Winter in Australia can be a bit of farce, particularly as you move closer to the sea. As temperatures dip shockingly to sixteen degrees Celsius, department stores in Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall rapidly sell out of chequered scarves and jaunty hats. Soup and sourdough are on offer in Eastern Suburb beachside cafes, their outdoor chalkboards adorned with a seemingly endless supply of lame metaphors about life and coffee. Summer is a distant dream and Instagram is overflowing with not-so-instant flashbacks of bikini-clad sands and shark infested waters. Meanwhile, in Britain, equivalent temperatures bring out the barbecues and an aura of fuzzy disbelief that it is actually kind of nice. I miss those days.
I was envisaging a challenging winter weekend in pleasant Sydney sunshine when assigned a work trip there recently. Instead, torrential, stormy, incessant rain submerged a large part of eastern Australia and I delayed my visit. Stuck in Canberra for an extra day, I discovered that the apartment complex I had moved into had acquired an English-like riverside setting, which immediately put the rent up a hundred bucks, and probably inspired people to dump shopping trolleys into the storm drain to complement the graffiti before blaming it and everything else on foreigners.
Rain was still teeming the following day when I caught a flight to Sydney, where it was not only wet but wildly windy. Such a pleasant experience coming into land, giving up at the last minute, and just about successfully trying again. Only tea and cake could remedy such nerve-jangling travails, followed by a welcome disco and some warming Thai food for supper with friends and their family.
Of course, by time work was back on the agenda the worst of the weather had mostly cleared. Still, some compensation was to be had in the fact that I finished this work by 8pm on Monday, rather than the usual 10. I could, with some willpower and effort, cross over that little bridge from North Sydney to the city and at least catch a little bit of Vivid.
Vivid is a winter festival of illuminations and associated artsy commercialism. Basically, Sydney tried to copy Canberra with Enlighten but obviously shows off far more about it. Like Enlighten it really seems to have grown over the last few years and, well, to be honest, benefits from being in such an iconic setting. Projections on the Sydney Opera House or the National Library of Australia? You decide.
It’s quite amazing how these projections have become so detailed, intricate and advanced over the past few years. It used to be an event when a landmark was bathed in a slightly different light, often commemorating something sombre or jubilant like a war or a baby. Now multicoloured animations are timed with music and coordinated across a variety of sites and I daresay we are all rather blasé about it. Sometimes though you can’t beat a dose of good old-fashioned simplicity from a more subdued angle.
Perhaps more amazing than the illuminated cityscape and anything else that night was the fact that I had a delicious double scooped ice cream on my way to Wynyard Station. It really is that lame an excuse for a winter, even when it rains.
The next day in Sydney offered a return to sunlight, though still possessing a cool enough breeze to warrant jackets and scarves of course. I should probably have been catching up on work, making notes and thinking about what it all means. But after a breakfast catch up in Milsons Point, the harbour again beckoned, and an impromptu boat ride just for the hell of it. No matter how many times you encounter this city’s jewels, it is almost always impossible to avert your eyes, so I said in an instant on Instagram.
One more day and I would return to something a little wintrier in Canberra, where there are frosts and even some rare single digit daytime maximums. It’s part of the reason so many people hate it despite never having been there. I can see their point a little, and the cold nights do drag well into September. Thus I am more than happy to embrace a bit of time down in Wollongong – prior to another nightshift – in which there was a window of T-shirt wearing opportunity. This plus fish and chips and the pounding drama of a still frenetic swell makes for a contented couple of hours.
As much as I love Canberra there are times, in the heart of winter, that I question my decision not to live beside the sea. Why would I not want to briskly stroll along a boardwalk? Why would I not want to find good coffee and tasty brunch fare with an ocean view? Why would I not want to do a spot of work on a bench in a foreshore park so I could claim that food on expenses? Why? Maybe because I don’t want to turn into a softie who rushes to David Jones for a chequered scarf and jaunty hat at the sight of sixteen degrees. At least let’s go through something a little darker to really, truly savour the light that follows.