Wednesday 16 March: The first thing that grabs your eye is Sydney Harbour Bridge quickly followed by the Opera House. I'm staying in the new Sydney Harbour YHA with great views from the rooftop terrace across the harbour and city, ideal for a sundowner of fine fruity-red 'cleanskin' or a beer.
Thursday 17: The Royal Botanic Gardens are fantastic: White Ibis strut their stuff, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos poke around and flocks of Rainbow Lorikeets fill whole fruit trees. There are also spiders but filling the canopies of the larger trees, their leaves and bark stripped bare by sharp claws, are huge Grey-haired Flying Foxes who steal the show at dusk. The hostel has a $5 barbecue on the roof terrace so I opt for the Kangaroo steak, now I've eaten an animal I still haven't seen. The evening's entertainment is a light-show across the harbour which uses the opera house as a screen, what a spectacular way to end the day.
Friday 18: My passport is now full and I need to organise a new one. The British Consulate tell me it will cost AU$304 (about 200 GBP), more than double the price at home, for 48 pages, plus I will need two strictly-sized passport photos, one endorsed by a British citizen of some standing who has known me for two-years or more, and it will take four-weeks as it has to be mailed to New Zealand for processing. I only know one British citizen in the whole of Australia who fits the bill and he is certainly of some standing, but can prop-forwards write in joined-up English?
Saturday 19: An yellow eco-friendly gas-powered no.170 Forest Hills bus (82nd mode of transport) takes me to the leafy Northern Beach suburb of Belrose and chez Boyle. A rainy weekend at the Boyle family home is fascinating for me. A stylish suburban house, it has a large family-living area like a dance-hall with rooms above and around, a garden with fenced pool area and, of course, a triple-garage leading to a cul-de-sac with no pavement - as in most of Australia the car is allowed to rule here. Despite the drizzle John takes me for a spin in his new twin-seater Mercedes-Benz Kompressor 2000 Roadster (83rd mode) past Scotland Island and patches of National Park to Collaroy surf-beach strip where slightly-deranged surfers brave the now driving rain.
Sunday 20: Brunch by the beach is a Sydney institution and I soon discover the caffeine-fix of a small long black (a black coffee to you and I) in Ash's Table cafe at nearby Manly beach. In the afternoon, John comes to my rescue. Prop-forwards can write in joined-up English and, after a first attempt, I gratefully have a passport photo endorsed by a Brit of suitable social standing who has known me for forty-five years no less. John and Liza are good hosts and we wash down a home-cooked meal at the family table with a fine red. It's wonderful for me to see familiar happy faces after travelling for so long and it's great to relax in such comfortable surroundings even if it is a bit of a strain coping with the family-fast English-language banter of Alistair, Daniel and Georgie, it's been a while since I've had a multi-facet conversation with people whose first language is English. Photos later, hopefully in bright sunshine, when I return the compliment. I wonder if there's a MacDonald's nearby?
Monday 21: A waterfront walk to Darling Harbour and the Maritime Museum, then back to the city centre for lunch and over the bridge to Luna Park in the afternoon, is a good day out.
Friday 25: The Museum of Contemporary Art is disappointingly closed for renovations but the Australian Museum is a delight including terrifying interactive displays of the many of the creatures that can inflict agonising pain before they kill you: venomous land, sea and tree snakes, Redback Spiders, Blue-ringed Octopus, various Scorpions, Saltwater Crocodiles, Sharks, Box Jellyfish, tiny but lethal Irukandja jellyfish, Scorpion Fish, Numb Rays, Stone Fish and many more. This is all with no mention of such things as dengue fever, Ross River fever, cyclones, flash-floods, freak waves and rip tides, what an extraordinary country to choose to live in!
Saturday 26: I just love Grace Crossington Smith's The Curve of the Bridge (1929). I don't usually like inaccurate paintings but this one in the Art Gallery of New South Wales rocks. She uses heavy parallel sky brushstrokes to emphasise the weight of the bridge which sits on short delicate white pylons. But it's Scottish Modernist architect Thomas Tait's massive fortress-like stone pylons that actually hold the elegant span in place. Russel Drysdale's works depicting desolately poor outback families and deserted worked-out towns are also atmospheric. Sidney Nolan's Burke (1962) and First-class Marksman in the Ned Kelly series are equally desolate depictions of early colonial life in Australia.
Photos of Sydney.