Down under is where it was. Sydney, Australia to be exact.
The travel to close out the year 2017 and at the same time, to welcome 2018. We were there as early as the second week of December and were set to fly back a couple days past new year’s eve. Three weeks. In a country where a typical minimum wager guy like myself most likely will only be able to visit once such as Australia, the usual 4 days 3 nights travel duration surely isn’t going to be enough and would only be a waste of time and a year-long saved money. That and the fact that it doubles as a first visit to relatives make it even more appropriate. Now, before you start asking or thinking how much saved money we had at the time to afford such a duration in a not so cheap destination or how much vacation leaves we had in our stash to still get paid without working, well, let me tell you upfront that it’s not at all that relevant. This trip broke the bank big time and called for a few days of unpaid absences. A last minute car purchase to beat the hell out of the buzzer that is the excise tax scheduled to hit the automotive markets the following year didn’t help either. How’s that for a year-ender and a kick-starter? Fortunately, my wife’s family is there to provide support. Thanks to the occasional feeding program (we coined it as such as we were like peasants begging for food reinforcement from time to time) courtesy of our aunt and to Criscel (my wife’s sister) for letting us stay in her apartment. Expenses and all these humors aside, it was THE trip of the year. As our budget airline safely touched the Kingsford Smith’s tarmac I told myself, welcome to A-U, the land of the kangaroo.
To those who aren’t quite familiar, Australia has its weather cycle on reverse in relation to most countries with four seasons. Where it’s winter in say Japan or Korea, it’s a sizzling summer in Australia and guys…it is on another level. Sure you can fry an egg on some random pavement in the neighboring ASEAN countries during summer, but here, fill your thermoses with water, take it outside and you can instantly get it up to boiling point and keep it that way all day, everyday. Ok, that’s probably a bit exaggerated but a temperature reading of something like 50 degree Celsius isn’t in any way, fun. For the most part, our stay was like a 30 day trial of hell.
THE DAILY GRIND
To me, Australia is a very laid back country. Anybody who has been to Singapore or Korea can easily draw a comparison on how people from down under go about their lives on a daily basis. Have you ever noticed how fast people from Singapore or Korea walk or how snappy their movements are? It’s like they are always in pursuit of something to a point that every millisecond counts. Heck, even their escalators seem to run on V8 engines. They are always on the rush to say the least. Australia is on the other end of the spectrum. You don’t see them rushing in and out of the train cars even in the most busy time of the day. People seem to enjoy their sweet time walking around the city. For the many, time isn’t really of the essence. Working class groups usually start going about their businesses as early as 6 am. If they are following the same eight hour work shift as ours, that means they’re off by 3 in the afternoon. Imagine what more one can do past the hour of three. Beach? Drinks? Cycling around town? Errands at Costco? Woolworth’s maybe? Ah, mall hopping perhaps. Tell you what, malls normally close at 6 pm on the average. Bars at around 9 pm. Whatever these guys are up to after an eight hour work shift that ends relatively early is probably all about living the life. One day we were beach bums. The next day saw us fishing at some random wharf nearby (I can’t recall if it was Bradley’s head or Clifton Gardens). Anyway, ok so the guys have gone fishing while I’m out there shooting but you get the point. Again, laid back. If you still don’t get the big picture by this time, then Houston we have a problem.
As with any country, there is heavy traffic. I remember one day we were headed into a factory outlet store and were told that we should be on the road before 4pm because there is going to be a rush hour traffic past that mark. Of course, as Filipinos as we can be, we didn’t get to beat that so… traffic it is, let me see. Long story short, we were able to reach our destination within 30 minutes. That’s it? I asked. The rush hour traffic we were once told was literally just within that hour and it’s nothing but a vehicle congestion in a series of traffic light mandated intersections. Once it passes, roads go back to their normal state like how Manila traffic is on a Good Friday. To them, it was heavy traffic. If you can call it as such, go to the Philippines and see if you can come up with an adjective to describe our own version of congestion. I also noticed how strict they are with speed limits. Certainly you can get (sometimes) caught if you’re running above 100 kph on some expressway in our country but here, you can get caught anywhere. Freeways at 110 kph, suburbs and school zones at 40 kph and common roads at 50 kph. With CCTVs everywhere, indeed you can run but you can’t hide. If you drive past these marks, expect a ticket delivered through mail right into your doorsteps the following day. No traffic but there’s a whole bunch of speed limits. If by any chance you find yourself running late for an appointment, traffic isn’t the one to get all the blame. Speed limit is the king. So come to think of it. 90% of the time you should be managing your travels according to the speed limits you’re going to pass through. The other 10%, well, the traffic situation. Just because there is barely any traffic and your house sits relatively near to your office, doesn’t mean you can leave for work in let’s say 15 minutes before that early morning meeting. You just won’t be able to drive as fast as you will through traffic-free roads to be there on time. Obviously you don’t want your license to get suspended for that matter. Which brings me to how traffic apprehension works in this country.
To simplify things, for the most common driver’s license types (Unrestricted or Professional), you have a default 13 and 14 demerit limits respectively. Each traffic offense corresponds to a certain demerit point/s. The objective is that you don’t want your initial demerit limits to go zero or your license gets suspended for 3 to 4 months. Over speeding for example accounts for 1 demerit point if you reached 13km/h over the speed limit and 3 demerit points for more than 13 km/h but less than 20km/h over the speed limit and so on. These demerit points come with a hefty fine too starting at around 200 AUD and can cost you as high as 1,200 AUD depending on how fast you went over board. Also, bear in mind that this isn’t just all about traffic signs compliance, correct turning lanes, red light beating, etc. Police are also everywhere conducting random breath tests (RBT). If you are lucky to be part of that randomness and was asked to pull over and have quite an alcohol level at your disposal, you’ll get a corresponding demerit or worse, get your license suspended in an instant. All these and I thought that car chase is only seen on television. One time we were home-bound from cherry picking and we stopped by Murrumburrah for some cold drinks and snacks. We were enjoying the food and we’re feeling all too al fresco at the time when some random car got chased and pulled over right in front of us for what seemed like an over speeding violation. Police, again they are everywhere and a responsive one at that. I only wish we have this kind of traffic discipline in our country but I digress.
ON PLACES OF INTEREST
“So where’s the Opera House?” Is the first thing I asked the moment we got out of the airport. Let’s be honest. It’s like you haven’t been to Sydney at all if you don’t have at least one picture of this landmark of a structure to take home. To me, it is the Sydney. Try googling “Sydney” and the first few images that will show up are either the Sydney Opera House or the Harbour Bridge. But Sydney or New South Wales is a lot more than just this picturesque harbour view. For three weeks I can attest that we have pretty much covered everything of which are essential to tourists such as ourselves. Unfortunately, majority are outside the walls of Sydney. This is where that “4 days/3 nights is not enough” will come in. Most of the spots are within 2-4 hours drive from the city and we are talking about a cruise controlled Subaru running at a flat out 110 kph for the entire duration. How far is that? 300 km on the average. Yep. That far. But every bit is worth it. Below are a few more images of some of the places we have been through within and outside Sydney.
Dusk at the Sydney Harbour via Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair vantage point.
ON PHOTOGRAPHIC POTENTIAL
Australia in general is better known for it’s wide array of landscape spots. At least that’s what I have been seeing as far as my Aussie googling is concerned. If you are visiting Australia with some serious landscape whoring as your primary agenda, you’d be better off (demographically) with states other than New South Wales. Victoria, Queensland and Northern Territory are some of the states where I think the grass is greener. With NSW, it’s not so bad at all. The thing is, the state sits on the east side of the continent so if you are a sunset frenzy such as myself, you will fail miserably. One potential candidate however, is Katoomba, Blue Mountains and I personally think it is best shot in the morning to get that misty, zen like mountain layering and stuff kind of thing. Kiama is another which is a coastal town 120 km south of Sydney in the Illawara. Again, it also has a potential if it weren’t for the fact that it is a sunrise spot. I am not a morning person to begin with, much more being on the road before the break of dawn to catch that morning glow. After all, serious landscape shoot wasn’t really on our list during this trip. I even left the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in my home country (that thing rarely goes in the bag these days) and just brought with me an outdated retro looking Fuji. Not this time and documentary shots will do just as fine.
So what is it that NSW has to offer to us photographers? Streets and as I’ve said, documentary. The kind that you put together and call it an album with a title that goes a little something like “Australia, I’ve been here and check out how it looks like”. Seriously, documentary. There’s a lot more to catch than just landscapes in this country.
Royal National Park, NSW
It was my first out of country without a DSLR and I can’t believe that actually happened. How it felt like? Liberating and my back never ached. At the same time it made way for some self realization. Whatever that is, I can probably discuss more in detail on a separate post. While landscapes have been my cup of tea lately, streets and travel documentaries are my good ol’ priorities. If at some point a barrage of colors appeared across the skies from where I’m currently standing, I’d take a shot. So be it, if there is none at the spot. Not the other way around. I wasn’t chasing sunsets and sunrises this time.
I was chasing snapshots and memories that can take me back into the experience. Sounds cheesy but it ain’t easy. Had all of these been shot with a film camera, I could have probably logged fifty or so rolls of 24 frames. I was like a madman shooting anyone, anything, anywhere, anytime. That’s liberty right there. And it doesn’t really matter if you find out that only a handful of which, is actually blog space worthy. At the end of the day, looking at them altogether brings me back to the place one way or the other.
It was a trip to remember. As far as photography, I have enough keepers.
People were awesome and life seems to be at its slowest pace. No wonder a lot of my friends finally came to settle down in this place.
Summer may be as hot as hell, but remember that your work here pays you very well.
These things you might want to consider if you plan to migrate sooner or later.
All of those, coupled with a government that actually implements the law and provides its citizens their benefits make for a near perfect first world territory.
And yes, as bitter sounding as that last line can be, it’s because I envy this country.
Thanks for looking.
PLACES WE VISITED:
Darling Harbour, Direct Factory Outlet, Birkenhead Point Outlet Centre, Bradley’s Head, Clifton Gardens, Sydney Botanical Garden, Mrs. Mcquarie’s Chair, Sydney Opera House, Berrima, Harbour Bridge, Reptile Park, Blue Mountains, Illawara, Kiama, Katoomba Falls, Hunter Valley-Pokolbin, Peterson/McGuigan/Tempus Two wineries, Potters Hotel & Brewery, Bondi Beach, Manly Beach, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Hay Market, Ballinaclash Cherry Picking, Canberra Australian Capital Territory, Parliament House, War Museum, Wollongong, Royal National Park