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Sydney, Australia

An article by Mark Moxon, travel writer All rights reserved.

I didn't spend too long in Sydney, just long enough to see the sights, visit some friends, write some articles for cash, and to blag myself a job offer at Acorn Computers in Melbourne. I was also suffering from jet lag, culture clash and the hollow feeling you get when you're just starting a potentially very long trip, so the highlights that follow don't do Sydney justice. I must go back...

  • Sydney harbour is just as beautiful as they say it is. When I landed it was a gorgeous day, the sun was out, and the Harbour Bridge and Opera House were spectacular. It's also a pretty laid-back place, with none of the traffic that makes London such a grim place to live. Having a coffee overlooking Circular Quay is one of those things you have to do, so I did it, despite the priced tag of A$3. They saw me coming, I reckon.

  • The next stop: my first taste of an Aussie pub. Bear in mind that it was only about midday when I pitched up, but seeing as my body thought it was late at night, it was fair enough to have a couple. Unfortunately the tap beer was off they were cleaning the lines so I settled for a stubby of Victoria Bitter (a stubby being a 375ml bottle). It wasn't bad stuff, if you like freezing lager, which I figured I'd better, seeing as that's pretty much all they have in Australia. Ask for a lager, and you'll get blank stares here: it's all called bitter, even if it looks, smells and tastes just like lager.

  • Sunday, and the heavens opened. Ironically Sunday was Water Conservation Day down in Darling Harbour, with water skiing shows, lots of stands, and a concert by John Williamson, whose folksy tunes about billabongs and gum trees have yet to make it beyond Australia's borders. Everyone kept going on about how important it is to conserve water because it's running out, and all the time water was chucking down in torrents. It was, frankly, bizarre.

  • If there's one beautiful sight, it's a city from above at night. That night I went up the Sydney Centre Point Observation Tower, at that time the tallest man-made structure in the southern hemisphere, but in the shitty weather visibility was pretty well zero. So I waited, as there wasn't much else to do, and soon the skies cleared and the most amazing sight appeared: Sydney by night. The Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, boats, a wicked lightning storm over Botany Bay it was stunning.

  • After a few days in the Youth Hostel in Glebe I moved to a hostel in King's Cross, easily the seediest area in Sydney, with sex shows, 24-hour bars and hookers lining the streets; it's not that scary after Soho and King's Cross in London, but it was a lot more interesting than Glebe, which was what I wanted. My only memory is of the noisy couple having sex in the room directly above me that night. I swear the whole hostel broke into spontaneous applause when she finally came.

  • The following Saturday I climbed the southeast pylon of the Harbour Bridge, for a spectacular view of the city. The only problem was that the rain kicked in just as I got down, so I sheltered for about half an hour before the storm really got going, with thunder and lightning and rain like you've never seen. Every time the lightning struck I heard these cheers, and after another fifteen minutes I realised that this was nothing to do with the weather there was a pub just over the road.

    It was great. After a couple of schooners of VB I'd met this South African guy who now lived in Sydney, and we went on a bit of a pub crawl which culminated in us watching the Rugby League final (England vs. Oz) in a pub, live from Wembley. Unfortunately I was so pissed by half time that I had to go home... which was quite fortunate, seeing as Australia won, and they like to rub it in if there are any handy Poms around.

  • On Tuesday I contacted a lovely guy called Colin, whom I'd met through work at home, and who'd emigrated to Australia not long before. His story is worth retelling.

    Colin is a writer of excellent children's picture books1, and he used to live and work in Cumbria, where I got to know him because he used Acorn computers for his work. Anyway, there was this school in Sydney where the teacher, Anne, had bought a copy of his book Looking for Atlantis, and her class had gone wild about it. Then one day, one of the kids asked Anne, 'Could we meet the author?' She explained that no, Colin lived in England, so they couldn't meet him. The kids protested, and asked her why they couldn't buy a plane ticket for him to fly out, and eventually Anne and her class organised lots of fund-raising in order to pay for Colin to come over for a two-week visit.

    So Colin came out to Australia to meet Anne and her classroom of fans, and spent two weeks at the school showing the kids how he draws and writes his books. And guess what? Anne and Colin fell in love, and two weeks after getting back to the UK, Colin had left his unhappy marriage (which was on the point of breaking up anyway), packed up his computer and pens, and moved to Sydney. It's a great story.

    Colin and Anne put me up in their house for a week, and it was great what lovely people. We went to parties, had barbecues in the garden, and it all went far too quickly.

  • On my last night in Sydney before taking the tour to Melbourne, I sloped off to the hotel's bar to see what was making such a huge noise. The name of the band, according to the board, was Jam Right, and boy, were they weird. They kept swapping musicians around, people from the audience kept joining in and singing vocals, and the whole thing seemed to be getting pretty random. It was only after an hour of this I realised the sign actually said Jam Night. Funny how it all started making more sense then...

1 Though they're not just for kids, like all the best children's books. I can't recommend his books enough; his full name is Colin Thompson. Tell him I sent you...


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