Wednesday, April 18, 2001
I'm here at Circular Quay on Sydney Harbour where the temperature is a sweltering 27° Celsius.
Just across from me is a female street performer who is just standing absolutely still ? doing nothing and saying nothing.
One could argue that she is the perfect woman.
What better a place to get random ravings on Australia than at Writers Walk at Circular Quay? ? A series of plaques on the pavement containing excerpts from various writers on Australia, Sydney and Sydney Harbor.
This is good to see in a country and, more specifically, a city more interested in sports than culture.
Still, I'd question the appropriateness of putting your greatest writing on the pavement for most people to just walk over (I seem to be the only person reading them and taking care not to step on them - It reminds me of that Baghdad hotel that used to have a mosaic of George H Bush on the lobby floor for people to trample over) but it can be argued that this is the only way to get most Australians to read ? put it outside! (and to get Sydneysiders to read, you not only have to put it outside but outside at the harbor - if a tree falls in Sydney anywhere other than at the harbor than it didn't happen).
This Sydney harbour and bridge worship is a bridge too far – bridges are a means not an end.
Here's one from Rudyard Kipling,
"Sydney was populated by leisured multitudes, all in their shirtsleeves and all picnicking all the day.
They volunteered that they were new and young but would do wonderful things someday."
(Rudyard Kipling," Something of Myself", 1937).
Looking around Sydney Harbor, the first part of that would appear to still hold true today and the promise has certainly been fulfilled.
"In Melbourne all views are equally depressing so there's no point in having one.
No one in Sydney ever wastes time debating the meaning of life ? it's getting yourself a water frontage, people devote a lifetime to the quest"
(David Williamson", "Emerald City", 1987).
"It's grand to be an unemployed and lie in the Domain, wake up every second day and got to sleep again"
(A .B. Banjo Patterson, "It's Grand", 1902)
"The sun came up through the heads and stole its way to the Quay.
Far over the bay each of the tiny waves turned to flame and, as the sun rose higher, it left pearly tracks across the water.
A month would not be long enough to imbibe such beauty"
(Miles Franklin, "My Career Goes Bung", 1946)
""It's a funny thing' Gene said, 'you go to a new country and you expect everything to be different and then you find there's such a lot that stays the same'"
(Neville Shutte, "A Town Like Alice", 1950).
"It 'appened this way, I 'ad just come down, after long years, to look at Sydney town and, struth, was I knocked endways, there surprised, I never dreamed, that arch that cuts the skies, the Bridge!"
(C.J. Denis, "I Dips Me Lid", 1936)
"This is really a wonderful colony, ancient Rome, in her imperial grandeur, would not be ashamed of such an offspring"
(Charles Darwin, letter, 1836).
"There is material for a dozen buccaneering stories to be picked up in the hotels at Circular Quay"
(Robert Louis Stevenson)
"Australia is a big blank map and the whole people is constantly sitting over it like a committee trying to work out the best way to fill it in"
(C.E.W. Bean, "The Dreadnaught of the Darling", 1911)
"Australia is still revealing itself to us, we oughtn't to close off possibilities by declaring too early what we have already become"
(David Malouf, Lugarno Postscript Notes and Furphies", 1979)
"Australia is not only at the Antipodes she is far away from everything, sometimes even herself"
(Umberto Eco," L'Espresso Magazine", 1982)
"Sydney is a city of light and wind more than of architecture, the majesties of nature and the monstrosities of man have a cheek by jowl evidence in Sydney more insistent I think than in any other city in the world".
(George Johnson, "Clean Straw for Nothing", 1969)
"Australia is my birth place but I can not call it my own as well as my native land for I have no right to live there.
Until a treaty is agreed with the original inhabitants I shall be homeless in the world"
(Germaine Greer, "Journal of the Plague Year", 1988)
"Sydney Harbor, one of the most beautiful, vast and safe bays the sun had ever shone upon"
(Joseph Conrad, "Mirror of the Sea", 1806)
And finally, this last one I've chosen is neither by an Australian nor about Australia but universal,
I would rather be ashes than dust, a spark burnt out in a brilliant blaze then be stifled in dry rot for man's chief purpose is to live not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them, I shall use my time"
And with that it's farewell, for now, to the Writers Walk, Circular Quay, Sydney Harbor, The Opera House and "the arch* that cuts the skies".
*"Archie" is Melbourne's arch-rival