Madge’s husky voice filled the room, and as the 'special emotional piano theme music' reserved for these tragic events started to play, the only thing to see was Harold’s symbolically broken glasses, perched on the top of the cliff he had just fallen off, never to be seen again – until a few years later that is when he showed up with amnesia playing the tuba in the salvation army! Incredible! You couldn’t write it….
…or maybe you could – True drama of the highest order, ‘Neighbours’ was a staple in my house growing up, and has a great deal to answer for, preparing me (or not as the case may be) for my first experience of life ‘down-under’.
During the 25 hour trip from London’s Heathrow (Via Seoul, South Korea) I had plenty of time to think about what arriving in Sydney would be like, and by the time the plane had touched down in the southern hemisphere, I had been expecting to walk off the plane straight into a Ramsey Street pool party, complete with Dr Carl playing his guitar, Toadie throwing some shrimps on the BBQ, and Felicity Scully handing me an ice-cold beer; instead I was met by a lengthy immigration form, a man wanting to know everywhere my shoes had been in the last six months, and a journalist who interviewed me for Sydney radio.
Interview over, we grabbed our bags and met up with Tom, a mover and shaker in the Australian Scouts and the person who we are staying with during out brief four days in Australia. Rush hour traffic was as to be expected in any major city, but the balmy spring air rushing through the car window made a nice change from an air-conditioned plane. Driving through the vast suburbs, there was nothing to say we were actually in Sydney, suburbia is by definition suburbia; that was until we climbed another astonishingly steep hill and were confronted with a vista Lonely Planet would be proud of: Sydney harbour glistening in the sun, with the world-famous opera house framed by the equally impressive Sydney harbour bridge. We had arrived, and for the first time I realised I was on the other side of the world.
After dumping our bags and having a well needed shower, we drove back into the city with Tom as our incredibly knowledgeable tour guide to take in the sights: Sydney opera house, Sydney harbour bridge, the botanical gardens, the parliament building, the original colonial heart of Sydney known as the Rocks, Darling harbour, nothing was missed as Tom expertly weaved his way through a vibrant, modern, buzzing sprawl of a city. None of the tedious grey concrete of London, Sydney literally reflects the national psyche in its stunning glass buildings, being proud of its history and its place in the modern world in equal measure. Whistle-stop tour over, it was back home and a short walk to the ultimate view-point, a park just on the edge of Dover Heights. A perfect way to finish my first day in Australia, and try to fight off jet lag.
Heading back into Sydney I was amazed by how wrong the Australian stereotype seemed to be; I didn't see a single cork hat, people weren't drinking fosters, or fighting crocodiles, Neighbours had lied to me! Instead everyone seemed to be doing some sort of sport. Jogging, sailing, football, rugby, cricket, yoga, the list goes on, every area of green throughout the city and the suburbs (and there are plenty of them) is filled with people being healthy and active, and people seemed happier for it, even the guy in the kayak who decided to try to play chicken with the ferry heading from Rose Bay into Circular Wharf, and almost lost more than the game!
The ferries in Sydney are something else. Servicing most of the harbour and beyond into the interior, they are a fantastic and affordable way of getting around, and when the early morning temperature is already of 20 degrees, it make a nice change from trying to march up Sydney’s hills, or being cooped up on a bus. In addition the views you get from the water are incredible, particularly heading under the harbour bridge and docking at the main transport hub next to the opera house.
Today was to be another day of sight-seeing, but with a difference. After catching the ferry to classy, glassy, Darling Harbour, I alighted and waited for Kate, my partner in Ugandan white water rafting crime! Back in 2009 in the middle of Africa I was fortunate to meet some amazing people a couple of which don’t live too far from Sydney, and after hearing I was in town headed down to give me a tour of the city. Lunch in Chinatown was almost as delicious as catching up with an old friend and talking about adventures old and new, and after a post dinner walk in the beautiful Sydney sun it was travelling karma that delivered us to the annual Sydney food and beer festival! Cheers!
Back on the ferry with my $6 hat (I knew I had forgotten something – thanks to the 28 degree Australian heat for reminding me!) I made it back to Watson’s bay just in time to eat some of “the best fish and chips in Sydney” before watching the sun set from the top of the cliffs at the gap – where the Pacific Ocean flows into one of the biggest natural harbours in the world, a dramatic and geographically pleasing location.
In addition to all the touristy sight-seeing we have believe it or not been working – area meetings with local Scout groups, a Halloween party with the New South Wales Rover Scouts (cue international dance off), and finally a very important meeting with the New South Wales international committee, have all helped to prepare me further for my role in Tuvalu and give me another insight into Scouting that I didn’t previously have. The hospitality and helpfulness of the people I have met so far has been overwhelming, and I can’t thank everyone enough for making my time in Sydney although brief, memorable.
So that’s that, I have just had my last supper Australian style (pizza on Bondi beach) and am currently packing my bags for the next leg of the adventure – Fiji. Just need to avoid all the protesters at the airport tomorrow, I hope the flight isn’t delayed! To play us out I would like to share with you a traditional Australian poem I was read last night…
“Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six-foot four and full of muscles
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
And he said……”