Sydney’s Circular Quay is the birthplace of the city. At this spot in January 1788, a fleet of British ships landed the soldiers, the administrators and the convicts that composed the first permanent British contingent on this new land. The Quay still contains a few remnants of these early days. Among these are:
- Macquarie Place, marked by a convict-designed stone obelisk, that marked the point the original governor selected as origin of all the colon’s roads.
- Customs House, which in 1858 served as the centerpiece of the quay, where all ships entering and departing the harbor were registered and the colony’s many imports and few exports (initially whale oil and sealskins, and later wool) were taxed. The front of the neo-classical sandstone building, which now serves as a library, is graced by marble columns, a carved coat of arms and a clock. The interior has a walk-atop model of the city under its glass floor.
Although a number of other 19th century buildings are still situated around the quay, most of the area has been modernized. It now serves as the hub of the city’s transportation network, where ferries dock and trains and buses originate. Most of the rest of the area consists of upscale shopping complexes, harborside bars and restaurants and most notably, a large plaza on which stands one of the city’s two most iconic structures—the opera house, and which provides the ideal view of the second—the harbor Bridge (discussed in “The Rocks” post.)
- Sydney Opera House, of which we toured and attended a couple of performances on our last visit, The 4.5 acre structure was designed by Jorn Utson, the winner of an open competition that drew 232 entries. Although the design encountered and overcame numerous engineering and technological challenges, an acrimonious departure of the architect and a huge cost overrun, it was finally completed after a 14-year building process (1959 to 1973). It is now one of the largest and busiest performance centers in the world, with more than 1,000 rooms and an average of more than 10 performances each day of the year. The iconic sail-like domes, which have become one of the two most iconic symbols of the city (along with the bridge), it opens up and showcases a harbor filled with actual sails.
- Writers’ Walk is a less iconic site. It has a series of bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalk that commemorate Australian authors and others that had some relationship with Australia.