Decided to make my first trip to Sydney the Xmas weekend – rather than wait for other people’s plans to fall into place. Also seemed a good idea to do something completely different, , tho I’m sorry to have missed an Oz xmas lunch. So my companions were  other tourists mostly from the Asia Pacific region, and everywhere was heaving, so lots of people not sitting round turkey and prawn-laden tables. Started with an early coffee and catch up with friends of friends (some of you might remember Bill W?) – very good start to the day, followed by stroll to the quay and voila – the opera house (see pix). Slightly unnerving, as you realise that the Sydney Opera House, like the Harbour Bridge, is and always has been  a) a Famous Monument and b) Very Far Away. So that means….

Took the ferry to Manly and in that blissful freedom of the solitary traveller decided to patronise the massage place operating from the ferry station – thinking a quick neck rub would be a good idea, I’ve been working hard etc etc – nearly two hours later I floated away, having been thoroughly pummelled – didn’t realise Chinese massage was so painful, but hadn’t realised my tendons were so stiff – the bridge probably has more flexibility. Not surprising with all the upheaval etc etc – felt like unravelling all the packing and decorating, and the work on the thesis, then down and back through political struggle to lost loves,  parental divorce, that ice cream in the sand….. Been kind of exhausted ever since, but in a good way.

So having squandered my lunch money I grabbed half a chicken from Nandos and found a quiet grassy spot from which to survey the very peaceful and sunny Sydney harbour- surrounded by large families with picnics adn small children running in and out of the sea. Lovely. Even managed a short symbolic swim to celebrate. Later wandered back to the ocean side beach which was like Oxford Street, with added sand and wind – horrible, but apparently a traditional Xmas beach, like Bondi, which I swam in the day before – lovely swoop of sand, but rather like going into Topshop – no one says you’re too old and wrinkly to adorn this beach but you’re free to draw your own conclusions. Still, the water was absolutely wonderful and enough to make me want to visit again. Splendid to think these places are only a few hours away. And the weather has finally shifted from the coldest summer in 50 years (which has been helpful to me, settling in) to something much warmer and summerier.

Spent the evening wandering round central Sydney, admiring the light show on the Town Hall, mingling with revellers, strolling through chinatown – does seem a great city, can’t wait to explore beyond the CBD. Next morning, took the monorail in a loop (twice) seeing how the jigsaw of pedestrian wanderings fits together from a raised perspective, before catching an hour or so at an astonishing exhibition of Aboriginal art describing the impact of a cattle route, the Channing Stock Route, which drove its way through hundreds of miles of sacred land occupied by different families, from the mid 19th to 20th C. Stories and pictures showed what happened to the land and its peoples, but also that there was resistance and groups came together to protect their territory, so not just a white men are bastards story (but pretty much). Art is always elusive, but the layers of inaccessible meaning are wondrous –  stories, interviews, video links do their best, but it’s not just different knowledge it’s a different way of knowing.

Took five hours getting back to Bathurst – track work. Had been astonished that I can make a 400km round trip for about £10 – about the same distance as the £100 minimum Leeds-London journey – and it is still amazing, and due to fact railways, like ferries and many buses are government owned. Then a visit to the loo took me back to British Rail days – suddenly developed superhuman bladder control and a desire not to touch any of the surfaces. No buffet trolley either, but you can pay full UK fare and not get fed. Concentrated instead on the great views as we trundled (about 40mph) through the Blue Mountains before joining friends back in Bathurst for a lovely Boxing day meal.

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