July 28, 2019
Source: Helen Pitt
Author: Sydney Morning Herald
28 July, 2019
Dear Mr Dominic Perrottet, NSW Treasurer, per your suggestion re the establishment of a Minister for Sydney to “talk up our city” made this week at a Committee for Sydney function, I’d like to apply for the position.
What’s not to love about about our city of Sydney? Our glorious harbour as its centrepoint and gold and green ferries gliding across it day and night. The kilometres of beaches and bush we boast, birdsong to wake you in the morning, cicadas to sing you to sleep in summer. Our beautiful temperate weather where you can swim in the surf or in outdoor pools all through the year.
I love the lush green of our Royal Botanic Gardens and Hyde Park, and the giant coathanger of a bridge that connects north with south. And the Opera House, well it goes without saying I love it (I wrote a book about it). Our former prime minister Paul Keating was right when he said Sydney was tapped on the shoulder by a rainbow when we got that building on Bennelong Point. I’d dare say the Gadigal people of the Eora nation felt the same about that piece of land, hence they gathered there to celebrate on the harbour shores long before Europeans arrived.
You say as a 36-year-old, in your lifetime, outside of the Sydney Olympics, it’s only the last eight years you’ve seen a change in the shape of the city, investments in transport facilities, and cultural facilities like stadiums and museums. I say you just haven’t lived here long enough. Wait another 20 years – or spend a good hunk of time outside of this city and you will notice the changes. For me after a decade away – the biggest change was the network of tunnels to negotiate under the city, from the Eastern Distributor to the Cross City Tunnel. The thing that hadn’t changed was that the car remained King, and the favourite conversation topic was still Sydney real estate prices.
I think you are barking up the wrong tree if you want Sydney to be on par with London and Paris, both cities I have lived in and loved. In my experience, what makes them great cities, is not just their economies of scale – it’s their geography and cultural life. They are capitals where culture does not evolve from stadiums, and conversation is not generally about real estate. We’re not New York, nor do we want to be (we would have to change the lock-out laws for a start). Our isolation – the fact we know we are not the centre of the universe – is one of our major appeals.
What makes those cities great is also the ease with which you can negotiate them. Paris is a walking city, London is a public transport city. Sydney is still struggling with both walking and public transport, outside the main bus, rail, ferry lines. I say this in eager anticipation of improvements, as I watch the light rail carriages zoom past on their practice runs by Randwick Racecourse – my wonder is why the tram tracks were pulled up in the first place (not your government I know, ALP in the 1950s and early 1960s). Our web of CBD-centric freeways – a foreign concept in the French capital where they on the periphery – make walking everywhere here difficult, n’est-ce pas?
So here’s what I’d do. Work to our strengths. We are friendly bunch, and a little insecure when it comes to comparisons to other international destinations. So let the people of Sydney speak for themselves.
Remember back when Juan Antonio Samaranch announced “Syd-eny” won the bid to host the 2000 Olympics, and the enthusiastic volunteers who freely offered their help guiding visitors around the city? Rather than pay a minister a hefty salary to spruik Sydney, let’s sign the volunteers up again – offering them either cheap rent or free lodging. Let’s dust off their lanyards and get them walking around the harbour, on the soon-to-be-a-reality Great Sydney Harbour walk from Bondi to Manly. Showing it off to visitors, proslytising our city like pilgrims on the camino de Sydney. Kayaking down the Cooks River, paddling down the Parramatta River, taking train trips to Cabramatta or Blacktown or hitting the streets where real people live, or on under-served public transport routes.
I know I may have made myself redundant here but most visitors are beguiled by the Emerald City the moment they walk its shores. Instead of a minister for Sydney, let’s try for a minister for the burbs and the bush, to make them sparkle like Sydney Harbour.
Helen Pitt is a Herald journalist and the author of The House: The dramatic story of the Sydney Opera House and the people who made it.