My walk along the Camino de Sydney during 2021 provided a time to reflect on some of the wider cultural changes that have been occurring in the Greater Sydney region.
I was familiar with a fair part of the walking area as I have been a resident for four decades and have travelled over Greater Sydney more than most people. I mainly utilise public transport, and in doing this, one experiences and becomes more aware of terrain and related issues with the necessary walking sections of a journey
People rarely walk distances.
I rarely encountered people out walking in most areas, with the main area exceptions being the beach suburbs and the mountains. Another though shorter based exception, particularly on weekends and during Covid lockdowns is the walk to the local café or take-away coffee shop.
I think part of this would be the difficulty for some people simply of walking in areas with significant hills and inadequate shoulders and/or paths. Overall though I put this factor down to a reliance on the car (the car is no longer the instrument of travel for the middle class as more Australians are middle class now in any case).
It is an irony to note that with the proliferation of gyms, people will drive to a gym to work out when once they may have simply walked to their paid work and undertaken more physical work.
Non-car transport and exercise
Cycle ways are being increasingly developed across areas and intentionally included in new areas or in the revamping of roads in older areas. These are usually dual pedestrian/cycle paths, with the hope of encouraging more non-car-based transport and exercise.
About exercise, I was intrigued to see an increasing number of outside gym areas. These modern wooden and metal creations are provided by local councils in parks or side areas to facilitate further patterns of exercise, though I did not see anyone using them (unlike in Singapore were it almost seemed the in-thing particularly among older people). Perhaps in Sydney these Covid times have made people a little more circumspect?
While I don’t think I will be starting a walking company, Iam now reasonably placed to give advice for others who may venture in this way. One small tip from the Northern Beaches walk and some readers may already be aware of this section, as it is a popular tourist walk. There are two paths up to the BarrenjoeyHeadland or Lighthouse. The Smugglers Track path outlines 400 metres and 'steps' and is a beautiful scenic walk, but there are I think approximately 518 steps. The other way is a steady and quite steep climb, but evenly graded for access.
Another area that has been developed by councils often in collaboration with developers and artists has been public art, particularly contemporary styled installations in parks, walkways, and outside public buildings. I noted St Mary’s Cathedral has continued their nativity scene in the foreground area and wondered if this ‘scene’ was now seen as ‘public art’?
Cross Cultural diversity
Cities have always attracted the bulk of immigrants and Sydney has had waves of people arriving and moving into distinct areas over the time of its European settlement. Some areas are still quite Anglo in their demographic profile, and some like the inner west, have changed from being the dominant immigrant area in the 1960s to 1980s back to a more Anglo and now younger age area. The amazing diversity of cultural expression is vividly and publicly highlighted in the food on display in all the suburbs, the style of the cafes and the coffee offered, and the languages illustrated and spoken.
Cafes/Coffee shops are everywhere
I once thought the shopping centre was the new temple for worship, but now I perceive it has been replaced by the coffee shop or cafe. It was rare to pass through an area without encountering a new or revamped café, often tucked away in a side street. Coffee has become a central focus for many in Sydney now. Long gone are the days when ordering a coffee in Sydney (apart from Leichhardt with the early Italian immigrants) one witnessed the ‘barista’ scooping a spoonful from a tin of ‘caterers blend’.
Covid times increased this local connection during the Monday to Friday period. People who had a paid job that required travel for example to the city or Parramatta moved from the often more impersonal city cafes to their local cafe, joining friends, families and even neighbours they had not met for a time of fellowship, sharing and contemporary discourse.
Was there a message of hope though and were there Christians sowing among these places?
Interestingly there are more churches providing cafes as part of their wider public image or ministry (and not just the traditional welfare-based drop-in style ones). I had a lovely break at The Sunroom, the café of Life Congregational Church in the very up-market suburb of Hunters Hill.
In some areas, new church buildings had appeared, particularly with the more established Anglican and Catholic denominations, but newer denominations and independent churches were common in factory style buildings, schools or other established facilities.
Changing features includednew church buildings for immigrant members of denominations of the last 2-3 decades, including middle eastern areas (for example the Assyrian and Chaldean faith) and European based orthodox churches. I passed streets particularly in greater western Sydney featuring houses with overt Christian symbolism and statues.
I also witnessed the other side of church building life, with church buildings, particularly in the inner west now used for a variety of other activities, including businesses, designer clothing shops, art studios, and very expensive ‘historic’ homes.
The amazing beauty of creation
I never cease to be amazed at creation and the depth and range of the physical beauty in the Greater Sydney area provides an awesome display. The beaches, waterways, and bush areasspeak to the truth of the scripture of God the creator.
“In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95: 4-5)
I give thanks to God for this time to experience more of his creation, for the good works undertaken by his creatures, and particularly for keeping me safe along ‘the way’.
Next time: Tips for walking
Peter Bentley is a Sydney (Australia) based writer and commentator on church, media and cultural issues. He is a former President of the Australasian Religious Press Association.