Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My daily Sydney

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:

Transition: from suburbs to city

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.

Devonshire Street tunnel

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.

mural 1

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

Railway Square

and then plunge into the Tunnel extension where I find...

Bookshop of doom

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

Harris Street

and from where I have a splendid view of the most reviled building in Sydney, the UTS Tower, whose 27th floor houses my office.

UTS Tower

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:

Tower view

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.


Lien said...

I went to UTS - both for my undergrad and postgrad studies. It's ugly but at least it doesn't smell so bad anymore with Carlton United Brewery having moved away. I love the tunnel. It got me from A to B very quickly and there used to be an old woman who used to swing her arms and sing Advance Australia Fair.

Anonymous said...

thank you taking us to work with you lyn, so many familiar landmarks that we take for granted until we see them through someone else eyes. its funny that people think that tunnel is unsafe, ive been through there thousands of time but never felt in the least concerned. i love the murals too, they never cease to surprise. and your view is spectacular. hope you had a great day in your 27th floor office!

redambition said...

I have to say that I love the UTS building. Seeing it as I come up Broadway or towards Central on the train just says to me "you have arrived in the CBD".

I think the biggest eyesore in the city is Civic Tower: designed in the 70s but not built until the mid 00s. Architecturally stunning, but not pleasing to the eye at all.

missfee said...

and what about the great coffee shop in the Architecture building - where I bumped into you this morning - probably distracting you from the essay

Love this post so much
Thank you

Sel and Poivre said...

What a pleasant little interlude you've given me once again this morning!

Sally said...

Thank you, Lyn. I learn so much from you! But your grunge is so bright and clean. Come to St Louis, Mo, USA for some really grungey grunge. ;)

Rose Red said...

As always, a trip seen through your eyes is a fabulous and interesting one - thanks for sharing it!

I agree with you on the Devonshire st tunnel - I've never felt unsafe there because there's always so many people about.

But have to disagree on most reviled building in Sydney - for me, it's Blues Point Tower. Which I guess is probably a close relation to the UTS Tower in many ways!

Cecilia said...

Thank you for sharing your daily commute! I miss Sydney all the time and this makes me especially nostalgic. Yes, even the the UTS tower, which I could see from the roof of my old apartment.

M-H said...

The railway line that goes to the Powerhouse museum - is that the light rail line? I'm not clear about these things, being relatively new to Sydney. If it is, then it goes on to Lilyfield, and will soon go right to our door. But if it's not, ignore me.

LynS said...

A correction - the murals in the Devonshire Street Tunnel were to celebrate the centenary of Central Railway Station - they were a few years too early to commemorate the 150th anniversary of NSW Railways.

Mary-Helen - I should have made it clear that the railway line in the pedestrian walkway behind the UTS Design and Architecture Building and the ABC is mainly disused - I think it was used a few times some years ago for an outing by the Powerhouse steam engine (but this sounds a bit improbable and I might be misremembering). The disused line runs in a tunnel under the railway lines parallel to the Devonshire Street Tunnel and then parallel to Harris Street to the Powerhouse Museum.

1funkyknitwit said...

As your neighbor Lyn I know this commute well and for me it's all the grunge, chaos, people and architecture (bad or good) that I love about this city.
I never feel unsafe here as there's always so many people around BUT I am concerned about you advertising the Bookshop Of Doom (which I also know well) as now EVERYONE knows about this fabulous bookshop...hahhahah
I'll be fighting the crowds to get in the front door ;D

I love your trip to work!

Lynne said...

Thanks for sharing this Lyn; it's great to be a tourist in one's own city from the comfort of one's computer chair!

I too am a graduate of UTS but I studied by distance so never had any reason to visit that building!

Would love to visit that bookshop though!

Brendaknits said...

Thanks for the view of a far away land.

Erique Fat Owl said...

I laughed hysterically when I read that the two most important book genre is "Crime Fiction and Knitting Books". I thought that has got to be the most sarcastic and hilarious humour I've read lately!

...but then I read your short profile and found out that you do, in fact, like knitting - and I was like, MY GOD, she isn't joking!! LOL!!

Thanks for the wonderful post, it made my day. I miss Sydney...I'm from Jakarta and I studied & lived in Sydney for 6 wonderful years! (And I lived very close to Basement Books!!)