It is almost exactly 31 years since I first traveled to Sydney; and it is a city that has lived with me since that first memorable trip.
I was a newly qualified chartered accountant. And bless them, my old firm decided that for the first time they would send three qualified staff from London to the Sydney office to help with the winter workload.
Peter Taylor, Simon Scott and I all raised out hands.
The firm would give us the equivalent of a standard apex economy return and would find us accommodation. We would still be paid, and taxed in the UK. This proved to be less than ideal at a time when the Aussie dollar was strong and the pound did not go far down under.
Sydney was the seventh stop on a Garuda flight that went from Gatwick to Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, Jakarta, Denpasar and Melbourne before wearily arriving in Syney.
Our apartment was a three bedroom flat at 44 Lamrock Avenue about a minute’s walk from Bondi Beach. It is still there.
I was s stunning blue sky early winter day in the low 20Cs.
Noel Robson and his wife Jane came around to visit. It was probably a Saturday. Noel had spent a year with the London office of our firm when I first joined and and among other achievements had become a Watford FC fan.
Noel drove us to the Watsons Bay hotel and we sat in outside on their lawn, eating ludicrously large t-bone steaks, taking in one of the very best views in the world and drinking a efw beers. There can be no better introduction to the city.
Work started on Monday and for three months I was sent to work at Rupert Murdoch’s news corporation. It was perfect for me. A news junkie; ex editor of the university newspaper and now working in what was about to become a media giant. At that time News Corp was primarily Australian with morning and evening print media and Channel 10 tv. The war chest had been filled through Reuters 2004 flotation but the assault on the UK media was still in the planning stage.
BodyLine was showing for the first time on Australian tv – with Hugo Weaving as the dastardly Douglas Jardine plotting the bodyline attack on Australia’s favorite son, Donald Bradman.
Walking past the sports desk the morning after each show I met a barrage of complaints about what the pommie bastards had done to their great cricket team a mere 52 years previously – or last night if the sports desk was to be believed.
We played some golf; we spent lots of nights in the Eastern suburbs RSL. We went to Rugby League tests to watch the British get trampled on; we watched the State of the Union to see how the game should be played.
I went to a greek wedding; thanks to a very good friend that I met through work….
And i nearly stayed. I had a job offer to move full time to Sydney – and how life could have been different if I had said yes.
Instead I tool a leisurely and sunburned trip home though Bali, Singapore, Penang and my first visit to Bangkok (without a clue how big a role that city would play in my life).
I got back to London – saw that Reuters were recruiting internal auditors for a job with significant travel – and that was to be my future for the next 16 years.
I was back in Sydney in 1988 trying to make sense of the work that a Canadian subsidiary of Reuters was doing in the Australian financial market and merging the two offices together.
In 2004 I moved to Hong Kong with a responsibility that covered all of the Asia Pacific region. There were meetings in Sydney – the old Regent (now The Four Seaons) was the company hotel. There was a splendid sales conference in Coolum memorable for the Korean connection. There were work visits. There were holidays. A memorable trip up to Port Douglas. A Christmas in a Sydney heatwave on the way to New Zealand for the new year.
The city has evolved but never radically changed. The harbour is still green and criss-crossed by busy ferries. The coastline is more gentrified. The Bondi Tram has gone. But you can now walk along the cliffs from Bondi to Coogee and Clovelly, one of the great walks. The Japanese visitors have been replaced by larger numbers of Chinese tourists. but for Sydney-siders life seems to simply go on in a fairly laid-back manner.
I love the history; I love the idea of the fatal shore. I remain stunned that 700 ill-equipped convicts and 400 soldiers on a fleet of eleven small ships could sail half way around the world arriving in Port Jackson on January 1788, and lay the foundations for one of the world’s great cities.
I love how the country has evolved from British empire to multi-culturalism. Loyalty to empire is long past; but Australia embraces evolution not revolution. One day the British union flag will not appear on the Australian flag but the history and values will remain.
And now I have been able to explore the city with Tai – they are short visits – but we see the city through different eyes. I now know my way around Thai -town.
31 years. I still love the city – and that is a love affair longer than many relationships!