Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Sydney: The Story of a City

After planning a trip to Sydney, of course this book called Sydney, The Story of a City makes sense to pick up from the library. I would have loved a less stodgy tome, but I did learn a lot about the city and who lives there. One thing I'll get out of the way is that Moorhouse loves to write run-on sentences. Here's an example:

"People also fish from jetties here or over the concave wall that was built right around this part of the Harbour to prevent rats ever again coming off the tramp steamers into town, after a disastrous plague at the turn of the century; they slurp ice cream as they watch the ceaseless traffic in vessels rumbling past; they linger over a coffee and a Danish while they read the Sydney Morning Herald or one of Mr. Murdoch's publications; they queue for Travelpasses of varying denominations that will allow them to ride any ferry, bus or CityRail train without further ado; they amble along the eastern arm of the Quay, to sample bivalves in the Oyster Bar, and then continue strolling on to the Opera House where, on a shining day, scores of sun worshippers will arrange themselves lazily on its long cascade of steps."

Yeah. That's one sentence. It was a bit of a list, so it's slightly justified, but really? It's distracting, like the singer at the family picnic that holds a note three times longer than is really necessary, just to get attention. Yeah, I just said family picnic, and implied people sang at them. Deal with it.

The book was useful to have read on the trip, and I recommend it if you plan on spending time in a city as lovely as Sydney. I don't recommend it if you don't. It was slightly difficult to get through and he's kind of a dork, but as I said, I did learn a lot, and was able to play Annoying American In-Law Tourist and tell Australians things they didn't know (or things that Moorhouse told me that were lies). For instance, did you know the Labor party is not spelled the "Labour" party in Australia because three Greek started the Anglo-American company, and then, one can assume, imported American spelling habits? Or that once the news came back from Gallipoli and began to sink in, a new batch of recruits in WW1 decided they didn't want to go to war - so they found a hotel, drank themselves silly, came into town on a train, and had a gunfight with police that involved a firehose, several injuries, and one death. The official response was to order all bars closed at 6pm during the war - but these rules lasted well beyond the war. So the tradition arose that workingmen would run to the bars as soon as 5 o'clock chimed, binge drink for an hour, and then stagger home with a bottle in a brown paper bag. You also find out that stoush means "fight." You begin to understand Australia a bit after a few anecdotes like this.

We had a great trip and I highly recommend it - it's a beautiful country, people are nice, they do have good beer and often spell things correctly. The book... only entertain reading that if you're up for it.

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