz drifting gently across the water adds to the genteel and timeless air; it’s hard to believe the bustling city is only minutes away.
We take a path which leads us past sprawling mansions and chic apartments, through tranquil Sirius Cove and into the bush. It’s canopied by trees, sun-dappled and totally secluded. The air is full of butterflies and birds swooping through the sunshine; gossamer drifts shimmering across the path. Rounding a corner we startle a four foot long Eastern water dragon that slinks off the path into the undergrowth. It’s so silent every twig cracking sounds like a gunshot, and the mysterious scuffling and rustling in the bushes around us takes on a sinister quality.
We turn down a side track to Curlew Camp where Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and other Australian impressionist painters set up their tent community in the 1890’s. The view across the sparkling water to the city is breathtaking. I try to imagine it as it appeared to them, and to the Borogegal people before them, but the bridge, Opera House and the coruscating steel and glass skyline are so essential to my sense of Sydney it’s impossible.
Meandering onwards, we run into a group of Japanese schoolkids and their teachers who have inexplicably become completely lost on the way to Taronga Zoo. We try to give them directions to the nearest landmark, but we can’t seem to explain clearly enough and as we press on we hear their voices dwindling into silence behind us. Perhaps they’re still there now and Camp Curlew has a new set of inhabitants, foraging for nuts, berries and the odd lizard.
The day clouds over and as we trek to Chowder Bay, rain begins to hammer down. We bolt for shelter and devour our picnic under the spreading branches of a Moreton Bay fig. We’re completely alone with a million dollar view of Sydney before us, footsore, soaked to the skin but utterly elated.
Then it’s back to town for a night careening around the bars, the hustle and studied ostentation of Surry Hills, holding close the memory of a moment of stillness and contemplation to sustain us amidst the clamour and glamour.
I’ve lived in and loved this city for four years now, and I’ve yet to tire of a single aspect of it. All human life is here, there are a million secrets to discover and hidden trails to explore. What I love most is Sydney’s richness and diversity, all within easy reach; from tranquil nature to exuberant artifice in a single afternoon.