EARLY evening in Sydney. Lights twinkled on the Harbour Bridge, and shadows filled the plate-glass canyons downtown. Boats flitted across the water; the white ‘sails’ of the Opera House seemed to glow in the fading light.
I sat on the terrace outside Bennelong’s restaurant with a tall glass. Could there be any finer setting in the world for an evening drink?
It wasn’t always so. Twenty years ago, when I lived in Sydney, locals often boasted how cosmopolitan and sophisticated their city was.
As well as revealing a certain insecurity, this was actually untrue. Sydney in the Seventies was fairly uninspiring, with a provincial air. The harbour was blighted by the shabby ferry terminal at Circular Quay; the city architecture was a mishmash of conflicting styles.
Now, as the Olympic Games approach in September, the city has been transformed as I found out.
First stop, the Opera House, still Sydney’s defining public building. It remains sublime: more so now the rest of the remodelled downtown area has caught up with it.
I strolled over to the Rocks, the original part of the city, with old wharves and 19th century stone warehouses. This is a tourist magnet by day, but at night refreshingly down-to-earth. In among the souvenir shops and chic restaurants, there are old-fashioned pubs with live bands and enormous bouncers on the door.
Parties of Japanese tourists wandered the streets passing groups of Aussie country boys clutching cans of beer.
The police, I noticed, were out in force but there’s rarely any trouble.