Skyscrapers and secret gardens
Unexpected discoveries in and around Sydney
1. Tented safari, Lane Cove National Park: Civilisation is easily left behind if one follows the right path: just 10km north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is Tandara, a space filled with sculptural blue gums, black acacias speckled with fluffy yellow flowers, unfurling tree ferns and the sound of birdsong.
There are possums and bandicoots, king parrots and crimson rosellas. ‘ ‘ You might get a visit from the odd lace monitor lizard,’’ says Andrew Daff, manager of the Lane Cove River Tourist Park. But Tandara — ‘‘we camp here’’ in the Gadigal language — doesn’t inflict the indignities of traditional camping on its guests. There is luxury beneath the canvas: recycled floorboards, basins hewn from local marble, deep bathtub and even a flat-screen television, should the bush views fail to hold your attention.
Beside the deck, with its reclining chairs and ice bucket, are an outdoor kitchen and bicycles on which to explore the park. More: tandarasydney.com.au. 3. Camperdown Cemetery: Ghosts are said to emerge on rainy or moonless nights behind the looming sandstone walls of Camperdown Cemetery, just a block down from Newtown’s buzzing King Street. Sixteen thousand souls lie buried in this secretive parkland with its crumbling tombstones and stories of lives lost in tragic circumstances.
Nurse Bathsheba Ghost lives up to her name and profession when she tends to the sick in the rectory of St Stephen’s Church; sadness emanates from the grave of jilted bride Eliza Donnithorne, rumoured to have inspired the character of Miss Havisham in Dickens’s Great Expectations.
Many of the tombstones were moved here from the park next door when it was turned into public space in the 1940s. Today, Marcelle Rodgers, wife of Peter, minister of St Stephen’s, guides visitors around her ‘‘backyard’’. But she’s reticent when asked about her own ghostly encounters. ‘‘There was just the one time when we saw someone coming towards our front door and then they 2. Auburn Botanic Gardens: Auburn’s shops ooze ethnic diversity with their Asian greens, Turkish delight, curry powders, Lebanese bread and the best halva money can buy; you could sample a different culture every night of the week at the restaurants in this dense western Sydney suburb.
But just down the road is the peaceful expanse of Auburn Botanic Gardens.
Lined with more than 130 stately tallow-wood trees, the Avenue of Remembrance is a serene tunnel linking the gardens’ precincts. Peacocks strut about and ducks, geese and Australian white ibis preen themselves around a teal-coloured billabong.
There’s a pebbled maze and a space scented with frangipani, lavender and sage. In the Japanese garden a swan appears to be sharing its food with the koi that encircle it. More: anbg.gov.au. disappeared,’’ she finally offers.
Camperdown Cemetery tours take place on the first Sunday of every month except January. More: ststephens.org.au. 4. CBD skyscrapers: It’s all about the Sydney Opera House, flaunting itself on the harbour-front like an A-lister. Behind it is a crowd of extras, but there’s a conversation happening between Utzon’s masterpiece and the city’s more vertiginous structures, and it’s beautifully decoded by hip young architect Eoghan Lewis on his Sydney Architecture Walks. He points to a glass-skinned, elliptically shaped building basking in the sun over on Phillip Street: Aurora Place, designed by Italian virtuoso Renzo Piano.
‘‘He said it was inevitable that his building and Utzon’s would talk to each other all day long,’’ Lewis says. ‘‘Aurora is the mainsail to Utzon’s spinnakers. Piano wanted it to grow as an intelligent response to location and culture.’’
It’s also a feminine foil to Phillip and Macquarie towers, which rise vertically from a common base across the way. Designed by Melburnian Richard Johnson, the sandstone, zinc and stainless steel structure is ‘‘masculine and pinstriped, orthogonal and heavy’’. Gazing out from the top floor, one might make out the ridges and Aboriginal walking tracks around which the city sprouted, a view that would neatly reinforce the links between ‘ ‘ contemporary architecture and the ancient patterns that shape it’’. More: sydneyarchitecture.org. 5. Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden, Lavender Bay: Venture beyond the clipped lawns of Clark Park and descend into the entanglement that is Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden. The inconspicuous stairway that drops away from the park’s eastern edge leads to a warm, shaded underworld that has been sculpted from all things living: a Moreton Bay fig that clings to a cracked rockface and shields the garden with its ancient, arching branches; baby-soft angel’s trumpets suspended upside-down like pastel party decorations; branches recycled as twisted, sculptural balustrades.
Surprises are dotted about: an enamel bathtub filled with bamboo thickets, a vintage basin set into a rockery, a sunny lawn flanked by citrus trees and picnic tables and, up on a rise with its harbour view, another great fig, bookending the scene. Poignantly, the ashes of Wendy’s former husband, the artist Brett Whiteley, and their daughter Arkie are buried somewhere in this garden. Once the artist’s muse, Whiteley has turned what was a derelict, rubbish-strewn railway siding into a masterpiece all her own.
The garden is open to the public and can be accessed through Clark Park on Lavender Street. 6. Art at Bundeena: Jiawei Shen is lost in conversation with a couple of strangers who’ve stumbled into his studio straight off the street. Works-in-progress line the walls: portraits and political treatises rendered in thick oil paint.
He’s unusually accessible for someone who’s exhibited at the Guggenheim in New York and Bilbao, won the Sulman Prize and painted the likes of former prime minister John Howard and Princess Mary of Denmark.
It must be the fresh air and lack of pretence here in Bundeena, a village set on the northern tip of the Royal National Park. Each month resident artists fling open their doors and welcome visitors exploring The Art Trail.
The city might be visible from Bundeena’s highest point, but it’s an hour’s trip by road from the CBD. Better instead to take the ferry from Cronulla across Gunnamatta Bay with its saltyfresh breezes and dock alongside a sheltered beach. Walk up Bundeena’s hilly streets with its hidden community of artists and see what you can find.
The Art Trail at Bundeena and Maianbar is held on the first Sunday of each month. More: arttrail.com.au. 7. Parramatta Female Factory: There’s a chunk of Australian history crumbling into oblivion at the Female Factory in western Sydney’s Parramatta. This earliest existing institution for female convicts is occupied today by a credit union and staff of the Cumberland Hospital next door.
The sandstone buildings are unkempt, but the spectre of the 5000 women who were put to work here looms large. ‘‘What you see is the spirit of the women coming out here,’’ says Gay Hendriksen, president of the Parramatta Female Factory Action Group. She points to the reticulated bricks that were shaved to prevent women from shimmying down the walls and making their escape. But their insubordination couldn’t be quelled: in one instance 100 women poured defiantly on to the streets, carrying food in their aprons.
Hendriksen is not surprised that up to one-fifth of Australians are descended from ‘ ‘ factory women’’. ‘ ‘ I’m sure they taught their children mateship and equity,’’ she says. A factory descendant herself, Hendriksen, who is also curator at the Parramatta Heritage Centre, is lobbying government for recognition of the site. ‘ ‘ It’s a wonderful hidden resource and it should be made available to the people.’’
The factory can be viewed from Fleet Street. Tours on request; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; pasttimestours.com.au.
visitnsw.com Next week in our Secret Seven series: Perth
A tour of Newtown’s Camperdown Cemetery, with its crumbling tombstones and tragic tales, could be an eerie experience
A teal-coloured billabong attracts the wildlife in the Auburn Botanic Gardens
Renzo Piano imagined Aurora Place ‘talking’ to the Opera House
Tandara offers a luxury bush experience close to the city