Home towns are strange creatures. Every time I return to Sydney she seems to have changed. A new shopping mall, a new one-way street, paving along the edges of suburban roads where once there was sand.
But the city, as I knew her, remains somehow indelibly laid under the changes. Standing on the corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets recently, at the stacatto prompt of the traffic lights, I automatically started to cross as if I was on my way to work – some twenty years ago.
I could smell the coffee and the blueberry muffin I would almost invariably be carrying on my way to the AMP Centre, where I worked high up in the sky as a clerk in the trademarks department of a large law firm. I felt an echo of the jangling madness of that past life: the constant, conflicting demands of motherhood and corporate slavery pushing and pulling me in opposing directions. The relentless worry. Is my baby okay? Will I get the enormous pile of pet food applications on my desk to the Trade Marks Office in time before it closes? Will I have enough money this month to cover both rent and childcare fees? And every morning I chided myself for the indulgence of that blueberry muffin.
I was gripped – always – with the sensation that I was standing at the edge of a very slippery slope, only the heels of my court shoes the difference between survival and disaster.
Jackhammers pounded as the façade of the building was revamped. Apparently, built in 1977, the entrance was out-of-date by the early 90s. Who’d have thought a foyer was so expendable? Now, in mid 2010s, plans are well underway to knock the whole thing down and replace it with something else altogether – something sleek and modern and design award-winning. Truly. I find the idea of destroying a forty-five storey building on a stylistic whim a disgusting example Babel-ish profligacy and waste. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s just Sydney.
For all her changes, though, she does remain beautiful, and grow more beautiful here and there. Across the road from the AMP Centre sits the Museum of Sydney with its wonderful, provocative forecourt jumble of old and new, of devastation and regeneration, of First Nations and Australian flags sailing together inside it all.
And then there is the harbour. The jewel. I’ve never known her without Bridge or Opera House or yellow ferries. The sight of her, sparkling, makes me childhood-happy, no matter how the souvenir shops and restaurants evolve and outprice each other around her. The smell of salt water, the gentle splash of her waves, and her chip-hunting gulls are always here for me, and I hope they always will be.