19th April, 2017 – 8th May, 2017
‘If Paris is a city of lights, Sydney is the city of fireworks.’ Baz Luhrmann
Our first stop in our Australian travels was to visit some friends from England who are now working in the Gold Coast. The long wide roads (often named avenue or boulevard), lined with parked up ‘utes’ or pickups immediately gives you an American vibe and as we spent more time exploring the Gold Coast we realised it had sprung up as a young, developed city with American and some British influences. Unfortunately, despite the excellent eateries scattered across the city, Chris and I felt that it was missing a key ingredient. We quickly came to realise that the missing ingredient was any essence of culture. (Harsh but true for the Gold coast). It may have had a very pristine stretch of beach and nice bars and restaurants, but we found nothing to endear the city to us.
With the rather cheeky saying “you can find more culture in yoghurt than you can in Australia,” ringing in our ears, we set out on a five day road trip down to Sydney, to try and disprove this belief. We used a car rental relocation deal in which you get a free tank of fuel and three free days to drive a rental car from Brisbane down to Sydney, all we needed to do was pay for an extra two days and any extra fuel we used. To find such a bargain in Australia was very pleasing as it is an expensive place to visit!
Along the way we stopped at Yamba, Port Macquarie, the Hunter Valley and Sydney. In each of these places, and in impromptu stops along the way we managed to find culture. I think that your expectations have to change to fit the country in which you are travelling. It took some time for me as an English, history student to understand that the relative youth of Australian since western habitation has inevitably bestowed fewer cultural and historical opportunities. We went on a walking tour in Port Macquarie, led by the previous heritage officer for the town, which provided much insight to the town’s history, and the formation of Australia as we know it today (http://www.pmheritage.com.au/walking-tours.php). Port Macquarie was the third convict settlement to have been created in Australia, after Sydney and Newcastle. This led me to an understanding that much of Australia’s history is rooted in the convict history (of which until recently Australians were apparently loath to speak of), and the European history of the settlers who travelled over to build new and prosperous lives. Australia therefore takes a lot of its historical background and culture from the Europeans who settled here. For example, we stumbled across a wonderful little museum in a village called New Italy which was fully dedicated to documenting the lives of the original Italians who settled there and their ways of life, even including mock statues in the garden.
One particularly pleasant and enjoyable consequence of European settlement is the subsequent booming Australian wine industry which we got to discover in the Hunter Valley. We went on a wine tasting tour with the Two Fat Blokes Company which I would thoroughly recommend. They might not have been the cheapest, but we visited five different vineyards, tasted over forty different wines and enjoyed a cheese/wine pairing and chocolate/wine pairing experience. The tour ended in a brewery and we got to try three different beers as well. Suffice to say we were all best friends within our tour group by the end of the day!
Obviously the alternative history to the convict or European settlers would be to reveal and advertise the rather unpleasant reality of what occurred to the aborigines. While Australia has come a long way with this recently, with PM Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the Aborigines and the Stolen Generation, there is still a noticeable reluctance to celebrate aborigine culture and a background prejudice which remains unspoken and unchallenged among various Australian social circles. We happily managed to find some exceptions including a very informative and free walking tour of Sydney’s botanical gardens, as well as the Discovery Museum at The Rocks which has made a keen attempt to piece bits of information together, much of which is still lost.
One particularly enjoyable learning experience was to go on a walking tour of the Kings Cross, Potts Point area of Sydney (of which we were staying next door in Elizabeth Bay). This was a modern history walking tour and was absolutely fascinating as it turned out that we had opted to stay in the old red light district of Sydney. The tour, Crime and Passion took us around the streets pointing out where corrupt casino and hotel owners had gun fights, different brothel gangs had street brawls and where a courageous journalist, Juanita Nielsen, who was attempting to reveal the corruption behind a development scheme in her street, is believed to have been kidnapped (as from 4th July 1975 she has never been seen again). This tour contributed to an understanding of the area in which were based and gave us that culture, (albeit a bit alternative), which we were lacking in the Gold Coast.
After our trip down south (admittedly only just visiting a tiny portion of the huge country), I would argue that it is unfair to argue that Australia is a “cultural wasteland”. The youth of their country does not work in their favour, as well as, perhaps, the unimaginable size. It is does not begin to compete with fascinating and colourful countries such as Indonesia, but if you attempt to seek it out, you can find groups of people attempting to showcase Australian culture. Perhaps they are yet the beginning of a new cultural wave. Western development provided a luxurious break, but it is not what I would consider “travelling” to be about. Luckily next we were off to Fiji, the Pacific islands where I met Chris for the first time. I had fully emersed myself in Fijian culture in 2013, by living on an island alongside a traditional Fijian village for 2.5 months. I could not wait to step foot on Fijian land and be greeted by the friendly calls of “Bula” from everyone you meet. It was, therefore, with little regret when I waved goodbye to Australia (with the exception of our friends).