Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Students Have Landed

I write this from the rooftop of Arundel House, our University of Sydney accommodation, enjoying a sweeping view of the city and a refreshing breeze. During the school year, Arundel House is a women’s dormitory run by the Anglican Church, which explains the strict no-alcohol policy as well as the numerous books promoting Christianity conspicuously placed on tables and shelves in the common areas. The day Philip and I arrived, a few of the permanent residents who’d chosen to stay over the summer break were chatting and giggling in the TV lounge. We felt as if we’d walked onto the stage set of “The Facts of Life.” One of the residents is a dead ringer for Natalie (Note for the uninformed: “The Facts of Life” was a sitcom in the 80s set in a private girls school).

The LC students have been here three days, and so far things are going great. Everyone is enthusiastic and the group has a nice dynamic. A lot of credit goes to Nat, our efficient and cheerful program coordinator, who fortunately made it down to Sydney from Brisbane a few days ago in spite of catastrophic floods (see http://www.qld.gov.au/floods/). Hopefully the recovery will be well on its way by the time we reach Brisbane in a few weeks.

In the meantime we enjoy Sydney, which is a world-class city and overgrown beach town rolled into one. The day after the students arrived we took a bus tour to introduce us to downtown and some inner suburbs. (Note: By “suburb” Australians mean any neighborhood that lies outside a city’s central business district, so a suburb can in fact be what an American would call an “urban” or even “inner-city” neighborhood.) Our friendly and informative bus driver fit the stereotype of the Aussie bloke. Five minutes couldn’t go by without his referring to beer (by the way, the Aussies seem to despise Foster’s—go figure), and he made sure to point out his favorite pubs as we drove along. Not surprisingly, our first stop was the opera house, which is truly a remarkable building. We then made our way to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a bench carved from stone that commands a view of Sydney Harbor. Lachlan Macquarie, governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821, ordered convicts to carve the chair and build the road that led to it so his wife, who pined for home, could watch ships arrive in the harbor from her beloved England. Many of those ships were crammed with convicts condemned to servitude in New South Wales, which Britain established as a penal colony in the 1780s. For a gripping history of Britain’s system of “transportation,” which conveyed tens of thousands of convicts to Australia, Tasmania, and Norfolk Island from the late 18th to mid-19th centuries, check out Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore. It’s a long but fascinating read.

After visiting Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, we left behind Australia’s convict past and enjoyed its recreational present at Bondi Beach. Philip and I didn’t have bathing suits or towels with us, so we only waded into the ocean, but some of the students dove into the surf. They were good about staying between the safety flags, since Australian beaches are infamous for their rip tides, which drown lots of people each year. People worry about sharks and jellyfish, but the rip tides are what kill.

The last couple of days have been spent attending top-notch lectures at the University of Sydney. It’s been fascinating to learn about the geological history of Australia (main lesson: the continent’s landscape is very, very old and thus very, very worn) as well as the debates surrounding when and how the Aboriginals arrived tens of thousands of years ago. I’d give more details, but I think Philip is anxious to explore more of Sydney today. I've attached some pictures below . . .


Wading at Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beaach

One of Sydney Harbor's many inlets

Students enjoying a view of the harbor

Sitting on Mrs. Macquarie's Chair

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