Friday, February 10, 2012

history is a slice of life

into the rocks
As much as it's a tourist hive, I admit to an increasing fondness for this area of Sydney, a city I frequently visit but in which I rarely feel at home. The Rocks has never exactly beckoned, but twice now it has simply happened to me, presenting itself suddenly with a quietude, a gravitas, piece by piece like the stone blocks that create its centuries old buildings. Cast up against the cargo-pants-and-visor-filled Circular Quay and the terribly ordinary CBD streets, the area is an anachronism, literally the past carried through into the present. I feel ghostly walking the narrow steps and beneath the hulking arch of stone that is cut from the hill. Am I haunting or being haunted? That part is unclear.

a play at the wharf
Beside the early 19th-century world of the Rocks, the redeveloped, formerly industrial wharf area has become a contemporary docking space for Sydney’s literary, arts and theatre scenes. In the modernised shell of a disused 1950s warehouse, a surreal transformation takes place on stage. A salary-man crawls through a tunnel from Tokyo to a small town in the Northern Territory. The town is terrorised by a crocodile, who is a man, who is a crocodile. School girls learn about love and creativity; older women reminisce about a lost past. The earth is traumatised by a quarry, which is a disfiguration. A portal to other worlds. A scar on the land that reminds of Australia’s own scars, of a national kind. Some of this history was also played out in the Rocks around us.

It is a night spent viewing a contemporary play by an expat Australian come home, in a building that is an old soul sheltering a new (or the new reviving the old), in an area both industrial and chic, in a city both garish and sombre. The after-show drinks are held at a wharfside pop-up bar. The very term ‘pop up’ makes me think of children’s books with paper cut-outs rising from the pages. Fragile constructions too easily ripped. Many conversations are given air and then left hanging in the night. Too much champagne is consumed. Against this transient scene, the steel arch of the Harbour Bridge illuminates green against the dark sky, propped solidly on its stocky bearings.