One of things I enjoy about parenthood is the way it forces me to renegotiate my relationship with Sydney. Sometimes this radical reimagining of my hometown is enormously frustrating, as I’ve blogged about before, but increasingly it’s very, very rewarding.
Take, for instance, the Botanic Gardens, one of the great public spaces of Sydney. It suffered years of neglect as I all but ignored its existence – always on my way somewhere else, via the fastest route possible, it rarely occurred to me to enter the gardens, let alone stop long enough to enjoy them. But when you have a baby, parks become your outdoor HQ. I constantly keep my eyes peeled for the next jaunty patch of green blades. A huge expanse of well-maintained (or in the case of the Botanic Gardens, immaculate) grass means Master J may roam, and there is nothing a small child likes so much as roaming.
First he roamed by rolling – and don’t think for a moment he didn’t have places to go and people to see – to the left, to the right, off he rolled, all the while seeing what he could see, see, see. Next came crawling – an excellent means of roaming, as it turns out – and Master J became a real bullet on his hands and knees. And now, well, he’s walking (occasionally tripping) his way around the park, hurtling toward fountains, figureheads and picnicking foreigners with a spring in his step and an ecstatic squeal issuing forth from his dear sweet lips. “It’s me!” he seems to be saying to the statues. “I’m doing it! Did you see that?! The way I walked from there to here? Aren’t I incredible?!”
And the statues indulge him with their fixed smiles and reliably sturdy stands.
But then he might spot a plane in the sky, a bird on the path, a girl reading on the grass, and he’ll be off…
We often return to the Botanic Gardens if we’re downtown during Master J’s afternoon naptime. It really is an oasis inside its walls, so beautiful and calm, the canopy of trees providing ample cover as we take a turn – he asleep in his pram while I push it – around the winding paths, happily losing our way. Yesterday on one such stroll I came across the Succulent Garden, a place I’d never before entered, full of spiky, furry, phallic, inhospitable varieties of cacti and succulents that I happen to find very dramatic and interesting (I think it’s because they’re such survivors). Next I came across the nearby charmer, Lions Gate Lodge, which would make a great little spot for a twilight soiree were one looking to host such a thing (a helpful little sign at the entrance confirms it is available for event hire, so that’s a piece of info I shall store for another time).
There was even a photography exhibition in a little building deep in the gardens (I thought it was called the glasshouse but I can only find the Arc and the Pyramid online… it was more like a shed, anyway), and Peter Elfes’s photographs of Lake Eyre and other remote outback and desert aerial images are well worth a look. The Australian landscape captured from above looks positively extraterrestrial. Llew’s parents were lucky enough to see Lake Eyre flowing a couple of years ago and I would love them to see Elfes’s stunning shots of this rare and fascinating natural event.
All in all it was very restful, not least for the little sleeper who didn’t stir until we re-entered the fray and found ourselves back in the thick of the madding crowd. It’s so nice knowing the Botanic Gardens are there anytime we need a little bit of shush. I highly recommend it – especially because there are signs everywhere inviting visitors to take off their shoes and Please Walk on the Grass. That’s my kind of public space.