Sky­scrapers and se­cret gar­dens

Un­ex­pected dis­cov­er­ies in and around Syd­ney

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

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: pmattafe­male­fac­to­ry­ac­tion­group@gmail.com; past­times­tours.com.au.

vis­itnsw.com Next week in our Se­cret Seven se­ries: Perth

BOB BARKER

A tour of New­town’s Cam­per­down Ceme­tery, with its crum­bling tomb­stones and tragic tales, could be an eerie ex­pe­ri­ence

CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

A teal-coloured bil­l­abong at­tracts the wildlife in the Auburn Botanic Gar­dens

SYD­NEY AR­CHI­TEC­TURE WALKS

Renzo Piano imag­ined Aurora Place ‘talk­ing’ to the Opera House

Tan­dara of­fers a lux­ury bush ex­pe­ri­ence close to the city

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