Damp and Cultured in Sydney

The day began with a 20 minute walk in the pouring rain to get free pearl earrings. You see, one of the advantages to the tourist booklets is the coupons. While most of them didn’t apply to our itinerary (cruises and tours and the like), Kirsten and I couldn’t pass up this deal. All we had to do was locate this place on the third floor of this old building downtown, enter their caged offices, walk through their selection of rough and polished opals and pearls, sit down with an employee, write a review of the place, and receive our free earrings. We did this all while our umbrellas dripped and our feet grew cold in our wet shoes. It was worth it though.

Knowing that the rain wasn’t going to let up all day, we had made a plan to stay dry indoors and tour the museums. First stop: The Australian Museum.

Within the gallery of skeletons in the Australian Museum.
Within the gallery of skeletons in the Australian Museum.

Holding the title of the oldest museum in Australia, this 19th century building hosts an extensive collection of native birds, animals, insects, and cultural paraphernalia. Most of the galleries were filled with bones and taxidermied corpses of Aussie creatures, some of which we saw alive the other day at Featherdale. Dinosaurs filled one hall; the towering shadow of the famous T-Rex dominated this crowded exhibit. Minerals resided in one corner of the second level, including examples of the gold that kept the country’s economy running for nearly 50 years.

In two rooms, aborigine culture was introduced through stories and artifacts and modern art pieces. Captions were written by aborigines and often included sad tales of oppressed cultures and lost homelands. Informative as it was, it didn’t make for the most uplifting exhibit.

Throughout this relatively small museum, school children roamed in packs, ranging in age from 7 to 17. They toted worksheets and uniforms and loudly commented on the artifacts, either seeming intensely interested or extremely bored. The crowds got intense enough that we decided to leave a bit earlier than planned.

Back out into the rain, and after a quick lunch break, we strolled over to St. Mary’s to admire the gothic revival architecture. Mass was in progress so we didn’t stay long.

Then up College Street, past the Mint and Parliament of NSW, and into the State Library of New South Wales. Information packets in hand, we walked into the grand reading room, gaping at the vaulted ceilings and multi-stories of books.

Mitchell Library Reading Room in the State Library of NSW.
Mitchell Library Reading Room in the State Library of NSW.

A guide noticed our stares.

“So where are you guys from?” he asked.

We answered and the moment he learned I was from Texas, he lit up.

“Do you recognize me?”

“No.”

“Look at my name tag.”

“’Johnny Wayne Graves.’”

“So do you recognize me?”

“…no…”

“I’m John Wayne! The real John Wayne!”

He was joking of course. He was black and was keenly aware of it. Born in Houston and part of the US military in the 1980s, he left America and the army for Australia about 20 years ago. The reason he gave us: the KKK. He proceeded to tell us a story of seeing his commanding officers in full white ropes in a German pub, and realizing that they were not only racists but saw him as “expendable” (a word worse than the N-word, he informed us). He left as soon as he could.

He kept us for a good 15 minutes, talking and explaining, going through various points in his life story. We eventually said good-bye, but not before he made me promise to tell Texas that Johnny Wayne was coming home (someday).

The 19th century Australian art  in The Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The 19th century Australian art in The Art Gallery of New South Wales.

While we had enjoyed this encounter, it was still raining we headed out of the library and our energy quickly dropped on the way to our next stop: The Art Gallery of New South Wales. Exhausted, wet, and sore-footed, we didn’t spend long in those artistic halls, sticking around long enough to only admire the Australian art and a few of the intriguing contemporary installations.

Afterwards, rest. The activity of the week was finally catching up with us. We sat there, on the couch in the main lobby, watching the other wet art-goers swarm in and out, for nearly half an hour.

We needed food, badly. We had heard about a Chinatown Friday Night Market and so quickly made our way over there. One problem: the rain had scared away most of the stalls. What were left were a few brave souls that looked tasty but very wet. So, choosing a restaurant at random, we sat down for a quiet meal as the rain finally stopped.

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