DOWN THE COB­BLED STREETS OF SYDNEY

Society - - CONTENTS - | By ARWA JAN­JALI|

Join Arwa Jan­jali in her wan­der­ings, as she dis­cov­ers Sydney’s past in its hid­den laneways and pas­sage­ways

Istrongly pre­scribe ‘get­ting lost’ in or­der to truly ex­plore a new place. The joy of wan­der­ing around aim­lessly and stum­bling upon the many sur­prises a place has to of­fer is un­par­al­leled, es­pe­cially when com­pared to reck­less sight­see­ing. So I reached Hyde Park, the old­est pub­lic park of Aus­tralia (Yes, the Bri­tish han­gover re­sults in Aus­tralia hav­ing its very own too), and be­gan walk­ing on the street ad­ja­cent to the park, to­wards nowhere. I had de­cided to dis­cover Sydney’s bustling CBD (Cen­tral Busi­ness District) on foot.

A ROCKY START

Google Maps said I was at The Rocks, but this didn’t look any­thing like the his­toric area that I had read about. Sit­u­ated along­side the Sydney Har­bour, The Rocks had the first colony of con­victs, who were trans­ported from Bri­tain as a pun­ish­ment for their crimes, and who ac­tu­ally built Sydney. Some of the early traces of the past were to be found here, and all I could see was one long street with some restau­rants and pubs. Al­though in Sydney, even the most reg­u­lar look­ing eater­ies from the out­side turn out to be her­itage sites once you step in­side and dis­cover his­tor­i­cal tit­bits...like a pre­served stair­case or wall from the 18th cen­tury. A cosy tea room serv­ing de­li­cious scones with tea, for in­stance, is con­verted from a her­itage build­ing, which was once a mil­i­tary res­i­dence of of­fi­cers and so on.

I stood in front of a bricked wall, with a mu­ral of a man’s face on it. A group of guys chat­ted near it and I promptly went up to them to ask about the his­tor­i­cal trail I was look­ing for. They pointed to­wards a cob­bled by­lane, which looked de­serted, yet invit­ing. I walked along, the past in­stantly tum­bling out of Sydney’s closet. The lane housed the city’s old­est pub – For­tune of War Ho­tel – built in 1828 by a former con­vict Sa­muel Terry. Re­tain­ing its old world charm, it was up and run­ning as I saw peo­ple savour­ing their drinks over con­ver­sa­tions. Fur­ther down were the re­mains of the city’s first hospi­tal precinct, which had pas­sage­ways named ‘Nurses Walk’ and ‘Sur­geons Court’ pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion on the hospi­tal’s ori­gins and its work­force. From one of these pas­sage­ways, a cor­ri­dor of the now sealed hospi­tal was vis­i­ble, its weath­ered bricked walls giv­ing an im­pres­sion of the place not be­ing very old. Af­ter all, Sydney’s his­tory dates back just three cen­turies.

CON­VICT CUL­TURE

The lane branched out into sev­eral other tiny by­lanes, each one un­earthing some event, per­son­al­ity and struc­ture from the past. From squeez­ing my­self into the nar­row­est lane, which talked about shady in­ci­dents of drunken de­bauch­ery, broth­els and un­savoury char­ac­ters – the trivia pasted on life-size cut-outs of men on the walls – to the eerie pres­ence of a well lit­tered with cloth­ing, fine bon­ing knife, an al­co­hol still and other pos­ses­sions of the con­vict butcher Ge­orge Cribb (one of the first con­victs to have ar­rived in Sydney) on an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site – The Big Dig. The site is sit­u­ated in Cribbs Lane (named af­ter its old­est in­hab­i­tant). Near it, an in­stal­la­tion of a horse stands in a bar­ren area de­pict­ing the horse sta­ble that once ex­isted there, along with foun­da­tions of houses from the past sur­round­ing the site. As I glance through the dis­played sketches, por­tray­ing the place that was and giv­ing away sto­ries of peo­ple who lived here, there’s a cer­tain in­ex­pli­ca­ble beauty of the past jux­ta­pos­ing the present in this area. Some of these lanes are brim­ming with her­itage cafés, pubs and bou­tiques, all in­ter­twined in a way that if you en­ter one, you would prob­a­bly come out in another. It was sheer de­light how one lit­tle laneway led me to the in­te­ri­ors of a re­nais­sance patis­serie tucked into that lane. I came out bang in the mid­dle of ta­bles and chairs, emerg­ing from this seem­ingly un­der­ground tun­nel. At first, The Rocks may not give an im­pres­sion of hold­ing all the his­tory that it does, but as you keep walk­ing along its sand­stone ridges and cob­ble­stone sur­face, Sydney’s past comes alive, most vividly. While the his­tory here is care­fully pre­served in a num­ber of things… eater­ies, shops and de­serted lanes, The Rocks also has a small house mu­seum – The Su­san­nah Place Mu­seum. I climbed up the stairs of this block con­sist­ing of four ter­race houses, where about 100 work­ing-class con­vict fam­i­lies lived be­tween 1844 and 1990. The in­te­ri­ors of these houses had rusted bro­ken sinks, cracked walls, used fur­ni­ture and crock­ery of the ten­ants, stand­ing strong against the test of time. The Rocks is not just all about his­tory and her­itage though. It’s got a vi­brant, entertaining side to it in the form of its week­end mar­ket. The Rocks Mar­kets are a must-have on your week­end planner while in Sydney. For me, it was like re­vis­it­ing the area in a com­pletely new avatar on a week­end vis-à-vis my his­toric tour on the week­day. There was a burst of peo­ple, who had come to­gether to en­joy home­made del­i­ca­cies from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, hand­made jew­ellery, sou­venirs and other art by lo­cal ar­ti­sans, street mu­si­cians putting up a show and the works. This is a mar­ket

where you will find stalls by fam­ily run busi­nesses and hence, you may not find the stuff avail­able here any­where else in the city. I was spoilt for choice with re­spect to food. There was our very own gourmet but­ter chicken meal box be­ing sold by an In­dian cou­ple. But I gorged on Turk­ish Go­zlemes, Columbian Arepas and piz­zas made out of freshly baked dough, pre­pared by a lively Ital­ian who danced away while mak­ing the pizza bread and mak­ing my day at this mar­ket.

BY­GONE CI­TYSCAPE

My tryst with his­toric laneways con­tin­ued as I walked around the CBD, stop­ping at var­i­ous spots like the breath­tak­ing St Mary’s Cathe­dral and the Hyde Bar­racks Mu­seum – another place ooz­ing with con­vict sto­ries and listed as one of the world’s sig­nif­i­cant con­vict sites by World Her­itage. Enamoured by the es­capade at The Rocks, I had picked up a pam­phlet of another his­tor­i­cal walk­ing tour from the vis­i­tor cen­tre there. This tour was all about the 22 lit­tle laneways run­ning through the heart of Sydney’s CBD, but in­vis­i­ble in the reg­u­lar hus­tle-bus­tle of a busy busi­ness district. I started off with the tun­nel-like Phillip Lane, which took me to a beau­ti­ful colo­nial-style hous­ing scheme that was sup­posed to be the first ex­am­ple of fash­ion­able liv­ing in the city. Called the white As­tor apart­ments, the build­ing is now con­verted into a com­mer­cial com­plex but still re­tains its name and orig­i­nal ex­te­rior. Walk­ing through the maze of these lanes was a hunt of sorts. With Google Maps not be­ing of much help here, I had to rely com­pletely on the di­rec­tions given in the pam­phlet and in the bar­gain, I lost track re­peat­edly, com­ing back to the same lanes over and over. Yet, it was a ful­fill­ing four hours of dis­cov­er­ing some of the city’s last sur­viv­ing wool­stores, the long­est laneway (York Lane), the Tank Stream – rem­i­nis­cent of the fresh­wa­ter stream, around which Sydney’s set­tle­ment came into be­ing. I walked away, zoom­ing past sig­nif­i­cant venues and brush­ing shoul­ders with fa­mous per­son­al­i­ties who formed the city’s early po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and artis­tic cir­cles. The Rowe Street nar­rated tales of the Euro­pean chic era, where the artis­tic com­mu­nity once as­sem­bled in the small shops, gal­leries and stu­dios that ex­isted here. Al­though most of these lanes have gone through re­de­vel­op­ment, some of them feature huge pic­tures of the orig­i­nal build­ings and peo­ple walk­ing on those very streets in the 1800s, giv­ing you a feel of the ar­chi­tec­ture and life­style then. Lanes like Aber­crom­bie and An­gel Place, which now house build­ings re­fur­bished as up­mar­ket bars and pubs re­tain most of their orig­i­nal fea­tures...the most dis­tinct one be­ing the count­less lamp posts. In the Aber­crom­bie Lane, es­pe­cially, you can’t miss the fire-dam­aged walls caused by a fire in­ci­dent in the past. The at­mos­phere in these lanes cre­ate a fascinating time warp. Sydney’s his­tory un­doubt­edly lies in its back­streets and pas­sage­ways. Take the walk.

Lo­cal mu­si­cians at The Rocks Mar­kets

The Rocks Mar­kets

Aus­tralian boomerangs

Sou­venirs at The Rocks Mar­kets

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