Having been working in the city for the last three and a half years, first on Castlereagh Street and, since last October, George Street, I’ve developed something of a love-hate relationship with the place. It is, in its own way, rather ugly at times; crowded, noisy, busy and dotted with blackened gum. Along Pitt Street, the monorail sits like stitches on a sore, old wound; its pylons covered with grime and the ill-fitting papier maché of advertisements. In other places, the smog-darkened concrete, the dusty marble cladding, the spattered glass of the many tired, generic buildings, looms above the pavement. There are places where the skyline is boxy and dull, where contrasting architectural ambitions sit like class warfare writ large. There are places where aesthetics have not had a look in; where the roller-doors and security grills guard the crooked shopfronts that wear their clashing colours like bad fashion.
Yet there are also places where aesthetics have won out. Viewed from the Botanic Gardens, the skyline is certainly something to behold. Tall and impressively weightless, the more thoughtful and picturesque designs of architects like Renzo Piano give the city a distinctly timeless modernity. The clean sheen of the newly renovated Pitt Street Mall is a congenial oasis amidst the traffic-huddled streets. The open view of St Mary’s across Hyde Park is genuinely grandiose; the trees and fountains of this expanse, the pool of reflection, the long avenues under the canopy, all offer respite. The Art Gallery, the Gardens and Domain are arguably outside the CBD, yet so close as to have a very intrinsic relationship with it and give direct refuge from it.
Inside, behind the facades, beneath the pavements, countless holes in the wall offer a range of snacks and diversions. In these places in particular, the Asian-ification of Sydney moves apace. From Town Hall down to Railway Square, and even beyond, from Elizabeth Street down to Sussex Street, the dominance of Asian shops and business is very apparent. A whole range of new Korean and Japanese restaurants have opened in the last few years; along with ever more shops selling foreign groceries, Asian fashions, accessories and trinkets. The expansion of Chinatown might be commercially driven, yet it is also a cultural phenomenon that reflects the growth of one of the few true communities that inhabit the CDB. Personally, I see it as a great improvement. The new life downtown is not only far better than the empty wasteland of two decades ago, it has made the slummy end of the city centre truly exotic.
There is also a powerfully vibrant energy to the city. The old, carpeted pubs that hang on the corners from Park Street down to Central; the Windsor, the Criterion, the Coronation, the Edinburgh Castle, The Sir John Young, The Century Tavern, Stratton’s Hotel, all these places fill in the late afternoons and spill their noise and patrons onto the streets. It all seems, at times, rather cheap and tawdry; very lowest common denominator, tasteless and with little attention to detail, yet the pubs, the take-aways, the convenience stores, the internet dens, the gaming parlours, the multiplex, the discount fashion shops, the bubble tea and Ramen joints, the hairdressers and dry-cleaners, all give this end of town an exciting buzz.
The city does indeed make an interesting subject, and every day, when I get off the bus at Town Hall, it feels like being right in the middle of the mayhem. The buskers, homeless people, charity fundraisers, shoppers, students, suits, service staff, all mill about, busily doing either something or nothing. It’s oddly thrilling, if rather disappointingly unattractive. Still, such is life!
These photos, of course, don’t necessarily reflect all mentioned above. They are mostly taken downtown, but there are also some from Newtown and Glebe, and a couple from a very good Hallowe’en party. But still, I had to write something! Enjoy.