The popular image of Sydney is of a sparklingly beautiful city - the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the intense blue waters of Sydney Harbour. This vision of Sydney is real, and most of us have easy access to it. But most of us also can't afford to live with a Harbour view. Our daily Sydney is quite different.
I live quite close to the city centre and about a 20 minute walk from my workplace. However, this walk must be one of the least pleasant walks imaginable - beside a busy and polluted road full of cars and trucks, across two even busier intersections, and with little of interest to see along the way. So I often take the train to work - just one stop. It takes about the same amount of time and I walk just as far, but I find it much more interesting. Not more beautiful; just more interesting.
It starts with the bustle of Redfern Station and the tangle of rail tracks leading to the city centre:
At Central Station I exit the station via one of Sydney's most reviled landmarks - the Devonshire Street Tunnel. My trip to work actually involves two of the most hated structures in Sydney - more of the other, later.
I could write a whole post about the Devonshire Street Tunnel. It's a long (300 metres?) underground walkway that enables pedestrian access from the south-east to the north-west sides of the mass of railway lines that's Central Station. Everybody complains about it. That it's unpleasant, and particularly that it's unsafe. I'm puzzled by these reactions. In comparison with many of the tunnels that link lines and platforms for the London Tube or the Paris Metro, the Devonshire Street Tunnel is bright, well-lit, clean and very much populated - mainly by students making their way to the many colleges and universities in the area. It's certainly not beautiful, but I find it interesting. There are usually several buskers at various levels of expertise - some of whom have been busking in the Tunnel for many years - and then there are the murals. I think around 1998 a series of murals were installed to mark the impending 150th anniversary of railways in Australia.
I love these murals charting the history of the railways from their beginning in Australia to the end of the twentieth century, and I'm amazed that whoever is responsible for their upkeep does such a good job - removing the frequent graffiti and repairing even worse damage from time to time. It's become for me a kind of symbol of perseverance in maintaining public space.
I emerge briefly from the Tunnel to the architectural chaos of Henry Deane Plaza (Henry Deane was the engineer responsible for electrifying Sydney's railways) and the traffic chaos of Railway Square
and then plunge into the Tunnel extension where I find...
the Bookshop of Doom, aka Basement Books, that stocks the most wonderful selection of remaindered and otherwise cheap books, including those two most important categories - crime fiction and knitting books. This is usually much more of a distraction on my way home from work, when browsing, and buying, are very tempting.
At the end of the Tunnel is a walkway that contains the oldest railway line in Sydney, which used to run between Central Station and the goods wharves at Darling Harbour. The wharves have long disappeared (though I remember my great-uncle Mick, then more than 70 years old, working on the wharves and in the wool stores that still lined the wharves in the 1960s) and the railway line now runs only to the Powerhouse Museum. From the walkway I can enter the Architecture and Design Faculty building of the University of Technology, Sydney, via an exterior escalator!
Why do I find outside escalators so appealing? I guess it's something about a pleasing confusion of categories; that what is usually interior becomes exterior. This whole area is currently a building site for new student accommodation, so there's now the additional interest of watching the progress of the new building.
I pass through the building and exit to a walkway over frantically traffic-ridden Harris Street, whose intersection with Broadway is reputed to be the most polluted intersection in Sydney
and from where I have a splendid view of the most reviled building in Sydney, the UTS Tower, whose 27th floor houses my office.
I will confess up front that I like the Tower. It's not the most beautiful building in Sydney, but it's far from being the ugliest. I think it's a straight-forward, honest interpretation of the 1960s architectural style labeled 'concrete brutalism'. I know few will agree with me about the Tower's robust attractions, but even those who hate the exterior must agree that the view from my windows when I finally reach my office is wonderful:
I think most of us who live in the inner suburbs of Sydney realise that the sparkling 'emerald city' is also a city of grunge. I like this contrast, and I find my way to work endlessly entertaining.