Friday, January 11, 2008

A trip down memory lane - Manly

I’ve got some time to kill today in dribs and drabs and stuck in the city. Luckily I’ve been meaning to see the Sidney Nolan New Retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW but just never got to it. Today’s the day. I’m starting from Macquarie st. Luckily just near an entrance to the botanic garden, so a very pleasant and interesting walk through the gardens will get me to the Gallery. Along the way I follow the aboriginal path that tells a truncated version of black and white history. Very well done. Just the right balance honesty with a tone of reconciliation to it. With more of that sort of spirit on both sides this country would come a long way.
In the gardens round about informative labels are included to explain native uses for indigenous plants of the Sydney area. The gardens in general are so lovely and with glimpses of brilliant blue harbour and a lovely sea breeze today it is glorious Sydney summer weather. I wander down the rainforest pathway. I enjoy the chatter of the flying foxes roosting overhead, and the distinctive smell, but I can't help being concerned at how many there are now.
I mean business so it’s directly into the exhibition on arrival after cloaking my bag. There is a very interesting short film – Nolan in his own words, which gives a great insight into the works in the exhibition. I like art, but I have very little time for the expert analysis that often goes along with it, they make up any rubbish to say. The artist’s own intentions however can be very fascinating and enlightening and Sidney Nolan has very very interesting things to say about some of his major works and what he meant to convey or what he was feeling or going through in his life at the time. Fascinating and I gain a new and deeper appreciation of his work, which of course makes this a very good exhibition! There is also on display an absolutely magnificent work depicting a riverbend, 18 panels in a circular room.... fantastic. Also some very striking landscapes of Antarctica. There is also a great exhibition gift shop which I browse and am sorely tempted, but I hold strong... I’m a little weary and have a deadline so I head on back to my Macquarie St commitment.
Free again and in some discomfort, but trapped due to transport difficulties the glorious weather calls me. At Circular Quay I decide to kill the time and distract myself with a trip on the ferry to Manly. Another thing I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I’m just in time to jump on the next arriving service, and luckily find a seat outside on the southern side. The stiff breeze is making lots of white horses on the water. Not a pleasant day to be fishing outside (outside the heads that is). White horses always remind me of my Dad. When I was a kid he’d always take a run around the edge of the plateau where we lived to check the sea and whether conditions were any good for going fishing - white horses always meant no.
The ferry travels rather fast these days and the Opera House and the city slide quickly behind. I’m all nostalgia today and miss the old class of Manly ferries that were a bit slower and less slick and that had to turn around slowly before heading off to Manly. As we cross the heads a safety warning is played telling people to stay seated while we cross due to the higher swell. But it’s pretty mild today really and more fun I think when there’s a bit more movement. Now crossing when things are rough – that can be truly exciting – and there’s no colder place in this city than Manly Wharf in a stiff wind on a cold day in winter. Cuts straight through you. I’m feeling a bit cold now actually and look around and notice all the people dressed for summer with goose bumps adorning their bare flesh. Nothing too serious but my mind is drawn to the people on the internet who scoffed at the idea that you can need a jacket on Sydney harbour at night in summer. Well, they can’t have been on the harbour at night in summer very often I guess. …

Funny how you take things for granted isn’t it. As a teen a bus to Manly and the ferry into town for a movie or theatre and dinner with friends was so standard you just didn’t think about it. Totally took it for granted. After a while you simply stop noticing how beautiful the harbour is, whether day or night. It’s simply glorious and I’m just bursting with pride to be Sydney born and bred. This is MY city and I LOVE it. We approach North Head and I realise how deeply ingrained your place of birth and rearing is for someone. I’m a Northern Beaches girl and the sight of North Head really makes me realise it. Odd considering I’ve spent most of my adult life rebelling against that and the down side of living in the “insular peninsular”. We’re a tribal lot Sydneysiders with strong local prejudices. Mine are singing today and the song they are singing is northern beaches rock!!
North head had the good fortune to be possessed by a combination of the military and the Catholic church which has meant that much of the natural bushland remains. Even threatened bandicoots hang on up on North Head and those living up on the East Hill sometimes get them in the garden. How can anyone bother with Bondi when Manly is the alternative? Very puzzling.

Memories flood my senses as we approach the wharf and disembark. My baby daughter dipping chips in the sand before eating them at Little Manly beach which is visible over to the east of the wharf.. Dad’s stories of snorkelling around the shark net enclosure before they pulled it down. (The one that’s there now is newer and smaller) What a privilege he had growing up in Sydney in the thirties, a boat to muck about with in the days when the harbour was more or less pristine, money to make his own mask and spear gun in the days when they couldn’t be bought and few people could afford a boat. I can so understand the anger of aboriginal people. This was all theirs once. Pristine, perfect. Gees how cranky would you be?

It’s not so long since I’ve been at Manly Wharf, but I don’t recall the Aldi supermarket… that just feels wrong somehow and I miss the old fun pier, shabby and crass as it was. Even more I miss the old pie shop across the road that used to sell the BEST cherry and cream pies. Hubby and I would have one for brekky on the way to work when I was pregnant with our 3rd kid. So many memories. I’m susceptible today as I’m on my own. Usually I’m with a group and there’s other stuff going on.

Manly hasn’t changed much really. The old Manly icons are still here. Humphries newsagents, the chemists. There is a holiday rush on. People everywhere. Dressed in boardies and bikinis. Thongs. Bare chests and scantily clad people. I realise why I always considered it just fine to go about everywhere barefoot. It’s how it is /was over on the north side in summer. So many people are on their way to or from the beach all the time. Even at Warringah Mall, you didn’t think twice if someone was wandering around in a cozzie and a sarong, thongs or bare feet… I don’t get that vibe in other areas. An atmosphere to be treasured.

I walk down the Corso towards South Steyne (the southern end of the beach). At Darley road I make a turn and go looking for the old haunts. Ah, goodness me Wishbone chicken is still there. Probably has changed hands a thousand times, but still there. A Manly institution surely. Fruit shop still there. I duck in and buy a banana for lunch. 40 cents. Lovely. I glance up towards Manly Public School. I can see as clear as day in my mind, my sister pushing a pram and my niece and nephew in their drab brown school uniform that my sister thought was lovely, racing in or out from school, or the day my son ended up at the police station when we went to vote at the school. Sir Roden Cutler came from Manly, his family lived just up a ways from here towards the East Hill.
I cross the street and note there’s a funeral in St Matthews Church. The shining black hearse is parked in front on the paving. My head is full of my nephew’s funeral. St Matthew’s is such a public place for a funeral. So many people passing by. I can see so clearly the crowds as they gather sombrely as the tiny white coffin is placed in the hearse…something about a child’s funeral always grabs people’s attention. St Matthews is a lovely church with stained glass windows.. but I’m on my way. All along the Corso they have a water feature for kids to play with, so do yourself a favour, or rather do your kids a favour and dress then in stuff they can get wet, including footwear…
I cross over to the promenade. It’s very busy here today. The lifeguard is busy on the loudspeaker rousing at people drifting out of the flags, or others trying to paddle out of the flags. Doing a great job at keeping everyone safe. The flagged area is jam packed with people. Gosh I hate surf swimming in a crowd like that. I’d like to do the walk around Fairy Bower to Shelley Beach and I make a start, but I have a deadline still and there’s no way I can get up to the headland, so turn back. I get far enough to see that it’s still the same. Better than Bondi to Bronte LOL. You can’t see it from South Steyne, but if you go up on to the headland behind Shelley beach there are .. or were splendid views up and down the coast. I challenge myself looking north along the coast, is the north slide really less developed…. Yes… but you can see some larger dwellings are starting to intrude, but overall more green. The cliffs of the Eastern suburbs are probably a bit more dramatic.. Oh OK part of it is just severe bias I suppose, they are both beautiful LOL.
Back at South Steyne the lifeguard is still berating people who are trying to swim outside the flags. I glance up to North Steyne. I can’t see crowds up there and I wonder if any of these hoards and those struggling to find a clear space between the flags realise that there’ll be flags up there too and at Queensliff, but more space to enjoy the surf…it’s not that far to walk and the promenade is beautiful and shady. Still I suppose the locals are only too happy to have the tourists stick to South Steyne. It’s so wonderful to see the Norfolk Island Pines clearly thriving. Once upon a time not SO long ago they were dying from the detergents and pollution blowing onto them from the sea spray. Manly wasn’t a nice place to swim then. Just about nowhere in Sydney was. Too polluted back then. What an improvement, I still can’t believe it. Even the water is a different colour now.

Back at the Corso I detour up Sydney Road. Again a few changes to shops, but many the same. The buildings where Dad used to work are all changed long ago. The pub is pretty much the same. Memories still haunting! Some are unprintable LOL. Mum used to have a shop in the Marketplace, but it’s long been divided up into discrete properties. The area loses something for the loss of the Marketplace – but the wafting of incense along here is still the same LOL. Real estate agents still the same. THEY never go out of business! I turn around and do a detour into Whistler st I’m looking for the old record exchange – it’s still there!! That’s a bit of a surprise, and the locksmith too. I head back to Sydney Rd to walk around to Belgrave St and back to the wharf. Sahib’s Indian Restaurant is still going also – I went there on a school excursion in high school, but the little Chinese café where we first tried combination short soup is long gone. It was long gone long ago LOL but we still miss it.. Past the court house, Belgrave Park is still the same, even the aviary is unchanged, always reminds me of my brother in law, who knows the location of every gas main in the area LOL

I wonder if Manly still attracts the oddballs. I guess most have been priced out of the market. People like Miss Manly - an elderly lady - had to be in her 60s at least 70s maybe - she'd get around in platform shoes and a miniskirt, low cut top, her hair in pigtails tied with tartan least in my day, I dare say she varied over the years... She had a penchant for opening the door stark naked.. or the onion sniffer.. she was a middle aged lady who wore a flowing black dress. Her hair piled up on her head like a pony tail sticking straight up like a fountain, or something out of Mooninland. Thick black makeup around her eyes... kind of like you get if you use ponds cold cream to remove your mascara... She was often to be found in the fruit shop or in Coles sniffing all the onions one by one. She'd spend ages at it.

Back to the wharf and I’m just in time to make a dash for the next ferry as it departs. I’m determined to sit on the western side on the way back so I can see Sydney Harbour National Park. I won’t describe the sentimental value of Dobroyd Point LOL

It’s very hot and sunny on this side of the ferry, I reapply my sunscreen and check my face is out of the sun. No breeze on this side either, but I’m determined to stick it out to the end. There’s numerous little sandy beaches, totally isolated and not a soul on them. Thank God for Sydney Harbour National Park. We round HMAS Sydney and turn on the run up the harbour, shade and breeze aplenty now. The Opera House and Bridge come into view, Admiralty House (Sydney residence of the Governor General) and Kirribilli House (Sydney residence of the Prime Minister) sitting in prime position directly opposite the Opera House. Magic. My city. Just MAGIC.

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