Strictly: Sydney and Stuff – Part #1

New Zealand completed (although not really, I could be travelling there 6 months and still not see or do everything) means it’s time to move onto Australia. The Australian leg of my trip is going to be in two parts, first, two weeks bumming about in Sydney and Melbourne, with a bit of a disastrous stop in Canberra (more on that later) and, after I’ve become thoroughly bored of wandering around cities, it’ll be time for me to high-tail it into the outback for three weeks of adventures in the bush, where I’ll probably be eaten by a kangaroo or set upon by drop bears. If you don’t hear from me again after this, that’s why!

Before I go any further I just want to talk about Australian money. The notes I have no problem with, although I can’t for the life of me manage to remember what colours all the denominations are. But the coins are just beyond me. The two dollar coin is maybe the smallest coin I’ve ever come across, think a 5p and you’re somewhere close. The one dollar is about twice as big as the two dollar, and the 50 cents is like a 50p on speed, it’s ridiculously, unnecessarily large. The 20 cents alone is stupidly big but it pales in comparison to the massive 50 cents, I swear just one takes up half my purse. Anyway, that’s this country specific rant over and it can be boiled down, more or less, to the fact that I do not like the money in Australia.

For over a century Sydney and Melbourne have been in competition with each other, all stemming back to the separation of the state of Victoria from New South Wales and the discovery of gold, and subsequent economic boom, in Victoria in the 1840s, so it’s no surprise that there are a lot of similarities between the two cities. Sydney is the bigger, more touristy city while Melbourne is smaller, more laid back and artsy. I don’t think I like one better than the other and I’ve found enough to fill my time, and then some, in both.

Something that I’ve noticed in both Sydney and Melbourne is that Australia does good museums. I managed to visit two in Sydney and only one in Melbourne, but I was not disappointed in either. By far the best museum in Sydney was the Hyde Park Barracks, a building that’s been through countless regenerations but which began life as a prison building for the convicts sent to the Australian colony from Britain. Before coming to Australia I didn’t really know anything about the convict colonies, or the immediate impact they had on the Aboriginal population, but it’s a fascinating subject to learn about. Even more fascinating is the fact that it’s only in recent decades that Australia has started to embrace its convict roots, previously it was seen as an awful stain on your family to be related to a convict. In Melbourne the best museum (or, at least, the only one I visited) was the Old Melbourne Gaol, a building which, until the early 20th century, was the city’s prison. It’s made one hundred times creepier by the fact that the exhibits are all in the original, unchanged prison cells and to get between floors you still need to take the old metal stairs and walkways. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting, particularly the exhibits dedicated to Ned Kelly, the 19th century bush ranger who was kind of the Australian equivalent of Jesse James, but I was actually pretty pleased to get out of there, it was a little too like being in actual jail. This probably wasn’t helped by the Watch House Experience I’d done just before visiting the prison proper, a tour of the old watch house given by a guide in the guise of a police sergeant who ‘processes’ you into the original cells and who did a really good (maybe too good) job of making me feel as if I’d actually been arrested.

As I’m sure you all know by now (if you didn’t already), I love history, and culture, and generally learning things. It’s no real surprise then that I did a fairly large chunk of the cultural, history-oriented activities in both Sydney and Melbourne. Both cities have free walking tours which I fully utilised and loved, particularly the ‘Rocks’ tour in Sydney, which takes you around the old Rocks area of the city, the original settlement of the convicts sent to the colony, and gives you an insight into the way the convicts lived as well as stories of crime, prostitution and intrigue in the early years of the settlement. It’s really no surprise that big sections of The Rocks look kind of like a British, Victorian era city street when you learn about the history of the colony and the lives of the convicts who were sent there. I hadn’t expected Australia to have much physical history, at least in the way of buildings and monuments, so I was pretty surprised to see Victorian, Georgian and art deco buildings dotted around both Sydney and Melbourne. In Sydney the tour guide was telling us about the governments repeated attempts to remove what little physical history the city has, both to make way for modern developments but also to try and create distance between modern Sydney and its convict past. Don’t get me wrong, having a bunch of petty criminals basically found your city is hardly the most auspicious start but it seems a shame to remove so much wonderful, and important, architecture just to get rid of this. I don’t think this is the policy any more, but if it is then it shouldn’t be!

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as is the amazing state library, which is complete with Ned Kelly’s suit of iron armour in which he had a shoot out with the police and was eventually captured.

The similarities between the cities don’t just stop there. Both have beautiful botanical gardens which I whiled away days in. Sydney’s probably wins in terms of looks simply because it has unbelievable views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, but it does also have tonnes of ibis birds, aka the dementors of the bird world, so maybe Melbourne’s is better! Both also have beautiful beaches. Well, I say this but I didn’t really have a beautiful experience on the beach in Sydney. I decided to take the ferry to Manly beach because I’d heard that the ride is amazing and the beach is beautiful. The ferry ride was brilliant and probably had the best views in all of Sydney, but I happened to go on a Sunday so the beach was horribly packed (and ridiculously windy). Unsurprisingly, I wandered around for about half an hour and then went back to the refuge of the botanical gardens where there were far fewer people, but about as much wind. I had a lot more luck with Melbourne beaches. I had already been to St Kilda, two evenings in a row, to visit the incredibly hippy night market and to see the little penguins on St Kilda pier (they were as cute as you’d expect) so for my beach day I decided to go to Brighton beach.

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Except for the name, and the fact it’s a beach, it has roughly zero similarities to the Brighton I’m used to. There was no wind, beautifully painted beach huts (which can apparently set you back a whopping $200,000 and up, but are only sold to local residents) dot the beach front and there are amazing views of Melbourne all along the seafront. Now, I went to the beach because I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to visit Australia and not go to a beach, and I did have a nice day but I think it further proved that I don’t really like beaches. In theory I love the beach, and walking through the surf on a lovely summer’s day always seems so effortless and classy in all the movies, but it is not. All walking through the surf really does is make you sink in the sand to a ridiculous extent, and you inevitably step on a sharp, painful rock every 5 steps, culminating in you crippling yourself by the time you emerge. I also don’t really like sand. I didn’t even swim and yet, somehow, I was so unbelievably sandy that I had to shower the moment I got back to the hostel as I didn’t dare sit down anywhere, lest I shed a beach’s worth of sand. I did get an ice cream though, so that was nice. I also threw a stone at a very aggressive looking seagull who was eyeing up said ice cream so it wasn’t a completely wasted day.

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Sydney’s botanical gardens have great views but terrifying birds.

My beach related rant went on much longer than expected there (don’t they always?!) so I think I’ll leave you here, in suspense for what else I did and come back with part 2 at a later date. Hold onto your hats for that one!

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Whereas Melbourne’s botanical gardens are slightly trumped by its beaches.

Leah Out X

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