The best way to discover a city is by foot. I think you will agree with me.
And while there is plenty to discover in Sydney’s CBD, there’s no harm in expanding your realm by discovering the surrounding suburbs, such as Pyrmont, Ultimo and Glebe.
If you’ve known Sydney all your life you might think now, what is there to see in these scrubby working-class suburbs? Let me tell you: plenty.
Because things have changed. The area, once heavily reliant on the harbour as the main source of income for local families, is now a sought-after area for young professionals and their families who appreciate the close proximity to the city centre.
Starting from the city, I cross the pedestrianised Pyrmont Bridge into Pyrmont and head to the Pyrmont Point Park. I am following a route that is proposed by the fabulous free walking app “Culture Walks” by the City of Sydney, which is a real treasure box for city explorers like me. The route is called “Eclectic”.
At Pyrmont Park I spot the first artwork of the day, Tied to Tide. This kinetic sculpture consists of a set of red ladders, all sitting on individual floats that go up and down with the tide in a stomping motion. The water determines the rhythm and speed, the motion is endless.
Pyrmont Point Park, the place where I find myself now, is a composition of sand, concrete, beams and water (by the way with fantastic views of the city and the harbour bridge), and I follow the water’s edge all the way until Pirrama Park to the beginning of Harris Street.
This end of the park is popular with local families thanks to the big playground and the shady cafe, but I also admire the playful waterfront with the inscriptions and steps that bring the public closer to the water.
Next on to Harris Street which is one of these very long straight roads that connect the harbour with the main thoroughfare George Street/Broadway. The next artwork I encounter is a curiosity by artist Richard Goodwin – an old moped in a glass case, mounted on a pedestal. The name – “Insect with Lead”. It is too weird to describe, and I suggest you have a look yourself next time you are in the area.
The moped is sitting right next to a great feat of engineering – the train line cuts through the rock here, a leftover from the days when the area was mainly busy with shipping and storing of goods.
Today, the tracks are being used by the light rail.
I continue down Harris Street to my next stop which is the Pyrmont-Ultimo War Memorial.
While the memorial is certainly a nice example of war memorials in general, I am actually more impressed by the area itself.
Occupying a flat hilltop, you will find not just a little quaint square here but also a number of old sandstone buildings that have been lovingly restored and that offer the area a touch of romance.
The streets get busier now that I make my way to the Hordern Fountain on the corner of Pyrmont Street and Pyrmont Bridge Road.
To be honest, while the fountain may have some historic value to the city of Sydney, it is not particularly exciting to look at. Gifted by the Hordern family as a drinking fountain for the neighbourhood, it is commemorating the Hordern family’s contributions to the community throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
To tell you the truth, I am however more excited about the different architectural styles in the area than about the fountain. Look at these colourful working-class terraces that are clearly copying the English model.
I return to Harris Street and head straight to the overpass of the Western Distributor. Thinking about the Western Distributor, I guess it is always hard to sell important infrastructure projects like the construction of an overpass to the local neighbourhood, but at least someone did make an effort to beautify the overpass as much as possible. No easy task, but the Aspire installation does a really good job in my view.
Even at daylight the polyethylene trees that are sitting under the motorway are clearly glowing, thus transforming this urban, grey and dull space into something special and attractive. The trees are a commemorative nod to the community of Fig Street that unfortunately had to take the worst hit with the construction of the Wester Distributor when their houses had to be demolished.
If you ever stop by, check if you can find the yellow face on one side of the distributor overpass. And if you are more than 2 meters tall, be careful not to hit your head.
On Bulwara Road I turn south, all the way to the modern CentralPark complex with its vertical gardens, mirrors and student-frienly parks. There is a nice little church that I pass by, and I am amazed at how whisper quiet some streets are. Walking here you can definitely picture how life used to be like here in the old days, when kids roamed the streets, their mothers on the porches in aprons, the dads working in the nearby wool stores.
Down at CentralPark it’s a whole new world entirely.
Next to the derelict brewery, there is a prominent feature artwork called Halo which moved silently in the wind, 13 meters above our heads. Did you know that the 12 meter ring sits on a ball-bearing that is no bigger than a glass marble? It’s a good place for a rest. Just put your head down on the green grass and watch the wind playing with the halo.
But the walk is not over yet, of course! I am walking back into the more traditional areas with lots of sweet old housing, not just poor working-class architecture but also grander houses with gardens to all sides.
You may never have thought about it but Glebe Point Road is actually filled to the brim with lovely old houses. Once you are leaving the restaurant strip behind you things are getting quieter and more relaxed.
But first I need to check out the brightly coloured fence of the Glebe Public School – an artwork that goes by the name of Skippedy Dip. The paint was commissioned when the school turned 150 years old some years ago and is a brilliant way of brightening the scenery for the kids and their parents. As a matter of fact, in 2008 it was voted in the top 5 of most favourite public artworks by the local community.
Up the road in Foley Park you can admire another pretty war memorial with the wonderful busts of a sailor and a soldier, plus you will find here the so-called Wireless House which is supposed to play radio recordings from previous decades but unfortunately didn’t when I was there. Never mind!
My walk finishes with the last stretch of Glebe Point Road, which is just a great display of wonderful historic housing in all its facets. Clearly not working-class styles like earlier in the day in Pyrmont, but rather beautiful iron-wrought picket fences, bay windows, multiple storeys, lush gardens. I just love it!
The walk ends in Jubilee Park which is the place where you will be able to see a pretty light installation after dusk.
Unfortunately for me, all I can see are the majestic Moreton Bay Fig trees which are the main actors at night. Having said that, even at daytime they are a pretty sight and I am happy to find a shady place at the end of my long day of walking. Sitting there, under the big tree, I enjoy the water views and the serenity of the place.
Sydney is so much more than just the CBD, and there is so much history hidden in the suburbs that it would be a shame not to mention it.
At the same time you can see that there are constant changes happening – waterfront properties are being remodelled from their industrialised purposes to high-end real estate for the very wealthy, the harbour is being reclaimed for nature, and parks and recreational areas are improving the living conditions of the local community. Narrow streets are a pain for drivers these days, but offered the ideal surroundings for working-class communities and their tight-knit structures.
If you would like to follow the walking tour yourself, just download the free “Culture Walks” app from your app store and enjoy! All you need is sunblock, plenty of water, and good shoes.