copyright 1998, james waldron design,
photos and text copyright 1998, James Waldron Design,
all rights reserved
Sydney S 33 degrees 53.803' E 151 degrees 12.887'
On New Years Eve I landed in Sydney Australia and was met at the airport by my friend Chee and her sister Karen. Karen, Richard and their two children live here and Chee is visiting from New York for a few weeks. This is my "vacation from my vacation" because I get to share luxury corporate accomodations in Karen's apartment complex. Imagine the envy of myfellow backpackers when they hear of my own room and private shower, in-apartment washer and dryer, dishwasher and freezer. This is not economy class. I'm in heaven.
As this was the first New Years Eve for me in the Southern Hemisphere, I was determined to see the celebration first-hand. Chee and I took our little tourist mentalities and hopped on the bus towards the harbor where there were rumored to be some gathering and gaiety. We didn't have to wait long.
The first bus stop was empty an we managed to figure out the correct payment and took a seat. The next stop, where the fare reduces from $2.50 to $2.00, was packed with happy youths, each carrying as much alcohol as possible. Some of the guys looked like Mexican Bandaleros, having stuffed as many as six bottles of Australian lager into their waistbands. There was much joy.
Chee and I looked at each other and giggled. We surmised that our excursion was as naive as two tourists arriving in New York City on New Years Eve and deciding to take the subway to Times Square at Midnight. In other words, we felt ridiculous, and as the bus continued to fill with soon-to-be-drunken revelers we thought we just might be out of our league.
Sydney is a proud, perhaps the center of cultural offerings in the country. It boasts the largest population, the architectural wonder of the Opera House, full-on beaches a stone's throw from downtown, and the coming Olympics in the year 2000. Unlike most larger cities today, there seems to be a huge construction boom. Everywhere you look a building is going up, being gutted, or just opening. There is a tunnel under construction to connect the airport with the chief Olympic site, there are renovations to sporting facilities, there are dorms, offices, and concession stands in various states of erection. The main Post Office is being renovated to stand as a silent reminder of what a great place Sydney is, or will be in two years anyway.
Judging from the breadth of Olympic paraphrenalia alone, the city is
spending lots of energy preparing for the big event. There are banners
across the city, duty-free shops are crammed with mugs, t-shirts, watch
fobs, and caps emblazoned with official logo- kind of a jumping Matisse
drawing-and the official mascots, most notably the Mighty Platapus.
And if the New Years Eve celebration at the harbor is any indication, there are plenty of people to do it. The bus stopped and all the happy partiers disembarked. It was just nine o-clock and, as it turns out, the first wave of fireworks was beginning. We dashed down to the waterfront and, while dazzled by the three plumes of pyrotechnics, were more breathtaken by the sheer mass of people and activity in the harbor. I would guess at least two million people were staring at the sky shouting oohs and aahs. First the fireworks were launched from barges in the bay, then strageic buildings around the cityscape erupted into showers of sparks. After an hour or so the show was over and the crowd turned to its real task for the evening: drinking.
Yup, while the early show was nice for the kiddies and their beleagered parents, more than half of the attendees retired to a place called "The Rocks" and flooded the streets with merriment and beer. The next fireworks were just three hours off, and everyone meant to be good and drunk by then. They were making excellent progress.
When there are a million drunken revellers in a confined space, the people-watching is immensely entertaining. Chee and I found a grassy knoll by the bay bridge and watched youths navigate the piles of broken bottles and passed-out comrades. It was not much more serene in the actual bay as thousands of boats criss-crossed the narrow channel in every concievable route and speed. Sydney is the country's main port city and there are watercraft in every shape and size. All of them came out to see the fireworks. I can only imagine what this party will be like come 2000 and the Olympics.
Chee's only hope for the crowd, and an extremely well-behaved crowd it was, was to avoid seeing anyone throw-up. She failed, and just after the fireworks marked the stroke of midnight we dashed off and hijacked a taxicab back to the palatial corporate apartment. There, we finally joined the drunken revelers by polishing off a bottle of wine in record time and promptly passed out without throwing-up.
It's great that my first evening in town was so nice, cause on the second one I was the victim of an attempted robbery at the hands of five youths near the Anzac War Memorial in downtown Sydney. Brandishing sections of tree branches and spouting anti-American insults they accused me and my friend of laughing at them (we were) and angrily asked if I hadn't been rolled in the States. When I said, "no" they informed me, "Well this is Austrailia." I felt much more welcome now.
After a moment of realization that we were about to be mugged, I stood up (perhaps impressing them with my mammoth height and muscular arms, hmm, maybe not) and informed them, "We're leaving." They didn't follow, and reaching the safety of a busy street I saw four armed officers scampering briskly towards the memorial. Maybe they caught our young, would-be attackers. Guess they must have hasseled another naive tourist a little earlier.
But such missed opportunity! These kids had the strategic advantage and squandered it. Picture my fellow Manhattan friend Miriam and I, at 1:30 in the morning, in the middle of a park, sitting on the ground innocently chatting. Victim poster-children. We were slow, unaware, sitting-ducks. All the amateur criminals had to do was crack us over the head quick and make off with our dough. Instead, the allowed us to calmly rise and walk off not looking back. Such an easy escape! They didn't know what they missed. I had a cell phone and somewhere near four hundred bucks in my money belt. If this had been New York I would have been dead in the first five seconds and the thieves would be toasting each other with 40 ounce malt liquors in five minutes. Such wasted opportunity, I was deeply disappointed. These kids need better training, and probably better weapons.
Maybe they should take their inspiration from the Mighty Platapus and
prepare themselves in time for the Olympics.