And so, after a much too short a stay, it’s time for this body to leave Sydney on the train to Brisbane.
First impressions of the country’s biggest (I think?) city, were mixed as there was both good weather and a noticeable (and not pleasant) taste of smog in the air.
Good, standard photos were taken of Sydney’s iconic arch and cream curvy structure, even though they, as ever, didn’t look quite real against the picture postcard blue skies and sunshine beaming down this morning.
Laden with luggage (unlike Southern Cross in Melbourne, Sydney’s Central Station did not appear to have luggage lockers) for the entire day emphasised and exacerbated two of the biggest hang ups I have about Sydney. Firstly, the incredibly hilly landscape which ensures that, even if you think you’re on a short trip to a place nearby, your journey will feature climbs Hillary(?) would’ve struggled to tame; and second, streets (probably due to age and development) so hard to navigate I got very lost on more than one occasion (even though I did use my phone maps).
However, these are the hangups of a surface dweller. Looking deeper into Sydney, past all the flashiness and impersonality that seems to come with being ‘on the world stage’ as this city surely is, there are definite things to like, even love about the town.
First, the harbour. It’s obvious, but once out of the super sized, beige tangle of city buildings, the Harbour is truly an oasis. It’s where creatives, executives, tourists and all comers can recharge and find joy (for hopefully they stop to appreciate it) in the glorious beauty of their surrounds, still (reasonably) heavily tree’d even after 223 years (shamefully, I got my calculator out for that one. Must be getting old..) of European habitation. Indeed, it’s almost incomprehensible that both the Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Dance Company, housed as they are on the wharf of the harbour opposite Luna Park, trees, and – one suspects – some not inexpensive mansions, get any work done at all! But they do, and, for the most part, it is consistently good.
Happily too, after spending time soaking up the ‘vibe’ of the city, I began to discover a few hidden gems amongst the well known. Belvoir St Theatre, whilst well known to me through touring productions such as Keating! and others, was not as easy to find as I thought it might be. Follow a road from the main railway station for a while, then turn left at (where else) Belvoir St. Otherwise residential, and with an incline not to be taken lightly, a set of red doors and laminated A4 bit of paper announce that the offices of Belvoir St are upstairs. The theatre, theatres to be precise, are up a little further on the right.
Belvoir in a residential area was not what I’d anticipated, but what pleased me the most was the program. An artistic director brimming with obvious leadership, talent for programming and a touch of humour (see book ‘Bluff Your Way In Theatre’ held behind the new director’s back in this, his debut season program) was good. Better is his, and his company’s dedication to new Australian work, and practitioners, through the devotion of their Downstairs program to staging new works including the one woman show Cut, written by Duncan Graham who also directed Jungle Bean’s Boxing Day Test, a show I Stage Managed, last year. Best, and most importantly, is Belvoir’s decision to ensure all their Downstairs shows are supported, rather than running as co-operative productions (which, depending on budgets and audiences, often can mean artists don’t get paid a cent).
And it is with that happy discovery on a little hill near Sydney, and a quick steak sandwich from an equally wonderful food place down that hill and around the corner, that I bid farewell to a city beginning to unfurl its treasures to me… for now.