Part I: They Speak English, mostly
Stepping off the plane, I anticipated confusion. My travels had traditionally consisted of foreign signs, long periods of silent observation, and English translation dictionaries. Any attempt to ask directions was an act of courage on my insecure, teenage part because I still could not accept the weight of my thick American words bearing down on the local language. Most of my trips involved a heavy dependency on innate, almost primal skills. This may seem like an exaggeration, but communication is a very important component to human interaction. When humans are accustomed to being understood in a language that they have implicitly learned, the feeling of chaos ensues when that ease is threatened by intrusion of the brain scrambling for the words of a foreign language. When my mispronounced foreign words failed, my body launched into gestures. Thankfully, this action almost always worked. “How much does it cost?” was simply denoted by a rub of my thumb against my other fingers, followed immediately by a shrug of the shoulders, both elbows bent, palms exposed, and fingertips facing out.
The worst language barrier scenario is when both parties understand each other, but only grasp a basic vocabulary. When last in Paris, I posed the question, “Crois-tu en Dieu?” (Do you believe in God) to my friend’s boyfriend. He looked back intensely and replied something in French which immediately became lost on me. When he attempted English all he could manage was, “Melissa, I want to talk very much with you on this.”
This time, I landed in Sydney Airport and all the signs were in English. I was very accepting of the metric system and driving on the opposite side of the road, even more so, once when I realized I was not going to have to translate anything aside from a few strange, British influenced words my family seemed to use in everyday conversation. For example, saying “that’s slack” instead of “that sucks”, referring to a garbage can as a “bin”, or calling the golden arch fast food restaurant “Mackers” instead of “McDonald’s.” My cousin, who ironically worked at the first and only Outback Steakhouse in Australia, said “reckon” at least fifteen times a day. I learnt that my baby cousin’s requests for “lollies” just meant he wanted any sort of candy in general. When my aunt asked me to her hand the “nappies”, I assumed it was a cute word for napkins until I realized that her newborn was beside her with a soiled diaper that napkins were not going to do anything for. I learned that ordering “chips” was in fact ordering french fries which prompted me to ask my uncle what I was supposed to say if I wanted potato chips instead. His response, after a thoughtful pause, was “chips.” Also, using the word ketchup didn’t make as much sense to everyone as “tomato sauce” did. Once I got the hang of these words, others came into play. Ones that held strong opinions, one that stands out in my mind as I introduce my first place of interest.
Part II: A Bar Story, or two
Eager to experience the night life that America had forbidden me until my twenty-first birthday, my cousin took me to a local bar near her home in Western Sydney entitled The Mean Fiddler. The bar’s open patio wasn’t as appealing since I traveled during American summer, but the inside held enough character to keep my interest. I was excited as I eyed the different beers frosting at the bar, as if I had just entered another realm where I could not be cited for ordering an alcoholic beverage. The bar at the entrance hosted a number of people I could only describe as locals, friendly and drunk. The Mean Fiddler hosts live entertainment every night. This evening a country band played on the open dance floor of this Irish-Style Pub. The overall feel of the bar was more western, though certain pieces added a different flair to the ambiance. This included the large chandelier, from an 18th century theatre in Paris, that was hanging above the dance floor. My cousin and her friends led the way, past a patron wearing a cowboy hat, into the next room. The bar transitioned into a more modern, hip place to get a drink and the dance floor was set by blue lights. It was here, enjoying my fancy cocktail, that I first heard the word FOB. “Oh my God, those boys are such FOBs. You reckon they’re looking over here?” “What the hell is a FOB?”, I asked my cousin. “FRESH OFF THE BOAT!”, her friends had replied for her before she could. FOB is a term used to describe an immigrant who has not yet assimilated to the culture of the country. The tone of voice the delivery came with gave me the impression of a derogatory term. The boys they were referring to were four gentleman, sitting to the right of us, casually glancing over. The temperature rarely falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit in New South Wales, but I assumed the boys tans were natural. As the gentlemen approached, my cousin’s friends fled. I welcomed the conversation, in a language that I understood very well. The Mean Fiddler, unlike most bars, does have areas quiet enough to hear horrible imitations of American accents, tales from an architecture student in Dubai, or stories about Italian grandfathers immigrating to Australia only to return home. When you finish conversation and have decided to dance all night with your new “FOB” friends, The Mean Fiddler can still cater to you.
The dance floor stays open until the bar closes, and cocktails are on average $7 to $10. Beers will cost you around $4. Go earlier to avoid the chance of a line forming outside. If you’d like to sample their menu make sure to get there before 9:30pm. If you are looking for a bar with a bit more of an upscale feel then give World Bar, a bar set in three story Victorian terrence mansion, a try.
“Don’t tell my dad we’re going to Kings Cross”, I was warned before venturing to World Bar. Kings Cross would best be described as the baby of St. Mark’s Place in NYC and Pigalle in Paris. This area, Sydney’s red light district, had a reputation for crime, drugs, and even housed an illegal casino. Upon further research, I stumbled upon a cold case centered in Kings Cross. In the 1970’s, a man by the name of Frank Theeman was set on building an apartment complex on Victoria Street in Kings Cross. This investment would be completed at the expense of the 300 current residents who would have had to be evicted. Theeman and his men threatened those who did not accept monetary compensation to leave and inflicted Victoria Street with break-ins and false condemnation of buildings. A journalist and publisher by the name of Juanita Nielsen held strong opposition to this and had been investigating not only the development plan but other organized crime secrets in Kings Cross. She disappeared July 4, 1975. Her body was never recovered. It is assumed she was kidnapped and murdered. Aside from mysteries and crime, King’s Cross was home to many writers, poets, and artists including playwright, Hal Porter. You can choose to ponder this history or get lost in the house music inside, while pouring a strong yet delicious drink from one of World Bar’s famous teapots. With names like Fruit Tingle and Montezuma’s Revenge, these $18 teapots will last you all evening. The security can be a little rough at this bar, so take care that you do not drink directly out of the teapot or you will be escorted out. The layout of the bar is nice, with separate rooms of their own personality. The first room is filled with a deep red, adorned with medicine bottles, skulls, and appropriately entitled “The Apothecary.” The main bar has both seating and dancing room. You can also travel upstairs and go outside on the terrence. When I made the climb up there, I ended up coming right back down due to the heavy crowding. My cousins and I overindulged in our good time, until 3am, which resulted in missing our train home and a word from my uncle about being in Kings Cross late at night.
Part III: Attractions, go alone or with your entire family
“Is that someone’s pet?”, my younger brother asked pointing out the window of my aunt’s house. His gaze was directed towards a medium sized white bird with a yellow crest fluffing it’s feathers on an outdoor bird feeder. Sulphur-crested cockatoos, one of the most curious and intelligent bird species, are prominent in the northern and eastern parts of Australia. They share their home with many other interesting birds such as the colorful Rainbow Lorikeet, the howling Kookaburra, and the high- reaching Emu. Australia, often depicted as a land of koalas and kangaroos, is very well known for it’s diverse wildlife. You can catch a glimpse of the wildlife throughout your visit but if you want a closer look accompanied by a little history and fact, then check out The Reptile Park Wildlife Sanctuary. Aside from taking a picture with a cuddly koala, you can bear witness to “spider milking” at this tourist attraction as the park is the sole supplier of anti venom in Australia. This park is open everyday, except Christmas, from 9am-5pm. If you are a full grown adult, tickets will set you back $25.50. Bring a student ID to get that deducted to $16.00. If you are looking for a more elegant experience, I suggest my next and most prominent destination, the Sydney Opera House.
In 1954, Australia’s Premier of The State, Joseph Cahill held a contest. The rules of this competition were outlined as follows: construct a building that 1) held 3,000 people in a large concert hall 2) held 1,200 people in a small concert hall and 3) both halls must be able to host a plethora of performance types. The Sydney Opera house, built to resemble open sails blowing in the wind, was conceived by Danish architect, Jorn Utzon. Utzon, who did not live to see the completed opera house, was also responsible for the creation of the Bagsvaerd Church in Demark and the National Assembly Building in Kuwaitt but the Sydney Opera House was his most symbolic work. The shell like exterior gives a grand example into the magnificence inside. If you have time, I suggest seeing a show in one of the opera house’s two large performance halls. The opera house serves as home base for the award winning Sydney Symphony Orchestra but also showcases dance and drama performances. Bennelong Restaurant, owned by chef Guillaume Brahimi, is also a staple of Sydney’s opera house and is open for dinner Monday through Saturday (5:30pm to 11pm).
Near Sydney Opera House, you can also venture into Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The gardens were opened in 1988 and were originally one of the earliest farm sites in Australia. Walking along the paths provides a cost free experience to see native wild birds and the more than 4,000 plant species in the gardens. If you are a fan of Gothic Revival architecture, Government House is located in these gardens and guided tours are provided. Government House, as it name suggests, was built as a residence for the Governor though private quarters were previously used for Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family. The Tours are free and run approximately 45 minutes. However, since the house is still active you must consult the official website for opening hours. The Royal Botanic Gardens are opened to the public every day except Christmas and Good Friday, admission is also free.
Part IV: Come again, maybe three times
Depending on your financial situation, departure location, and vacation time consider making a return trip to Sydney. You can take the opportunity to venture further up north, rent a van and try a twelve hour road trip to the Surfer’s Paradise in the Gold Coast. You can even stay in Sydney again and plan a visit to the nearby Blue Mountains. Australia caters to many more adventures in culture and history than one overview can hold. I have been able to visit multiple times over the course of my adolescent transition into adulthood without disappointment. The climate is consistently comfortable, though it can reach high temperatures during their summer. The people are laid back, friendly, drive on the left side, and speak a culturally infused dialect of English.
Video by Expedia.