Sydney Rain



Despite its Neighbours-enhanced reputation of people playing cricket in the street and constantly rustling up barbies, Australia isn’t continually swathed in sunshine and beautiful blue skies. Sydney, for example, gets quite a lot of rain (although it does tend to come at once rather than in the form of perpetual drizzle and grey skies). The problem with this is that most of Sydney’s celebrated highlights – harbour cruising, Bondi to Coogee walk, Botanic Gardens, sitting on the beach etc – are all wholesome outdoor pursuits. So what do you do in Sydney when it’s absolutely shafting it down? Well, here are a few suggestions...



Hyde Park Barracks

Originally constructed in 1819 as a place to house the hordes of convicts being sent over from Britain, the Hyde Park Barracks has since been an immigration depot and a court complex. It’s now a museum, largely focusing on Australia’s convict history. It’s an extremely good one too. Ghost stair rails show the original layout, and the exhibits are handled with inventive panache. The Convict Sydney section is particularly good. A huge map shows where convicts were shipped to during the period where transportation was seen as the cure to society’s ills. It wasn’t just Australia – considerable numbers were packed off to Bermuda, Gibraltar and what is now Singapore as well. The French were at it too – they got rid of their undesirables by shipping them out to far-flung colonies. The really neat bit is that a massive mural on the wall depicts the whole process from the industrial revolution slums in Britain to life in the colonies. There are scores of little details to look at, and the mural is recreated on scrollable screens where you can zoom in on these details to find out more about them. They turn into tales of spending six months in leg irons and people committing crimes just so they could be sent out to join their loved ones in Australia. Another room is devoted to the shocking tales of the 4,114 Irish orphan girls who were shipped over from Ireland with very little indeed and expected to make a life for themselves.


Justice and Police Museum

If you’re more interested in the naughty boy side of the convict era, then the Justice and Police Museum goes into much of the salacious detail. It’s in the old police and court building – you can peek into the cells and pose for all manner of cheesy dock and magistrates’ bench photos in the old courtroom. Many of the cells are converted into small exhibition spaces, concentrating on different themes. The most gruesome is the room full of devices used to restrain and get confessions out of prisoners. Surprisingly, the more up-to-date stuff grabs the interest more than the colonial era displays. There’s a chance to swot up on some of Sydney’s most infamous murders and disappearances, while the seemingly never-ending gangland turf wars in Kings Cross should raise an eyebrow. Especially when you discover the extent of the police corruption. 


The Queen Victoria Building

Accessible underground from Town Hall Station, the QVB is one of the most impressive buildings in the Sydney CBD. It’s worth a look, even if you’re not planning on buying anything from the shops inside. But if you are fancying a shopping expedition, it’s the perfect starting point. The malls and shopping centres of Sydney’s CBD are connected through a maze of overpasses, underground entrances and food courts, essentially meaning that you can blitz through most of what you want without getting wet. That said, with the current exchange rates, you’ll probably need a rich daddy to be able to afford anything.


Art Gallery of New South Wales

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is inside a pompous old building that seems to think it’s a grand Roman or Greek temple. And even the curators would admit that it’s not the greatest art gallery in the world. But if you can battle through the herds of school children that appear to be kept inside the building to keep them off the streets, there is some good stuff in there – and it’s a chance to get to know some Australian artists that you’ve probably never heard of. Probably the most interesting three are Russell Drysdale, Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. Drysdale is famous for heavily stylised scenes of Outback folk, Boyd is often rather dark and Nolan has an obsession with Ned Kelly.



Govindas is a long-standing backpacker staple, with the dinner and movie packages coming in at under $30 a head. This Hare Krishna-run Darlinghurst hideaway provides an enormous vegetarian buffet, where you’re encouraged to eat as much as you like as long as you don’t ask for a bit of dead cow, but this is the pre-amble. Once you’ve stuffed yourself, you go upstairs to the small private cinema, lounge back on seats that are closer to beds than traditional cinema chairs and watch whatever movie they’ve got scheduled for that night. It’s an excellent date option for the relatively cash-strapped, incidentally...


Other indoor options

Those interested in the universe should head up to the Sydney Observatory - there’s a big astronomy exhibition, a 3D space theatre, and plenty of detail on how indigenous Australians have always interpreted the night sky.  Other museums worth seeing include the Powerhouse, which is great for big kids who like pressing buttons and interactive exhibits. The Australian National Maritime Museum is superb as well, telling a lot of stories about the early exploration of Australia that most people don’t know. The bits on the Dutch explorers who turned up way before Captain Cook did are particularly fascinating. If you’re of the mind that aquariums are worth going to, rather than being a poor man’s zoo with all the good animals removed, then Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour is pretty good. You can also go ten pin bowling in Darling Harbour, visit the Comedy Store near Fox Studios or watch arthouse movies at the Dendy Cinemas in Circular Quay and Newtown. Up in The Rocks, The Rocks Discovery Museum takes you through thousands of years of history in the area, while the Museum of Contemporary Art seems deliberately designed to get old people tutting.