Sydney—A Vibrant Harbor City
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN AUSTRALIA
WHAT comes to mind when you hear the words “Sydney, Australia”? Do you immediately think of the unique opera house at the water’s edge, with its roofs billowing out like yacht sails or huge shells? Depending on your interests, that could be the image that springs to mind.
Sydney—Australia’s gateway city—is rated by many as one of the most attractive cities in the world. It is the capital of New South Wales, the continent’s most populous state. The national capital, however, is Canberra, about midway between Sydney and Melbourne.
Sydneysiders, as residents of the city like to be called, are generally friendly and easygoing. Often referred to in ballads as “Sydney Town,” Sydney is noted for at least three outstanding landmarks: (1) a deep natural harbor, (2) an impressive, single-span harbor bridge, and (3) a unique opera house.
The climate is temperate, with an average temperature in February, the warmest month, of 72°F. [22°C.], while the coolest month, July, averages 54°F. [12°C.] Australia’s rainfall tends to be erratic and unpredictable, but the average rainfall in Sydney is 45 inches [1,140 mm] per year, most of it falling during the summer months (December to March).
You will hear a lot more about Sydney in the coming months because it has been selected as host city for the Olympic Games in the year 2000.
From Penal Colony to Thriving City
Compared with many other world-renowned cities, Sydney is a child, for its history goes back just over 200 years to 1770, when British explorer Captain James Cook made his historic landing at Botany Bay. (The north shore of Botany Bay is now home to Sydney’s international airport.) Sailing north a few miles, he bypassed a deep natural harbor that he named Port Jackson. Thus, he did not go between the two headlands leading into the harbor.
Then, in 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip arrived from England with the First Fleet and its cargo of British convicts. He went ashore to establish a settlement at Botany Bay but decided that it was unsuitable. Accordingly, he took three open boats and sailed north to see if he could find a better site.
Sure enough, just a few miles away, he discovered the surprisingly deep and spacious bay that Cook had passed up. In a famous dispatch to Lord Sydney, England’s home secretary, Phillip conveyed his impressions of Port Jackson: “We . . . had the satisfaction of finding the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security.” In honor of Lord Sydney, Phillip named the cove Sydney Cove and set up the first settlement there. The name Sydney has stuck to this day.
All the male convicts were landed and immediately began clearing the land and assembling rough shelters. The fleet carried many convicts as well as a number of wives and children, all of whom had to make the best of this enforced new “home” thousands of miles from their country of birth. For the next 20 years, the settlement consisted of makeshift tents and temporary dwellings—many of them just huts and hovels—for originally it was to be no more than a penal settlement. In 1810, however, Governor Lachlan Macquarie arrived in Sydney, and his 11-year tenure caused a rapid transformation of the colony.
A City Begins to Take Shape
Under Macquarie’s direction, an architect who had accompanied him from England, assisted by an emancipated convict who was also an architect, designed many buildings in and around Sydney. This immediately gave the convict camp an atmosphere of permanence. Of course, labor was no problem, for convicts were plentiful. Additionally, there was an abundant supply of sandstone that was perfect for building.
Author Portia Robinson, in her book The Women of Botany Bay, describes the rapid transformation of the colony: “Visitors, free settlers, officials, soldiers, the convicts themselves who arrived in New South Wales in the latter years of the Macquarie decade [1810-21], expecting to find the debauchery, inebriety and licentiousness believed in Britain to be characteristic of the colony, were astounded at its ‘civilisation’. Instead of huts and hovels they saw mansions ‘which would grace Hanover Square . . . streets as long as Oxford Street’, magnificent churches and public buildings, roads and bridges, shops and businesses of all descriptions, neat cottages for labourers, fine carriages for the wealthy . . . ‘everything belied it was a convict colony’.”
So by the time Governor Macquarie left in 1821, Sydney already had 59 buildings of sandstone, 221 of brick, and 773 wooden houses, in addition to government-owned houses and public buildings. Today the city of Sydney, with a population of nearly four million, stands as a tribute to the ingenuity of the convicts and the free settlers and their families and to the vision of the colony’s early governors.
Sydney’s ‘Noble and Capacious Basin’
Though Sydneysiders colloquially refer to Port Jackson as Sydney Harbour, the harbor proper is really made up of three areas—Middle Harbour, North Harbour, and Sydney Harbour. Cutting back from the harbor deep into the suburbs are the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers.
Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s finest natural harbors, its rugged sandstone foreshores extending for 150 miles [240 km]. The actual distance in a straight line from the harbor’s entrance to where it blends into the Parramatta River is 12 miles [19 km], and its total water surface area is 21 square miles [54 sq km]. The harbor’s inshore depth is one of its outstanding features, and the deepest point has been measured at about 150 feet [47 m]. The striking entrance from the Pacific Ocean is through two precipitous headlands—North Head and South Head. The headlands are just one and a half miles [2 km] apart, and the full extent of the harbor is not realized until you are well inside. This may explain why Captain Cook failed to explore more thoroughly what he thought was just another bay.
Back in 1788, Governor Phillip is quoted as saying of Sydney Harbour: ‘In extent and security, superior to any I have ever seen, and the most experienced navigators who were with me fully concurred that it was a noble and capacious basin, having soundings sufficient for the largest vessels, and space to accommodate, in perfect security, any number that could be assembled.’
Sydney Harbour Bridge —An Engineering Masterpiece
As far back as 1815, the need for a bridge across the harbor from north to south was seriously considered, but the first recorded drawing of a bridge did not appear until 1857. As it stands today, the bridge stretches from Dawes Point on the south side of the harbor to Milsons Point on the north shore—in the exact location first suggested! One of the longest single-span bridges in the world, it took nine years to build and cost almost 20 million Australian dollars—an enormous amount in the depression years of the early 1930’s. It was officially opened for traffic on March 19, 1932.
The massive central arch is 1,650 feet [503 m] in length, with its top measuring 440 feet [134 m] above the water. The clearance under the bridge is about 160 feet [50 m], thus allowing the largest ocean liners to pass underneath with safety. The deck itself is 160 feet [49 m] wide and originally had a double-track railway, a double-track tramway (streetcar line), six lanes of roadway, and two footpaths. In 1959, Sydney replaced its streetcars with buses, so the tramway tracks were converted into lanes for road traffic. Now there are eight lanes for cars, buses, and trucks. The total length of the bridge, including the approach spans, is 3,770 feet [1149 m].
By the 1980’s, road traffic on the bridge was so congested that consideration was given to opening another harbor crossing. It was more practical to go underwater this time. Therefore, in August 1992, a four-lane harbor tunnel was opened.
A stroll across the bridge offers panoramic views of Sydney. On the harbor’s north side, set on wooded slopes, is the Taronga Zoological Park. On the opposite side of the harbor and almost below the bridge, on Bennelong Point, is Sydney’s unmistakable opera house.
Sydney’s Jewel on the Harbor
Described as the “jewel of Bennelong Point,” the Sydney Opera House is surrounded on three sides by the blue waters of Sydney Harbour. In bright sunlight it certainly looks like a jewel. At night the Gothic shells sparkle at their best under the lights of the opera house.
The foreword to the book A Vision Takes Form gives a description of the visual impact of the opera house: “Sydney Opera House has become one of those buildings that take on a decisive new character with each small shift of perspective or change in light. . . . An early morning mist or the gleams of a late sunset can help to burnish the shells like helmets from a saga of legendary giants.”
The design of the opera house was conceived by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and was finally selected from among more than 200 international entries in a design competition. But aspects of his design were deemed impractical and required substantial alterations.
The London Architects’ Journal described it as “the epitome of romantic sculpture on the grand scale.” Yet, converting this romantic dream into a reality presented great engineering difficulties. Two of the engineers, Sir Ove Arup and Jack Zunz, said: “[The] Sydney Opera House is . . . an adventure in building. . . . Because the circumstances under which it is being built are so unusual, and because its problems are so difficult, it has created unique opportunities . . . for the development of new techniques. Many of these have since been used in more orthodox bridge and building works.”
The original estimated cost of the opera house was 7 million Australian dollars, but by its completion in 1973, the cost had skyrocketed to an astronomical 102 million dollars!
A Look Inside the Opera House
As we enter the foyer, we notice that sunlight filters through the two layers of glass in the cone-shaped mouths of the shells. Enclosing the building is an amazing total of 67,000 square feet [6225 sq m] of special glass made in France. Next we enter the concert hall. As we stand at the back looking across the 2,690 seats toward the stage, we are impressed to see the largest mechanical tracker organ in the world, with its 10,500 pipes.a The ceiling rises to a height of 82 feet [25 m], resulting in a cubic capacity of 880,000 cubic feet [26,400 cu m]. This “gives a reverberation time of approximately two seconds allowing symphonic music to be heard with a full, rich and mellow tone,” says an official guide.
Equally impressive are the other three auditoriums, which were designed for opera, symphony concerts, ballet, films, solo recitals, drama, chamber music, exhibitions, and conventions. In total there are 1,000 rooms in the opera house building, including restaurants, dressing rooms, and other amenities.
Don’t Miss the Zoo!
If you are planning a visit to Sydney, be sure to include a boat or ferry cruise around the harbor. You won’t regret it. Take a ferry to Taronga Zoo. Not all visitors coming to Australia have the time to see the Australian bush and its wildlife. Therefore, a day at the zoo can be a convenient adventure into the Australian “countryside.” The zoo features Australia’s unique wildlife, from kangaroos to koalas and platypuses to dingoes. Just a few minutes by harbor ferry from the ferry terminal near the opera house, the zoo is almost in the heart of Sydney. It is ranked one of the best in the world. While in the harbor area, enjoy the free entertainment provided by a wide variety of buskers—acrobats, Aborigines playing the didgeridoo (a typical Aborigine wind instrument), or a jazz ensemble.
We are confident that you will thoroughly enjoy your stay in Sydney—truly a vibrant city set on an incredible harbor in the blue expanse of the South Pacific. And who knows, we might even put another shrimp on the barbecue for you!
a Tracker action is a mechanical system that transmits air to the pipes and allows the organist to play with a more sensitive touch.
[Maps on page 14]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Sydney Harbour Bridge
[Picture on page 15]
Sydney’s central business district
[Picture on page 15]
Replica of the “Bounty,” in Botany Bay
[Picture on page 15]
Aerial train in downtown Sydney
[Picture on page 16, 17]
Sydney Opera House and harbor bridge
By courtesy of Sydney Opera House Trust (photograph by Tracy Schramm)
[Picture on page 17]
Interior of the Opera House, with its 10,500-pipe organ
By courtesy of Australian Archives, Canberra, A.C.T.
[Picture on page 18]
Manly Beach, Sydney