It's hard to imagine that 30 years ago a fresh faced 17 year old arrived in Sydney to start university. Five years later, graduating with a medical degree, I headed to Wollongong to begin my working life. After 2 years and a further 2 travelling overseas, I returned to Wollongong for 6 months, before making a career move back to Sydney to specialise in paediatrics. Over the next 7 years I turned 30, bought my first house, became an accomplished scuba diver, did 3/4 of a masters degree, and gave up my plan to be a paediatrician. I also discovered Geraldton as my preferred holiday destination, became a wave sailing fanatic and my whole world view changed. No longer could I tolerate the madness of the big city, the careless anonymity, the lack of community spirit, or flat water sailing!! 15 years ago I left Sydney forever, moved to the Northern Territory and began my foray into Aboriginal Health. But this weekend, I'm back.
I rarely return to Sydney these days, unless there's enough reason to. I still own the house in Marrickville, a very canny investment it turns out, so a quick inspection was in order. Mum has come up from Canberra to join me for a couple of days, and we are also catching up with my sister who lives here. A trip to the Art Gallery to check out the Archibald Prize, a gaze at the Harbour Bridge and I'm back there to my university days. When we used to climb the bridge at 4 in the morning, evading the security guys to sit up the top of the coat hanger in the dark, staring wide eyed at the illuminated city way below.
The main reason I returned this weekend was for a university reunion: 25 years since we graduated and foisted ourselves on an unsuspecting public. We've turned out to be an eclectic mix of medical and surgical specialties, country and city GPs, and a few work abroad. A smaller turnup than 5 years ago, which was a little disappointing given that contacting people should be easier in this technologic age. It turns out not to be the case at all. With the move to a national medical registration board, the doors of privacy have been locked down. The alumni organisation at my old alma mater have also been remiss at keeping in contact with past graduates. Poor show chaps!! For the group of 40 or so who did attend, it was great to catch up, reminisce about our youth, share photos of offspring and trade hairdressing secrets for hiding the grey. Bad luck for the balding fellas though!!
It's a revelation to discover that 15 years later I can return to a city I spent 12 years living in, and feel like a tourist. Even though there is the inevitable glimpses from the past, I am seeing it all with a fresh eye, and that comes with a joy I didn't feel for many years as a resident. I've always said Sydney is a city best visited, not lived in, and I'm now that visitor. I'd love to have more time to actually be a tourist here, go for the ferry ride to Manly, or visit my favourite secret spot at Camp Cove/South Head but I just have to make do with a wander down King Street Newtown, checking out the quirky new stores, being amused by the cheeky names of restaurants and remembering some of my old haunts. Maurice's is long gone, the BEST falafel roll in Newtown by a country mile. El Bahsa remains, but gone are the acreage of mouthwatering Lebanese sweets to choose from over a frothy cappuccino, replaced by groovy decor and a more chic crowd. But Wilson Street, which branches off King Street towards Erskineville down near the station and used to be a depressed site of shuttered empty shopfronts, has become the funky happening shopping precinct to be seen in. Nothing like a little retail therapy in the big smoke.
Back in the CBD we linger over tapas in the Spanish district before meandering our way back uptown via the adventure stores on Kent Street and the ABC shop in the QVB. I now have a new fleece hoodie to replace my Cardrona fleece jacket, the one that I get paid out on big time when seen wearing it at TC. I know, you'd think I'd be old enough not to care about peer influence - but when even the car park attendant gives you grief…..
Tonight we'll have a quiet night in and tomorrow morning I fly back home. To warm sunny weather, clear blue skies, and.. oh damn… work!!