Out and About in Sydney–Part 1

Houses overlooking Bondi Beach

From fish market to Bondi Beach and Sydney’s diverse neighborhoods–we loved getting to know Sydney.

We woke up to a rainy but warm morning, high 60s, and headed out to explore Sydney with our terrific guide, Suzanne. A Canadian-American married to an Australian who has lived all over the world, she was as interesting as the sights she showed us. A lawyer and a big-time sailor (she crewed in The America’s Cup and sailed the transatlantic race with Ted Turner), she became a tour guide 20 years ago and has taken celebrities–restauranteur Roy Yamaguchi, for one–as well as ordinary folks like us around the area.

Suzanne was one of the most knowledgeable guides we’ve had in our travels, and she shared so much about her adopted country. I’ll pepper my posts with what we learned, rather than bombard you with it all at once!

Our hotel is in the area called the Rocks because of the large sandstone deposits. Today you’d never know it used to be the slums where they dumped the drunk sailors and convicts in the early 1800s! Now it’s a popular tourist are with luxury hotels and trendy restaurants. It’s a perfect location for us; we can walk to whatever we need.

An unusual first stop and one of our favorites was the Sydney Fish Market, second only to Tokyo in volume. The market is a co-op, owned 50-50 by the fishermen, who are mostly Italian, and the traditionally Greek wholesalers.

Not being early birds, we missed the action of the daily auction that starts at 5:30. Seeing the gorgeous displays of fish and seafood was fascinating, even for a non-fish eater like me. These oysters were huge, with shells the size of my hand! Some of the prices were amazing, too. Most lobster is exported, and with prices such as $100 per kilo (2.2 lbs), you can see why! Australia has a growing aquaculture industry and has the largest fishing grounds for both farmed and wild prawns.

In addition to the raw fish, some vendors sell prepared items that look like works of art. Don was tempted to get oysters or this sea urchin but decided it was too early to indulge. There is a gorgeous cooking school as well. Who wouldn’t love to take a class in this kitchen?

The produce was gorgeous as well. Look at these special tomatoes. I can’t recall the name; it had the word heart in it.

Tomatoes to accompany the fish.
Tomatoes to accompany the fish.
A Brief History Lesson…

Now that I’ve whetted your appetite, I’ll feed your brain with a bit of history. Australia is younger than the U.S.; Captain Cook landed here in 1770 and claimed it for Great Britain. His nautical charts were so accurate that some of the soundings are still used today! The first settlers arrived in Sydney in 1788. You’ve heard that most were convicts, many of whom were petty criminals arrested for stealing food and similar minor crimes or political prisoners, many from Ireland. These were more like indentured servants with sentences of 7 to 14 years; the hardened criminals got life sentences. Although they were free to leave after serving their time, 90% chose to stay, as they had to pay their own way home and it was expensive!

The result of mass immigration of the working class was a more egalitarian system and a rejection of the British class system.

Today Australia has a population of only 24 million, less than the state of California. While the continent is about the same size as the U.S, 80% of the population lives along the costs, as the inner 80% is arid. Australia is the driest of the continents, and having adequate water supply is a major concern. With such a small population base, economies of scale aren’t possible, making Australia a very expensive place to live. In addition, the labor system contributes to the high cost of living. For example, service workers are paid much higher wages than in the U.S. and don’t depend on tips.

Sydney reminded us of San Diego, only larger. Greater Sydney has 6-7 million people who live in diverse neighborhoods that give the city a unique character. Suzanne drove us through many and showed us the architectural differences. The coastline weaves in and out of numerous bays and the city is fairly hilly, giving the greater Sydney area lots of waterfront and water view homes. We made our way to the famed Bondi (Bon-dye, not Bon-dee) Beach, so reminiscent of La Jolla Shores and Pacific Beach. because it was such a cloudy day, the beaches were deserted.

We had lunch at North Bondi Fish, one of restauranteur Matt Moran’s casual eateries. Suzanne called Moran the Thomas Keller of Australia; his Aria restaurant is one of Sydney’s finest. Despite the casual ambiance of this beach restaurant, the presentation of my prawn dish was exquisite.

Prawn Appetizer at North Bondi Fish
Prawn Appetizer at North Bondi Fish

Next up: sunshine and touring more neighborhoods.


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