Sydney, day 3 – Yeasts, alcoholics and ghosts

Sydney in yeast…

My colleague warned me – Don’t eat the vegemite – he told me – if you want to die, better for you to taste strychnine! –

Ok, a little bit too much for that kind of apparently harmless Australian “Nutella”… First thing this morning – of course 🙂 – I found a place to eat vegemite, stopping for breakfast before Sydney’s free tour. I tried just a small piece on a slice of bread and… it was enough for me!

Vegemite is a terrible salty cream made from yeast, created by a brewery entrepreneur, who was trying to figure out what to do with the yeast waste, coming from beer processing. I discovered that in Italy we have a similar food, the “Bovis Yeast Extract” totally unknown to me… luckily! This spreadable cream became so popular that Australian army included it in its official food package, because it is rich in vitamin B. By the way, this success is not really global 🙂 since Aussie exports only 2% of the product. Where… no one knows.

Visiting a new city, I always try to take a free tour. The tour leaders – whoever they are, students, teachers or historians – are always very knowledgeable. So was Hayden, a young student from Sydney University, who guides us from Tower Hall to the Sydney Opera House, telling us history and tales.

… And Sydney in spirits

A strange alcoholic “fil rouge” links all Sydney historical events.
The city was founded as a penal colony.
In his nice book, In a sunburned Country, Bill Bryson tells us that often the crimes were absolutely ridiculous. Once a dangerous “criminal” had been deported after having stolen watermelons, another one had taken away some small booklets. For years after its foundation, the hospital had actually been a mobile facility in Sydney Cove, until the historic governor Macquairie decided to ask UK for funds, to build a “real” hospital. The Crown refused. Macquairie decided to set a good face on a bad matter. In exchange for the construction of the hospital, he guaranteed to three traders the monopoly of rum and alcohol imports.

Another funny story is the one about the mysterious word “eternity”. It had mysteriously appeared on the walls throughout Sydney for 35 years, until they discovered the author. Beyond any suspicion, the poet was an alcoholic named Arthur Stace, who had written this graffiti for more or less 500 thousand times, waking up very early every morning. Today, you can still find one on the bell of the General Post Office (or rather GPO… Aussie people love to call everything by its acronym!

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney harbour from the boat
Sydney harbour from the boat
The Australian white ibis in a public garden
Sydney, Aussie barber shop
Sydney, Aussie barber shop

Cockatoo Island

If there’s a haunted place, that’s Cockatoo Island. Apparently harmless little island in the middle of Sydney Bay, you can get there by an half-hour ride from Circular Quay; it has been a prison, a reformatory, a school, a shipyard. Most of all you can see – from the barracks to the workshops, not to mention the shipyard, industrial glory of the Australian Government, like the two dry docks – is the result of prisoners’ forced labor. A lot of stories tell us about these men’s terrible living conditions: in 2009 they found a prisoner’s body in one of the isolation cells. Many believe that the ghosts of the prisoners still wander among those walls, restlessly.

My shock was dreadful, much worse than in Alcatraz, that I saw under a dark and oppressive sky as well. On this island, you walk among rusty wrecks of a glorious industrial archeology.
You enter the notorious Dog Leg tunnel, dug into the bowels of the earth, where workers carried the materials ouside the factory, and that became an air-raid shelter afterwards.
You wander through abandoned workshops, while, over your head, seagulls scream savagely and beat their ugly legs on the sheet metals, whose green colour paints a ghostly light.
When I enter a barack at sunset, under the blood-red light coming from the windows sunset, the door follows me slowly…

Cockatoo Island, Dog Leg Tunnel
Cockatoo Island, Dog Leg Tunnel
Cockatoo Island, the workshop
Cockatoo Island, the workshop
Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island
Sunset in Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island, disquieting lights at sunset…


Leave a Reply