Wednesday, January 26, 2011

World City-Zen: Sydney


Although the first Sydney-siders arrived in the region as long as 30,000 years ago - drawn by the area's abundant natural charms - it was in 1770 that Lieutenant James Cook landed in Botany Bay on the Kurnell Peninsula and made first contact with an Aboriginal tribe known as the Gweagal. There he found an enormous archipelago-like natural harbour, balmy weather, and all the resources necessary to start a fledgling colony off right, albeit unnecessarily cluttered up by a whole lot of brown people who didn't speak any English.

Still, it took nearly a generation for Arthur Phillip to get the British government to allow him to establish a convict settlement there... Arriving at the helm of the First Fleet in January 1788 - which had left Portsmouth in May 1787 - 1373 British were left to deal with 4-8,000 natives whom they called Eora (despite the fact that they were actually the Cadigal people) - none of which boded well for the aboriginals.

On this day in 1788 Philip and his crew landed at Sydney Cove on Port Jackson and founded a town they named for their patron - Home Secretary Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney; it didn't take long for those twin British advances - infrastructure and smallpox - to make themselves known. Most of the aboriginal resistance to colonization would be blunted by the latter, even as the colonials' decimation of the aboriginals would be aided by the former.

On its way to becoming the largest city in Australia, Sydney has exerted an enormous influence - cultural, political, economic - on the life of the country. As a repository of landmarks, it's home to the iconic Opera House and the Taronga Zoo among many others, world class night-life at Kings Cross, and the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. For nature lovers the beaches (such as Manly, Botany Bay, and Bondi) to the East*, the Blue Mountains to the West, the Hawkesbury River to the North and the Royal National Park to the South can't be beat.

In fact, after a life spent traveling the world on behalf of the Pop Culture Institute I can easily see settling down there myself, and enjoying my dotage turning as brown and wrinkly as an old scrotum amongst its palm tree-lined streets; I may even thrash about in the water a bit and see if I can catch me a lifesaver - although given my luck I'll probably only get a shark!

*As much as the bodies on them.

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