I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that most people, if they’re daydreaming about taking an exciting holiday Down Under, only think about visiting Sydney. They know about Sydney because of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and Bondi Beach with its eye-catching lifesavers, and these attractions are always on their must-see and do list. I’ve always said that when you visit somewhere new, you can’t go wrong with just roaming the streets, popping into some quaint cafes, drinking with the locals at a corner pub or bar, and finding a place to stay once you’re there. That was my travel dictum back when I was roaming Europe and Asia searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. Now I’m like most holidaymakers and put together an itinerary whenever I travel. I don’t build a complex spreadsheet of see and do activities, restaurants to eat at, and prebooked accommodations with everything cross-referenced to times and dates, but I do create a list of where to stay, things to see, and what to do.
I’d say that ninety-five per cent of first time Down Under holidaymakers put together their ten-day itinerary from websites listing the top fifteen reasons to visit Sydney. All of these websites seem to list the same what to do activities, namely: explore The Rocks and Circular Quay, wander Darling Harbour and Chinatown, walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge, visit the Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, stop by the Taronga Zoo, take a Sydney Harbour cruise, marvel at the Sydney Opera House, take the ferry to Manly Beach, and hang out and learn to surf at Bondi Beach. My two bobs worth for what to see and do in Sydney includes: savouring a plate of roast veggies from the Market Street food court in the basement of David Jones’s department store, staring in wonder at the suspended wooden escalator sculpture at Wynyard Railway Station, and exploring Barangaroo Reserve.
Barangaroo Reserve was created in 2015 by re-imagining areas of a decommissioned container port and the wharves and warehouses of East Darling Harbour and is Sydney’s newest Harbour foreshore park. Sandstone rocks, extracted on-site, replaced the jumble of wharves and piers and were arranged to taper down to the sea to form a natural, rocky coastline foreshore. The Reserve is landscaped with thousands of Australian native trees and shrubs, a collection of waiting to be discovered picnic spots, and lush grassland lawns cascading down to a foreshore of enjoyable coves. Barangaroo offers magnificent views of the Harbour and Goat Island, which had been hidden for over 100 years by the working waterfront and its stevedoring activities.
Because I’ve always thought that being on time for the start of an event is a bad idea, I try in earnest to arrive more than fifteen minutes before the announced start time. I allowed myself ample time to spare before the start of the Barangaroo Aboriginal Cultural Tour, so I wandered along the meandering foreshore to admire the views of the harbour. I watched the different collections of little ones, always under the eye of their watchful parent, scramble over the rocks and paddle in the small rock pools. Before long, some wanted more than the still waters of the rock pools, so they clambered down to the water’s edge and dipped their feet into the harbour’s salty water. Their excited squeals filled the air when the small waves, created by the passing ferries, water taxis, and leisure craft zigzagging across the harbour, washed against their legs. Whenever I’m reminded about growing up in Newport and Williamstown, I find it impossible to practice any self-control, and so nothing could stop me from clambering over the rocks.
As soon as I reached the water’s edge, I sat on a sandstone rock and plunged my Teva Sandal wearing feet into the harbour’s salty water. The small waves caused the water to slosh against my legs, and I was carried back, to clambering across, and down the large rocks forming the shoreline of the Strand, as it arched from the Laneway to Sandy Point. The weekends were our free time. Andrew Lambrianew and I would roam Williamstown on our bikes. Some afternoons we walked our bikes over to Sandy Point and watched the ocean-going cargo boats slowly navigate and head up the Yarra to their resting place at the Melbourne wharves. We fantasised about being deckhands on the cargo boats, and the adventures we’d have in unknown exotic lands and ports of call. Now that I think back, I daresay we most likely thought of ourselves as the captain of the boat, more so than a crew member.
If we weren’t at Sandy Point or the piers, we’d be bombing jellyfish who had floated too close to The Strand’s rocky foreshore. If they were floating close to the surface, we’d scavenge for shards of bluestone and toss a barrage of yonnies at the blobs; when the jellyfish were below the surface, we’d hunt for large chunks of bluestone to launch onto them. It was our sweet revenge to smash and shred a jellyfish into gelatinous tatters, and Andrew and I would fill the air with loud shouts of enthusiastic satisfaction. The revenge was payback for the burning stings we suffered when swimming at Willie Beach after the tide had washed jellyfish in from the bay; they’ be floating on the surface or at any depth below the surface and were impossible to see. It was inevitable that you’d end up swimming into the gelatinous blobs, hit them with your head, arms, or legs, and suffer the most acute burning stings. The only remedy I knew of to relieve the stinging was to head for the shallows, scoop up handfuls of wet sand, and then rub the sand over the stings.
Back when I bombed jellyfish, I was growing into my teenage years and still waiting for my grey matter to be wired so I would think about intellectual issues, social problems, and how to live in harmony with the land and its gifts. I was more in the developmental stage of self-consciousness and impulsive behaviour than understanding the importance of the natural landscape and its flora and animal life: and so I’d sometimes throw yonnies at the black swans gathered along the foreshore of The Strand. I’m far from proud of my yonnie throwing times on The Strand; it was the behaviour of a naive young boy.
It was still an hour before the starting time of the Cultural Tour, so I did the last of a series of simulated Australian crawl leg kicks, then slipped my Teva Sandal clad feet from the harbour’s salty water and slowly headed off to the tour meeting point. After waiting 30 minutes at the meeting point, the Aboriginal educator tour guide arrived and introduced Barangaroo Reserve. The Reserve is named after Barangaroo, a Cammeraygal woman who lived during the early colonial settlement of Sydney Cove. Some Australians refer to her as our first freedom fighter. Woollarawarre Bennelong was one of Barangaroo’s several husbands. Bennelong was an unofficial ambassador between the Eora nation and the British colonists, and his name is honoured at Bennelong Point, the site of the Sydney Opera House.
As our educator guide ushered us along the maze of paths and through the various levels of the Reserve, he talked of the areas spiritual and cultural significance and the land’s importance to the clans of the Eora Nation. He recounted the appearance of the landscape and the abundance of native flora before the first fleet and its cargo of colonists moved to Port Jackson from Botany Bay. Gesturing to a pigface plant, he shared how different plants were used for food, shelter, and medicine.
when the pigface is big, you know the fish are big and ready to catch; the juice from its leaves is used to relieve the pain of burns and stings
He talked of Aboriginal hunters smearing their bodies with mud to disguise their smell from the kangaroo and various other traditional hunting and fishing activities. And with a smile inching across his face, he confessed his love for the taste of turtle; and he spoke respectively of the turtle as an important traditional food for the Aboriginal people. He passionately told of hunting turtle with his cousin when he visited with his family and reminded us.
the turtle was only hunted by men and we hunt only during the season, and all we hunt is what we need and we never overhunt
During the walk back to the Munn Street entrance to the Reserve, I started to mentally grasp that collecting, gathering, hunting, and preparing a wide variety of bush food would require an insight into the physics of simple machines, an understanding of climatology, and a knowledge of the earth sciences. I thought about my cerebral skill set and concluded that the only skill I had to exist in a sustenance environment was being able to read and order from a restaurant menu.
The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel is just a dropkick up Argyle Street from the Munn Street Reserve entrance. It’s been there close on two centuries and claims to be the oldest, continually licensed hotel in Sydney. Sandstone quarried from the base of nearby Observatory Hill was used to build the Nelson; the same stone used to sculpture the Barangaroo foreshore. I started to swirl the straw around in my glass of lemon, lime, and bitters and then used it to fish out a few ice cubes. When I had three ice cubes in my hand, I held each of them, one at a time, above the glass, and let them tumble from my fingers back into the glass. Halfway through the third cycle of dropping ice cubes into my glass of lemon, lime, and bitters, my wagyu beef burger with beetroot relish, Swiss cheese, gherkin, caramelised onion, and skinny fries arrived at the table.
As I savoured the beetroot relish on the wagyu burger, I wondered if the need that men have to throw objects into a liquid is built into their DNA. It seems that whenever men are around water, they look for the biggest rocks they can find, and before throwing it, they question themselves, or a rock-throwing mate, about their throwing ability.
I wonder how far I can toss it
How big of a splash do you think it’ll make
If I keep standing where I’m at after I toss it will I get wet
But throwing stones into the water can be a great manly stress reliever. There’s nothing more calming and satisfying than throwing a gravity-defying yonnie or gracefully heaving a heavy jagged rock into the air, and then watching the ensuing splash.