Read my response (typos and all) to Macquarie University’s update on the impending train station upgrade (i.e. closure).
When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race. H. G. Wells1
White Bay, Sydney
I pull the bed sheet back and stare at my toes. I wiggle them playfully, admiring their strange shape and wrinkled texture. While doing this I notice sports clothing at the foot of the bed, folded in a neat pile. I must’ve placed them there last night. But the reason for my doing so doesn’t come easily in my half-sleep. I instinctively scan the room for additional clues and notice a blue and white bicycle helmet sitting on my bedside table. The penny drops. Today is Spring Cycle and I’m taking part in it.2
Still feeling drowsy, I drag myself out of bed, splash cold water on my face and slowly dress in front of the full-length mirror. Peering at each other through squinting eyes, my reflection and I curiously study each other from head to toe. Dressed identically, we’re both sporting a bicycle themed Levis commuter tee in grey, a pair of black loose-fitting lululemon shorts, lululemon ankle-length socks and Onitsuka Tiger shoes. Although I could shed a few pounds, I still manage to look quite athletic. In any case, to rise to the occasion one must be dressed for the occasion.
It’s only after putting on a pot of freshly ground coffee and taking a few gulps that I feel fully awake. I check my watch. It’s time to go! I fill my water bottle to the brim and slip an energy bar into my pocket. I put on my gloves and bicycle helmet on the way to the door, almost forgetting my polarised Ray-Bans. Cyril (my bicycle’s name) and I hurry out of the apartment and pedal as fast as we can to Rozelle Bay tram stop, which is hidden above the bushy ridge opposite the intersection of The Crescent and City West Link.
Apart from a few shift workers drifting in and out of waking consciousness, the 6am service, the first for the day, is deserted.3 A buoyant prerecorded voice, jarring at this hour, reminds us that the next stop is Jubilee Park. One of the workers, an Asian man wearing a navy-blue parker, barely stirs from his slumber. We pull up behind the Rozelle Tram Sheds and the doors slide wide open admitting the crisp early morning air into the carriage. It’s the middle of Spring. A few more workers shuffle in, their heads bowed concertedly as if to avoid making eye contact with the other passengers. I understand. It’s too early in the morning to acknowledge each other’s existence let alone exchange civilities. The tram pulls out of the stop. This monotonous and unspectacular sequence of events is repeated along the next ten light-rail stops on the city bound Dulwich Hill line, until we climb up to the magnificent sandstone terminus at Central Station.
I alight from the tram and briskly walk a short distance towards the widest boom gate on the intercity train concourse, my Spring Cycle rider number clearly displayed on the front of Cyril’s handlebars.4 As I sail through the gates I flash a friendly smile at the Sydney Trains staff member manning the barrier. His chubby continental-looking face, betraying a love of rich food, in abundant quantities, begrudgingly acknowledges me. I hurry towards the lift, making little effort to conceal my excitement. The starting line of the Sydney Spring Cycle in North Sydney is beckoning, and I’m positively eager to get there before the deluge of late risers clog the network, turning what should be a delightful single trip train journey into sheer drudgery.
I’ve been riding a bicycle for a couple of years now, but it’s only this morning when attempting to squeeze my way into the carriage door under the duress of the train guard’s whistle, that I shamelessly discover its potential as a battering ram. The family of four, who’ve laid claim to the standing area next to the door, reluctantly make room for me and my newly assertive steed. I stake out my spot and we quickly settle into something of an uneasy truce. Not surprisingly, as the doors slide open at the next three stations, Town Hall, Wynyard and Milsons Point, no one dares muscle into the tightly packed entrance with its uninviting wall of bodies, bikes and surly faces.
We arrive at North Sydney station around 7am, an hour before the 12 km Sydney City Ride event is scheduled to kick off.5 Hundreds of bicycle riders rush from the train and float up the stairs to Blue Street. The rare scene of a swarm of cyclists pouring out of the station is a marvellous spectacle to behold. I imagine that’s what a typical morning looks like in an Amsterdam train station. Spring Cycle volunteers, keen to keep the movement of cyclists flowing and avoid overcrowding, vigorously wave us up towards Miller Street while shouting reassuring words of encouragement such as ‘Congratulations! You’ve made it this far! The rest is easy!’
The incline up Miller Street is mild enough for the average cyclist like myself with a clunky commuter bike (sorry Cyril) to sit in the saddle and take in the pleasant ambience of North Sydney in its most laid back guise: Clad in their Sunday whites, early risers stroll to their local café. Birds chirp in luscious streetside trees. Idle chatter is had between young siblings flirting with little experiments in freedom atop two wheels, under the watchful gaze of attentive parents trailing close behind. The weather is unseasonably warm, but not unpleasant. It will become increasingly warmer over the course of the morning.
The Starting Line
I dismount Cyril and walk him down to St Leonards Park. The mood is carnivalesque. There are long queues of people lining up patiently for coffee at a mobile espresso van. Dotting the landscape, colourful marquees represented by North Sydney Council, RMS, Bicycle NSW, cycling retailers and a few well known commercial radio stations, draw respectable crowds. Cycling mechanics are on hand, skilfully and efficiently making rusty bicycles roadworthy enough for today’s ride. I scan the horizon for my three work colleagues, Catherine, Feargal and Jen, who I’ll be riding with in a little under an hour. Familiar faces always stand out in the crowd. So, it’s not long before we warmly greet each other and assume our positions among a sea of cyclists snaking up Miller Street.
I can feel my throat muscles tighten and my eyes becoming cloudy. I’m a bit overwhelmed by the scene unfolding before me. I’ve never seen so many cyclists, of all age groups, gathered in one meeting place. The smiles and laughter of young children brimming with excitement as they cling onto their handlebars is a picture I find incontrovertibly powerful and moving. Nearby a DJ plays a song whose simple but apt chorus chants repeatedly: ‘We ain’t ever getting older.’
Volunteers stagger departures in tranches to avoid bottle necks further down the street. As we draw closer and closer to the starting line at the corner of Miller and Carlow Street, we engage in light banter and take selfies with our phones. Suddenly, without warning, the sound of a thousand bicycle bells ring into the air, a sweet sound which has an unexpected chimerical quality to it. Swept up in the moment, I’m delightfully surprised to find myself eagerly joining in. This form of meta communication between cyclists has an ineffable beauty that transcends any functional value I had hitherto assumed a bicycle bell was limited to.
We eventually reach the front of the starting line. I glance at my watch. It’s nearly 8:30am. Ride officials give us the thumbs-up and without any hesitation we propel ourselves down Miller Street which is dotted with tall, and spectacularly bright, orange witches hats. The starting line gradually shrinks in the side-view mirror on my right handlebar grip. Above the din of clicking freewheels, I hear the fading echo of the MC’s cry: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, make sure your helmets are done up properly.’ I had checked mine several times earlier this morning. But I check again, just in case.
There’s literally not a cloud in the sky. As clichéd as it sounds, it really is a picture-perfect day. Rolling down a smooth tar road with the knowledge that not only are we allowed to be here, but that the road has been set aside for us, ushers forth an unanticipated sense of freedom. I feel my usual heightened sense of animal alertness (an alertness which every cyclist with a sense of self-preservation comes to possess) slacken and fall away, a dead weight tossed aside effortlessly as I whiz through the lower parts of North Sydney with the irrepressible spirit of a child.
We negotiate our first corner into Berry Street.6 I feel Cyril eagerly surging forward. It’s as if sensing my lack of restraint, he responds sympathetically, gathering as much speed as his heavy steel frame can muster. The only care in the world now is to keep up with my friends, whose bikes are more agile than dear old Cyril, to safely navigate between the witches hats that channel us through innercity streets. Mustn’t crash into the others, I tell myself. So many cyclists. There are literally thousands of us participating in this event. But this is no peleton, flying around corners at breakneck speed. At times, bunched up like a hand of proverbial bananas, we barely inch forward. And then, as if by divine intervention, the throng of cyclists gives way to a splendid clearing and we make a break for it, only to be confounded with another massing of cyclists further up ahead. Although this stop-start pattern is a consistent feature of the journey, it’s infrequent enough not to become overtly onerous.
Volunteers halt us at the corner of Berry and Walker Street, a riot of bicycles momentarily quieted, before the grinding of chains and cogs erupt into mechanical song. We accelerate downhill towards the right turn leading into Arthur Street, passing a few benign-looking traffic police along the way. I see a young stringy looking boy momentarily lose control of his bike, his mother’s loving and encouraging voice trailing behind him: ‘Go Josh! Keep going! Hands on the brakes!’ As we come out of the bend, a breathtaking vista of the harbour bounded by Neutral Bay, Mosman and Cremorne Point comes into frame. Some of the more romantic cyclists among us audibly swoon, me included. This is the first sense one gets that this is going to be a quintessentially scenic tour of Sydney by bicycle, incomparably superior to touring the city’s landmarks in the stifling comfort of a car.
To help spread out the huge number of cyclists floating down onto the Harbour Bridge, we’re instructed to pause for a minute at a point in the road where Arthur turns left into Mount Street. Just for this morning, the first two lanes on the eastern side of the massive steel structure have been set aside exclusively for us. Once we’re given the green-light, it only takes a few minutes before we’re coasting along the bridge’s deck towards the Cahill Expressway. Cruising on two wheels while gazing skyward at the enormous metallic-grey arches that tower over the harbour, is a truly sublime experience.
I sneak a quick look at my watch. Since departing North Sydney, it’s taken us a little under a quarter of an hour to reach the iconic north-eastern pylon. Cars and buses hurry past us in both directions at a safe and respectful distance, thanks to the witches hats blocking off the lane to our right.
As if reading the group’s collective mind, Catherine mentions it’s getting warm. We make a quick unscheduled stop and stow our jackets in Cyril’s pannier. Organisers have recommended that for our own safety, participants not stop on the bridge, but we don’t dwell very long. We’re back in our saddles a minute later, pedalling past the south-eastern pylon of the bridge. Suddenly, I realise we’re riding alongside Sirius, the notorious weather-beaten public housing complex, boldly rising up from Cumberland street to steal a kiss from the southern approaches to the bridge.7 A wisp of wind lightly brushes my cheek. I sense a melancholy disturbance in the air, the ghosts of former residents stirring restlessly down below.
The lane starts to turn left and we pass the City East/Cahill Expressway sign overhead. At this point we lose sight of Jen and her family. Our paths will cross again later. Now travelling at a right angle to the great bridge, we straighten up on the eastern side of Cahill Expressway and the most gorgeous panorama comes into view from the north, the morning sun bathing the white sails of Sydney Opera House in a magnificent golden hue. Overcome by this operatic display of beauty, cyclists young and old, pull over to the side of the freeway and take Insta-snaps with their phones. Moments before we loop back 180 degrees to Cahill West, a female cyclist I’ve been trailing behind for a minute or so, suddenly wobbles, her drivetrain shot through with mechanical failure. ‘Nature’s devil!’ she cries, limping dejectedly towards the curb. I feel an impulse to stop and help, but decide to push on instead, reassured that a mobile mechanic is nearby.
We approach the Sydney Conservatorium of Music8 on Macquarie Street, an old stomping ground of mine, and then loop back onto the Cahill Expressway. Riding three abreast, the Opera House has now shifted to our right.9 A few hundred metres up ahead, the expressway dips into a short tunnel, cut beneath Cumberland Street and the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge. Seconds prior to diving into the confined space, I notice an electronic sign overhead reminding us that ‘Cyclists Must Follow Traffic Signals.’ The younger riders among us instantaneously respond to the echoic properties of the tunnel, making all manner of subterranean sounds: ‘Woo’! ‘Ooh’! and ‘Aah’! I don’t need encouragement. I join the chorus with a few nonchalant flicks of the hammer on Cyril’s high pitched bell, and for good measure manage a drawn-out juvenile cry: Wheeeeee!
Emerging from out the other end, we struggle up the 270 degree spiral incline (it feels like the steepest grade of the entire 12 km course) that merges onto Bradfield Highway. As the road levels out, a relieved Cyril and I are safely funnelled away from the heavy traffic that’s making its way north over the Harbour Bridge. Without a seeming care, we roll past the scenic and beautiful Observatory Hill via Upper Fort Street and Watson Road, down towards the iconic Rocks area.
We’ve been riding for about half an hour now. We pause at the corner of Argyle and Kent to give way to traffic. It’s not even lunch time yet and I’m secretly pining for an icy cold pale ale. I can’t be blamed though. The ride down Argyle Street takes in famous pubs such as the Lord Nelson and the newly refurbished Palisades Hotel. There’s something about being in the Rocks that always brings out the tippler in me.
We fly down Dalgety Road which becomes Towns Place and then loop back at the roundabout towards Hickson Road Walsh Bay, where I worked as a waiter when I was young, pretty and stupid. We pass under the historic Munns Street bridge, cut across the theatre district and head south towards Sussex Street, riding parallel to the newly minted Barangaroo. An unwittingly rogue taxi driver momentarily trails behind us, before realising his folly. I observe him fading away apologetically in my side-view mirror.
It’s going on 9.15am. We cycle beneath the abandoned lower deck of the Western Distributor that flies over Sussex street, plunging the stretch of road near Erskine Street into a perpetual sunless existence. Cycling underneath its soulless canopy, one comes to appreciate the true scale of this historically contested behemoth. As Cyril and I are swallowed whole by its overbearing shadow, I ponder how future generations will look upon this concrete monstrosity, bitterly resisted by innercity residents in the early 1970s.10
The world that we have created, and indeed the one that had been made possible for us, has begun to give way to cars and trucks. The three kilometres of road skirting the city’s southern precinct, from the low-lying neighbourhood of the Rocks to the light rail corridor in Hay Market, is punctuated by a sequence of intersections and traffic signals. We’re stopping more frequently now. Arterial roads that simply cannot be blocked any longer are pulsating and throbbing with car loads of Sunday workers, shoppers and day trippers. Traffic police are becoming more conspicuous, though no less congenial. And the relatively safe road that the witches hats have paved for us over the course of the morning, seem to be squeezing us closer and closer together to the point of detriment.
Suddenly, around 9.30am, Jen and her daughter magically appear at the corner of Sussex and Bathurst Streets. We’re happy to be reunited once again, and chat for the next five minutes or so until we reach the Haymarket end of Sussex Street, just opposite Paddy’s Markets. Jen’s daughter, who has been riding along on a tow-bike, asks Jen to ‘put your gear on higher!’ Jen turns around to her little girl and in a warm and disarming tone replies ‘well I can’t cos there’s so many people.’ Indeed, we’re tightly packed at this stage. Although it would add to the logistical challenges Spring Cycle organisers currently contend with, putting on an additional 12 km ride and staggering its start time by half an hour would definitely alleviate overcrowding.
We turn right into Hay Street and for a short distance ride parallel to the Dulwich Hill tram line, to our left, before peeling off right into Harbour street. Coming to a complete stop outside the Novotel hotel, I sense someone looking down upon me from a vertiginous height. I look up to my left and fix my gaze on a beautiful ten-story tall mural of an androgynous middle-aged face with caramel skin and powerful brown eyes. This fantastic portrait, which I’ve never seen before, radiates with a latent energy that is almost palpable. Later I will learn that this is a representation of local indigenous activist Jenny Munro.11
Taking a left turn at the corner of Harbour and Goulburn streets, we enter into Pier Street. Pier Street has a steep enough grade to cause a few riders difficulty maintaining momentum at low speed. As we climb the street, the spatial arrangement of new and old buildings comes into striking view. Straight ahead the historic Ultimo Power Station, a relic of the electric age (whose current tenant, the Powerhouse Museum, is said to be moving to Parramatta)12 is visually juxtaposed with the new International Convention Centre Theatre13 to our right, and to our left, with a building attached to the massive Darling Square urban community project.14
The slip lane off Pier Street channels us down into Zollner Circuit where we turn right, at speed, onto Darling Drive, a long road which circumscribes the western perimeter of Darling Harbour from Ultimo to historic Pyrmont. Passing under a noodle of massive concrete structures that prop up the ubiquitous Western Distributor, I feel like I’ve cycled straight into Jeffrey Smart’s The Arezzo Ramp Bicycle Race. It’s a painting I don’t pretend to know much about. But, on a superficial level, I find that its representation of a desolate urban landscape resonates with my visual experience of this corner of the city.
Reconnecting with the tram line, we cycle past the Exhibition and Convention Centre tram stops. I’m delighted to see that a new bicycle path has been constructed between these two light rail connections, replacing the loss of the decommissioned cycle lane on Darling Drive. As I wonder whether the path will extend to Ultimo Road, or perhaps to George Street via the Goods Line, the grade of Darling Drive suddenly steepens as it curves left. Cyril and I begin to heave. Instinctively, I gear down and pedal hard. I lift myself from the seat and shift my body-weight forward to meet the challenge posed by the hill, head-on.
At the busy intersection, where Pyrmont Bridge Road meets Darling Drive, we give way to traffic before turning right into Murray Street. We pass two Sydney icons, Pyrmont bridge to our right and to the left, Bridge Hotel, where I once enjoyed a pint with an old school friend, long since departed. Melancholy reminiscence segues into low-level indignation as we whiz past Star City, Sydney’s harbour-side shrine to a national obsession, gambling.
As Murray Street turns slightly left into Pirrama Road, I wistfully sense that my Spring Cycle experience is about to conclude. Cyril determinedly ploughs through the second exit at the roundabout between Jones Bay Road and Darling Island Road and the finish line at Pirrama Park becomes visible a few hundred metres up the road. Soon we’ll return to inhabiting the margins of society both figuratively and literally, where public safety awareness campaigns such as ‘a metre matters’ is not just an empty mantra, but for some of us a matter of life and death.
The Finish Line
With the buildup of energy and sense of anticipation expelled over 12 km of physical activity, the mood at Pirrama Park is a bit more subdued. I dismount my trusty steed and steal a glance at my watch. It’s 9.45am. Total journey time: One hour and fifteen minutes. Securing our bikes to the temporary parking rings, located on the perimeter of the park, we insinuate ourselves into the crowd of families and other entities. Catherine, Feargal and I (Jen and her family have repaired to another section of the park) are happy to dwell a little, to savour the moment, to look around. But the scorching heat drives us from the hive of activity towards a lonesome park-bench beneath a tree, where we quell our appetites with a few snacks scored from the promotional pop-up kiosks.
Bypassing the horde of event-sponsor marquees, our stomachs appeased for the minute, we saunter over to a cheerful volunteer handing out Spring Cycle medals, discharging her task without a scintilla of gravity. We each receive ours, still wrapped in the little plastic bags they were bulk-ordered in. I find the impulse of feigning deference too delicious to resist, so I cheekily affect a bow as I collect mine. With wide grins betraying a healthy dose of irony, we proudly show off our medals to each other and take a few selfies. Done with shenanigans, we unlock our bikes and pedal back towards the city centre, which is quickly and easily accessible via Pyrmont Bridge.
Cycling towards the centre of the Victorian era bridge, something unexpected happens, bringing us to a complete standstill. The bridge operator, an unassuming man with grey hair and a thin build, quietly emerges from the crowd. He climbs the short flight of heritage-green stairs to the compact bridge house and places both hands on the controls. The imposing wooden barrier gates on the eastern and western approaches to the bridge sweep inwardly shut, transforming the empty space between them into a forbidding no man’s land.
The swing span smoothly rotates 90 degrees to allow the passage of a tall vessel berthing in Cockle Bay. I scan the horizon but can’t see anything coming our way. Craning my neck through the western gate I spot a little fishing boat, a tiny speck of a thing passing quietly down below, making mere ripples in the water.15 I look on mirthfully, amused by the anti-climactic scene unfolding before the captive crowd. And then, as if yielding to our growing sense of impatience, the recalcitrant span slowly swings back into alignment with the rest of the bridge, the barrier gates sweep open to their usual taken for granted position, and commuters and cyclists once again pour across Pyrmont Bridge. With that, Catherine, Feargal and I bid each other farewell, mount our hobby horses and ride off into the remainder of the day.
As I make my way down to King Street Wharf, to catch the ferry to Balmain East, the symbolic meaning of what just transpired on the bridge dawns on me: Maybe a massive swing bridge giving way to a tiny boat may seem completely unnecessary, an exaggerated gesture, but perhaps that’s the kind of thing that’s needed to make smaller and more vulnerable members of our society feel safe and socially included.16 And maybe we should look no further than the example of today’s Spring Cycle, where a massive and coordinated effort by government and non-government organisations was made so that a precious little girl and her mother could safely and happily travel from one end of Sydney to the other, on their own steam, without having to be leery of fast cars and heavy trucks bearing down upon them.
‘Riders must remove their rider number before cycling home please.’ I’m not sure if anyone cared to read this command, but that’s what Bicycle NSW organisers had stipulated on the back of the Spring Cycle Rider Number. Down on the ferry wharf I bump into a father and son on their way home. They’re still sporting their identity numbers and proudly wearing Spring Cycle 2016 medals. The medals are cheaply made. They don’t signify place getting. But that’s not the point. They are shared symbols that connote a sense of belonging, a sense of achievement.
We have journeyed together through the threshold of the everyday world of the car to a space where bicycles are sovereign. And we have safely returned, basking in the afterglow of this liminal experience. However, things don’t just happen without leaving their mark. Even if it’s imperceptible, the experience of Spring Cycle doesn’t just change its participants. It changes the city. It changes the people in it. Populations who don’t cycle come to think differently about this activity, even if that difference is incremental and miniscule. That is how social change happens: Gradual, slow, patient and sometimes magical.
Departing King Street Wharf, the Darling Harbour ferry service picks up a bunch of cyclists from Pyrmont wharf and then effortlessly glides across the still waters of Port Jackson towards Balmain East. Once on dry land, Cyril and I climb up the notoriously steep grade of Darling Street between Weston Street and Johnston and Nicholson Streets, and then ride the rest of the way towards an old cafe haunt on the corner of Ann Street, Balmain. I take a seat at the street-facing table and order a toasty and strong coffee. While waiting for my food to come, I borrow a spare pen from the café counter and start sketching some ideas for this essay.
After six months of sporadic effort at writing this winding story, it’s gratifying to have something I feel I can finally let go of. Writing about the Spring Cycle 2016 event has given me the opportunity to reflect on my personal experience of the day, to try and make sense of its meaning. It’s also jogged my memory about how wonderful it was to be involved in a big event with tonnes of good will. I hope this rambling discourse inspires others to get on a bike, to experience Sydney (or whichever city you happen to live in) on two wheels, regardless of one’s prowess behind the handle bars. To conclude, if Cyril and I can do it, anyone can.
Looking back over this essay, it’s become clearer that cycling isn’t just about the physical act of riding. I don’t wish to downplay its undeniable locomotive demands, but it’s also a visual experience, and the pleasure that cycling brings draws much from the sense of seeing. What this essay doesn’t do particularly well is capture the spirit of riding together as a group. Truth be told, Catherine, Feargal and I were chatting throughout the journey, with very little intermission. In fact, we laughed our way throughout most of it. This dynamic, underscores the point that riding is a form of social interaction. To emphasise the point, riding a bicycle isn’t just about maintaining balance, momentum, and speed. It’s an intrinsically social act where all faculties and senses are engaged. And if you’re a thinking person, as you coast along two wheels you’ll be inclined to observe, notice and comment on things that stimulate the mind and challenge the intellect. I would venture to say that cycling can foster a sense of mindfulness, but that’s a topic to be mulled over for another day.
- Quote popularly attributed to Wells, but not sighted in his published works. ↩
- Spring Cycle 2016 took place on the morning of Sunday 16 October. It’s promoted by Bicycle NSW as ‘a day we can celebrate cycling and rediscover the joys of cycling through Sydney and beyond…’ My thanks to friends and fellow Spring Cycle participants Catherine, Feargal, Jen and her family. ↩
- Spring Cycle ID holders were entitled to free travel on ferries and trains, except for tickets purchased at airport stations. I wasn’t sure what the deal was with trams, so I tapped on and off with my Opal Card. ↩
- I registered for the Spring Cycle 2016 event in late August at a cost of $36. The invoice emailed to me was from Bicycle NSW. On its website https://bicyclensw.org.au/about/ Bicycle NSW states that it has ‘over 15,000 members and supporters, Bicycle NSW is the peak recreational cycling body in NSW. Our 40 years of history shows in our unrivaled (sic) local knowledge and a widespread cycling network.’ The organisation it enlisted to help run the event, Limelight Sports, is a UK based private company whose website http://limelightsports.com/what-we-do states that they ‘work with leading brands, engaging their audiences through active experiences. Providing a platform for meaningful real-life connections we create and deliver campaigns with guaranteed results.’ A week or so later I received a Spring Cycle pack in the mail with my individual rider number which one was required to attach to their bike handlebars during the event. ↩
- The other rides are the 50 km Classic Ride and the full-on 105 km Bikebug Challenge Ride, both which started earlier in the morning, 6.30am and 7am respectively, and finished in Sydney Olympic Park. Our friend Matt, who is an experienced road cyclist, entered and successfully completed the Bikebug challenge. ↩
- I filmed the ride by attaching my iPhone to a universal silicon mount called a ‘finn’ made by the cycling app company bike citizens. I drew on that video as well as photos I took immediately before and after the ride to inform my recollection of the day’s events. I also made use of the excellent Spring Cycle map, which breaks the relatively short journey into stages by street/road and distance. The original web-link to this map, broken at the time of publishing this essay, was hosted by a company called Ride with GPS https://ridewithgps.com. For general information about the event I referred to the Spring Cycle: 2016 Ride Guide at http://springcycle.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Spring-Cycle-Ride-Guide-2016.pdf ↩
- http://saveoursirius.org. See also Vanessa Berry’s excellent essay on Sirius at her Mirror Sydney website: https://mirrorsydney.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/a-tour-of-the-sirius-building/ ↩
- http://music.sydney.edu.au ↩
- Epsom Road studios was commissioned by Spring Cycle organisers to take photographs of each participant as they crossed the Harbour Bridge and Cahill Expressway. Soon after the event, cyclists were invited to view and purchase photographs of themselves by entering their rider number into the Spring Cycle 2016 section of the Epsom Studios website, https://secure.epsomrdstudios.com.au/browse.php?id=3925. I paid $15 for the photograph of Catherine, Feargal and myself on Cahill Expressway west, the one featured in this essay. ↩
- That battle was eventually won by residents. But the menacing threat of motorway construction through Sydney suburban communities has returned, in the aggressive and totalising form of WestConnex. ↩
- http://www.novotelrockforddarlingharbour.com.au/whats-on/overview_viewItem_3551-en.html ↩
- https://maas.museum/ ↩
- http://www.iccsydney.com.au/plan-an-event/icc-sydney-live ↩
- http://www.darlingsq.com/home ↩
- The bridge has a regular schedule of opening times on weekends and public holidays, independent of waterway movements in and out of Cockle Bay: https://vesselbooking.property.nsw.gov.au ↩
- In fact, the bridge did not swing open to give way to the small vessel (see previous footnote). But for the purposes of literary conceit, the coincidence was too tempting to ignore. ↩
HE used to be alone
Until, one day
We came along.
We are here
When he wakes up
We are here
When he goes to bed.
We’re never still
We crawl efficiently
Across the apartment floor.
In search of food
Our life’s reason
We go this way
We go that way
We have no beginning
We have no end
We are everywhere
We are diffuse.
He’s bored of us
He wants us to go
But we’re quite happy
With our new home.
ONE part borax
Three parts sugar
They won’t know the difference
When I lay my deathly trap.
I’m tired of the floor moving
Morning and night
I want them to go
I wish they would leave.
Is it right to stop
Things that move
Of their own accord
Just because they’re infinitesimally small?
It’s raining again
It’s always raining
I want the rain to stop.
Oh how I wish the rain would stop.
Yesterday was Summer.
Today is Autumn
Or Fall if you will.
I started my job on the 29th of February 2016.
So, I won’t be celebrating my first work anniversary
For another four years.
That’s if a robot isn’t sitting
In my chair. In which case
Who knows where I’ll be.
Here is my number.
If I’m no longer here.
I’m not morbid. Just curious.
From an early age I was attracted to the lives of others, and though I’ve never penned one myself, I’ve had a long and abiding interest in the art of the obituary. In the wake of an unanticipated sequence of deaths over the dying days of 2016 (sorry, the pun was too delicious to overlook) I feel compelled to share a few personal insights.
Death is the full stop of a lived biography. I choose the word ‘lived’ carefully, because a posthumous biography is conceived in the interstices of death and the opening sentence of an obituary.
The dead, in a figurative sense, are the living dead until such time that they are forgotten by all and sundry.
What distinguishes a famous person, a ‘Name’, from your and my lower-case one, is highlighted by the polar-opposite preoccupations of two equally brilliant but scorned disciplines of the last century: Biography and Sociology.
Biography’s reason has, is and will continue to be the art and science of remembering people of public note, particularly deceased ones. Contradistinct to this, Sociology is historically obsessed with agglomerates: A mass of people as a distinct entity whose values, attitudes and behaviours can be subjected to empirical observation and analysis.
In the world view of Sociology, there are no individuals empirically worthy of individual study. The study of individuality as a social trend is what matters.
To the biographer, the face of a particular man or woman is sovereign. Whereas for Sociology, reading the face of the crowd continues to be axiomatic to its calling.
What this means, on the ground, is that a few generations from now when the last living memory of us as individuals is extinguished, we will be forgotten for eternity. However, if there is any consolation here, sociologists, of the historical persuasion, will look back and try to make sense of what was particular about our society (that is, the society you and I are custodians of). So, we’ll still be kind of important, but only in a collective sense.
On the other hand, biographers won’t give a damn about you, unless you once answered to the name of Muhammad Ali, in which case although we never had the pleasure of meeting, I just want you to know that I really do think you’re the greatest.
Tomorrow, New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world won’t be any less muted as a result of the shattering end to 2016. As much as it will be a celebration of the year to come, NYE 2016 will also be a ritual cleansing, an institutational catharsis, and the wake we had to have.