Chinese Garden of Friendship – Sydney

In the middle of Sydney’s loud and lavish CBD lies a delightfully tranquil sanctuary. In Tumbalong Park, a stone’s throw from the milling touristy crowds of Darling Harbour, you’ll find the Chinese Garden of Friendship, nonchalantly tucked away behind a couple of high walls.

In celebration of the long association of the Chinese community in Australia, this beautiful garden was conceived and created in the 1980s, a gift to Sydney from the city of Guangzhou (southern China).

The garden adheres to the Taoist principles of Yin-Yang, with the five opposite elements represented – earth, fire, water, metal and wood – for balance, and ‘Qi’, the circulating force of life and energy.

Plants aren’t intended to pull focus or dominate the scene, but rather integrate with the natural flow of the landscape. The result is a gently winding, relaxing space that provides a sense of harmony. It’s serene and green, and in springtime, punctuated with tiny bursts of blushing colour. There are birds by the pagodas, fish in the ponds, and perhaps surprisingly, several sunbathing Eastern Water Dragons, who prove to be popular photography subjects. (I’m guilty of course. Who doesn’t love lizards?)

I’ve visited this place four times, and I’m always staggered by how quiet it is. The low roar of the relentless traffic, elsewhere in the CBD inescapable, here seems so distant. And despite the imposing backdrop of hotels and shiny office complexes, it somehow still feels like an escape. A peaceful place offering refuge from the noise and bustle of the metropolis. For the most part, all you can hear is the soft waterfall, and the occasional scampering of a camera-shy amphibian.

I recommend you visit. There’s charm in the calm. It’s good for the soul. And at just $6 entry, in a city that typically commands a hefty price tag, it’s easy on your pocket too.

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State Library of Victoria

The winter sunshine was beautiful in Marvellous Melbourne yesterday. I was in the CBD, among the bustling weekend throng, with the bluest of blue skies above. I voluntarily removed myself from the lovely outdoors and headed indoors, to one of my favourite city sights – the State Library of Victoria.

Established in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library, it is Australia’s oldest library, (and if you have faith in the Gospel According to Wikipedia, it was one of the first free libraries in the world).

I visit this grand old dame occasionally. I love that it’s a quiet haven in the middle of a noisy city. More than this, I love it because 1. It houses soooooo many books – over two million of them – along with thousands of other publications, and 2. It boasts an impressive Ned Kelly collection, and 3. The Dome.

Infamous Victorian bushranger Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly holds a fascination for many people, almost 140 years after his capture and subsequent execution. I am a Ned enthusiast – and sympathiser, to a large extent – and relish any opportunity to view items of Kelly Gang significance. While many Kelly articles rightfully remain in central Victoria (the scenes of his various misdemeanours), the Library has curated a magnificent collection of Gang items, featured in a permanent exhibition on Level 5.

A set of authentic Kelly ‘armour’ is a drawcard, along with pages from the ‘Jerilderie Letter’, dictated to Gang member Joe Byrne by Ned, and a detailed account of his confessed crimes, in addition to accusations of police corruption. Ned Kelly’s death mask is also displayed. (Death masks were fleeting in popularity, produced to assist in the study of phrenology).

The Kelly items are part of The Changing Face of Victoria exhibition, a huge collection of photographs and souvenirs of the identities and events that have shaped the state. It’s well worth a look. Book lovers would also appreciate the exhibition on Level 4, The World of Book. It covers (ha!) the history of manuscript content, design and production, with articles dating from 2050 BC. You can keep your fancy Kindles. This stuff is awesome. (The World of Book is on display until 31st Dec.)

The Dome Reading Room is the architectual highlight of the building, and a must-see if in Melbourne. Take the lift up to Level 6 for a great vantage point.

There are other Reading Rooms within the Library, some with specific interest areas, including art, family history, newspapers, even chess. One room is named after colonial judge Sir Redmond Barry. He is also honoured with a bust, and a statue at the front of the Library entrance. Coincidentally, Barry was the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to death by hanging in 1880. Am I the only one who finds that a bit strange? That the two can co-exist ‘in memoriam’ within the same grounds? Such is Melbourne.