Todd' s Australia Journal

Our plan for Australia was limited.  In our round-the-world trip scheme, Australia was a country where we intended to stay in one place (Sydney) and have the children catch up on their schoolwork.   Our total time there was almost one month, so Cheryl arranged for an apartment near downtown for three weeks with the last five days unplanned.  With those five days we thought we might take a train to the nearby Blue Mountains or rent a car and drive to the Hunter Valley, a wine area north of Sydney.  But we decided to leave that for later.  As it turned out we spent our first four days in downtown Sydney at a hotel and then moved to the apartment for two weeks.  And instead of a spending our last five days nearby, we hopped on an overnight train to the distant city of Adelaide in South Australia to visit some equally distant Holdcroft relatives.

 I will say that Australia is a country we liked right from the start.  It helps that they speak English, but it is more than that.  Australia has the same British roots as the United States so culturally it is very familiar.  In the very funny book Down Under, American author Bill Bryson writes that Australia is a country that has historically received very little attention from the US.  I love what he writes next:  

One of the effects of paying so little attention to Australia is that it is always such a surprise to find it there.  Every cultural instinct and previous experience tells you that when you travel this far you should find, at the very least, people on camels.  There should be unrecognizable lettering on signs, and swarthy men in robes drinking coffee from thimble-sized cups and puffing on hookahs, and rattletrap buses and potholes in the road and a real possibility of disease on everything you touch – but no, it’s not like that at all.  This is comfortable and clean and familiar.  Apart from a tendency among men of a certain age to wear knee-high socks with shorts, these people are just like you and me.  This is wonderful.  This is exhilarating.  This is why I love to come to Australia.

 Historically, we Americans have viewed ourselves as rebels, having thrown off our colonial ruler – and that attitude is part of American culture today.  It is different in Australia.  Not only do Australians still look to England as the mother country, but they are actually legally bound to the United Kingdom as a British Commonwealth Nation.  I did not know this.  I spoke with a lady who told me that Australians don’t have a problem with this relationship because the UK does not interfere with the internal affairs of Australia and in times of crisis, they will always be there.  I later learned that has not always been true, but Australians maintain a lot of confidence in their relationship with Mother England.

 We arrived in Sydney on a rainy January 23rd, after a great week in New Zealand and checked into the Marriott Hotel in the Circular Quay area of downtown.  Months ago Cheryl attended a charity auction in Kona and bought a certificate for seven nights at this hotel – she was thinking ahead – so we got two adjoining rooms and stayed four nights.  Circular Quay (pronounced ‘key’) was a great place to stay at the start of our Australia visit because there is so much happening there.  It is the bustling hub of the Sydney ferry system with the Opera House on one side and the Harbour Bridge on the other.  Forgive me for quoting Bill Bryson again, but his description of this district is right on the mark: 

Life cannot offer many finer places to stand on a summery weekday morning than Circular Quay in Sydney.  To begin with, it presents one of the world’s great views.  To the right, almost painfully brilliant in the sunshine, stands the famous Opera House with its jaunty, severely angular roof.  To the left, the stupendous and noble Harbour Bridge.  Across the water, shining and beckoning, is Luna Park, a Coney Island-style amusement park with a maniacally grinning head for an entrance.  Before you the spangly water is crowded with the harbour’s plump and old-fashioned ferries, looking for all the world as if they had been plucked from the pages of a 1940s children’s book with a title like Thomas the Tugboat, disgorging streams of tanned and lightly dressed office workers to fill the glass and concrete towers that loom behind.

 The cove is lined with wide pedestrian walkways backed by restaurants, cafés and bars.  The walkways extend up to and around the Opera House, so you can walk all around it and we did.  One evening we got a close-up look at the roofing material of the Opera House and found it to be nothing more than porcelain tiles like you might have on the wall of your bathroom.  Cheryl confessed that she was disappointed by this – I guess she expected something more space-aged – but it looks great from a distance.  The first few days we were there, they had a large screen TV next to the steps leading up the Opera House – and offered free live viewing of the Australian Open tennis tournament.  An Aussie made to the final round so there was always a good crowd on hand.

 We learned that Circular Quay is where the first European settlement was established in 1788.  Captain Arthur Phillip led a flotilla of eleven ships from England.  Referred to as the “First Fleet,” 1,500 people were aboard which included 700 prisoners.  One of our guidebooks said that Britain needed a place to send their petty criminals after they lost their colonies in America.

 We spent those first few days relaxing and exploring the downtown area.  It was nice be in one place for a while and not have to pack up every night like in New Zealand.  We slept late and got out of the hotel in the late morning or early afternoon.  Several times I went and got coffee and pastries for breakfast – there was a Starbucks across the street.  We explored the Rocks area between Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge.  The Rocks is a historic district – part of the original settlement – that was revitalized a few years ago and has lots of restaurants as well as shopping.  There was a restaurant called Cruise (in the cruise ship terminal) that we visited several times.  The food at Cruise was not outstanding, nor was the décor, but the location was great for watching the enormous amount of ferry traffic going in and out of Circular Quay.  And it had a great view of the Opera House.

 We had the good fortune to be staying in downtown on Australia Day – January 26 – the anniversary of Captain Phillips’ arrival at Circular Quay (in Sydney Cove).  This is the equivalent of Fourth of July in the United States and has the same kind of celebration with outdoor concerts, barbeques, boat races and fireworks in the evening.  Two days before Australia Day, we were walking along the water in the Rocks district and came upon an old ship – something like a tall ship – made of wood, painted black and looking well worn.  It was tied to a pier and there was a sign that offered Australia Day cruises.  They offered one during the day and one in the evening.  It included a three course meal and all the alcohol you could drink for some amount in Australian dollars that looked reasonable, although we were still new to the country and hadn’t quite figured out the exchange rate.  So we signed up for the evening cruise and felt quite proud of ourselves.

 Australia Day was our first sunny day since arriving and we set out with hats, cameras, maps, guidebook, Pueo and water.  Our plan was to hang out in the Rocks district and take in the atmosphere.  Our cruise on the old ship wasn’t until evening so we had time to kill.  There was a country music festival in the Rocks with four stages of live music sprinkled throughout the district.  All the talent was Australian.  If you can imagine, there were real live Australians singing American-style country music – and most of it was their own stuff – I mean their original songs.  I am not into country music, but these people were talented.  While listening to the songs, it was easy to transport yourself back to any American outdoor music festival, but at the end when they spoke, we were right back in Australia – which was not a bad thing at all.  We also kept ourselves busy looking through stores, most of which had their wares out on the street.  There were food vendors and street performers.  They also had a parachute demonstration by the Australian Army and an air show.  After a while we ended up at Cruise for food and drink.

 As the sun moved toward the horizon, we made our way to the pier for our evening cruise.  We boarded the ship to the tune of Waltzing Matilda played on a concertina (something like an accordion) by one of the crew.  And at 6:30, we cast off and joined about ten thousand other boaters in Sydney Harbour.  The day had been hot, so being out on the water in the evening was great.  We watched the spectacle of boats go by, big and small, each with its own party.  I did not see one collision – not even a close call.  I can only guess that Sydney boaters know how to follow the rules – plus there were a fair number of police boats.  At one point a police boat approached us and asked our captain to turn the ship around in Darling Harbour.  But the harbor was narrow and we couldn’t manage it with the other boats so close, so the police used their Zodiac as a tug and pushed our bow around.  I watched this with a glass of wine in my hand, in the middle of a great conversation with the owner of pub (a ‘publican’) from a small town north of Sydney.  We had a great time.

 The next day we checked out of the hotel and took a taxi with all of our luggage to the apartment in the Drummoyne district, about 20 minutes from downtown to the west.  This is another one Cheryl found on the Internet and we liked it.  It was a two bedroom place with living room and separate kitchen.  It had washing machine and dryer, which was a great as I was out of clean underwear by then.

 I have found that there is a certain joy in spending time in a new city or a new part of a city.  The joy comes from a process of discovery that starts some after arrival and continues for several days or weeks after that.  Initially this process may not be joyful at all, because the basic questions have yet to be answered.  Is the apartment clean?  Is it secure?  Is it big enough for the four of us?  But once these questions are answered with some satisfaction, the fun discoveries begin.  There is the neighborhood and the many discoveries that have yet to be made.    Where is the nearest grocery store?  Are there any restaurants nearby?  Where to buy wine?  Is there a barber shop within walking distance?  Such was the case with our stay in Drummoyne.  We discovered a new place and made a home for ourselves for a time.  The apartment was clean, comfortable and secure.  We found it to be a safe neighborhood.  We were on a busy street and it was noisy, but not so bad.   There was a bus stop across the street with buses going into downtown every 30 minutes all day.  Within 5 minutes walk there was a grocery store, a wine shop, an Indian restaurant, an Italian restaurant, three Thai restaurants, a hair salon and a bakery.  We met people at those places who were delighted to talk with us about Australia and were also delighted to exchange stories.  Each of these was a discovery.

 Our pattern in Drummoyne consisted of sleeping late – actually this has been our pattern for the whole trip – having a meal, which could be either breakfast or lunch depending on the time of day and the kind of food, and then some time between 11am and 3pm catching the bus into downtown for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  These forays into downtown involved visits to various places such as the zoo, museum and botanical gardens.  Several times I spent the afternoon looking for an Internet café where I could publish to the website while Cheryl and the girls shopped.  In the evenings we did a variety of things as well including seeing movies and visiting bookstores.  One evening we saw an orchestra performance at the Opera House called Bugs Bunny on Broadway, which was great.  On days where we did not go into downtown, or if we got back to the apartment early, we played Scrabble.   

 While staying at the apartment in Drummoyne, we finally made contact with our distant cousin Maureen Holdcroft.  We had attempted to contact her via email and regular mail before we left the US to let her know we were visiting Australia, but without luck.  Cheryl made a final try by sending her a letter from Sydney and included our phone number and Maureen called.

 Exactly how we are related to the Australia Holdcrofts is not clear, but this is how we met.  My father’s career as an agricultural economist took him to far-flung places around the globe.  As he spent much time in foreign airports (before laptop computers), he entertained himself by finding the nearest pay phone and looking to see if there were any Holdcrofts listed.  The name Holdcroft is not common and, as far as we know, all Holdcrofts come from the same area of England, Staffordshire.  Through family stories over the years we have understood that, in addition to the US, there are Holdcrofts on the European continent, South Africa and Australia – all having come from Staffordshire.  My father, not content to just see if any Holdcrofts were listed, he actually called these people.  Such was the case in Australia.  He called a Holdcroft listed in the Sydney phone book 15 years ago and that is how we came to know Maureen.  She is around my parent’s age with children around our age.  She visited us in Seattle a year or so after that.  We met her son Patrick, who move to the US and became a regular visitor to our home around the time Lauren was born.  We also met Maureen’s daughter Linda and her family when they visited a few years after that.  Patrick found an American bride and we attended their wedding near Seattle.  But we had not been in contact for several years.

 So, you can imagine how delighted we were when Maureen called one evening at the apartment.  She had recently moved from Townsville in Queensland to the small town of Mildura in Victoria, about 4 hours drive from Adelaide.  Adelaide is Australia’s fifth largest city located in the south-central part of the country, about 1000 miles from Sydney.  She was living with her son Luke and family and helping them with their newly opened coffee business.  Also, Maureen’s daughter Linda and family were in Adelaide and she was happy to be closer to them.

 At this point we had been in Australia almost three weeks.  Cheryl and I had not decided what to do with our 5 days at the end of our Australia visit.  She was lobbying hard for us to fly to Ayers Rock in the middle of the outback.  I was not eager to fly 1300 miles to the middle of a nowhere just to see a rock.  We both wanted to get out of Sydney to see more of the country and we were waiting to hear from Maureen before making a decision.  So, when she called and invited us to visit, we knew we were headed to Adelaide and Mildura.  We had already researched transportation and learned of an overnight train called the Indian-Pacific that runs from Sydney to Adelaide.

 The next day Cheryl called to see about tickets and we learned that berths were available for the days we were traveling.  We made reservation for the train and bought one-way tickets on Virgin Blue Airline for the return to Sydney.  Two days later we packed our bags, checked out of our apartment several days early and took a taxi to the train station.

 After three weeks in Sydney, this is a list of most everything we did: 

bulletHad dinner at (or took out from) the Indian Kitchen near apartment – twice
bulletAte at Sushi Train restaurant next to the George Street Theatre downtown - 4 times
bulletHad drinks and/or meal at Cruise Restaurant in the Rocks district - 5 times
bulletHad lunch in Chinatown – twice
bulletRode in taxi - approximately 6 times
bulletRode the bus from apartment to downtown – approximately 12 times
bulletRode the monorail – twice
bulletSaw movies at George Street Theatres – twice
bulletShopped at outlet mall near apartment – 4 times
bulletShopped at the Chinese Market – twice
bulletSpent evening at Luna Park (kid amusement park) – once
bulletStopped in at Internet cafés to inquire if they welcomed laptops – 9 times
bulletTook out breakfast from Starbuck across the street from hotel in downtown - twice
bulletTook out breakfast from the bakery across the street from apartment – 4 times
bulletTook out dinner from Thai restaurant down the street from apartment – once
bulletTook pictures of the Sydney Opera House – approximately 50 shots
bulletTook the ferry to Manly (Beach) for afternoon – once
bulletTook the ferry between apartment and downtown – twice
bulletVisited the Australia Museum - once
bulletVisited Darling Harbour – once
bulletVisited Internet cafés – 6 times
bulletVisited the dentist (Cheryl) – twice
bulletVisited the post office – twice
bulletVisited the zoo – once
bulletWalked around the Rocks district - twice
bulletWalked through the Botanical Gardens – once
bulletWalked up and down George Street – 4 times
bulletWent ice skating (Cheryl and the girls) – once
bulletWent on a harbor cruise – once on Australia Day
bulletWent to a performance at the Opera House – once
bulletWorked on the website (Todd) while sitting at an outdoor café and drinking beer – 5 times


(Still working on the trip to Adelaide…)