Hinch Travel

Harbouring A Dream

It was a fair question: ‘Am I getting older or are skirts getting shorter?’ My wife was charitable in her reply: ‘Shorter skirts are in this year.’ Actually, her initial response was less charitable. She said: ‘Both’.

My observation was prompted by an end-of-year summer break in Sydney. Spending several days people-watching while having wonderful, fresh, seafood lunches at places like Otto’s on the wharf promenade of restaurants at Woolloomooloo and Catalina at Rose Bay. And watching the name brand passing parade of young lovelies from outdoor tables at my Sydney favouritePink Salt and at Dee Bee’s in Double Bay.

Admittedly the deck was stacked on one Otto occasion because next door atKingsley’s Steak House a gaggle of tall, slim models was holding a  Welcome Home Christmas Party for Kristy Hinze.  A few minutes earlier she had loped along the wharf like a gazelle with blonde hair streaming and short chiffon flapping atop long tanned legs.

Looking at her, as she turned heads, it was hard to imagine how she had dodged a bullet in the gene pool when you remember her grandfather was Russ Hinze, that venal, corrupt, human cane toad masquerading as Queensland’s Minister for Police. That pile of flab so accurately depicted by satirist Max Gillies.

But this was holiday time and time to forget politics and corruption for a while.

In Sydney they still know how to lunch even as the global financial crisis laps at their bank doors and superannuation funds shrink like those hemlines. Admittedly, it was the festive season but the top end nosheries –where $30 and $40 entrées and $15 sides are common –were fully booked.

Along  Restaurant Row at the ‘loo I noticed so many middle-aged, tanned men in expensive designer jeans, designer crumpled casual white shirts and boating shoes.

‘Sydney uniform’, I said to my Sydneysider ex-wife, Jacki Weaver. She looked at my blue-and-white striped designer shirt, cut-away cuffs for silver cuff links, and tailor-made navy jacket. “I was just thinking how Melbourne you looked’.

I have lived in Sydney four or five times and Melbourne even longer –with an eleven-year sojourn in New York in the mix – and I have never been part of that sophomoric internecine warfare between the New South Wales and Victorian capitals.

Both have great individual things in their favour. I have always said that Sydney has one of the two most beautiful harbours or bays in the world and that’s after visiting Acapulco, Monte Carlo, St.Tropez, San Francisco, Montego Bay and Copacabana.

And I was spoiled having dinner, overlooking the water, at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron one night.

Maybe time is dimming my memory but I’ll now put Sydney ahead of Rio despite the girl from Ipanema. It’s a living, breathing harbour. Boats of all shapes and sizes. From battered fishing dinghies to gleaming white luxury indulgences costing the GNP of a medium size country.

Some of those floating gin palaces may soon have ‘for sale’ notices nailed to the foc’sle – as highflying execs face bonus-free futures and even sackings -- but early summer it was business as usual.

(A similar thing should be happening at Melbourne’s St. Kilda Marina where floating trophies never seem to go anywhere anyway).

The harbour, and the harbour views from both sides, are a magic you never tire of. I still get that buzz every time I see the bridge which, incidentally, is never called The Coathanger by anybody in Sydney and I was puzzled why they featured a wire coathanger on it for a New Year’s Eve Fireworks display.

The ‘bridge buzz’ never leaves you. I used to feel it at first glimpse when coming home from New York on leave. And remember, as if yesterday, my first ever sighting of it as we crawled through the heads on the mv Wanganella after feeding the fishes all the way across the Tasman in 1963. Back then the city had one skyscraper – the old AMP building at Circular Quay. The Opera House, one of the wonders of the modern world, was, back then, still an Utzon dream.

Whatever the financial traumas Sydney always remains a great playground for the A-listers and even the wannabes.

The latest example is The Ivy complex – a Justine Hemmes’ $150 million plethora of palaces to wine and dine in. There’s even a pool party bar. We guessed that, pre-Christmas, the place would be packed despite the number of bar and restaurant options. And I was right.  

I’m told that on one Friday in December the complex took in $700,000.  It will be interesting to see how The Ivy project affects the cash registers at The Establishment two blocks down the road  -- the place that first made the Hemmes name.

My favourite area in Sydney is still Double Bay. Especially if you are visiting for a few days business or pleasure. It’s an easy run from the airport and short runs to Woolloomooloo or Rose Bay or Circular Quay. It’s changing dramatically with the partial demolition and gutting of the Sir Stamford Hotel and the famous old Cosmopolitan Café.  The Stamford will return as luxury, house-sized apartments and a re-vamped Cosmo will also re-appear.

The sister hotel, the Stamford Plaza, also closed early in 2009 to come back as an apartment package with maybe some hotel rooms.

That means for a while I’ll have to find somewhere else to stay on visits to a city that remains a treat to visit. Especially when a rubbery Aussie dollar makes European and even U.S. visits so horrendously expensive.

Two footnotes. I had not driven through King’s Cross at midnight for years but did it en route to Double Bay on a Saturday. Back in the 1960s, when I first arrived in Australia I lived in the Cross. Loved it. On this trip Darlinghurst Road  was packed, teeming with drunks and there was an almost palpable air of malevolence. Spot brawls just waiting and aching to break out.

And how come, in a cosmopolitan, world class city, why are so many name restaurants closed for lunch on Saturday? Couldn’t believe it.

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