By Leonardo V. Micua
(First of Series)
SYDNEY, Australia–It is winter Down Under with last July at its peak but is expected to taper down by August as springtime nears. However, instead of shivering from the cold in the confines of their homes, most Australians are out there enjoying the fun and sights under the sun, savoring the scent of winter.
Nobody seems to care if the mercury sometimes dips down to eight degrees at night till dawn and slightly rising to 12 degrees by noon when the sun is up as people are seen during the day, especially on weekends traveling to different places where they can best enjoy the weekends.
A Filipino from Blacktown in New South Wales confessed that this might be the coldest winter he had experienced since coming to Australia with his family in the 1990s, recalling that in early July this year the lowest temperature recorded in Penrith City was negative 2.
But despite the cold, you can see people in their thick wrap-arounds complete with scarfs around their necks– on trains and by their own cars traveling to any direction where they can better spend their holidays this winter.
Many are seen hanging around in open cafes lining up the bay that gives them a majestic view of the landmark Harbour Bridge that connects northern to southern Sydney or in the steps of another Australia’s famous icon, the Opera House, and to the latter’s left, the Sydney Botanical Garden
But guess what some are doing aside from sightseeing and taking photographs. They are actually basking themselves under the sun to at least reduce the coldness of winter and rejuvenate their cold bodies.
Basking under the sun is actually almost a ritual if not a favorite pastime in the country this winter and in the botanical garden, many people are doing what others normally do under the sun in the beaches during summer–sunbathing to lessen the effect of winter if not jogging and doing some adventure trails.
This is also the daily scene at Hydes Park just beside the St. Mary’s Cathedral, where almost all the benches are occupied by people lingering for a few moments of sunshine and listening to men belting out songs to their hearts’ contents just beside the fountain at the center.
The Hydes Park is located in the business hub of Sydney where the banks, shopping malls, the vintage Queen Victoria building and the Sydney Tower, the highest building in all of Australia, are located.
It is in the center of the city where one can easily see a nation in diversity as Australia is often called as gleaned from the big number of people of mixed nationalities trooping to its parks, crossing the streets during rush hours and taking lunch in food courts of malls where one will have to wait for his turn for minutes to occupy a seat.
Sydney is the hub of New South Wales and also is Australia’s biggest city that hosted the Olympic in 2000 with a population of some seven million.
Trains, the equivalent of buses in the Philippines, are the chief means of transport to and from Sydney. On Sundays, the Sydney Transit trains offer as much as 70 percent fare discount to families going on a holiday in any part of the city the country.
For instance, if one is paying a two-way ticket from the suburb of Kogarah to Sydney at 6.25 Au dollars on weekdays, the fare on Sunday per person is only 2.25 Au dollars if one is traveling with his family and have a child with them.
The bonus is you can use the same train ticket to board a ferry that will bring
you to Manly Beach from Darling Harbour across the Sydney Bay which, during summer, is ideal for swimming, sunbathing and surfing.
A Filipino explained later that the fare discount is the government’s own way of encouraging Australian families to travel and see the sights in their own country as it values family solidarity — that gives them a chance to take a breather and unwind from the rigors of work.
Those in better financial situation surf to the internet to find which better place they can go to and dine on weekends while others may travel up north to visit rainforests, beaches and fishing grounds.
The Australians, like the Filipinos, are the number one tourists in their own country. The only difference is here in Australia, the government is providing incentives to their own people to tour the countrysides.
Many are taking advantage of the special train discount that is why they say you are lucky if you can see people in their homes on weekends.
This government policy is supported by owners of shopping malls which extend their shopping time up to 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays, instead of from 4:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. which is their daily closing time to allow families to buy all the things that they need since they are going to an outing on weekends.
It is a sad thing that we have not seen any our fellow Filipinos touring in our 14-day stint in Sydney, especially in Kogarah, except a couple who approached us when we were sitting on a bench just after disembarking from a train that came from Sydney while they just came out from a supermarket.
He said he used to be a security guard at St. George Hospital in Kogarah and his wife is still working in that hospital, but he ceased to work after he underwent a heart bypass with not a single centavo spent by his family.
“You are lucky,”‘ I said. “‘You too, if you’ll stay in Australia”, he told me.