Stepping Back to Elizabeth Bay, Sydney.

Yesterday, I carpe diemed the afternoon. After my doctor’s appointment at Royal North Shore Hospital, I  went on extensive detour via Elizabeth Bay, which took me across the other side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and heading out towards Bondi and the opposite direction with a few doglegs thrown in versus heading home.

Map of Elizabeth bay & Sydney

Map of Sydney showing the location of Elizabeth Bay and Billyard Avenue, which is about halfway up the right hand side at the blue P. By © OpenStreetMap contributors – http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=15/-33.8699/151.1983, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30198821

 

Such detours have been my modus operandi  after my medical appointments for many years. While they might only be for a few hours, these brief getaways can feel like an adventure exploring all sorts of nooks, crannies and cafes through my Nikon lens and sometimes even my pen.  While this excursion to Elizabeth Bay was perhaps my most extensive detour, it didn’t require a lot of walking and wasn’t going to tire me out. All I had to do was  catch the train to Town Hall, change for Kings Cross and then find a bus to take me down the hill to Elizabeth Bay.

Fortunately, it’s Summer here and we’re on Daylight Savings Time, which allowed me to steal away an extra couple of extra hours before sunset. I truly needed the extra time yesterday. My appointment was at 4.30 pm, and it was 6.00PM by the time I reached Kings Cross Station. Until recently, I would’ve been in darkness. Yet, the sun was still shining and it was perfect weather for photography, which was one of the reasons I’d decided to push the envelope and head out so late in the day.

However, all this enthusiasm, plotting and planning didn’t alleviate my guilt. I still felt like I was on borrowed time and rather naughty. Mum had escaped and gone off the grid. Moreover, to make matters worse, my mobile phone hadn’t charged the night before. So, I was off without a leash and sometimes even I didn’t know where I was. BTW, that wasn’t a joke. With my appalling sense of direction, it’s the truth.

Well, I suppose there are those of you wondering why I was going to Elizabeth Bay on what had evolved into Friday night when I live a couple of hours North by train and so much longer as the crow flies. No doubt, there are also those very sensible souls among you, who would ramp that up a notch into an agitated: “What on earth was she doing out over there with only 25 sleeps left before Christmas? What’s she doing going on random detours, when she should be focused on essential activities only? After all, next Saturday is her daughter’s dance concert and on Sunday, she’s performing Danny Boy on her violin at the end of year concert. This isn’t the time for stray, random excursions. It’s time to stick to the diary. Go through the check list and stay true to the path. This is no time for pursuing the road less traveled.

Eunice & Robert Wedding

My grandparents’ wedding photo: Eunice Gardiner and Robert Curtin.

However, about a month ago, I found out that when my grandparents were first married, that they’d lived in a flat at Caversham Court, 25 Billyard Avenue, Elizabeth Bay. I was so excited. It was like a spark of electricity igniting my soul. Well, that might be an exaggeration. However, I love finding out anything about them. It momentary brings them back to life, and I realize just how much I miss them. So, I couldn’t wait to check the place out in person. Walk the very streets they’d walked, even if I couldn’t experience that nunoo nunoo sense of being back in the very same flat. I had seen a few photos taken through the windows looking out across the harbour and I could feel myself looking out that very same window, seeing the world through their eyes for just a moment in time.To see through their eyes…how powerful is that? It’s what a writer attempts to do with a character, but it means so much more when it’s someone you love, especially when they’re gone.

Caversham Court

Caversham Court, 25 Billyard Ave, Elizabeth Bay.

Perhaps, I could rightly blame Google for this sense of urgency. This need to go there and experience Caversham Court for myself. You see, thanks to Google, I was able to check out Caversham Court both inside and out. When you see it all by itself online, it looks very distinguished with striking art deco features, and it’s clearly from another era. When I looked inside, I fell in love with interior layout of the flats, which have a circular room. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a circular room like this. Indeed, any place I’ve ever lived it, has always been composed of rectangles and squares and you’re ultimately living in a box. This, on the other hand, was architecture. Much to my delight, the real estate agents had also posted photos looking through the windows across to Sydney Harbour. Naturally, I thought of my grandparents looking out through those windows. Yet, at the same time, not knowing their flat number, I couldn’t quite put myself in situ.Didn’t know which window was theirs.

 

When it comes to location, Caversham Court has a lot going for it. It’s the first street back from the harbour and you only need to venture across the road, to find Boomerang, one of Sydney’s most expensive, prestigious mansions.  Elizabeth Bay House isn’t far away either. Indeed, nothing is very far away. Well, that’s except for me in terms of getting home.

So, now we’ll pick up my journey from where I caught the bus at Kings Cross Station. It’s at this point, that I regret not bringing a map and the fact that my phone didn’t charge last night and is as flat as a tack. Directions-wise, I’m on my own. If you know me well, this is a red flag moment and you should be hearing something along the lines of: Danger, Will Robinson!” However, at least at this stage, I’m heading the right direction. The bus is moving along Darlinghurst Road past the El Allemein fountain and turning right on cue. So far, so good. I know where we are.

It’s just after this point, that things became a little crazy and I became lost in space. it appeared that Elizabeth Bay was a lot smaller in real life that I’d expected, and not quite the landmark I’d imagined. Looking out the window, I can’t find Billyard Avenue anywhere and the narrow streets are twisting into a confusing maze. I have no idea where I am, or where Billyard Avenue is hiding. Elizabeth Bay is missing. I can’t see it anywhere. Of course, I pressed the panic button. Sought help from the bus driver, who I figured ought to know where he is going. However, to my horror, the bus driver’s never heard of Billyard Avenue and neither have the other passengers. While it might’ve been the centre of my universe, Billyard  had never crossed their path and they clearly weren’t missing it. However, a true hero of a passenger, Googled it on his phone and it was time to jump off the bus and backpedal down the hill. Of all the days for my phone not to charge, this wasn’t a good one.

These directions were a help, but not my salvation. I didn’t take in much of what he said, except that I needed to get off the bus immediately. It was rapidly leaving Elizabeth Bay and heading towards Miller’s Point. I’m on Greenknowe Ave walking past an Elizabeth Bay Cafe and keep walking into what turns into a dead end with no Billyard Avenue. Things aren’t looking right either. Of course, this is when it should’ve hit me that while I was exploring Elizabeth Bay on Google Maps,  I was approaching it from the harbour, not from behind via Kings Cross and these back streets. Well, it wasn’t exactly a back street because it was the main road, but it wasn’t Billyard Avenue and that’s all that mattered.  I knew where I was going, and simply didn’t know how to get there.

_DSC7254

Has anyone seen Zozo the cat near Billyard Avenue? With the troubles I was having trying to find Billyard Ave, my family might also have been filling out a Missing Person’s Report. Mummy: Last seen leaving RNSH heading for Elizabeth Bay…

Thank goodness for walkers. A lady redirected me down Ithaca Road. I should’ve mentioned, by the way, that my big, heavy Nikon camera with it’s even heavier zoom lens has been dangling from my neck all this time. That despite being lost and nowhere near Cavendish Court with the sun starting to fade as the time is speeding towards 6.30PM and the land of the setting sun, I’m stopping every few metres to capture the art deco architectural features, huge Moreton Bay fig trees overhanging the road, and just about anything else I come across. Somehow, the ordinary became extraordinary surrounded by these stately art deco beauties and a sense of yesteryear. A yesteryear when my grandparents actually walked these streets and called it home. A time when my grandmother wrote a letter into the Sydney Morning Herald encouraging open-mindedness during WWII when the Sydney Eisteddfod banned the use of German language in 1941. By the way, that’s how I found out they were living here. No one ever told me, and they must’ve lived here for less than a year because my uncle was born in Cremorne.

Finally, after so many twists, turns and restarts, I turn the corner and here’s the view of the harbour I was expecting all along and like an apparition, I finally spot a street sign heralding the appearance of Billyard Avenue. I could jump for joy.

In real life, Billyard Avenue is a narrow one-way street, which could be better described as a lane. Indeed, after seeing it online, it feels like the place has taken a deep breath, and shrunk, halving in size.

Mopeds Billyard Ave

Mopeds parked on the corner of Billyard Ave and Ithaca Road.

I stop to photograph a handful of mopeds parked at the corner. You see quite a few of them buzzing through Elizabeth Bay. Given the narrow streets and scarcity of parking, they seem like a great idea. They’re part of the lifestyle here along with walking smallish fluffy dogs…poodles, cavoodles and definitely nothing as ordinary as a Staffy or Blue Heeler.

_DSC7268.JPG

The Overgrown Tower, Cnr Billyard Ave and Ithaca Road.

Before I reach Caversham Court, I am struck by the block of flats on the corner of Ithaca Road, which is overgrown with vegetation of an unspecified species. Essentially, the building looks like a jungle was growing all over its head and that David Attenburgh could well appear out of the undergrowth at any tick of the clock. I wonder what species of human he would find in there? It all seemed rather mysterious, and a great setting for a macabre, Gothic novel.

Boomerang is across the road. It is hard to imagine an extraordinary, giant mansion backing onto this narrow road. Indeed, boomerang itself seems strange, mystical and it’s hard to believe that it actually exists and it is here. You can’t see much of the building itself. However, the door is a work of art from another era. I can almost imagine that if you removed the Boomerang from the door and threw it, that you might actually land somewhere back in the Dreamtime.

Still, I digress. I am here to check out and photograph Caversham Court. There she is with her architectural splendour, albeit rather penned in. I am filled with a strange sense of awe knowing my grandparents lived here as newly weds. That this was where they returned to after their honeymoon and the very first place they called home. I could sense them so strongly, but more in the sense of watching a movie than really feeling a concrete presence as such.

Gardenia

A Gardenia photographed outside Caversham Court

The block of flats next door is being renovated as are the steps and front foyer of Caversham Court. Indeed, the steps up to the foyer are covered in scaffolding and she actually looks a bit sorry for herself. If she were human and you turned the clock back a good 50 years, you’d be offering her “a Bex and a good lie down”. There’s not a lot more I can photograph here. However, I did spot and photograph a solitary white Gardenia flower growing in the garden bed out the front. While that might not excite you, my heart skipped a beat because my grandfather loved and grew gardenias. Obviously, this particular one didn’t date back to when they were living here, but it did give me a sense of him being here.

_DSC7282

The foyer, Caversham Court, looks like it’s having orthodontic treatment.

By now, the light was starting to fade. So, I headed back to Ithaca Road and left into Beare Park which fronts onto the Harbour. I’m not sure at this stage whether this little patch of soil is the full extent of Elizabeth Bay but it was what I would describe as “cosy”. There was the marina on the left and Beare Park on the right, which was a couple of handkerchiefs of grass with a few park benches facing the harbour. There was a teeny strip of sand near the marina and a green tennis ball caught my eye. I’ve had too many ball chasing dogs to ignore it and couldn’t help wondering if there’s a displaced green tennis ball at every beach. Moreover,  it seems that for every ball you lose, there’s always another green tennis ball to replace it.

Being Summer and Friday night, a few people were gathering to have a picnic dinner in Beare park, or to simply share a glass or two of wine. There were also a few dog walkers and I spotted a very excited golden Poodles and a Cavoodle running off the leash through the grass with their ears flapping. My goodness. I don’t think any other creature on this planet, can do “happy’ with quite the zest and enthusism of a dog. They’re the best!

_DSC7335

Two empty seats…one for each of my grandparents.

I sat on a park bench for a bit watching the Friday night yachts racing on Sydney Harbour. Checking out the ferries zipping along hugging the opposite side of the Harbour, which might’ve been Neutral Bay. I can never be overly sure of what’s where with my dreadful sense of direction. The only thing I could really be sure of, was that the ferries were in a body of water known as Sydney Harbour. That’s all.

Time has never been my friend, and by this stage I was really becoming conscious of getting home.  I didn’t want to get into Woy Woy Station too late and was becoming concerned about my safety. It was only supposed to be a quick trip after all.

_DSC7253.JPG

A great place for dinner along with a side-serve of philosophy.

So, I walked back up Ithaca Road and stopped at a deli up the top. Wow! This was like entering a food Mecca specializing in Greek food. I bought some calimari, dolmades and two servings of a dessert Galaktoboureko. It looked absolutely scrumpious and coming straight back to Elizabeth Bay for more, was going to be out of the question.

So, now I just had to cross the road to the bus and wait. And wait. And wait. Two buses failed to materialize, and I was starting to wonder whether I should walk or catch a cab and then reminding myself that we weren’t stuck in the outback. A bus would come and eventually it did.

At this stage, I’m not sure when I’ll be back to Elizabeth Bay. However, although I share this stunning spot with thousands and thousands of people who actually live in all those flats, it did feel like my own little patch of Sydney Harbour. My own personal getaway. That is something well worth coming back for…and more of that Galaktoboureko. Sadly, the kids were still awake when I got home and those two pieces had to be sub-divided. What a pity.

Have you been on any adventures lately? I’d love to hear all about them.

Best wishes,

Rowena

2 thoughts on “Stepping Back to Elizabeth Bay, Sydney.

  1. TanGental

    pretty much only you, Ro, can make an Odyssey out of a quick trip to find your grandparents flat. You even had Sirens (in the shape of dodgy Google maps)pulling you to death and destruction (well the wrong direction) and the Scylla of your camera weight against the Charybdis of the fading light… perfectly mad!

  2. Rowena Post author

    Clearly, I was inspired by Dickhead Travels. I must be operating the Antipodean office. I’d actually tried to get there the previous Friday but a tree fell across the railway overhead wires and I couldn’t get down and my appointment was rescheduled for yesterday. It’s not the easiest for me to get away and so many things seem to crop up that I was like I’m out of here and nothing’s going to stop me now.
    As it turned out, I was up at midnight tonight sewing ribbons on ballet shoes for the photos tomorrow and baking a cake for a Christmas party tomorrow night but at least I had my time in the park watching the yachts with the sea breeze blowing in my face.
    Best wishes,
    Ro

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