AS THE OLDEST part of colonial Sydney, The Rocks are a must-see for any traveller. At the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, anyone would pass by this quaint little part of town where the Bridge presents a picturesque backdrop to the colonial streetscape. A trip to The Rocks is not solely a touristy affair: even locals find a taste of tradition here, as well as one of Sydney’s few all-year-round street markets. Locals and tourists alike flock to Argyle Street every weekend for arts and crafts.
But the attractions have filtered out quite the majority of attention in The Rocks; walking further up, the bustle abruptly stops where the markets do. Perhaps it’s the fact that only one block away, the approach to the Bridge flies high over Argyle Street; the overpass arch’s length and extremely high clearance give tourists an impression that there is nothing to see on the other side, it’s not brightly lit and gives the idea of one of those dark or seedy alleyways. As the place name ‘The Rocks’ brand image of colonial Sydney is claimed solely by the eastern side of the Bridge approach, it is easy to overlook the fact that the oldest parts of colonial Australia comprise both sides of the bridge, including Millers Point on the western side.
Here in this somewhat esoteric corner of town, the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel stands alone on an otherwise deserted street as an institution in Australian history as Sydney’s oldest surviving brewery and tavern. Like most Australian pubs, the ‘Hotel’ in the name endures as these joints used to offer lodging. Although most taverns ceased that service as urban growth saw villages become city suburbs, Lord Nelson still offer lodging, if only to keep tradition alive. Its isolation from other attractions in the Rocks makes it look outcast; but that’s a superficial conclusion to make, considering its location has not changed in 170 years. And they still brew the original in-house Nelson’s Blood, best served with the traditional shepherd’s pie.
Yet, there is another attraction in the area which isn’t getting nearly as much attention as it deserves: the nation’s first observatory. Although I wondered how it could possibly continue to function in the middle of a city of lights, the telescope remains modern and operational. The observatory itself is now managed as part of the Powerhouse Museum 4 km away, but it’s still free, although apart from the occasional school group, it doesn’t appear to get too busy at all. Probably more attractive for a typical Sydneysider in the middle of the day is the view from the hillside where the observatory stands.
Alas, if only Sydney took a little more pride in these gems. It’s probably a good thing that the lawn in front of the observatory remains a secret from many, keeping it clean and peaceful, but the observatory’s function has been relegated to a piece of show as astronomical research moves out into the countryside. Plus, I’ve been to many a restaurant out in the suburbs of Sydney and seen Nelson’s Blood right on the menu. Although its appearance is a testament to its historic significance as a craft beer, it is somewhat sad to know the reduced impetus for Sydneysiders to pay a visit to this quaint old institution. But that shouldn’t be a problem, at least in the near future; last time we went there, the daily brew of Nelson’s Blood was already sold out. And it was barely 6 p.m.