The Sydney hotel you won't want to leave.
A Sydney-siders ode to a suburb where time hold no sway and cats are king - it's always wise to get a little lost in your own city.
Nestled between bold boisterous Sydney suburbs - whose resounding voices are as cacophonous as they are merry - is what can only be described as the secret garden’s city love-child. A place that is cultivated and wild, pristine and earthy, and no stranger to a paradox.
In Erskineville edifices speak of great wealth and lack thereof, of creativity and character. This place doesn’t put on a show, but in the same breathe, offers the most sincere welcome. It’s in the air. Come in, take your time, your quirks and idiosyncrasies will do well here. Encased in silence the sojourner can stop amiably and drink it in. No signs point to the nearest museum, nor will the main street yield boutiques. But there are terraces, and plenty of them, covered in vibrant paint that has started to crack beneath the Australian sun. Each home a unique statement, a reflection of those who live within. Suburban beauty at its most unique.
It is the need for respite that often sees one sashay into Erkos’ midst. If this sounds appealing then I implore you to bring along the book that has meekly, then with growing indignation, demanded that you consume its contents. Here plot twists and narratives reveal themselves slowly as you're unlikely to ever feel rushed. It is expected that one ambles in Erskineville, admires the sites, breathe deeply, recall the quiet joy of counting a ladybug's spots.
But there are signs of life. And plenty of them. Pubs and cafes line the one main street, perfect hideaways. Happily one coffee can be stretched out for hours, that book can be devoured, because the main rat race is several streets over. Distance makes the heart fonder.
As for wildlife, this habitat has given rise to a dominant creature. Even though quaint houses and artful gardens have replaced rolling hills, beasts still prowl. While sharing the same ferocious appetite for aesthetic elegance and menacing stares as to their forebears, all these urban beasts seem to crave is attention. But be warned, should you pause to play with an Erskineville cat, they're not likely to tire of your quickly. Like a shadow they will be persistently by your side. Stealth must be used to disentangle from their gaze.
As the afternoon draws to a close, make sure to bid adieu to the trimmed hedges, the assorted pots, the carefully arranged birdcages. These form the metropolitan jungle, a quiet oasis populated by plastic flamingos and cats - an inner-city haven that shall wait here, patiently, until you return, keen to forget what it feels like to be rushed.
Words & Photographs by Amy Henderson
Befuddled, I sat in my living room. Not to say I was exactly in a frump, but I certainly wasn’t smelling the daisies and I had somehow mislaid my rose tinted glasses. I reflected on my mood. What was underpinning this listlessness? This shifting in my seat and mind? Why did the sun seem not so bright as its beams would suggest, nor its warmth so inviting?
And then, bing! It went off in my mind. I had been back home for exactly 2 months, and wanderlust had come to claim its next victim.
I knew the signs. My mind vamped up in preparation to defend, to rally against the infiltrating need to gallivant into the great unknown. I vowed to avert my eyes from the European photo albums of friends. To radically curtail the scrolling through world pockets on Instagram. To, with much aplomb and dignity, abstain from the vast catalogues of brilliant media bursting with the promise of the great out there. I glowered (good naturedly) at the coffee table.
And that’s when I decided that I needed to head out. Not to a foreign land, not somewhere ‘unfamiliar’, but through my own neighbourhood. Alone in my living room, I declared that day a holiday. In the full sense of that wondrous term I would move about and see the sights, take photos, ogle at the local creatures about their usual routine. All the while shedding my cloak of local resident. It was to be the Tocal day (rough translation - tourist local).
I was in earnest to notice the small things, to partake of them. I would intrepidly step out of my front door and examine every nook and cranny ignored, every corner usually passed, ever rivet and crack in the road consistently cursed, and rejoice.
I left the house and turned to the back streets. As only the untameable weather of Australia could bequeath, there was brilliant sunshine to my left and the creep of storms to my right. The clouds were darkening but I reasoned a good dousing on an adventure only lends itself to the telling of a richer story. I persevered. Weaving my way further into the older side lanes it became apparent that for all my complacency, I had never walked down these streets but a five minutes meander from my home. Or, I had never truly seen them. As glib as it sounds, I started to become enamoured with the trees that had sheltered my walk back from work, week after week.
The houses flanking either side were old and cracked. Vines creeping steadily and assuredly, increment by increment up exteriors that had seen the cycles of moon, children, student, workers, lovers all yield to the bold step of time. I thought of the grand tree at the centre. What games had it overhead as children concocted guises, worlds and emperors? How many clasped hands of couples had it shielded, how many lovers tiffs had it attempted to sooth with its cool shade? The sun streaming through in pleasant dialogue, I smiled up, sensing a bemused reaction to my new scrutiny.
Thrilled at the prospect of dousing a lass on holiday, the storm clouds rolled in. All elements of the streetscape seemed to be hunkering down. Banding together as if in solidarity. Ready to face what the heavens would pour forth in indifferent rage and might. The telegraph poles and wires, whispering as to the last rainstorm that swung and unfurled. The freedom and wildness they felt wobbling to and fro, and yet, reaching the point of sheer inconvenience when the gusts became too precocious and mischievous. I thought of the great wealth of mirth stored on the sundered corners and curbs, upturned umbrellas seeking their dance with the gusts and vision obscuring hair, aflutter in fiasco.
I had stumbled onto the green and here, poised to house my weary frame and feet, a local watering hole. Partaking of the local cuisine and beverage assortment is essential on any holiday. I paid homage to this necessity by ordering a coffee. All this meandering on my holiday was taking its toll, all hail caffeine.
My emotional-scape was such that when my long black was brought out and the first drops of treasured nectar nourished my beleaguered self, my eyes moistened a little and I knew I had made the right decision to go on tocal- oliday. I wasn’t lost, I knew the language, I was sipping magnificent coffee at an aesthetically charming cafe and the amount of green was soothing the last traces of my pre-holiday blighted self.
I walked back to the main street of Newtown. The hustle and bustle was there to greet. Unrelenting, noisy and boisterous. Boutiques dazzling with glamour and eccentricity. The full breadth of Thai cuisine in all its forms beckoning. Cafes buzzing with students just about to grasp but a sliver of Kant or Marx. Life, laughter, leisure, it was here too. Maybe they had all issued holiday days as well.
The sun, never being upstaged for long, blazed down, all the more passionate to dispel any retirement rumours. Sweetly perched in ordered boxes a merry party of colour, I had never noticed the flowers before. I seemed to be grinning at everything.
I treasure that exploration. I will return to the little alley way – the urban secret garden. For I laughed there.
Dear reader, find the little pockets that make you laugh. Repeat as many times is necessary. Throughout the day I contemplated what has possesses us to think that holidays are only comprised of small fortunes bestowed on long journeys, tantalising unfamiliarity and exotic food? What about the unfamiliarity three streets over? Do you really know your area? Truly!? Give it a whirl, grab the partner, housemate, dog, camera in hand and: Explore home.
Beneath the iconic sails, the lights dim. Quiet filters through the darkened theatre; the quiet of familiar expectation. And the music starts.
Seated in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, the second largest performance hall in the Sydney Opera House, it is always the hush before the overture that fills me with anticipation; the wash of the first chords that embraces me into the exotic and comfortingly unfamiliar experience of attending the opera. Tonight it is Bizet who greets us⎯ dramatic, passionate, utterly recognisable and yet always fresh, never cliché. The stage is dimly lit, the heavily draped curtains revealing an evocatively rustic set, and before Carmen has even sauntered onstage to seduce her audience and Don Jose with her sultry Habanera, I, along with the other thousand and a half attendees, am swept into a world of intrigue and betrayal. Opera Australia casts impeccable leads; passionate performers with rich voices that fill the room, seducing, accusing and thrilling viewers attending a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, a heart-wrenching Puccini tragedy, a rousing Verdi, a timeless Mozart drama. The direction and staging, too, is exquisite in its deceptive simplicity; chameleon-like, the stage that was expansively empty and minimalist in Madama Butterfly is claustrophobically intimate in Carmen.
And yet the thrill and paradox of attending opera is that it is a participation in continual displacement, weaving together an immersive musical and dramatic experience with the constant awareness of the physicality and uniqueness of the space in which the show is performed. Enticed by Carmen’s Seguedilla and entranced by the otherness of Bizet’s gypsy life, I am simultaneously intensely aware of the woman next to me, elegantly dressed in a kimono-inspired gown that billows onto the edge of my seat, of the lady in front of me who has dressed to theme, a large folded Spanish fan resting on her armrest. And when the curtain falls for intermission, Spanish rhythms still thrumming through my veins, I weave my way to the theatre bar⎯ and am taken anew by the vastness of Sydney Harbour, stretching into the darkening night. The world of Spanish gypsies slides like a palimpsest beneath the stunning view of the Harbour Bridge, which arcs and sculpts the darkling sky above the still-moving harbour waters beneath. And now appear lights beneath the Bridge, and the glow of an evening-lit ferry on the slow-rolling waves scatters a glimmering path to Fort Denison and beyond.
The emotional and cultural investment involved in watching operas calls for sustenance, and after a small pot of ice-cream that I have come to identify specifically with musical and theatrical experiences, I wash away my knowledge of Carmen’s impending doom with a light, sparkling champagne. At the mouth of the stairs to the theatre bar, there is a small photoset, and a couple sits amidst the bright scarves, baskets of produce, a Spanish guitar lying to the side. It calls me back to Don Jose’s and Carmen’s flight and doomed romance, and even now, the signal comes marking the end of intermission and we are drawn back by the lush, vibrant orchestra into the gypsy’s hideout in the mountains, drawn to the dynamic and fiercely scornful Carmen and the pathos of Don Jose’s destructively obsessive love.
Time has a strange way of behaving inside the Sydney Opera House. Outside, the evening has sunk into night in the space of hours, but inside the Joan Sutherland Theatre, we have witnessed the passing of months. Emerging from the theatre, I cannot leave Bizet’s music behind, the agony of the wordless fate motif and the finality of the falling curtain. Emerging from the theatre, I am again transfixed by the sublime sight of Sydney Harbour by night.
We converge outside, filtering through the forecourt of the Opera House: willing victims to Carmen’s allure and witnesses to the pathos of Don Jose’s descent to desperate murderer; still-spellbound attendees from the vast Concert Hall; theatre enthusiasts the Playhouse. Ahead of me, the Harbour Bridge reaches across the water, and behind, the sails of the Opera House soar, incandescent against the smooth, clear night. The buzz of the nightlife grows steadily as I turn to view the postcard-worthy panorama that has so fittingly made Sydney a touted tourist attraction. And yet, as I board the train at Circular Quay Station, viewing the Opera House from afar, to stand on the steps of that great building is to glimpse only the shell of that vibrant place, living home to so many of Australia’s finest performance groups. For the pulse of the Sydney Opera House is in the energetic, talented musicians and performers who fill its halls and continue to delight thousands, transporting listeners and viewers to different worlds and times while continually drawing them back to the physicality of the performative space of the Opera House: alerting all to the beauty and uniqueness that is this vibrant city of Sydney.
"A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy." Noël Coward In the heart of Rosebery, a Sydney suburb that was once a hub of industry and abandonment yet in recent years has come to be synonymous with good food and pioneering design (think Kitchen By Mike and Koskela), something particularly special is brewing. You'll have to pardon the pun.
In a reclaimed warehouse is Archie Rose Distilling Co., the first distillery to emerge in Sydney since 1853. Here gin is infused with native botanicals, cocktails capture the spirit of the land and style, flavour and history fuse.
Given the lack of a recent distilling past, Archie Rose is essentially able to make up the rules as it goes along, learning the art of distilling from the ground up. And less than a year in, it is making some serious waves, utilising the skill and passion of its dedicated young staff and materials that are delightfully unique. Their copper pot stills hail from Tasmania and most of their equipment was assembled on the production floor - even the final bottling and labelling is carried out on site. Inspired by the distilling revolution that's unfolded in London and New York, this pioneering, not-so-little company is destined to produce Sydney's spirit.
Photos by Angela Terrell. As an Australian living in London it's alarming how few things actually make me homesick. I can deal with the weather, I actually prefer the food, the accents are adorable and I never really got vegemite.
However, there is one thing that makes this antipodean's lip quiver. It's not a white Christmas or the absence of a harbour side brunch haunt. No, it is Sculpture by the Sea. Transforming the coastline between Bondi and Tamarama with a range of unusual and inventive artworks, this iconic event has cemented Sydney's place on the global artistic map - and makes an already stunning city even more glorious.
Taking place every year at the start of November, it may finally be time to book my ticket home.