Whenever I travel to a new place, I do my best to immerse myself in the local culture. This might take a variety of forms–some of them more profound than others. Throughout my Australian adventures, I have been listening to way too much of the band Men at Work, which was a big deal when I was growing up in the 1980s. The video of their bit hit “Down Under” from 1981 is so funny that I had to include it here:
My loftier cultural pursuits on this trip have included reading Australian novelist Jessica Anderson‘s lovely Tirra Lirra by the River from 1978, which my very thoughtful husband gave me as a traveling gift. It’s an excellent book to read while on a journey because the narrative follows the mental wanderings of protagonist Nora Porteous, who travels a fair amount herself. I’ve been quite engrossed in it for the last few days in the meager moments I’ve had for reading, and I shall miss it when I’ve finished it tonight.
If I lived in Sydney, I would spend inordinate amounts of time at the breathtaking State Library of New South Wales which houses over five million items in its astounding collection. I stumbled upon the building quite by accident in my wanderings around town and thought I’d died and gone to a book lover’s paradise. The library was founded in 1826, and like many of the large buildings in this part of Sydney, it has a grandeur that you must see in person to feel the full effects of its magnificence.
I spent so long wandering the library’s exhibitions and halls that I ended up not seeing as much of the gorgeous Royal Botanic Gardens next door to the library as I’d meant to see that day. It was getting dark by the time I emerged from the library–a sensation all academics know so well that it’s oddly familiar even in a foreign land where folks drive on the wrong side of the road and eat inexplicable things like vegemite.
But the gardens! Oh the gardens! So lovely and so diverse. I saw plants that looked like things I’d previously only seen in Hawai’i and Cuba, and there’s an extraordinary fern collection and a huge garden of succulents. As a desert creature myself, I am always drawn to cacti and other desert plants, and I was particularly impressed with this large apple cactus which towered over me.
On my first afternoon in Sydney I spent a good four hours at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Like the glorious library and botanical gardens, it’s free to the public. There’s something really beautiful about throwing wide the doors to the best parts of your nation’s culture and not making people pay to see it. I have so much to tell about the gallery itself and the marvelous art within it that it shall have to wait for another post because my mother has been complaining that I’m not getting things onto the blog fast enough. So sorry! I’ll try to do better.