30 Days in Sydney

30 Days in Sydney

A Wildly Distorted Account

Book - 2001
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After living in New York for ten years novelist Peter Carey returned home to Sydney with the idea of capturing its ebullient character via the four elements. 'I would never seek to define Manhattan by asking my New York friends for stories of Earth and Air and Fire and Water,' he writes, 'but that is exactly what was in my mind as I walked through immigration at Kingsford Smith International Airport.'
Carey draws the reader helplessly into a wild and wonderful journey of discovery and re-discovery. Reading this book is a very physical experience, as bracing as the southerly buster that sometimes batters Sydney's beauteous shores. Famous visual extravaganzas such as Bondi Beach, the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the Blue Mountains all take on a strange new intensity when exposed to the penetrating gaze of Peter and his friends.
Thirty Days in Sydney offers the reader a private glimpse behind the glittering facades and venetian blinds. It will exhilarate and enchant all who visit.
Publisher: London ; New York : Bloomsbury, 2001.
ISBN: 9780747555001
Characteristics: 248 p. ;,20 cm.
Alternative Title: Thirty days in Sydney


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Jul 26, 2018

Somewhat surprisingly, this was a nice introduction to a brief visit to Sydney. It offers a little history, a little memoir and plenty of colourful storytelling set in a wide variety of Sydney locations. Carey tells stories about people from his earlier life in Sydney, combined with a contemporary visit to some of the same people. His scenes range from the Blue Hills behind Sydney to the straits offshore, managing to cover most of the tourist highlights, such as a climb up the Sydney bridge, a tour of the opera house and the ferry ride to Manley beach. He even manages to fit in many memorable un-touristy incidents, such as an attempt to go protect his friend’s home from a fast-moving forest fire.
Among the more memorable stories are two different tales of fighting the wild seas of Sydney’s outer harbour and southeast coast down into Bass Strait. The unforeseen hazards show why earlier mariners avoided the southern oceans and failed to find Australia until 1770. Carey also illustrates the ignorance, privation and corruption suffered by the first convict Britons who were sent to establish a colonial presence in Australia.
He fills his stories with concrete details of the colours, sounds and natural features that make them quite realistic. By the time I got to Sydney, I was looking forward to visiting the places he describes, and felt I knew a lot about them.
Carey is a novelist of renown, although I haven’t read any of his books, so I was not surprised that he could write a good story. It made me wonder, though, how factual the stories are. Did he really go through those incidents with his friends, or are they reworked to make a better story? Or are they all the products of a creative imagination? Some stories seem to be clearly fantasies, such as the dreamlike midnight climb to conquer the Sydney bridge. The histories seem to be solidly based in fact. These are all good questions to have in mind reading any travelogue, and they might not have been so prominent in my mind if Carey had not been a novelist.
The concrete details and storytelling approach that Carey uses make a nice complement to David Day’s Claiming A Continent, which I read at the same time.

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