Monday, December 22, 2008


I’ve spent the last week-and-a-half visiting friends in Sydney and the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

My travels began on Saturday, December 13, when I made the seven-hour train trip from Wauchope, twelve kilometers inland from Port Macquarie, to Sydney. It’s a very picturesque journey, especially as one gets closer to Sydney and travel through the beautiful Hawkesbury River area.

Once at Sydney’s Central Station, I caught a city train to nearby Macdonaldtown, part of the inner city suburb (or neighborhood as they’d say in the U.S.) of Newtown.

My good friend Garth and his wife Jenya live in this vibrant, colourful (and very gay-friendly!) area, and it was with them that I stayed during my time in Sydney.

On that first night in Sydney, Garth, Jenya, and I attended our mutual friend Kristy’s birthday party at Rowda Ya-Habibi Lebanese Restaurant in Newtown. Garth and Kristy’s fiancée, Jeremiah, are two very good friends from my teaching days in Goulburn, a rural city south of Sydney. Jeremiah’s dad, Mike McGowan, was the principal of the primary school I taught at in Goulburn for six years before I relocated to the U.S. in 1994.

Above: Jeremiah and Garth - Saturday, December 13, 2008.

Jeremiah and Kristy had traveled from Townsville in Queensland to celebrate Kristy’s birthday with friends in Sydney, and to spend Christmas with Jeremiah’s family in the New South Wales town of Wagga Wagga.

Several members of the McGowan family also attended Kristy’s party. So, all in all, it was not only a great birthday celebration, but for many of those present, a happy reunion of friends and family.

Along with the great experience of reconnecting with friends from my past life in Australia, I also enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere of Newtown during my time in Sydney.

The most visible feature of this very cosmopolitan and, in many ways, alternative area of the city is King Street – a bustling thoroughfare, lined with an array of interesting shops and restaurants - that winds like a colourful ribbon through the inner west of Sydney.

Newton has the distinction of being the only place in Australia where a McDonald’s fast food outlet failed and closed up shop! That tells you something about the “alternative” character of the place. Of course, with its numerous shops - including expensive clothing boutiques - and its overall emphasis on consumerism, Newtown is very much mainstream.

Above: This photo gives a sense of Newtown’s proximity to
Sydney’s central business district (CDB), or “downtown” as they’d
say in the U.S. That’s the CBD’s
Sydney Tower in the background.

In that part of Newtown in which I stayed, a maze of residential streets, dominated by rows of terrace houses, run off and parallel to King Street. One of a number of beautiful and distinguishing features of these houses, most of which are over a hundred years old, is the intricate iron-wrought railings of their second floor balconies.

I got to know one street in particular as at least twice a day I walked from Garth and Jenya’s house to King Street. “It’s a great little street, my street,” Garth said at one point. And I certainly couldn’t disagree. The houses, the gardens with their abundance of ferns, palms, and all kinds of fragrant flowering trees, and the great eucalyptuses that line the street – all were delightful to my senses, as was the diversity of people and places on King Street.

One night Garth remarked: “If you had been a Sydney boy, I’m sure Newtown is where you would be living.” I smiled at this – at just the thought of it, and of the many different turns my life would have had to have taken, the many different choices I would have had to have made, so as to be now living in Newtown, Australia and not St. Paul, U.S.A.

It was fun to entertain an alternative history and life for myself but, in the end, even the idea of a new start in Newtown seemed totally unrealistic. For one thing, how on earth would I earn the kind of money needed to live in such a trendy, cosmopolitan place? And also, even though I found the colour and bustle of the place energizing for the duration of my stay, I think that in the long term I would find it draining.

So, while I’m uncomfortable with being thought of as fatalistic, I nevertheless believe I both chose and was called in some way to be in that part of the U.S. where I am now and to be doing the kind of work that I’m doing - at least for now!

Above: With Garth and Jeremiah. (No doubt remembering
Garth’s Big Day in 2006!)

Above (from left): Garth, Jenya, Kristy, and Jeremiah
- December 15, 2008.

NOTE: Around this time last year, Garth visited me in Minnesota. For images of his visit, see the previous Wild Reed post, A Snowy December - with an Aussie Connection.

See also the 2006 Wild Reed posts:
Travelin’ North
Alva Beach
Last Day in Townsville
Travelin’ South (Part 1)
Travelin’ South (Part 2)
Travelin’ South (Part 3)
Garth’s Big Day
Goulburn Revisited
Goulburn Landmarks
Remnants of a Past Life (Part 1)
Remnants of a Past Life (Part 2)
Goulburn Reunion
Return to Wagga

1 comment:

Paula Ruddy said...

Michael, I for one am very happy that Newtown doesn't have an irresistible appeal. We are looking forward to your being back here in one month and there is lots of organizing work to be done. You have some wonderful pictures of Sydney and Newtown though. What is it like in winter? The Northeast edge of Minneapolis is the dingiest place you could imagine in the sunless, single digit temperature days before 2009. Maybe I shouldn't tell you that. Merriam Park probably has more charm. Enjoy while you can. Paula