We’re in Sydney once more, on our annual (or bi-) migration, having just completed the fun loop from Sydney through to Canberra, on to Melbourne and back and in comparing the big three there can be found a lot of entertainment.
As an ex-Sydneyite, Melbourne for me is an arty, (and a bit farty) business domain. A place where shopping is an adventure, where the surf doesn’t visit much as the place is in a huge bay and where everyone looks just a bit prim and proper for my tastes. Though it is the centre for the Arts’, from the often-entertaining, or confusing, street variety to the finer performance and arts to be found in the buildings of the ‘Arts Precinct’ that spills off the busy Flinders Street station.
Canberra on the other hand is something of a sprawling ‘swinger’. Neither a bustling centre of industry, as with Sydney… nothing bustles in that place including Parliament; nor is it a centre for the finer arts and commercial management. Though the National galleries and museums hold some of the finest of collections in the Nation. Canberra is something in-between, not only in its location but in its character. Having said that… we have in-the-planning intention to show Canberra off to one of our Grandies later this year, having chosen that city because of its many attractions and its national collection houses.
Sydney however is a place of history, not of national history, but of social history. For me it is my birthplace… so it holds a special spot in my heart. It can be said that it is My Country though I am not of the tribal Eora Nation, in the sense that these are not my ancestral tribes. However I was born and grew up on the coastal region of Sydney so to speak, so while I am not of the families, such as the Gadigal, I am however of the region of ‘water people’ and truly an Australian. If this makes me of the Eora Nation or to be strictly correct I am of the Dharawal who reigned just south on the Georges River while my parents came from the Eora. The boundaries are a little confused.
Not only is this place where I was born, but it is where my parents were born and Grandparents, along with their Grandparents and so on… yep it goes back many a generation deep into a convict past of many names and places.
I know the place like my palm… literally. I know and understand the society, the people and the temper of the city as do so many of its residence. I am familiar with its humble, penal history, to its massive struggle to release itself from the bindings of an English overlord (or lady). I understand its history… that is the peoples’ history, not the history sprouted in the history books that talks of our English maritime beginnings, but the story of the people who built the society we enjoy today.
Sydney isn’t where Australia’s history begun. The history of our land is born from many migrations from other lands and its time record goes back some 40-60 thousand years. The history of our land is peppered with great beasts, the megafauna of our unique land and the ages of the Earth, in that it is some of the oldest land continually above water. The stories of the world can be found here along with the remnant of the oldest tribal people still surviving. It is a history whose fabric is spun with legend and campfire tales that tell of the spirit creatures of the Dreamtime. A history that stretch beyond the written word, well beyond the mere few thousand years that is the written history, which other lands dictate.
Sydney, is our societies birthplace and that simply cannot be denied. It is the society upon which we all depend in one way or another, in these days. It is also a place of many diverse characters, in its people and its own unique disposition. For me it is the place of my childhood, and I grew up in the ‘Shire’ before it was the ‘Shire’. In my day it was more like the lands and forests of the Hobbit. It was the southern bushlands, the place of the odd Chinese gardens that supplied the local market, to the fishing huts and endless racks of oyster leases that once rimmed the Georges River. Quite simply it was a bush wonderland of mystery, mud, river tides, mangroves and rough winding foot tracks with beautiful sandstone outcrops along caves and the remnant of what was another time in our ancient history.
Today I walk around the old bush tracks were we once bounded over rock shelves and muddy holes, and instead I find tamed steps and tarred paths, often hidden and known only to locals. Those bush tracks are still there though, linking roads and sneaking into hubs of community such as the local small shopping centre, the schools or the sports ground. The same sports ground that was one the local tip, where as children we once floated an old mattress into the river in a game of pirates, and where it promptly sank amongst squeals of laughter and venture. Agghhh… the memories. Now that same old rubbish tip is a tame and cultures sports ground much loved by the community and local school. Though I dare say not as loved as we loved it when it was a place to dispose of all manner of household refuse, where could find all manner of treasures and where you often bought back home more than you gave up. That was an age where a trip to the local tip was a family affair looking for useful items and treasures.
The world has changed a great deal, as it did when we moved from the convict era into the era of the many emigrations. Then stumbled riotously into the golden era of the misery and prosperity that marked the great gold rushes of the mid to late 1800’s.
As we then moved into Federation at the turn of the century, in the time of the ‘Birth of our Nation,’ many of my family were floundering around the CBD and venturing down from the Hunter Valley region where so many convict and emigrant families found refuge on the old land-grant holdings and estates. Some of these families were also venturing further north. Yet others were crossing oceans from European and the Scandinavian hubs, while those from New Zealand (still tied to Aus’) were jumping the ditch from the convict settlements of Tasmania and the land of the Kiwi, to meet up with those who had been around to build the sandstone city. This was as New Zealand began to peel away from their Melbourne masters and step out on their own.
Yes… history. It is a wonderful thing if you venture to understand it as it really was. Tomorrow I am off into the cities heart and I once more look forward to finding what is new and old, within the small insular world of our cities. Though most of those who will cross my path will be convinced that their world is the hub of what is ‘Australia’, like most city slickers. When really it is a just a flavour of what is a grand and diverse banquet of lives and experience.