It was a much cooler day today, thank goodness! My plan today was to discover the old Sydney of Governer Lachlan Macquarie. Macquarie and his wife reached the colony of New South Wales in 1810 and set about a wide-ranging program of public works in both Sydney Town and outlying settlements. So much of the colonial Sydney that I have been exploring date from this time. Buildings made of stone and brick rather than timber were built to last the age. St James’ Church, Hyde Park Barracks, Government House, Macquarie Lighthouse at South Head are just some of the buildings that give a glimpse of Georgian life in early Australia. Many of these sit somewhat awkwardly amongst more modern tall buildings. It makes Sydney look much more random than the more orderly Melbourne but no less charming. I love it!
One day a man come into the classroom with a guitar on his back. Mrs Mills said his name was Neil and he started playing some songs as the class sat on the floor and listened. Neil had wild fuzzy hair and holes in his jeans and his guitar sparkled like diamonds. He was tall and spoke softly, but when he started playing the songs were so beautiful that I couldn’t stop my feet from moving. I enjoyed it when we were allowed to sing along and I loved the way singing made me feel so good, as if something alive was coming out of my body.
When I got home I told Mum that I wanted to play the guitar. “Perhaps when you get bigger, Molly,” she said. “You know, girls don’t usually play guitar though, maybe you should just be a singer.” But I was already bursting with music and I couldn’t stop thinking about Neil’s sparkly guitar and how the beautiful notes fell from it like starlight as I walked around the house singing ‘Morning Has Broken’ again and again.
“Oh Molly, stop singing,” Samantha yelled from her bedroom, “You are so hopeless. I’m trying to do my homework.” I could hear the radio that was playing in her bedroom get louder and she slammed the door shut, so I went into my bedroom and sang to Mr and Mrs Bear as they sat on my bed listening to me.
I sang about being followed by a moon shadow, and although I didn’t really know what it meant, I liked the sound of it, sort of mysterious. I also liked singing that other song about things blowing in the wind. I felt like I knew what that one meant; something that you can’t quite name, but it is out there anyway, blowing in the wind like a butterfly and if you could only catch it you would find the answer.
Every night I sang while I was having my bath, trying to get my voice as low as it would go as I sank down towards the bubbles. Then I tried to sing really high like an opera singer and I lifted my face up to the bathroom ceiling. “Molly!” Mum called from the kitchen, “Stop being so noisy in there and hurry up and finish your bath.”
“Okay Mum,” I called back. I felt like I had finally found what I wanted to be when I grew up. “I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul…”
I like to start the day with no plans so this morning I set out to just wander wherever the wind took me. It just so happened that the wind wanted me to go clothes shopping this morning. Because the weather has been so hot I bought myself some cute pink shorts and a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off my face. That left me free to venture further and explore some of Sydney’s beaches. There is 60 kilometres of coastline from Broken Bay to Port Hacking with more than 40 ocean beaches. I was content to just catch a bus to Bondi Beach. Is this the most famous beach in Australia? The Aussie tradition of surf lifesaving began around here. Golden sand that stretches down to the crashes waves, giving way to the deeper blue of the ocean. Sandstone bluffs are like bookend an either side of the beach. I was content to sit by the water’s edge and sip on a chocolate milkshake. I’m not much of a one for the surf and with my freckled complexion I have never liked being in the sun too long. So I finished my milkshake and hopped on a bus back to the city. So many of these streets had once been winding tracks and it feels to me like a city that just grew with much planning. That is one of the charms of Sydney.
Until tomorrow, stay safe and happy travels,
I was not so good at numbers at school, but I enjoyed playing with the blocks because I liked all their colours and the way they could be stacked together to make pretty patterns. Mrs Smith tried to explain to me how the red rods were worth two and the green rods were worth one and that if you put them together you had three, but I could still only see two rods so I just didn’t get what she was talking about.
As the school year progressed I began to learn how to do handwriting as well. With my little fingers clutched around a wooden pencil, I had to take down the words Mrs Mills had written on the board and put them in my exercise book. No wonder it was called an exercise book because by the end of the day my fingers were so sore from gripping the pencil it felt like they had run a marathon across the pages. As my fingers got tired my hand would drag over the page and smudge all the letters until I couldn’t tell if I had written ‘dog’, ‘fog’ or ‘bog’.
Every now and then the end of my pencil broke and I had to put my hand up and ask Mrs Mills if I could sharpen it. There was a mechanical pencil sharpener bolted to a cupboard and as I turned the handle it ground the pencil until it looked like a little sausage being eaten by a machine. Sometimes my pencil ended up so short that I could barely hold it in my fingers. Then the words danced all over the page and I couldn’t follow the correct slope at all, no matter how hard I tried, until the words eventually got washed down the slope by a flood of tears and Mrs Mills told me again how messy my writing was.
Once we were able to write letters and words, Mrs Mills started teaching the class about composition, where we had to copy down sentences from the blackboard about sly brown foxes and lazy dogs, before making up our own sentences. I couldn’t think of anything to write so Mrs Mills suggested that I write about a family pet. I sat and thought for a while and then decided I would write about the cat and how he was grey and fat and he always sat. Mrs Mills walked around the room as we were busily writing and she stopped to look over my hunched shoulders at my book. She pointed to the page with her ruler and told me there was something missing and that it was far too untidy. She said it looked like a spider had spun loopy webs of letters across the page and I had to fix it up before I could go home. I stared hard at the page for ages, but I couldn’t work out what she wanted me to do that would make it look any different so I just traced over the letters again with my pencil. That just ended up making an even bigger mess and the fat cat still sat, but now he was looking black from the pencil instead of being grey.
Later on we were given work books where some of the words in the sentences were missing. I took my pencil and filled in the gaps, sometimes using ‘to’ and other times using ‘too’ because I figured at least some of them must be right. None of this made any sense to me and we seemed to do it for hours after lunch until I could hardly keep my eyes open any longer.
The best part of the school day was when I was allowed to take books home and read them overnight. Once a week we went to the school library and we were allowed to borrow two books at a time. The first time I went into the library I just stood there amazed at how many books there were, all lined up in shelves that looked like they would have reached all the way up to the stars if the library roof didn’t stop them. There were so many books to read that I didn’t know where to start. I just wanted to sit there forever and read every single one of them.
I spent the day exploring the harbour side suburbs immediately to the east of the city – Potts Point and Darling Point with their gracious old mansions, glimpses of sparkling water between the buildings, houses and apartments set back from the harbour but each built successively higher so they too could get a view of the water. It made me think of Sydney’s obsession with ridiculously high house prices. I can never imagine earning enough money to buy one of these houses or apartments, but it costs nothing to walk amongst them so I am content with that.
When I got home I played with my dolls and teddy bears and tried to forget about school. I had two favourite teddy bears; one was a soft pink bear with a bright pink ribbon around her neck that I was given when I was a baby. The other was an old scruffy brown bear that had belonged to Stephen when he was little. One of his eyes hung loose and he was missing lots of fur on his body. I called them Mr and Mrs Bear and I loved them both so much that they shared my pillow and I hugged them every night as I fell asleep. Sometimes when I woke up in the morning Mr and Mrs Bear had slipped right down under the blankets to my feet.
Now I was at school I sat Mr and Mrs Bear on my pillow and read to them. Mrs Bear looked very interested and leaned toward the book, but scruffy old Mr Bear looked a bit bored as his loose eye dangled down. I think Mr Bear was a bit sad sometimes and longed for the days when he was a strong, young bear with lots of nice fur. I tried to make him happy again with my reading.
“Molly!” Mum called out from the kitchen. “It’s time for bed sweetheart, you’ve got school tomorrow.” I could hear the sound of the jug boiling as it blew a whistle of steam.
“I’m nearly finished Mum. I’m just reading my book.”
“Five more minutes then, while I have a coffee.”
“Okay Mum.” I settled myself back down on the bed, lying on my tummy with my knees bent and feet crossed in the air; Mr and Mrs Bear were waiting expectantly. “All right guys, let’s find out about the cow in the canal. ‘Once a cow was eating grass…’”
Sunday at the Rocks in Sydney is market day. Time to explore arts and crafts and nick nacks amongst the early sandstone buildings. If you don’t look too carefully you could almost disappear down a narrow alley year and find yourself back in 1800. Before the port of Sydney Cove was lined in tall buildings, before Circular Quay was constructed to provide safe loading and unloading of ships, before the Tank Stream was filled with sewage and forced underground, before the Harbour Bridge leaped across the span of the harbour to North Sydney, before the Opera House shone on the far side of the cove. I catch a glimpse of myself disappearing around the corner of the alley. A linen shift and petticoats brush against the sandstone pavement. This was not a fitting place for a respectable young lady to be on her own. A convict servant or a prostitute might well know her way around these alleys, but a young lady would be safely escorted from her ship to a waiting carriage and then most likely the governer’s residence. I hurry around the corner after the woman to find her stopped in front of a locked door. She turns and I come face to face with myself.
After lunch we were allowed to sit on the floor on little mats while the teacher read us a story about Harry the Hairy-nosed Wombat and his fight against men who wanted to build a new road over the top of his house. Mrs Mills let us lay down as she read about Harry’s burrow in the desert. My eyes felt heavy so I closed them for a minute while her voice droned on.
It was nice at the end of my burrow, all curled up in a ball sound asleep. From far above, I could hear the distant sounds of daytime, birds singing and the wind in the trees. A human voice could be heard from far away, but I was so snug that I ignored it. Then I thought I heard my name being called — “Molly,”— but that couldn’t be right when I was away out here in the desert. It got louder: “Molly! Molly, wake up.” Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder and I sat up on my reading mat, blinking my eyes against the bright sunlight. Some of the boys were giggling behind me and I could feel my cheeks getting hot. I wished I was back in my burrow.
After reading time, Mrs Mills took the class outside for a photo. The boys were pushing each other and being stupid until Mrs Mills yelled at them to stop it. She lined us all up in rows, with some of the boys standing on a bench at the back and a row of children standing in front. I stood with Stephanie but I could feel Darren’s knees digging into my back. I tried to ignore him and stood really still because I didn’t want Mrs Mills to yell at me, but I didn’t feel at all like smiling for the camera.
Eventually school finished for the day and I ran to the front gate to find Mum waiting under a big pine tree talking to some other mothers. “’Bye Stephanie,” I called, waving my hand.
“See you tomorrow, Molly,” she yelled back.
‘Looks like you found a friend,” said Mum. “How was your first day of school?”
“It was horrible,” I pouted. “Some boys were mean to me”.
“Oh Molly, that’s not very nice. I’ll talk to Mrs Mills; I’m sure tomorrow will be better. The second day always is.”
“Do I have to come back?” I whined. I couldn’t see how it would ever be better.
“Of course you do, Molly. You’re a big girl now”. I didn’t feel like a big girl anymore. I could feel hot tears welling up in my eyes again and I just wanted to get as far away from the school as I could.
After a long day of travel I finally arrived at Sydney late in the afternoon. Destination, the Rocks, where I met up with an old friend for coffee. The GPS in my car might have shown me how to get here but it doesn’t show me the story behind the place on the map. The Rocks is an echo of Australia’s convict and colonial past. That was one of the reasons I came here. Although it’s now a couple of days past Australia Day, this was the scene of the original European landing of the First Fleet on 26th January 1788. I thought being here would help me understand that history better. After more than two hundred years of urban sprawl it is hard to imagine what it must have been like way back then. What were the thoughts of the original Cadigal people as these strange men landed on their shore? What about the sailors and convicts aboard the ships that were viewing what was to them a strange landscape attached to the glistening waters of that beautiful harbour. I’m here for a week and I want to explore both sides of that story so that I can understand better.