Day 144: A quirky look at Sydney

I did another free walking tour today – how does that work? You pay tips at the end of the tour.

The guides in Australia are very upfront – you pay what you can afford and what you think the tour is worth. They claim not to mind of you don’t give anything.

The guides in Russia don’t hide their displeasure if the takings are scant.

This morning’s tour was notable for two reasons: Jake’s quirky take on the city’s history and the lack of requirement to hand over an email address. No direct marketing! Take note, Walks 101. I wanted a guided walk not an email bombardment.

(Same goes for Change UK petitions).

We started at St Andrew’s Cathedral, specifically on the land next to the Town Hall which, 200 years ago was at the edge of the township and… this was the cemetery.

The graves were shallow and the area smelled. It was decided that the bodies would be exhumed and moved elsewhere, the land being reclaimed for the buildings that now stand there.

However, they didn’t manage to clear all of the body parts. and forgotten relics are occasionally uncovered during building work.

A macabre start to the tour.

Next stop the Queen Victoria Building with a statue of its namesake outside.

She has only been in place for 30 years – she used to sit in front of the Dublin Houses of Parliament but when the Irish Parliament decided that Parliament wasn’t appropriate, she was shipped to Australia where locally she is described as the “Last convict to arrive in Sydney”.

The Building is 120 years old and was originally a market. It fell into disuse and finally it was restored in the 1980s. On the occasion of its reopening, Queen Elizabeth sent a letter in 1986 – it’s stored on the top floor and is not to be opened until 2085.

As if Sydney doesn’t have enough festivals, the celebrations of Chinese New Year start on Saturday and it’s the Year of the Rat, hence the golden rats running through the building.

I had wondered why I was seeing juggling ‘mice’ everywhere last night.

From here, we walked to Hyde Park a deliberately chosen name to give the homesick a taste of London. It’s far smaller than the original and used to be home to camel and horse racing.

The Archibald Fountain to demonstrate Australia’s connection to France and commemorate joint efforts in WW1… though the designer went with a Greek mythology motif.

At the end of the part is the start of MacQuarie Street – a regular name around Tasmania and New South Wales. I’m not saying the guy was arrogant but generally, he seems to have named these places himself rather than somebody naming them to curry favour

Governor MacQuarie was the fifth governor of Sydney and he had huge ambitions for Sydney mostly using convict labour.

The sentence of transportation sentence had two aspects – exile and labour on arrival.

Francis Greenway was a forger and a highly skilled one. He was also a highly skilled architect and on arrival he was appointed into the city’s service, rapidly becoming MacQuarie’s favourite architect. At one point his face was on the ten dollar note – not bad for a forger.

He designed St James Church and built the Hyde Park Barracks, on Macquarie Road which kept them away from the settlers rather than roaming free. It was also a place for them to be fed and to rest… keeping the workforce fit for labour.

Macquarie wanted to build a grand hospital, and sought funding from Britain who just saw Sydney as a small convict colony.

Undeterred he looked for another way to fund it.

Rum was popular… He gave control of the sales to three businessmen on condition that a share of the profits paid for the building of the hospital which was known locally as the Rum Hospital.

It was a bigger hospital than the colony needed. One wing became surgeons accommodation and another, later the first branch of the Mint outside England.

We walked on to the General Post Office which GP was built to rival the Houses of Parliament. The memorial is here because this is where men signed up to fight in WW1.

And I’m not saying that there is any rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, despite early rivalry over which city would be the capital of the newly federated country but Sydney has decided to revitalise its Laneways… using art though I haven’t yet seen any graffiti in these areas yet.

This one, filled with empty birdcage is called Forgotten Songs. It’s a memorial to the birds that used to live here before the city was built. As you walk here recordings of the birdsong of 50 different species are played. It varies throughout the day according to which species would be active.

Would a tour of Sydney be complete without at least a view of the Opera House.

The Opera House stand on Bennelong Point, named for Bennelong an Indigenous man who was friends with the first governor, Philip.

A house built for him by Governor Philip.

Governor MacQuarie, the fifth governor destroyed it and built a fort which was then used as tram sheds. The tram system was removed in the 1950s… only now being restored.

This shot of the Opera House was taken from the Rocks… the first settlement of Sydney. The other iconic feature of this area is of course, the Harbour Bridge, otherwise known as the Coathanger Bridge, a name given by the disgruntled 500 families from The Rocks, who were moved from the area without compensation.

(Not an unusual practice historically).

The opening of the Bridge was not without controversy on the 19th March, 1932 when Captain Francis De Groot decided that the New South Wales Premier wasn’t important enough to open it.

Just as the Premier readied the scissors De Groot, I full military uniform and on horseback, galloped forward and slashed the ribbon with his sword. He declared the Bridge open in the name of the Queen and “decent citizens of New South Wales”.

Unsurprisingly, De Groot was arrested and taken to a psychiatric hospital. He was later declared sane, but fined 5 pounds and charged for offensive behaviour in a public place.

After the De Groot incident, the ribbon was tied together, and the ceremony went ahead.

It must have been an anti climax.

Categories: Australia, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Really enjoying these fabulous annotated history lessons Fiona. Makes me slightly ashamed for knowing so little about Australia’s heritage in particular.

    Love the line on Queen Vic!


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