Thursday, March 24, 2011

Posh Places and their Lighthouses Part I: Vaucluse

Things I like about Sydney No. 52: Posh Places and their Lighthouses Part I: Vaucluse

The first thing you need to know about Vaucluse is how to pronouce it. Say it incorrectly, like I did, and it is immediately obvious that you don't belong here, in one of the poshest parts of town.

So here's your pronunciation lesson. 'Vau' must rhyme with whore (not with 'go') and cluse with 'clues' (not 'close'). Simple really. Except I still can't seem to get it right. Which makes me feel as one with all those tourists in London who have great difficulty with correctly pronouncing Leicester Square...

Vaucluse is the northernmost suburb of the southern half of Sydney, sticking out into the Tasman Sea and looking down upon the city. Daniel wanted to go there on his birthday last week because he remembered regularly going to a wonderful park there in the golden, hallowed days of his youth - Neilsen Park in Shark Bay. Turning 45 he wanted to return in order to possibly recapture the feeling of being young and gorgeous...

So I packed the esky (ice-box to you) with a scrumptious picnic - quail's eggs, smoked sardines, wild game pate, red peppers stuffed with fetta, bread, cakes, champagne and lemonade - stuffed a bag with paper plates, cups and cutlery and off we set, Sniff in tow, to turn back time...

It's quite an arduous journey to Vaucluse as there seems to be just the one main road to get there from the city which was, despite the fact that it was a weekday and towards lunch-time, jam-packed with cars and lorries. This road twists and turns, snaking through unprepossessing suburbs, carrying far too much traffic for its size. Sniff and I both began to be restless. Daniel seemed already to be in a reverie of remembrance.

After some cursing (on my behalf) we eventually managed to leave this road and began to wind our way through the streets of Vaucluse. This is where the elite live, grand house after grand house after grand house. One does wonder how Sydney manages to support so many expensive houses - after all Vaucluse is by no means the only posh bit - there are endless expensive suburbs crowded with endless  water-front properties. What do all these Sydneysiders do to afford buying them and living there? Daniel and I are both like so working in the wrong industry.

Eventually, in glorious sunshine, we arrive at the entrance to Neilsen Park, ready to relive Daniel's glorious glory days. We tumble out of the car to read the park's sign and its maps and to work out where to have our picnic. After some preliminary information, in big bold letters, the sign read NO DOMESTIC PETS.

Daniel's dreams crushed. Our picnic ruined. Sniff oblivious and eager to bound about...

I tell you, NEVER GET A DOG.

We ended up eating our picnic in the unremarkable Vaucluse Bay (one bay along from Neilsen Park and its attendant Shark Bay) which was completely empty of people. Here is Daniel, scoffing away in the bay.

I did offer to take Sniff off for a walk so that Daniel could explore his old haunts, to give him a chance to look round Neilsen Park, but he gallantly refused the offer and, instead, after eating our fill, we wandered around the grounds of Vaucluse House. This, which is the grandest pile hereabouts, was built gradually over the first half of the nineteenth century in a rather ramshackle manner by its rather ramshackle owner, William Wentworth. (Wentworth's wife Sarah was shunned by colonial society - there was talk of illegitimacy and a convict background...which left the unlucky couple with no choice but to socialise with the lower orders. Quelle horreur!). Taken individually each part of the house is charming. Taken together it is a complete mess.

A gardener was busy pulling out the dead branches of tree-ferns and bracken, some ducks were pecking away in the confines of their cages, a few elderly couples were taking tea in the tea-rooms but Vaucluse House, mid-week, was otherwise deserted. We circumnavigated the grounds, avoiding the pleasure-gardens (NO DOGS ALLOWED) and saw no-one. Which helped me to imagine that the house was actually mine and that I'd given the servants the day off to ponder my next mis-matched extension....

Follow us from Vaucluse House, back into the car again, onwards and upwards to our next tourist spot, the Gap (and we're not talking t-shirts and chinos here - we're talking Sydney's most notorious suicide spot - an Australian Beachy Head). It's not that Daniel used to come here in his youth and contemplate flinging himself off into oblivion (at least he didn't admit to that) but if we weren't able to go to Neilsen Park then we were damned well going to go everywhere else we could go!

When I arrived in Sydney in November 2008 all the papers were full of one particular murder trial. It seemed to be especially newsworthy because it involved a young and beautiful Australian model. Her body had been found on the rocks at the bottom of the Gap back in 1995 and, at first, because her mother had committed suicide, it was expected that she had done the same. However, thirteen years later, her boyfriend was fairly sensationally convicted of her murder. The fact that various Sydney 'celebrities' were peripherally involved in the case helped coverage to run and run and run. The young woman's name was Caroline Byrne.

The Gap is still notorious as the place where Sydneysiders, reluctant one and all, come to end their own lives - around 50 people throw themselves off the cliff each year.

Here's Daniel and Sniff walking along the broiling hot coastal path with the Gap's clifftop visible in the distance:

Sniff contemplating (and rejecting) the idea of suicide:

The Pacific Ocean stretched out before us as far as the eye could see, blue as blue could be. The sun was beating down mercilessly upon our uncovered heads and upon clusters of Japanese tourists, all looking out at the Gap and at the Heads (the cliffs that mark the entrance, like two pincers, north and south, to Sydney's harbour).

What with the heat (and Daniel's advancing years) we were fairly exhausted from our picnic and only managed one more brief stop in our exploration of Sydney's poshest suburb, Vaucluse (remember it's Whore-clues but with a 'V'). Driving back towards town from the Gap - past a fairly spectacular view of the City -

- we passed a stunning lighthouse, brilliant white against a clear blue sky. A man in official Council garb was busy watering the parched grass at its base and he kindly agreed to fill Sniff's portable drinking bowl from his hose...which was fairly essential as the poor dog was heat-stricken from trekking around the coastal path. Whilst Sniff drank and the Council worker was distracted I slipped past the No Entry signs and snapped some shots of the lighthouse.

Built on the site of Australia's very first lighthouse, erected in 1818, the current building, called the Macquarie Lighthouse, was built in 1883. It is now fully automated - the last keeper was sent into retirement in 1989. What a place to live in...spectacular views, no neighbours (unlike in all those cramped Vaucluse mansions), beautiful architecture, expressive detailing, your own private tower. And now that all the dirty work (ie. preventing accidents at sea) has been taken over by machinery, the life of Riley. Surely, surely they need a caretaker...I'm willing and eager.

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