QE— Our man in Sydney

Philip Parr has slapped on ' his Factor 75 sun-bloc, I pulled on his ludicrously

large turquoise shorts and

I waxed down his board. 5 But before he sets off for

Bondi, he’s prepared to

; share a few reflections on

Sydney with List readers in not-so-sunny Scotland.

Sydney should have been gripped by election fever when I arrived there recently. But Prime Minister Paul Keating, reflecting on how similar this country is to its distant elder brother. dithered. dallied and finally decided not to go to the country at all. A Major decision. He did, however. agree to a televised debate with the leader ofthe opposition, which perhaps reveals that Australia is a country pulled as much to LA as London.

This is not to say that Australia does not have a character all its own. The absence of an election has enabled Sydney to go back to a uniquely Australian obsession gambling- or more specifically, gambling on old nags which would probably collapse before the paddock at Ascot. For this is Melbourne Cup week, seven days of extraordinary outlay even by Australian standards and unique for

v the fact that it is the only time of the

year when Sydneysiders can say the word ‘Melbourne’ without spitting. Thr rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne the only genuine cities on the continent is intense, with

Sydney boasting of its beauty, and Melbourne its intelligence (thereby implying that Sydneysiders are stupid). There may well be some truth in this, for Sydney’s tourist board proclaims a good many monstrosities as national treasures: the worst offender is the Sydney

! Tower (hailed as the tallest building g in Asia), a grotesque concrete

2 edifice casting a morbid shadow over

downtown Sydney. Many other

j skyscraping horrors have also

i contributed to a concrete and glass swathe through the centre of town, i making Sydney one of the least

Cosy-amp-» e v;.

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inspiring urban landscapes one could imagine. But this is not a city in the normal

sense of the word. While other towns

, are judged by the extent and

sensitivity of human impact, 3 Sydney’s charm comes not from

man’s interference but rather in spite

of it. Where man has had least

influence is where the city shines

: namely in the harbour. Clustered : around the water there are some

architectural delights such as the Opera House (infinitely more

3 impressive than you would ever

imagine from all of those ‘Clive

James Returns Home’ shows) and

the turn-of—the-century Rocks area, featuring a bustling market where

2 you can buy anything from a parrot

i to a didgeridoo. But when you take

to the water on a dilapidated ferry that looks like an oversized tug and moves like a powerboat, then you inevitably fall in love with the place. Chugging out into the centre of the harbour you quickly realise that Sydney is really just a seaside resort gone completely berserk. Settlements cling to the sheer cliffs lining the harbour edge, and at the

' base of each of these cliffs is a

golden, sandy beach.

The ferry, though, is going further afield all of seven miles away, in fact to a stretch of ocean beach named, aptly enough considering Australian men’s macho tendencies, Manly. It could be Curl Curl or Deewhy or, of course, Bondi, all of which are within about half an hour

yew r ‘t

' of the city centre and are like nothing i in Britain or Europe or, probably, . anywhere.

While the ocean is to the east. to the west, eventually, is the Bush. But before you get there, there are the Blue Mountains offering visitors

1 their first inkling ofjust how vast

Australia is. A trek up to Echo Point is rewarded with a view of lOOKm of

: mountains. They give off a luxuriant

blue haze when touched by the slightest ray of sunshine and, whether you are normally inspired

by landscapes or not, they are

literally breathtaking. lt‘s hardly surprising that with such a wealth of

natural beauty on their doorstep, the 5 Sydneysiders made something of a

hash of building their city. From the moment you arrive (after 24 hours in flight), though the jeans,

5 Metallica T-shirts, cars and traffic

lights are disturbingly familiar, there is more than the water going the wrong way down the plug-hole to tell you that you are on the other side of the world. At the railway station the staff are unremittingly cheerful and helpful. If you go down to the harbour and feed the birds, it’s as likely to be a cormorant as a seagull that nibbles your bread. All the suburban houses have neat little front gardens but they contain palm trees rather than spider plants. But primarily, the whole pace of life is different in Sydney, and although one is assailed by the lingering Britishness of the place, there is a discernible Australian character

76 'i‘héijsi i 5 L 28 January 1993