It’s a great privilege to be able to travel. Travel widens our mind as well as our personal world. We learn from being in new places, seeing and understanding new things about our fellow humans, and meeting people different from those we mix with in normal life.
What a special blessing it was for Helen and me to be invited to spend eight weeks living in a place that was familiar yet different from anywhere we’ve ever lived before! Sydney’s North is very far from as challenging as it would be to live in say, Tibet or sub-Saharan Africa… Thankfully we could handle that. Sydney’s Northern Beaches are very familiar territory and definitely part of Oz, but also unique. Here are some of the things that struck us –
- This is most definitely the most beautiful part of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. We looked after a house with a view! No grand vista over the Pacific Ocean, only over a valley and towards the lofty suburbs of Beacon Hills and Oxford Falls, but still very different from anywhere I have ever lived before, although the River Derwent estuary view from the home of my parents-in-law in Taroona far surpassed our outlook from Collaroy Plateau. Many people pay a lot of money for any kind of views in this part of Sydney: ocean, coastal, valley, hills, lake, beach views – you name them and people will pay for it! Although living with an outstanding view is something one tends to get used to, it is nevertheless very special and can be a great delight!
The walks we did also enchanted us. In the first week we visited the National Parks Office in Cadman’s Cottage at Circular Quay and picked up some of the free maps on offer. (Question: Why couldn’t we download and print these simple but helpful folded A4 brochures from the web?) Although we started ambitiously, we actually managed less than half the walks on our “wish list”. We did walk almost half of the 22 km coastal path from Barrenjoey Head (Palm Beach) to North Head (at the entrance to Sydney Harbour). This track runs along beaches and over headlands, taking in the occasional suburban streets. We had also wanted to walk at South and Middle Heads, and attempt at least some of the tracks along the Harbour foreshore (from the Zoo to the Spit and the Spit to Manly) but (of course) ran out of time. There are also inland tracks and walks at the Pittwater and Hawkesbury estuary we would love to try “some day”.
- The confidence of the Northern Beaches people was very evident and attractive. During our working life we have lived in and visited many parts of Australia but have never sensed the level of self-assurance we noticed in the Manly-Warringah region. It’s far from unusual and very pleasing when the locals show a clear pride and pleasure in where they live, and we’ve often come across this. But for Northern Beaches residents this civic pride has bolstered a poise and personal pride that we found beautiful. It showed (for instance) in the almost total lack of significantly obese people in the streets and shops, even in folk who were clearly needy. It showed also in residents’ helpfulness, openness, and their obvious enjoyment in their region. Streets, parks, shopping centres and foreshores are well maintained. As one would expect, there are many signs of great wealth, but homes and gardens that are very standard in appearance are mostly well-maintained.
The chain of beaches interspersed with rocky headlands are greatly loved and widely enjoyed. Even in mid-winter, every beach we saw had its brigade of sunrise to sunset surfers and sometimes even swimmers. The beachfront promenade in Manly was so alive, colourful and busy with all kinds of people whenever we were there. And each beach seemed to have a surf club serving breakfast and coffee to its local sea, sun and sand worshippers. Every week at least one issue of the (free) Manly Daily included a story about one of the local winter swimming devotee groups, a special whale sighting, or stormy weather on the coast: once about how the members of Manly’s Bold & Beautiful Swimmers Club were joined at 7 am one Tuesday morning by a southern right whale. That one took the cake!
We cannot all live in Paris, Amsterdam, London, New York – or Sydney’s Northern Beaches! My Christian upbringing and personal faith help to keep me both grateful for every good thing I have, content with my life circumstances, and productive wherever I believe God wants me to be.
But Helen and I find it’s a lot of fun being able to get around to a few bonus joys in our retirement – the more so when there’s an invitation and we can be productive also!