I first met Australia coming through Sydney Heads. She is young and bronzed, with every movement eloquent of a great land of the great outdoors. A little sailing boat danced by on the sparkling waves far below the lofty deck, from which a few minutes later the scene changed to the magnificent sweep of Port Jackson, with its 200 miles of harbour frontage, its rocky shores with numberless little bays and inlets, and the sky-line of Sydney – a New York in miniature.
From this peerless ocean gateway, which vies with Rio de Janeiro and Hong-Kong for the laurel wreath of majesty, long lines of narrow streets faced by large stone buildings, all clear cut and gleaming beneath the high, blue Australian sky, led away into the busy maze of what, in point of size, is the seventeenth city of the world.
It has been built by a nation in the first flush of its youth, by a people who have a continent-island to themselves – one as large as the whole of Europe but who elect to congregate to the extent of one-sixth of their total number in this great metropolis of New South Wales.
A handicap to the whole of Australia, maybe, but what a tribute to Governor Phillips, who established the original little settlement over 200 years ago! No sooner had I emerged from among the warehouses, factories and mean streets of old Sydney, and was bowling along between the brown sandstone buildings of the commercial centre, than I realised why Robert Louis Stevenson said, ”I love Sydney.” Every city known to me possesses its own atmosphere, often made up of climatic peculiarities as well as architectural trifles. London, for example, would not be herself without the light grey haze which blends so well with old stone. Sydney’s lofty sky of blue and its sense of open space and freedom is as much a part of the city as commercially inclined George Street and Martin Place, the ferry-boats of Circular Quay and the beaches of Manly, Bondi and Coogee, where one surfs in ”the long wash of Australasian seas.”
Sydney is the commercial centre of the South Pacific; this city is not only the largest but it is also the oldest in Australia. Every now and again one obtains glimpses strangely reminiscent of Victorian and even Georgian London. The next moment New York, with its long regular avenues and streets of lofty, large-windowed, square stone buildings, seems to come into the picture. Even the palm-fringed boulevards of Los Angeles appear in Macquarie Street, which faces the beautiful Botanical Gardens.
Reinforced concrete, stone and asphalt may spell romance for the engineer and architect, but certainly not for the. average human being and to estimate a city’s attractions by its miles of streets is, in my judgment, a confession of failure to appreciate that the true purpose of work is to make of life something better than it was before. It is out in the back-blocks, the national parks, on the beaches and among the joyous crowds that one can study the psychology of a people quite as much as in the commercial and financial centres.
A city which is surrounded by few pleasure resorts, sporting facilities, artistic coteries, educational establishments, and even patriotic military rendezvous, has failed in the purpose for which it was created; and Sydney certainly cannot be said to have done this. With the enthusiasm of youth she has more often erred in the opposite direction.
What a romance there is in the childhood of this city. While walking among its modernity. I could not help thinking of the appearance of the very earth, which now lies for the most part buried beneath the mountains of dressed stone, when Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay less than three generations ago. In the upper reaches of the harbour, still surrounded with virgin bush, in the forest reserves of Kuring-gai Chase and the National Park, lying about twenty miles to the north and south of the city, one can even now obtain an idea of the original appearance of the site upon which Sydney stands.
”Here Nature is still free; the forests stand un touched by the axe, the enchanting fern-clad dells in the hollow of the hills are yet unspoiled. In the spring-time, colour laughs in its triumph. The whole district is a mass of flowers. From the trees the starry clematis and other climbers hang in festoons, while in the gulleys the brilliant sunshine breaks through the vivid green of tree ferns and myrtle, streaking the waters with gold,” writes an Australian.