Thursday, June 18, 2015

Boomers Get Educated in Sydney

We are leaving Sydney. On our way to warmer climes, Cairnes. The last few days here have been pretty easy going which has been good since I've got a lousy cold and it's been a bit drizzly. Caught the cold several days ago and it's gone through the stages: sore throat, stopped up nose, cough. But unlike flu or food poisoning or the like, a cold does not bring you to a standstill. I was pretty worn out on some days but we kept moving. I was like Dora from Nemo, "keep swimming,  keep swimming. " We kept our focus on becoming knowledgeable about Australia so be warned dear readers. This will be a bit Fodorish without the insight.

First stop was a tour of the New South Wales Governor's house. It was like a house out of Downton Abbey, very castlely and in the midst of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Every room we were shown had a photo of The Queen, sometimes young, sometimes old. (There will be lots of picture changing some day.) We learned that the governor's position was mainly to sign bills and meet visiting dignitaries, most recently a fellow from Vietnam. I know this because his picture kept appearing too. We saw the family crests of each governor. When I was in England long ago I checked to see if Mattingly had a crest. Nope. I could have paid to have one done. I bet that is what some of these governors did. Our tour guide was from Connecticut.  This was disappointing.

The Royal Botanic Garden is a lovely park by the harbour. It was envisioned by Elizabeth Marquarie, the governor's wufe. I mention her because she had chair carved in stone overlooking the harbour and I sat on it. 

We visited the Sydney Art Museum. Honestly, I'm not much of an art museum person. We live down the street from the Walker and I only go to remind myself that I'm not missing anything.  I'll occasionally go to the MIA for a special exhibit.  This museum was a mix of classical, modern and aboriginal art pieces.
A little something for everyone but nothing that particularly stood out.  That's about all I can say about that.

Next on the museum round up was the Maritime Museum.. Lots of manly ships to tour. It's hubby's kind of museum. Guns, torpedoes, that sort of thing. The museum had an exhibit on Shackleton's misadventures in Antartica on loan from the Smithsonian. I'd read the book so felt like I was practically an expert. The exhibit that showed X-rays of fish was certainly unique. I thought Grace would find it interesting since she studies fish.  And there were lots of stories about Australian swimmers and sailors who broke records for sailing around the world or swimming the English Channel. Aussies love their water heroes.

We spent one day in Manly. Manly is a beach town with a nearby little trek through some brush and through some military memorials. We saw gun bays created for defense in WWII. I presume they were never used so it must have been a cushy assignment for an Australian soldier. We read about Australia's involvement in wars that we don't hear much about in the U.S. like The Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion. (Hubby tells me we were involved in the latter but it must have been only a page in high school world history.) The Aussies have lots of memorials to the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Air Core) throughout Sydney. The absolute number of casualties in The World Wars is not high compared to the U.S. and other countries but the percentage is up there. 

The Manly walk took us by a cemetery used by the Quarantine Station. Beginning in the late 1800s until about 1918 it held the graves of smallpox, flu and the plague victims. Most were children or adults in their 20s or 30s. If you believe in the hereafter, then you will be gratified to know their final resting place overlooked a stunning harbor full of sailboats.

We were warned to watch for wildlife, but saw only birds including our first kookaburra.

The Sydney Public Library is a neat old pile of rocks. We caught the tail end of a free tour and learned about the two main benefactors who left money and lots and lots of books.  We saw one of the early printings of the Magna Carta. It was only about the dimensions of a postcard and an inch thick.  We guessed velum must have been pricey in those days. Why else make it so small?   The Reading Room is very impressive.
 It is what I imagined seeing at the Library of Congress but didn't because books are stored underground. Though to be fair, the LoC probably has a few more books.  The Sydney library also had a very thought provoking exhibit of photography capturing the best journalistic shots of world events, nature and sports. I actually read most of the signs! 

I visited the Sydney Barracks on my own because Hubby got tuckered.  The barracks was home to newly arrived convicts many of whom were assigned to government building projects. The whole convict story is one I need to study further. Convicts began arriving in Australia only after the U. S. won its independence.  No more Georgia penal colonies available.
While the convicts were punished and under curfews, they were often free to move about and marry and live with family. Many became quite prominent. The architect of many historical buildings was a convict named Greenway.  At one time people hid their convict ancestors from the family tree but now it's considered cool to have a convict in the ancestry line.  It's all rather fascinating. Hubby is reading a novel covering Australia's origin story that is also a TV series here. We saw Episode One so will have to tune in on Sunday's now to see more.

Our big spend adventure was a dance performance by the Bangarra Dance Company at The Sydney Opera House. I'm always hesitant about parting with big bucks but I was reminded that we spend the same for two good seats to a Twins game. There were two separate dances neither of which were accompanied by a digger-ado, much to Hubby's disappointment. The music was quite new age digital. The choreography was quite new age native. The first dance represented islanders from xxxx and involved imagining sea creatures in the frozen section of the local market coming to life. I liked it, especially the interpretation of the crabs and lobsters. Some of the dancing reminded me of Maori dance movements not that I'm any expert. The second dance was an interpretive dance telling the story of death and rebirth of aboriginal cultural symbols like the sheoak. Lots of pained body movements and contortions going on around giant branches hanging from the ceiling. Just didn't do much for me. 

The rest of our Sydney visit was spent eating and buying essentials like cough syrup. We've been generally pleased with the food at all price ranges. Even the tourist spot food choices beat the microwaved/cold sandwich offerings back home. I do miss the free diet soda refills we get in the U.S. though.  

Don't know if I've lost or gained weight on our adventure because the scale is in kilos and stones.  Both give lower numbers than pounds so I've decided not to to the math and simply enjoy the low numbers. At least until we are done with the Beach part of our trip. 

On to the reef!


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