Sydney, we miss you

The facade of the Sandringham Hotel, Newtown. Photo: Adam Jones/Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0. (

The Sentinel explores the way nostalgia informs our sense of a city’s identity. By Richie Black.

Just imagine for a moment (c’mon, it shouldn’t be too hard): you experience one of those personal upheavals that rather simply, calmly (and yet perhaps not unkindly) changes the course of things. 

Now, let’s not go into details of this little banal tragedy – it’s private. Besides, we’ve all heard a story like this before. It’s something merely commonplace – more poignant, more depressing for its ordinariness. 

Especially, it must be said, in the midst of a pandemic. We get it. 

It’s a classic demarkation line – between the befores and afters. Between what was and what is no longer. Between what probably really wasn’t anyway – and definitely isn’t now, buddy.  

In its wake, the details feel a little different. You know the sort of stuff: the streets to be walked down, the parks to pause and breathe in, the pubs you spend innumerable hours with those mildly willing and sympathetic. 

Photo by Vakrieger licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

You don’t want to be sentimental – or, at least, feel you shouldn’t be. But the presence of some things reminds you of the absence of others. The sadness has a certain beguiling sweetness; you can’t help but pause a little in that mental space. Just settle in it a bit. Just a little bit, not too long. 

Especially (naturally) in the evenings, while the currawongs begin their melancholy song and the shadows of jacarandas, eucalypts et al beckon the dusk forward — bringing a sudden, brief pensiveness to the suburbs.  

For a moment, you breathe in – tell yaself to get a grip! – and look up at the skyline. Draw just a little consolation in Sydney’s iconography. What do you see? Maybe it’s the haze above the mountains, Sydney Tower, the tips of the Anzac Bridge, or a sunset reddened by bushfire smoke. 

Photo by Sardaka licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

But then, you realise – duh – that Sydney is in a constant state of of its own change. 

Bits of it (typically the bits you like) are constantly being cancelled, replaced, made obsolete, sold off. Falling into the slipstream of the collective memory. 

It’s a relationship, in its own way, this one you have with the city (a shared relationship, sure). But it can mean a lot, sometimes surprisingly.

You don’t want to seem like a fogey – and definitely don’t want to go on a rant – but still …

I mean, you think suddenly, how could they do that to the Green Park Hotel? Due to be shut on December 20th after 127 years. We get that it’s been knocked about by the lockout laws and, now, Covid – but surely there’s cause for intervention. By government, God, whoever. 

And now you remember other pubs. The places where, okay, maybe they didn’t really know your name – but they remembered your usual drink. Or at least smiled at you when they asked what you wanted.

Long gone, for example – at least in spirit – is the Annandale Hotel: a pub-rock establishment founded on sticky floors, walls damp with sweat, an tinnitus-inducing P.A. system and horror movie toilets. 

You may never have seen any of the legendary gigs – You Am I, Hives etc. – but you can pretend you did, or something equivalent, for the sake of memory. Memory is all you’ve got – the shell of the Annandale Hotel remains, but the guts of it have been scooped out and filled with something that’s certainly welcoming, hygienic but pretty ubiquitous. Not the stuff of sentiment. 

Sad, really, but at least it’s a fate spared the Sandringham on King Street: they turned that into a putt-putt golf course.

And – then you think a bit deeper into the recesses, drawing out some of the legendary obscurities of yore. Like your beloved Dean’s Diner – formerly of King’s Cross (once open, dependably, from 7pm – 3am)? Yes, you could drink in there – but you could also order toasties and mighty chocolate milkshakes to mollify the cravings whatever you had done over the last few hours had dredged up. They had a sign above the exit that said, “We miss you already.” Dean’s has gone the way the Cross has largely gone – that is, into reminiscence. 

Photo by Luke Reynolds licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0.

But hang on. Your memories, you think, can’t just revolve around pubs and late-nights, can they?

With almost a little relief, you can turn your sentiment to the fact the famous Freshwater-class ferries are being retired early next year (leaving only one remaining). 

Transport Minister Constance is even talking about sinking one off the coast for use as a diving site ( which seems almost malicious). Now. there’s a man without sentiment. The minister’s justification is one of economics and practicality … well, they used the same spurious logic to get rid of the monorail, for Christ’s sake, and you’ve found yourself missing that from time-to-time too.

Now you’re on a roll: you’re thinking back to your childhood. 

Remember Australia’s Wonderland (later Wonderland Sydney)? The trauma of the Bush Beast lingers somewhere – that thing was so old-school it was made out of wood (and was the largest of its kind in Australia). The entire park closed in 2004 (wait, that long ago?), with much of it turned into the Interchange Park industrial estate and remnants of the park remaining in surrounding bushland.

And, apparently, it was just one year after Old Sydney Town was closed. You loved that place – or remember loving it. Part theme park, part museum that faithfully reenacted Sydney’s colonial settlement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 

You used to go on school trips every year – and, as you recall, it was a good day off (that, you now recall, was part of its appeal). Apparently, it was based on James Meehan’s map of Sydney in 1803 and consisted of over 30 authentically reconstructed buildings, plus visitors’ kiosk. 

None of the historical details, really linger — and never did at the time, either — just the hammy acting from the “settlers” and that one of the regular spectacles involved the public flogging of a wayward “convict” for the entertainment of visiting school children. 

You weren’t particularly curious about the past – except in the form of this weird theatre. If you thought about time, it was the future you turned to. Most of the time you were stuck in the present, with all its mystery, thrills and mundanity. 

As you face an uncertain future – and, let’s face it, 2020 has made you doubt it more than ever – it’s a salient reminder, ironically, to situate yourself more in the here and now. To resist the security of the past. To put a little energy into growth and healing. 

A note from the Sentinel …

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