Sydney is one of those iconic cities: the opera house and the bridge are some of the world’s most memorable structures.
I jump at the chance to accompany Ross on a business trip: Louise spent the last few weeks of her life here and loved it so much I feared we would lose her to Oz permanently. So this trip was particularly poignant as we trace her footsteps and drink in the sights that she must also have revelled in.
What a joy to be in a city where English is the lingua franca, though with all the Chinese tourists pushing and shoving at all the major sights, it is hard not to think you are in Shanghai! In fact, I am amused, in the week that Sadiq Khan wins the London Mayoral election, that Australia, like England and America, is a country whose population is infused with immigrants and casual workers on annual visas.
I particularly enjoy eavesdropping in vibrant cities, and one hilarious conversation is between a couple of Zimbabwean ladies, one of whom is an actor (she certainly knew how to project), recounting her audition for an English voiceover: ‘Of course, our teacher was English and so it’s easy for me’. They are awed by her accent; I am less so and am temped to show her how its done! Her friend is much more concerned about what to do with her belongings in Zim. ‘When I die’, she tells her young son, ‘I want you to go back and get everything.’
Naturally, I do all the normal things – stroll along the waterfront, choo-choo round the Botanic Gardens; explore The Rocks, where we are staying; visit MOMA and its fabulous Aboriginal art collection; take the ferry to Manly, where I get picked up by a rather sweet middle-aged gent called Peter, who squires me along the promenade; and take the hop-on-and-off bus all the way round the City and to Bondi, my new travelling companion a lefty London bus-driver, so we have lots to chat about. I walk everywhere, averaging 12 kms per day, and enjoy solitary lunches in some of Sydney’s great restaurants (MOCA Rooftop café, Nick’s in Darling Harbour and The Boat House in Manly).
As well as the food (evenings we ate in The Cut, Sake, Sydney Café and Fish at the Rocks) which is delicious – all that seafood – it is great fun meeting up with an old university friend, Marian Macgowan, whom I hadn’t seen for 38 years, at a trendy wine bar, LoveTillyDevine, where we overdo the fabulous Oz red. In all honesty I can say we took up where we had left off. She lives in a charming little house in Darlinghurst, one of the city’s oldest areas, originally built for prison warders.
But the highpoint for both of us is re-tracing Louise’s steps on the Bondi to Coogee cliff-top walk, and trying to recognise the places where only her footprint remains.
It is a gorgeous sunny day, with a slight breeze. Despite water temps of 20 C, surfers are riding the waves and swimmers splashing about. Runners sweat and pant around us (half the Australian’s seem very keen on exercise; the other half are not bothered – apparently Oz is second only to the US in obesity stakes). Australia’s multiculturalism is on full show, with large family parties barbequing under awnings. It is delightful. I can quite see why Louise loved it here.