Standing at the top of Observatory Park, I could see the hazy Blue Mountains on one side, and on the other, the panoramas of Sydney stretched out with yachts and ferries on the harbour, the sun glinting in the water, and the Opera House with a billowing facade like a vessel in full sail. I was reminded of Antony Trollope’s words, written about a visit to Sydney’s harbour in the 1870s — “It is so inexpressibly lovely that it makes a man ask himself whether it would not be worth his while to move his household to the eastern coast of Australia in order that he might look at it as long as he can look at anything”
Sydney has often been voted one of the most desirable cities to live in, given its picturesque setting, access to the ocean, sunny climate, gracious neighbourhoods, verdant botanical gardens, inspirational museums, stimulating art galleries, and venerable restaurants that beckon with exciting new (Mod-Oz) cuisine which is a blend between Italian, French and Asian styles. Long drives into the outback and treks into the Blue Mountains can be enjoyed over a weekend.
Sydney’s manifold virtues were not wasted on me. However, I was not going to come away from the Antipodean city without exploring some of its other facets — hearing Aussie-speak “no worries, mate”, observing the stars in the southern sky, listening to the sound of a didgeridoo rend the air, marvelling at a properly thrown boomerang, deconstructing Waltzing Matilda, the popular song of the jolly swagman, and most importantly, taking a peek into aboriginal culture; their dreamtime myths, ability to garner “bush tucker” from the harshest environment and particularly to explore aboriginal art.
For that, I made my way to a variety of galleries including Hogarth Galley and the Aboriginal Art centre in Paddington. The unique dot paintings follow a long tradition in illustrating creation myths. The four naturally found colours — black from charcoal, white from natural chalk, ochre from ground stones and yellow from roots are widely used even today. Explaining the stick figure paintings of on eucalyptus bark, the curator explained, “these are mimi spirits; slim enough to disappear into the cracks between rocks, and if annoyed, can wreak havoc on people”.
Koalas and kangaroos
“God must have been on LSD when he made these animals” said an American man, meandering through the Australian wildlife section of Taronga zoo. He was referring to kangaroos, koalas, emus, echidnas, wallabies, wombats and opossums. I wondered if an Australian aboriginal person would have had the same thought upon seeing turkeys, bison and bears for the first time in the Bronx zoo.
Taronga is an absolute must for anyone visiting Australia, for it doesn’t only have a beautiful setting, high up on a bluff, it is also renowned for its world class collection of animals housed in vast enclosures that simulate their natural habitat. It is the best way to experience the continent’s flora and fauna. Though koala cuddling is rightfully banned, we could can see the marsupials up close, and watch the antics of kangaroos as they boxed each other playfully and then sprung across the grassland on their powerful hind legs towards their leafy breakfast. I held out a handful of feed, and within moments, was surrounded rather aggressively, even pushed and shoved by the Mafioso-marsupials. The collective name for them, it dawned, is a mob of kangaroos. No wonder.