Late last year I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Sydney; a refreshing breather between a seventeen hour non stop flight from Dallas Fort Worth and a five hour flight to Perth. It had been some time since I was last in Sydney. Ten years ago our Qantas flight from Los Angles was late in leaving the US and so I missed my connecting flight to Alice Springs. It was no worries for Qantas; in a flash they had us rescheduled on tomorrows flight and put up for the night in a hotel. And so we had a winter’s afternoon to idle away in Sydney. I remember wandering the Haymarket, and in a fourteen hour lack of sleep induced lethargy stumbling past the boutiques, jewellery shops, and delightful cafes and restaurants housed in the opulent Queen Victoria Building. Then came the long faltering walk down George Street to a cold, wind swept Circular Quay; the opaque mid-afternoon sun had turned the Bridge and Opera House into gloomy silhouettes. Winter is a great time to visit Sydney.
Ten years before the afternoon of cold winds and wintry sun I’d spent a few days enjoying the harbour city. I remember being woken each morning by the screams and cries of the white cockatoos in the trees alongside the balcony of my Macleay Street hotel. I could have been in the bush but I was just a stones throw away from the pimps, prostitutes, and party goers of Kings Cross. Back then Bondi Beach was the most famous beach in the world but not the most popular beach in Sydney; it’s foreshore was waiting for the fast food joints, souvenir shops, pubs, and the crowded buses disgorging an unending stream of sightseers. Watson’s Bay was a charming quiet retreat where you could enjoy Doyles’s fish and chips with the seagulls. And the Olympic Stadium was being built at Parramatta.
There’s several options to get from the airport to downtown Sydney. I decided on the Airport link train. Some would say I wasn’t able to think straight seeing I’d just deplaned after a seventeen hour flight from Dallas Fort Worth. I didn’t pick the train because it only took thirteen minutes to get to the city; I took it because it stopped at the heritage listed St James underground station. As soon as I boarded the train I discovered time travel isn’t like it is in science fiction. There’s no swirling lights, magnetic storms of chronitons, or spinning dials and warp engines; it’s a sleek silver metal cylinder racing though a dark tunnel.
I stepped onto St James’s 1930s train platform from a double-decker silver train carriage. St James and its one stop away sister station Museum were Australia’s first underground stations. St James’s platforms and concourse have many of their original features; it’s said to be one of the most ornate station interiors in the New South Wales railway system. The platform walls are a distinctive cream tile edged with green, and the lighting is refurbished thirties. If you look closely you’ll see period advertising signs and original exit signs. The concourse is defined by the same cream and green tiles and is framed by decorative wrought iron; the supporting steel columns, ornate stairs, lights, and clocks add to the station’s ambience.
After steering my wheelie spinner suitcase through the Art Deco concourse and down a couple of concrete stairs, I entered the station’s pedestrian subway tunnel; also lined with ceramic cream tile and edged with green tile. I walked toward the light at the end of the tunnel. My shoulders stiffened and I tightened my grip on the handle of the wheelie spinner; the light was a powerful, irresistible force pulling me toward Market Street and the QT Sydney. I had learnt sometime ago that there’s no coincidences in life; everything happens for a reason, and that includes meeting certain people at a certain time. I would soon be introduced to the Directors of Chaos.
The QT Sydney is a dramatic Art Deco boutique hotel fashioned from a heritage, modern conversion of the historic State Theatre, and what was once the Gowings department store buildings. The Directors of Chaos are decked out in edgy black leather and vibrant post office box red wigs. They patrol the QT’s entrance to meet and greet guests; and if you’re so inclined they’re more than happy to spend some time just chatting, giving directions, or offering suggestions of what to do in Sydney. It’s easy to be overawed by the QT’s quirky interior, fashion-forward eclectic room design, their mini cooper you can reserve to tootle around Sydney, the unique cocktails at the urbane Gilt Lounge bar, and the eye-catching Gowings Bar & Grill, but I was enthralled by the lifts. The lifts detect how many people are in them and then play appropriate music. If you’re by yourself they’ll play “Are You Lonesome Tonight” or Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself”. If another person gets in the lift you might get “Let’s Get It On”, Just the Two of Us,” or “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor, and with four or more people you could get Prince’s “1999” or Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance”; they’ll farewell you with a “Hasta La Vista Baby”, or “I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing”.
Wynyard underground station is a drop kick away from the QT. As I left The QT and headed for Wynyard I thought I could faintly hear Aerosmith’s “Love In An Elevator”. The Directors of Chaos must have been hearing something because their feet and hips were moving to a crazy beat; as if they belonged to the music. Or maybe it was the Espresso from the Parlour Cucina that caused the movement.
I stared up at Interloop, the wooden escalator sculpture mounted in the station’s concourse, and slowly began to understand the concept of stationary motion. I waited for Interloop to play the appropriate music as the number of commuters below it changed and shifted; would it play Neil Sedaka’s “Stairway to Heaven”, Sarah Vaughan’s “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”, Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, or the “The Stairs” by INXS? The sculpture is the work of Sydney artist Chris Fox and was created from the station’s original eighty year old wooden escalators. The twisting accordion-shaped sculpture was recycled from the treads and combs when the station’s original four wooden escalators were removed and replaced with upgraded modern escalators. And it seems that Chris wasn’t to keen on the concept of a musical escalator.
Fact is stranger than fiction. Three of the St James’s original wooden escalators were installed in 1932, which is the same year the first escalator was installed in Melbourne. The soaring Art Deco Manchester Unity building, on the corner of Swanson and Collins Streets, housed Melbourne’s magical wooden staircase.
The magical staircase hurried people from the ground floor arcade to the first floor shops and the basement level tea room; but there wasn’t a staircase down from the first floor, or up from the basement. It’s said that 60,000 visitors rode the magic staircase on opening day and that a nurse was on hand to treat people if they needed medical assistance after their ride on the staircase. The original escalator to the first floor is still there; the outside wood paneling has been refurbished, but unfortunately, the wooden moving stairs have been replaced. It was Sunday, and I was alone in the Manchester Unity building’s ground floor arcade. I put my hand on the stationary handrail and vowed to return to ride the magical staircase. As I turned to leave I thought I heard ever so faintly from behind the decorative paneled lift doors
I’ll build a stairway to heaven
I’ll climb to the highest star
I’ll build a stairway to heaven
Cause heaven is where you are
Twenty years after enjoying fish and chips with the seagulls at Doyles I returned to Watsons Bay to see if they tasted as I remembered them. Now it’s said that a lazy person doesn’t deserve food; before a filet of battered barramundi could pass my lips l’d have to climb the steps to the Gap Lookout. The path to The Gap is across Robertson Park from Watsons Bay Wharf and Doyles. The steps rose before me. I let my hand fall on the handrail. I pulled on the handrail as I pushed on my legs, and slowly made my way up the steep stairs to the lookout at the top of the cliffs. The Gap lookout rewards you with stunning views of the coastline, the harbour, and Sydney’s skyline. As I marvelled at the panorama and caught my breath, I wondered if there was ever a plan to install a wooden escalator to the scenic overlook platform. I reckon the Not In My Back Yard brigade must have put a stop to it.
As I sat in Sydney airport waiting for the boarding announcement for my five hours, across Australia flight to Perth, I thought back to that next morning’s flight to Alice Springs ten years ago. I remember being a little muddled after the plane landed. We were ushered to the back of the plane and onto a towable passenger stairway to deplane; I’d only deplaned using a towable passenger stairway in Belize City. My mind cleared up when I saw the Fruit Interstate Quarantine Bin by the airport terminal’s door to the tarmac; I was In Alice, not Belize City. I had no intention of climbing Uluru but I was going to ask permission to put my hand on the Rock. Uluru is 276 miles or 445 kilometers southwest of Alice so a tour with a sunset viewing is a good eighteen-hour day. It’s worth a couple of hours of sleep to feel the spirit of Uluru. With a good old sing-a-long in the bus you’re there and back before you know it.
You’ll need to excuse me. I feel an urge to ride the escalator in Von Maur’s department store at Westroads Mall. I much prefer the Von Maur escalators to the escalators in Dillard’s department store at Oak View Mall. At Von Maur a grand piano, and player sit on the ground floor alongside the escalators; the skillfully played jazz, popular music, and Broadway tunes waft up the escalator bank reaching the third floor Home and Gifts department. I so much enjoy a musical escalator ride.