Random Notes from Sydney, Australia

For more of Kate’s Photos of Australia, click here.

Coming to Australia can be disarming. We left a Tuesday in Fall, and one plane flight later, found ourselves on a hot spring day, missing a Wednesday completely, in a world where the constellation Orion is upside down.

The whole losing-an-entire-day-when-traveling-to-Australia thing is not without it’s consequences. Aussie dance couple Derek and Trish lost a wedding anniversary, Laura Keat a birthday.


A few fun facts about Australia:

** Everything in Australia is deadly.

** 3/4 of the population lives within a half hour drive of the ocean.

**Australia has a cattle ranch that covers the same size as Belgium.

** Australian money is made out of plastic, and has really bright colors such as reddish-pink or greenish-blue, and little cut-out see-through windows of different shapes.

** In Australia, Burger King is called Hungry Jacks. And it’s Aussie Whopper has egg on it. Often in foreign countries I’ll try their fast food. For instance, in New Zealand, MacDonald’s is

** I have wanted to go to Australia since the very first Shark Week. For awhile, I wore an Australian Outback hat and said “Good’ay, mate” and “That’s not a knife” to anyone I met.

** Australians are known for their laid-back attitude and congeniality. Kate and I experienced no end of this.


CONGRATULATIONS to the Australian Swing Dance scene, all of whom’s follows are apparently pregnant.


The harbor of Sydney is most famous for the opera house and the bridge, known to locals as the “Dish Rack and the Coat hanger”

The Opera House is the famous building of giant sail-like fins, meant to convey a ship on the harbor (but can mistakenly convey dishes on a dish rack, hence the nickname). Reportedly, the disks can all be put together to form a sphere.

The Sydney Bridge is a post-World-War-I and depression-era structure originally called “The Iron Lung” because it gave so many jobs to the downtrodden of Australia. One of those workers was none other than Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan.

The bridge was built from both sides, and when the arch came together in the middle, the contraction of the steel in the weather had made it a few inches off. Workers reportedly heated and melted the arch to get it back to the same level and joined.

The pylons at each end of the bridge don’t actually do anything. They were actually added, in part, to calm people’s fears about the safety of the bridge.

In fact, the bridge is technically over-engineered. It can reportedly hold twice its weight and more.

Moments before the ribbon-cutting ceremony was to take place, a man in a military uniform, riding a horse, ran to the ribbon and cut it with a sword. He was apparently upset that a member of the royal family hadn’t been asked to cut the ribbon, and so took it upon himself to do so in the name of them.

Modern tourists can take part on a bridge climb–a four-hour long tour of the bridge where people can walk up to the top along the arch. Unfortunately, it’s $200 price tag kept us from getting to it this time.


Our first day there, our host Derek showed us a picture he loved and hoped to get framed.

It’s the photograph to the right, and is of George Caddy, a Sydney man who loved photography and took tons of images of people and culture in Sydney in the 1930s. He also just so happened to be an award-winning jitterbugger.

Though he had won a few photograph awards in his youth, his work was mostly forgotten until his son found a box full of negatives and showed them to a museum around 2007.

He was known as the “Bondi Jitterbugger,” and Bondi Beach is where many of his photographs were taken. It makes one wonder what exactly Australian jitterbugging looked like in the 1930s. The photograph looks deceptively L.A. Swing-ish (Or, what we might call today Bal-Swingish) but that’s kind of dangerous to think, as it is just one moment of an entire dance frozen in time.

Caddy served in World War II, and after he came back, did not photograph or jitterbug anymore.


November is actually “Movember” in Australia. It’s a month to bring awareness of men’s health issues, and involves many men across Australia growing mustaches. They even put one on the creepy entrance outside of a local them park:


On our final night in Sydney, our hosts Derek and Trish took us to a revolving restaurant at the highest point in Sydney. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet, the only catch being the buffet didn’t revolve while your seats did. The result was that I did more than my share of looking for our table. However, this was wear I ate Crocodile and Kangaroo.

Crocodile taste like a pork-textured chicken. Kangaroo tastes like pork- textured steak. At least, the crocodile and kangaroo I ate did. I don’t think either of them are worth going out of your way to try.

Crocodile is apparently very high in protein and low in fat, which seems odd for a creature that spends most of its day lying around drooling.

Kangaroo is also apparently high in protein and low in fat, but this makes sense when you see a kangaroo. The largest can hop up to 9 meters once it gets going. They are also pretty cool, which can add a sense of guilt that will ruin the taste of any steak.


Aside from George Caddy, the history of swing dancing and Australia also has another interesting story.

To start getting the picture, its important to understand that the Australian World War II uniform looked unfortunately close to a Boy Scout uniform. Wide brimmed hat, tall leather boots that went knee-high puffy flannel trousers. Ill-fitting safari-like coat that was buttoned up to the neck.

Imagine yourself a young, handsome man in the prime of his youth, facing possible death for your Queen and country. Now imagine that your home town is suddenly run rampant with American soldiers and sailors, all of which have their confident swagger and well-fitted, iconic uniforms. The town of Brisbane, for instance, doubled in size almost overnight–and that was almost all allied servicemen.

Its easy to sympathize with the Australians. American servicemen had better pay, better uniforms, and were mostly a bunch of young kids away from their parents for the first time and looking to live experienced lives before their own possible deadly fates. Aside from the swagger, they knew how to dance. The Australian women found them quite attractive.

Young women of Australia were already in short supply, and for Australians to constantly see American servicemen flirt with them, and many even marry them, caused tension among the allies. This famously came to a head one night in 1942, when a riot broke out between Austrlian and American servicemen across the city of Brisbane. One Australian died in the riot when a weapon accidentally discharged. It was called the Battle of Brisbane, and due to censorship wasn’t known by people outside of Australia until after war.


Visiting Australia, a place known for unique and abundant wildlife, it seemed fitting to go to te zoo. And I highly recommend if you’re in Sydney, to go to the Taranga Zoo, and, if you have the time or inclination, to hit the Sydney Aquarium.

The Taranga Zoo is on a giant hill and includes thousands of different kinds of sleeping animals. You take a sky-car to the top, then walk your way down winding paths to the bottom. The high point of the zoo was a section called Wild Australia, where you walk through a bush path crowded with kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and other Australian life.


The Sydney swing dance scene is alive and kicking with several classes and dance opportunities a week. Aside from that, they have another great asset: Sydney is currently home to Retrospec’d, a home-grown dancer-created company of vintage-style modern clothing.

For women, the company carries a lot of classic sweaters, dresses, skirts, and blouses in the 30s, 40s, and 50s styles. (I know, at the very least that all the Top Drawer followers–Laura Keat, Marie Nahnfeldt Mattsson, and Kate Hedin, are all customers).

Recently I’ve seen a lot of their men’s pants on dancers–they have few standard styles, all pleated, and all in classic tweedy fabrics of gray or brown. The pants are a favorite with Australian dancers, and are starting to make their way to the states by visiting teachers. Otherwise, their men’s selection is limited to gab jackets and 40s and 50s leisure shirts.

10 responses to “Random Notes from Sydney, Australia”

  1. LOVE that photo of George Caddy! Hal Takier went down to Australia in the late 30’s or early 40’s – not sure of the details, like when or where exactly, but maybe he had an influence? I know the trip was dance-related (probably performing, maybe a little teaching).

    Are there any more of George Caddy’s photos online?

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