And so Sydney is now nothing but a distant, fast fading memory. Except it isn’t.
How could one of the most beautiful cities and locations in the world, having etched itself on my mind like print on my palm ever become an experience that would dissolve into the miasma of amnesia.
I left Sydney on the 16.20 train on Friday 10th – Good Friday – and for the first time ever in all my travelling, felt the taste of gnawing regret.
Without exception, wherever I have shaken off then dust of travel and tethered myself for a rest, the first thought has always been ‘Where next, what next, and when next”.
Not this time!
Maybe it’s not just Sydney; maybe its all of Australia; I’ll find out soon enough, but from the magnificence of Darling Harbour, the astounding beauty and mystery of the inlets and bays, the hinterland, the peace and serenity of Mrs MacQuarie’s road leading to her chair of contemplation, through to the contrast of Kings Cross and a hundred other little scratches that I made on the surface of this astonishing place, Sydney specifically grabs you and in a way that even to the stranger to contentment, makes you feel as if this is a natural place to just ‘be’!
The thing is it shouldn’t really be beautiful. It’s a puzzling mix of old and new, of a hundred cultures, and a thousand architects who just seem to have built what they wanted, where they wanted and when they wanted.
But it works and I am sure that that is because of the Australian people, ancient and modern.
This is a country that like so many other ex-colonial outposts either has already or is in the inevitable process of escaping the straitjacket of ridiculous constitutional monarchy and subjected supremacy, and like so many of those other outposts the ubiquitous mementos, monuments and echoes of that past as evidenced in statues, street names and buildings are no more than they appear to be – small ripples from a turbulent past caressing the shores of the present and the paths to the future.
There is little virulence, little disdain or even little cynicism with regard to that history. The Australians seem much bigger than that and too concerned about the winding path they are now on to focus on what they just simply regard as an essential history, but a history now gone.
They seem comfortable in the clothes they now wear and know and celebrate their own indelible contribution to the wider world. They are making, creating and celebrating there own place in the world.
I’ve mentioned before about Sydney’s cosmopolitan make-up and how they have not only welcomed people from all over the world, but how they have actively celebrated it through monuments such as that honouring the women who escaped the Great Famine, but there’s more.
An acquaintance of some readers, <b>Sydneytim</b>, put me onto it.
Many of us will be aware of Vinegar Hill, the 1798 rebellion and the aftermath. In Sydney it is actively commemorated, marked and honoured with a special Mass on Easter Sunday, held at the gravestone of Michael Dwyer in Waverley Cemetery .
Did I say gravestone?
Follow Oxford Street (which must be one of the longest in the world) as it wends its way from Hyde Park in the City Centre, out through Paddington and Queens Park, kissing the edge of Sydney Cricket ground as it approaches Bondi Junction. Carry on down the hill until Bronte beach grabs you by the retina and marvel at the rock enclosed magnificence of the golden sands as they are embraced by the azure rolling surf.
Turn to the right up the hill and choose between pathless road or rock climb.
Choose the rock climb!
Before you lies the panorama of Waverley Cemetery, built like so many great cities on undulating hills and vales. See before you a panorama of Celtic crosses which seem to dominate every two out of three monuments as far as the eye can see. But then without knowing about Michael Dwyer, scan the marbled scene before you and guess which one stands in honour of that great man.
I know which one you’ll pick, and you’ll be right!
The story of why he lies here, a deportee from the ‘98, his rise to power, decline into notoriety and subsequent resurrection, I will leave to you to have a wee delve round the web. But here is the esteem within which he was held, here is the toil and craft of those who held him in such regard and here is concrete of his leadership and beliefs fashioned into stone and words which have echoed all those thousands of miles across the world.
Have a look at the inscriptions and perhaps in those words we can all not just recognise the sacrifice and strength of men such as lie here, but we can feel the intensity and see the footsteps that climbed every mountain and barrier which lay in their path.
I kept my place on the stool in ‘Cheers’ bar as long as I could, it being the home of the Sydney CSC. As a quick aside I have travelled far and wide and in many a bar or club or by design or accident, every Celtic supporter I have met has been top-of-the ladder! I have drank with them, ate with them, disagreed with them, but without exception I have had an empathy and affection for each and every one that says a lot about them, irrespective of their web persona and even more about our Club.
Sydney CSC is no different and to all who I met can I briefly say thanks and if Wendy ever wants to put the Signed Henrik Larsson shirt into secure storage, all she has to do is give me a shout.
As a subtext to my aside, we (we as in Celtic supporters) have romantically given Henrik ghod-like status. Well in a wee side street just before you get to the Cathedral, this is what I found!
I think the Finnish Lutherans have great foresight! Although I was wondering if Palvelupiste was perhaps the Finnish equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous!
Anyway after my third ‘last pint of Guinness for the road’, I finally said goodbye to Cheers and Wendy, Tim and Tony. The previous two evenings I had also said cheerio to Jolene, Mary-Anne, Kevin1, Kevin2, Derek, Keith, Liam, Colin, Sam, Joe and Jean Logan (who had only stopped off from a cruise to watch the game, and Jim from the Perth CSC!
Joe Logan was a great pal and playing partner of Charlie Gallagher, and what a man. His stories of his time at Celtic Park were superb, funny, sad and always riveting. They are his memories and will remain his stories.
The picture below was taken the day after the game and after a fair number of scoops as well.
It was taken by Wendy and from left to right you can see Jolene, yours truly, Kevin, Mary-Anne, Liam and in the red and white, Stoke City Steve! He is mad in a sort of insane way and was chucked out by Wendy later (not an unusual occurrence) for not sticking to the agreed rule, I.e. he gets served and can even get drunk but he must not insult the customers or shout ‘go on ye Stoke’ to the detriment of people’s ear-drums.
I loaded my worldly belongings onto my back, pointed my bending burdened frame down-hill and in a lumbering acceleration headed like an unstoppable force to the Central Railway Station and my appointment with the delights of Australia’s train system and the beckoning delights of Brisbane.
Sixteen fairly uneventful hours later I alighted on the Roma Street platform.
The train had been fully booked, but unlike our own little apology for a public rail system, the concept of travelling without a seat is as foreign to Australia (and most other countries) as a reasonably priced sandwich is to Network Rail. They even come round and ask you what you would like for dinner, and then announce when each carriage’s meals are ready for collection in the buffet car.
Sydney Tim had warned me that the trains were the cast-off 125s from BR/Railtrack days, and so they were but much as I searched I was disappointed to find no trace of the half-eaten chicken and yuck sandwich down the side of my seat!
In fact the external appearance was deceptive.
The trains had been modified and now offered double the leg-space and reclining seat-backs. An attendant made sure you didn’t miss your stop, and all in all it seemed that the concept was to provide a service to the travelling public.
It will never catch on!
Anyway, apart from the man across the corridor from me who took his teeth out to eat a pot noodle (he really should have put boiling water in it), the journey went exactly as planned. Well almost!
It was the teeth wot dun it!
He had placed them on his pull down table and every time I closed my eyes to sleep, I knew the teeth were watching me! I could hear yer man ‘gumming’ on his latest mouthful of mono-sodium glutamate and could sense the dentures’ desire for a bit of mastication.
With one suspicious eye watching my molar adversary, I could see his own eye-teeth sneaking a glance in my direction. Tiredness (and ten pints of Guinness) and an overactive imagination are uncomfortable bedfellows.
I didn’t sleep until all the pot noodles, jam doughnuts, and post-prandial crackers and cheese had gone. As the gnashers were reinserted I dosed off, while reminding my subconscious that if it detected even the merest hint of a mint being popped, it was to awaken me immediately.
So at 06.35 and the Roma Street, Brisbane platform appeared on schedule outside the window.
Within a few minutes I had met up with Kit and been whisked off to his Ponderosa in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. – Just past Eden Street, Paddy Road and my favourite Cabbage Tree Creek!
Kit, Sue and their boys Connor and Robbie, simply ooze Celtic camaraderie, bonhomie and hospitality. Nothing was too much trouble and I am sure that if I had asked they would have let me move out of the barn and into the house!
Only joking, but after four days of feeding, housing and chauffeuring me everywhere (including pubs and restaurants) it was time for me to stand on my own two feet and learn from my own mistakes.
My learning experience started immediately and what a education it turned out to be.
The prospect of camper-vanning across the outback gets my adrenaline pumping. We all experience the serrated edge of the unknown at times, but this was edge was serrated with shark teeth, coated in Taipan venom, and as unpredictable as the darting tail of the scorpion. Yet the prospect of being isolated a thousand miles from water, an impassable hell-fire of unforgiving sands blocking the pass to salvation and the unrelenting gaze of Icarus’ desiccating chariot seemed like an oasis of sanity in a desert of lunacy when I booked into a ‘back-packers’ hostel.
Cheap? Don’t believe it; not if you place greater value on your rational existence than you do on the contents of your wallet!
What is happening with the adventurous and iconoclastic inheritance that we children of the fifties and sixties left as a legacy to future generations?
Those great bequests of drugs, promiscuity, protest, ridiculous hairstyles and certifiable fashion sense, all gone!! Washed down the drain in a tidal flood of mediocre defiance! In one of those Darwinian bursts of activity all the really important rebellions of disrespect have become respectable! And in this sea of visionless horizons, what do they decide to do to show their independence and intellectual imagination? They bang doors!
Day and night!
And not just any old slam bang. The shutting mechanisms are tested fifty times, the handles are wrenched 50 times, and the card key is slammed in 50 times. Obsessive behaviour is the new rock ‘n roll!
“It effin works” I shout.
Then as if to encourage them, in a sad parody of Hi di Hi, the tannoy system, on the half hour, every half hour ,breaks into life…..
“10 dollar meal with free booze”
“Dancing/wet tee-shirt/quiz contest with 100 dollar prize”
“best hostel food in Australia”
And off go the door -banging obsessive compulsive psychopaths again.
It’s hard to describe but ‘banging doors’ is the wrong term. It is more that they dismantle doors, hinges and facings with all the alacrity of a wrecking crew. Like the charging beasts of the Pamplona ‘bull run’, heads bowed and probosces snorting, they crash through the door, get trapped by the sprung closing portal as it snaps on their back-pack and then struggle like a bluebottle in a Venus-fly-trap, guffawing and squealing and probably prematurely emptying their bladders until the whole of the slumbering hostel are wide-awake and on the verge of chronic old-man grumpiness!
That ‘slumbering hostel’ would be me by the way, since I appear to be sharing the whole building with my daughters and their mates and this behavioural anomaly of the latest hitch-hiking, back-packing, daddy/mummy funded ingrates seems to be the equivalent of us wearing kaftans, getting our ears pierced, and liking Adam Ant (I exaggerate to emphasise the point)!
The Tannoy breaks the monotony of splintering locks!
“Time for the 10 am check-outs to bring their pillow slips to reception”
I pull my head from under the pillow and finally my mature bonhommie shatters!
“SHUT THE **** UP!”
Movement seizes, noise freezes and silence reigns supreme. An embarrassed crackle scratches the loudspeaker as doors stop in mid swing, guffaws dissolve in mid air, and the drumbeat of a hundred pairs of walking boots is deafened by quizzical looks and puzzled reactions.
Unfortunately somewhere in the heavens someone flicks a switch and the whole cacophony of rampant hormones burst forth once more like a Clydebank blitz.
All it needed to complete my misery was one of those boy/girl break-up dramas, accompanied by greetin faces, snotty noses and suicide threats. A plenary indulgence would undoubtedly be mine!
I heard the approaching sob and soulful drag of the feet before the despairing knock at my door (with broken lock).
“Matt, ooooohhh, he’s dumped me. Waaaaaahhhhhh!”
“Ok then, what’s happened! Tell the man wae mair patience than Job”…………………..!
There has been one good thing to come out of it mind you. As soon as dawn cracks the breaking backcloth to the moon’s nocturnal tapestry, I have a four minute shower (you get timed by the environmentally PC brigade), remove assorted shades of prematurely balding backpacker’s hair from my toes, and head off to a places unseen by those who exist in the purgatory of being between seventeen and twenty-five.
And here lies enlightenment; here lies a kaleidoscope, not of colours, sights or even mirages; but a collage of little windows and doors (without trapped backpacker) that give us glimpses of what we don’t know and clues to how we might know.
Here lies Brisbane and another thousand stories!
But before I go into those, I’m off to Mick O’Malley’s on Queen Street and the home of the Brisbane CSC.
So for the moment, Slainte and
p.s. outside my door this morning the following conversation took place.
“Yeah, he bought it off some guy in Barcelona, but it’s got some security key on the boot-up screen and he doesn’t know how to get round it. Maybe someone in the hostel will know about computers.”
Barcelona, Computer, Security key! Surely not. I’ll let you know!