To call Sydney iconic is an understatement. The poster city for Australia is all about the harbor, with its natural beauty as well as the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. One of the largest and most beautiful natural harbors in the world, the setting could not be more glorious if an entire conglomerate of top-notch town planners had tried.
Sydney’s ancient history goes back to some 50,000 years ago, when anthropologists believe the Aboriginal people first reached Sydney’s natural harbor, yet its more modern history does not start until 1770, when Captain James Cook landed at Botany Bay just south of Sydney and brought his tales of the long-sought and finally found Great Southern Land back to Britain. A few years later, with the American Revolution hampering the habit of transporting convicts from Britain to the Americas, it was decided that the land around Botany Bay would be suitable for future convict deportation. When the First Fleet of 11 ships landed on the southern coast, Captain Arthur Phillip deemed Botany Bay unsuitable due to its lack of fresh water, but he discovered a near perfect natural harbor a little farther up the coast, eventually deciding to settle at Sydney Cove, now Circular Bay.
Sydney Cove, and with it Sydney itself, was named after Captain Phillip’s superior, Lord Sydney, and the day of the arrival of the First Fleet, on January 26, 1788, has gone down in history as the annually celebrated Australia Day. The first settlers were not terribly well chosen to establish a new colony in the land down under, with no carpenters, smiths, or even farmers among the officers or the convicts, but inroads were made due to teamwork, the need to survive, and sheer determination.
More and more voluntary settlers arrived together with regular supply ships from the homeland, trade routes were established with the Americas and Asia, and the wealth of the new world began to show in imposing buildings commissioned by Governor Lachlan Macquarie (governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821). The discovery of gold in the mid-1800s further drew more settlers and established the wealth and grandeur of Sydney.
Today, Australia’s largest city has nearly five million inhabitants. Sydney spreads itself sumptuously along its sunken river valley, hemmed by some of the world’s most expensive real estate. Being the financial capital of the country, the first stop for most visitors and would-be immigrants, the media hub, and the entrepreneurial engine of the entire continent, Sydney not only attracts money, it also demands it. Just recently, Sydney was named one of the most expensive cities of the world to live in.
Pricey or not, people come to Sydney and fall in love. The beauty of the harbor, the majestic buildings in the town center (Central Business District or CBD) harking back to prosperous times that started back in the early 1800s, and the proximity of some of the world’s most famous and surfable beaches along the Pacific coast, together with the city being the hub from where to reach the rest of this rather large country, all make for a popular gateway to Australia and a stunning city in its own right.
More than a third of Sydney’s population was born outside Australia, and most Australians descend from immigrants themselves, so the feeling in the city is one of a worldly cosmopolitan metropolis—a metropolis where at every turn you hear a different language, can enjoy a vast array of cuisines, and have great shopping. Still it is a very historic city, even if this is a relative term when you think how young the modern history of Australia is. Just as in Manhattan, it pays to look up and marvel at the variety of architecture: You have the imposing Victorian buildings, majestic Art Deco towers, and stunning modern high-rises.
Sydney is a great mixing and melting pot of people and styles. It is stunning and mostly sunny, offering beaches, pavements, history, and modernity. It captivates you. And often doesn’t let you go again, as most of the recent immigrants to this Lucky Country can pay testament to.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.