Things are certainly changing at one of Australia’s best known tourism destinations, the Darling Harbour Entertainment Precinct in Sydney.
The New South Wales government is investing $AUD 3.4 billion in the transformation of Darling Harbour, including the construction of an International Convention Centre at Cockle Bay.
This work will include a series of marine structures such as a new Cockle Bay boardwalk that will run from the convention centre wharf to the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Construction of the boardwalk, which will include three floating pontoons, is expected to finish in early 2018. The convention centre wharf is designed to sharply boost the use of water transport within Darling Harbour.
An iconic new Sydney landmark
Meanwhile, another key part of the revamp of Darling Harbour has received government planning approval and is set to deliver Sydney an iconic new landmark.
The Darling Exchange has been described as an “urban village” and will contain a host of mixed facilities including a new City of Sydney Library; a child care centre; rooftop restaurant; high quality residential facilities; and a creative and technology hub.
When finished, the exchange could house up to 4,200 residents and two-and-a-half-thousand workers.
Drive one direction and it feels like you’ve entered a time warp, whirling back to the early 1800’s.
Head the other way and you’re soon in a futuristic landscape of sweeping concrete and steel.
Welcome to the Windsor district of eastern Australia, an area that offers a snapshot of colonial times, with many grand examples of 19th century British architecture.
At the same time, the area also features Australia’s biggest public transport project, the sleek, multi-billion dollar Sydney Metro NorthWest rail link.
This stark contrast between the old and the new, is a reminder that, although Windsor is a wonderful link to Australia’s colonial past, it is also on the edge of the Sydney beltway – a bustling, modern commuter channel.
But it was the Windsor of the 1800’s that we came to find.
Our ancestors were humble farmers in the area when it was Australia’s third city, a settlement established to provide fresh produce for the fledgling penal colony of Sydney.
Many of their graves can be found in the pioneer cemetery at nearby Wilberforce, which stands in the shadow of Australia’s oldest church, dating to 1809.
Sue’s ancestors, in particular, hold a special and prominent place in the local community, descending from Australia’s first group of free settlers.
Thomas and Jane Rose and their four children – originally from rural Dorset in England – had arrived in the colony in 1793 and started farming in the Windsor area about 1802.
‘Rose Cottage’, their house at Wilberforce, built in 1811, remains the oldest slab timber dwelling on its original site in Australia.
After exploring the pioneer cemetery, we headed for one of Windsor’s best known landmarks, the Macquarie Arms hotel, which claims to be the oldest pub in mainland Australia.
Sitting high above the Hawkesbury River, the pub certainly has an olde worlde feel, complete with resident ghosts – or perhaps that should be ‘spirits’.
First licensed in 1815 and operated continuously ever since, apart from the period between 1840-1874, the Macquarie Arms was built by convicts who are said to have constructed tunnels between the building and the river for secretly transporting illegal rum.
Whether it is really the oldest pub on the Australian mainland seems to depend on who you ask. Apparently, colonial Sydney was brimming with ‘sly grog’ shops and hotels from about 1800 onwards.
One thing is for certain: the old pub is just one of many colonial buildings in Windsor still in use.
These include the local court house, designed by famous colonial architect Sir Francis Greenway and built in 1822; several historic churches; Windsor post office; and any number of grand Victorian mansions.
And, to prove that the area was indeed a land of opportunity, there’s Thompson Square which was named after a convict pioneer who went on to become a magistrate at law.
Next on our list was a visit to Rose Cottage which is truly a priceless piece of Australian heritage, followed by a tour of the adjoining Australiana Pioneer Village which strives to promote the area’s history.
The village combines historic buildings and demonstrations of traditional crafts.
Both these attractions are maintained by hard-working groups of volunteers.
Windsor is on the north-western outskirts of Sydney, about 56 kilometres from the city centre.
The Sea Life Aquarium is one of the leading attractions in Sydney, Australia.
Located in the heart of the city’s Darling Harbour leisure precinct, Sydney Aquarium takes you on an underwater journey through Australia’s unique freshwater and marine aquatic environments.
Along the way you come face-to-face with dugongs, sharks, huge stingrays, sawfish, brightly-coloured reef fish, eels and much more.
Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is a big attraction and operators recommend that you allow about 90 minutes for your visit. Last admissions occur one hour before closing each day.
The aquarium is wheelchair accessible throughout. There are ramps connecting each level, so care should always be taken. Part of the attraction is floating and attached to the wharf so the ground may be slightly uneven depending on tide times.
Wheelchairs may be borrowed from the admissions area if required. Wheelchairs are on a first come, first served basis, and cannot be booked or reserved ahead of time.
You will be required to leave your ID behind while you use the wheelchair.
There are cafes and gift shops at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, some of which are accessible to non-paying visitors. Toilets are also available in the foyer for visitors or cafe and gift shop customers.
A highlight of the aquarium is spectacular underway viewing tunnels that take visitors deep into the main fish tanks where they are surrounded by aquatic life of all types and colours.
The aquarium’s two dugongs are among the most popular attractions and big crowds gather to watch each feeding session.
A glance at the menu board shows that the dugongs seem to have a particular fondness for a certain green vegetable.