Some Expensive Toys in Auckland Harbour
One last walk down by the waterfront was the only thing on my agenda this morning, it was all I had time for. Almost all the Volvo Ocean Race preparations were complete and up and running, and free of charge too. I chanced my arm in the ocean race simulator, and also took in a 3D-movie of the race in a cinema built out of containers.
Sadly time was pressing, and I returned to my hotel to take the shuttle bus to the airport. I felt a mixture of sadness at leaving this great country, a special country full of wondrous sights and wonderful people. But I was at the same time glad to be leaving Auckland and moving on; I was reaching boredom threshold.
My flight to Sydney was on the drag. The plane had arrived late from Sydney due to terrible storms there.
It gave me a chance to chat to the guy sitting next to me in the departure lounge. He worked for the church, but I never found out in what capacity. "I spent a couple of years in England," he told me, "trying to convert the unconvertible in Yorkshire and Tyneside." A thankless task I thought.
At last we were jetting through the skies. It gave me time to reflect on Australia and its history. The continent of Australia is huge. With the island state of Tasmania, it is approximately equal in area to the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). Mountain ranges run from north to south along the east coast. The western half of the continent is occupied by a desert plateau that rises into barren, rolling hills near the west coast. The Great Barrier Reef, lies along the northeast coast.
The human history of the country goes much further back than that of New Zealand. The first inhabitants of Australia were the Aborigines, who migrated there at least 40,000 years ago from Southeast Asia. They spoke one or more of hundreds of separate languages and dialects, and their lifestyles and cultural traditions differed from region to region. Their complex social systems and highly developed traditions reflect a deep connection with the land. Asian and Oceanic mariners and traders were in contact with Indigenous Australians for many centuries before the era of European expansion. Some formed substantial relationships with communities in northern Australia. There may have been between a half million to a full million Aborigines at the time of European settlement; today about 350,000 live in Australia.
The Gardener Needs Sorting Out At This Auckland Building
Free settlers and former prisoners established six colonies: New South Wales (1786), Tasmania (then Van Diemen's Land) (1825), Western Australia (1829), South Australia (1834), Victoria (1851), and Queensland (1859). Various gold rushes attracted settlers, as did the mining of other minerals. Sheep farming and grain soon grew into important economic enterprises. Scarcity of labour, the vastness of the land and new wealth based on farming, mining and trade made Australia a land of opportunity. The six colonies became states and in 1901 federated into the Commonwealth of Australia with a constitution that incorporated British parliamentary and U.S. federal traditions. Australia became known for its liberal legislation: free compulsory education, protected trade unionism with industrial conciliation and arbitration, the secret ballot, women's suffrage, maternity allowances, and sickness and old-age pensions.
Australia fought alongside Britain in World War I, notably with the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in the Dardanelles campaign (1915). Participation in World War II helped Australia forge closer ties to the United States. Parliamentary power in the second half of the 20th century shifted between three political parties: the Australian Labour Party, the Liberal Party, and the National Party. Australia relaxed its discriminatory immigration laws in the 1960s and 1970s, which favoured Northern Europeans. Thereafter, about 40% of its immigrants came from Asia, diversifying a population that was predominantly of English and Irish heritage. An Aboriginal movement that grew in the 1960s gained full citizenship and improved education for the country's poorest socioeconomic group.
3 hours later we were approaching Sydney. As we started to lose altitude, the poor toddler in front of me started screaming her heart out. The pressure changes must have been giving her ear ache. Then the captain announced that a major storm drifting over Sydney would mean us staying in a holding pattern for at least 10 minutes. The poor wee girl was still in agony.
But the storm passed, and we touched down. There seemed to be no joined up thinking when it came to catching a shuttle bus into the city, so I and umpteen others resorted to taxis. "Y Hotel City South, please," I told the taxi driver. "Never heard of it. What is the address?" was his immediate response. "179 Cleveland Street," was all I could advise. It didn't ring a bell with him, but he set off. "Where are you from?" I asked, already certain he came from India. "I came from India, and went to stay with friends in Britain. It was while I was there that I decided I wanted to live in America, but it was impossible for me to gain a permit. A friend invited me to Sydney, and I found I really liked the place. I was studying hotel management at the time, and managed to get a student visa to extend my stay here. Then I discovered that there was a shortage of IT skills in Australia, so I swapped courses and studied IT. That swung it as far as gaining citizenship was concerned. But I hated IT. To me a computer in front of me was the devil. Now I just drive a taxi and I am happy," he told me.
The roads in the city were congested. "Is it always like this?" I asked. "There is probably an accident somewhere. We have had severe rain storms recently, and the pressure of water had forced the roads up in places creating large potholes," he answered. He wasn't joking either, I saw several examples on our route.
We reached Cleveland Street and the driver now started to remember seeing a Y Hotel down at the far end. We reached it, a sign saying "Y Hotel: YWCA". "When I found this hotel on the internet, there was no mention of the YWCA," I said. "The Y Hotels in Australia are YMCA or YWCA places," he told me. I had visions of being the only guy staying in this hotel.
As the driver dropped me off, he turned to me and advised, "Be very careful around here. It is not safe. After dusk not many drivers will take any business here. You see those flats over there," he said pointing to a string of flats about 300m away, "they are full of people on benefits. There are a lot of muggings around here." he left me at that point. Having first learned that I was staying at a YWCA, and now I was in a no-go zone, I was totally bemused. The street I was in looked a bit run down, but that didn't particularly bother me. However its character may change in darkness.
It could be of course a standard ploy by this taxi driver, waiting for an unwitting person to utter the words, "Woe is me, what shall I do now." He would then become extremely helpful by saying that his brother ran a guest house or whatever. He would very helpfully call his brother, who just happened to have one room left, sadly the most expensive room, and somebody was already making enquiries about it. But if I committed now, the room would be mine. I didn't even want to entertain that route.
I tried to enter the hotel, the door was locked and I had to summon a bloke via an intercom. "The taxi driver told me that this is a bad area to be in," I told him, not sure what response to receive. "Those taxi drivers, I'd like to kill them off one by one. There is no problem around here," was his response. I went off to check my room out, and a couple of Asian lads got in the lift with me. That was comforting, at least there are two more males staying here.
Darling Harbour at from Pyrmont Bridge
I needed to get out and stretch my legs, so I walked in more or less a straight line into the city. Just across the road from the hotel was a Dulux paint shop. Inside, a couple of vicious looking dogs galloped up and down the aisles. Security measures are stern around here I thought. Perhaps the taxi driver was telling the truth. The roads were almost deserted to start with, but as I got closer to the city centre, the pavements became much more crowded. It was a fairly long walk, which eventually took me past numerous cafes, bars and restaurants. Many such businesses included VIP in their names, I couldn't work out why since anybody seemed to be walking in and out. The other thing I noticed, although this was a standard main street I was walking down, with many families ambling along, there were lots of "adult" shops along its length.
I walked all the way to Market Street, and turned off to Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour and King Street Wharf were for many decades the core of the working port of Sydney. The waterfront was reclaimed for the Australian Bicentenary in 1988, and now the extensive area almost completely dedicated to entertainment and tourism, the small inlet ringed by attractions and pedestrian boardwalks facing the water. The Pyrmont Bridge, a wide pedestrian-only swing bridge that crosses the inlet, forms a historic centrepiece to the area. The neighbouring suburbs of Pyrmont and Ultimo, just 200m away, have many of the original pubs and terraces that were previously inhabited by the dockers and warehouse workers during previous life of the area. Around the waterfront the redevelopment of the area has swept away all history that used to be there, and now museums carried the history forward.
It was dark when I reached the harbour, and its periphery was a mass of restaurants all glittering like a coloured Milky Way. It did look pretty at night. I crossed the Pyrmont Bridge, wandered among the restaurants, and found a Thai establishment where I could sit outside overlooking the harbour. It still hadn't sunk in that I was in Australia. I enjoyed a simple meal, sipped an Australian beer, and slowly headed back to my no-man's land. Nothing untoward happened to me, and I had no fear. I suppose I will remain fearless until I do have a confrontation with a hoodlum with a weapon.
My body clock was telling me it was late, I just wanted to sleep.