There’s a real sense of occasion and style about the familiar structure of the Sydney Opera House (guided one-hour 4 tours daily, every half-hour 8.30am-5pm), both inside and out. This unique building, covered in a million tiles, has achieved the seemingly impossible by improving a virtually perfect harbour. Yet its controversial architect left the country in a huff at an early stage of construction. Until the arrival of the opera house, the promontory was wasted on a fancy, turreted depot for tramcars, and in the 1950s the government of New South Wales decided to build a performing arts centre on the site. A Danish architect, Joni Utzon, won an international competition to design the building, and his novel plan included problems of spherical geometry so tricky that he actually chopped up a wooden sphere to prove it could be done. The shell of the complex was almost complete when Utzon walked out; the interior, which was in dispute, became the work of a committee. Despite this, from the tip of its highest roof (67m/220 ft above sea level) to the Drama Theatre orchestra pit (more than a fathom below sea level), this place has grace, taste and class. (Utzon never returned to Sydney, but he did act as adviser on a $70-million renovation in 2003.) The name ‘Sydney Opera House’ is as renowned world-wide as it is inaccurate. The actual opera theatre is only one
of the centre’s five, and it is not the biggest. Note that if you’re ‘fashionably late’ for the opera, there is no admission until the first intermission, probably the end of the first act.
East of the Domain is the district of Woolloomooloo (the name has something to do with kangaroos in an Aboriginal language). A spelling teaser for Australian school children. Woolloomooloo was threatened by wholesale demolition in the 1970s, but was saved by resident protests and union ‘green bans’. East of Woolloomooloo, bright lights and shady characters exist side by side in Kings Cross, a couple of railway stops from Martin Place. ‘The Cross’, as it’s often called, is Sydney’s version of Pigalle, in Paris, or London’s Soho —neon-filled, a bit tacky but rather fun, crawling with hedo-
The striking ‘sails’ of the Opera House
nists of all persuasions. Action continues 24 hours a day, with a diverting cavalcade of humanity — the brightly coloured, the bizarre, the grotesque, the stoned, the happy and the drunk. On weekends. tourists flock to the Cross to glimpse a bit of weirdness. Sometimes though. the weirdest characters they spot are other tourists. The Cross’s ‘main drag’ (major street) is Darlinghurst Road, bohemian verging on sleazy and dotted with a jumble of bars, strip joints, fast-food outlets. tattoo parlours and X-rated book and video shops. backpacker hostels and cheap hotels. ‘Spruikers’ (pronounced sprockets) – fast-talking salesmen — hang around the doors of strip clubs and try to lure passers-by inside. Change is in the air, though, as gentrification rapidly gains pace. Several strip clubs have closed, and even the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar. once a gloriously tacky icon of the Cross, has been given a slick revamp. A five-minute walk from Kings Cross Station brings you to Elizabeth Bay House (open: Thesun 10 am-4.30pm). a superb example of colonial architecture, built in 1835 — and a reminder that Kings Cross was once highly respectable. If you have time for one more inner suburb, make it Paddington, to the southeast of Kings Cross. Its trademark is the intricate wrought-ironwork, known as Sydney Lace, on the balconies of 19th-century terraced houses. This feature, and the rather bohemian atmosphere. reminds some travellers of New Orleans. After decades of dilapidation, the district came up in the world rapidly as a fashionable. rather artsy place to live.