Let me just make it clear from the get-go – I am not, never have been nor ever will be anything but a republican. Fervently anti-royalist me. I couldn’t care less about them. But during my time in Harbour City, they were difficult to avoid.
Day three of my stay would be the only one, according to the local forecasters, that would be suitable to travel from Coogee with my genial, accommodating host Chris, to view the wonders of Sculpture by the Sea, stretching from Bondi to Tamarama Beach. I was excited. I’d crossed that first iconic strand off my bucket list on my previous trip to stay with the ebullient Dutchman, but this occasion saw me time it to coincide with the artistic event. On a good day, with the blue Pacific behind the installations, it should be marvellous. We planned to be up and off early, but on overnight radio I heard the shattering news – a certain prince had also obviously spoken with the weather gods and was due to be pottering around Bondi on that very same morn. Imagine the crowds! Imagine the transport crush getting there! Sadly a planning reset was called for.
I’d read in the in-flight magazine, travelling over, that the State Library had some excellent new exhibitions available to the viewing public and it was decided to replace the Bondi experience with those. I was a tad down at the mouth that Bondi with Harry was a no go zone, but my demeanour improved once we reached our Macquarie Street destination. The two showings viewed were superbly interesting. Firstly there was the UNESCO Six with it’s first hand accounts of some seminal events in our nation’s history. The second, the one that really entranced me, was an intimate account, in snapshots, of a Sydney family, the Macphersons. entitled ‘Memories on Glass’. It featured images of everyday life, mainly from around the turn of last century. Just lovely, lovely evocative images of another time and place. The one that really caught my eye was of a young lass of the family on a crowded beach. She was looking up at the photographer, gifting him with a glorious smile, seemingly of recognition. Maybe there’s a story there, as there may also be with one of the recorders of our first settlement at Port Jackson I found in the first showcase. Imagine a first-fleeter born in Yankeeland, growing up to fight the British in the Revolutionary Wars who then finds himself on an enemy boat as a soldier bound for Botany Bay. Now that’s a tale! On my last morning in the Emerald City I was back at the Library to see what else it had behind its sandstone facade as I killed time waiting for the appointed hour to head off back to my home. ‘The Paintings from the Collection’, spread thickly around three rooms, was pure enchantment, especially the portrait section. It was so well organised and I found an extraordinarily poignant rendering of a colonial lady that entranced me. She had a connection with our island too – another source for a tale perhaps. Also, at this library, they were celebrating 100 years since the publication of Norman Lindsay’s ‘The Magic Pudding’. It was magic too seeing the artist’s original sketches. This august facility, like its Melbourne counterpart, will be a must on future trips.
All good things come to an end and after three nights it was time to leave Chris’ plush house-sit and move into my hotel accommodation in the city. I soon discovered Harry wasn’t finished with his disruptions yet. The Travelodge is opposite Hyde Park and he was due at some ceremony or other at the War Memorial. Policemen and women galore were in attendance, blocking off the street between me and my destination. There was a young mother standing on the path watching proceedings and I enquired how long it would be before the ranga prince’s arrival. ‘Not for another hour and a half’, was her response. Considering she had a babe in arms and a toddler by her side I thought to myself, ‘Goodluck with that.’ No way would I give that much time to such a frivolous event. No way in the wide world would I be sucked in by all the hype to do with Harry and Meagan. As it turned out, I found a way to my room on the seventh floor and was soon settling in, ready for more of what Sydney had to offer.
The first on my list of ‘to do in Sydney’ was a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW to see ‘Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage’ and ‘John Russell, Australia’s French Impressionist’. I’ve always been fascinated with the latter – born and raised here, but spending much of his adulthood in Europe becoming good mates with Van Gogh and Rodin. His story is just as fascinating as his array of works on display. And to think his name and paintings were almost lost to history. Of course, I am well-versed in the life-history of Brett Whiteley, but didn’t realise there was another collection of artists living close by his home at Lavender Bay on the North Shore. As you could imagine, it was party central at the Whiteley’s back in the day and the artist paid a heavy price for that in the long run. The Museum of Sydney’s exhibition, another destination, reminding us of it all was quite outstanding.
And it wouldn’t be a trip away if I didn’t encounter random people who, through a brief connection with me, gave it all extra lustre. Two lovely ladies walked up to me as I was strolling back to my hotel one morning asking if I knew of a cafe offering good coffee. Indeed I did, so I guided them to the Joe Black Cafe (27 Commonwealth Street and the best scrambled eggs in town). On entering they invited me to join them. It turns out, would you believe, that they were both originally from Tassie’s Sheffield, Ilse still living there. Even more unlikely was the fact that Ilse knew Leigh’s daughter Ilsa and hubby Keith, even having worked with the latter. Then, at a bus stop I got to talking to a rotund chap who, on discovering that I was Hobartian, happened to mention that he once worked in an Elizabeth Street tea-house in my city. That started bells ringing. The only one I knew of, now no longer there, was the one operated by Brian Ritchie, of Violent Femmes fame, together with Japanese wife Varuni. These days he is Mona’s David Walsh’s chief side-kick. Seems this guy is best mates with the renowned identity. Sadly my bus arrived before I could find out more. Two degrees of separation and all that.
But the chance encounter that I relished most was arranged for me by Virgin Airlines, for they placed me next to the gorgeous Cass. We started chatting about our respective books and soon she was telling me how she and her Brazilian partner were embarking on a new life down the Peninsula at Nubeena. He is employed as a diver and she plans to start a mushroom farm. They were now a couple of months into their sea change away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. Why, Cass had even discovered one of my favourite hangouts, the State Cinema. We had much to talk about, but all too soon the plane landed and that was that. I wished her the best of luck on her new adventure on parting. Look out for Three Capes Mushrooms.
Yep, despite Harry, I eventually made it to Bondi and the sculptures on the afternoon of our intended day. And it was a glorious day too. With the azure sea behind them, I’m hoping my images of the pieces of artistic endeavour come up a treat. I was proud of myself for walking the distance to Tamarama and return (then back to Coogee) with out too much puffing.
Since his passing last year I’ve had the desire to track down old mates who were once, in our pomp, closely associated with both Nev and myself. One such was Ike – Andrew Ikin, now a resident of the Northern Beaches. And it was wonderful seeing him again. He took me on a ferry ride to Kirribilli, to the Fish Markets and to some upscale retail outlets around Westfield that were mind-blowingly over the top. I hasten to add he’s not a regular there. But the best part was the yarn-spinning we engaged in. We quickly discovered we both had an ear for the quirky, the unusual and the obscure, particularly to do with history. And if all that wasn’t enough, we were joined for part of the day by Anthony with whom I re-connected earlier in the year. Together they gave me a great, great day. Thank you fellas.
And the smiles. Sydney-siders are terrific smilers. Memorable were the two ladies who helped me out with my Opal card at Service NSW and Transport NSW. Both were a beautiful advertisement as to how to go about friendly customer service. Then Chris and I were lucky to be served by just the sweetest waitress at the State Library’s in-house cafe, right next to the repository of books’ shop where I was tempted to part with a goodly number of dollars. This girl went beyond the call of duty – again another whose cheeriness I’ll remember.
And it was on our way to that venue, I am sad to report, that it happened. A motorcycle cop came roaring up to the intersection we were about to cross, pulling to a sudden stop plumb in the middle. He was quickly followed by several others who followed his example. I was perplexed and looked at Chris. ‘Prince Harry?’ he offered. Then I spotted a flash car speedily approaching – and here it is, dear reader, here it is that it gets very, very hard to continue. You see I started waving like a mad thing. A mad thing! I glanced at the rear seat of the limousine as it passed and there he was, or at least his balding, ginger noggin was. He didn’t spot me so I received nothing in return. He was probably too busy whispering sweet nothings to Meagan or nibbling on her ear. But me, me – oh dear. I was behaving like an excitable teenage girl on the way to a boy band concert, you know the ad. I know, I know. I’m totally ashamed. My republican credentials are wrecked forever.