So here I am. Under the cool shade of a banyan tree admiring the superb Sydney skyline in the afternoon sun. I guiltily finish my packet of Coles’ salt and vinegar chips as what seems to be the thousandth runner passes me by.
I’ve just returned from a brief walk around the coveted Rocks where I unknowingly found myself after taking a wrong turn for the Opera House. The oldest part of the city sits in the shadow of the magnificent harbour bridge that straddles the water.
Talla-wo-la-dah, I am frequently reminded, is the aboriginal name for the small suburb. There is a striking respect here for the original owners of the land on which the modern metropolis is built. ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ (respect paid to the indigenous territory of the area) seems to religiously precede every University talk. The aboriginal presence is strong, in fact the indigenous people of Australia are the world’s oldest continuous culture, spanning at least some 40 000 years, or so I am told.
This kind of cultural tolerance runs deep. The ‘Sydneysiders’ are nothing but welcoming to the diverse range of people that flock to their sunny shores. The ‘g’day’ from passing strangers seems to capture the easy-going spirit of the locals, and is a welcome change from the somewhat less approachable Londoners I had become familiar with.
As I look back around me, flocks of tourists gather by the water’s edge to pose before the iconic duo of the Opera house and the harbour bridge, and I don’t blame them – after almost two weeks here I remain as infatuated with the Sydney cityscape as when I first arrived. The high-rise skyline seems to pose in the dazzling sunlight, inviting the photographer’s lens.
The iconic buildings are the perfect contrast to the rugged coastline just a stone’s throw from the city. On my first surf trip over to Manly I even got up close and personal with the marine life when two dorsal fins breached the surface about fifty metres from shore – fortunately this time it was just a pod of dolphins… But the panicked look on a few of the locals and a low-flying lifeguard helicopter was enough to show that the paranoia is very much real.
My family back home often ask how I would describe the city – they want to know if it’s like America, if the beaches are Mediterranean… The truth is I’m still not sure. I’m struggling to compare it to anywhere I’ve been before. But at almost 11 000 miles from them, I feel a strange sense of ease, and a welcome excitement at what the next year has in store.