Jan Morris has established herself with the publication of more than twenty books as a first-rate historian and travel writer. She has written vivid portraits of such cities as Hong Kong and Venice. In SYDNEY, Morris has taken on the task of sorting out the myths and realities of a city that was founded in 1788 by the English as a penal settlement. Robert Hughes described in detail in his remarkable book THE FATAL SHORE (1987) how the English sent their convicts to Australia to serve out their sentences. The English brutalized the native population and claimed Australia for themselves. Morris narrows her focus to the historical development of Sydney and how it has become a world-class city.
Because Sydney began as a penal settlement, the character of the city has been shaped by its tough beginnings. Morris first traveled to Sydney in the early 1960’s. She has ventured back on a number of occasions and made note of how the city has grown into a great Pacific Rim trade center. Blessed with an ideal climate and a wonderful arbor, Sydney plays an important role in linking Australia to booming Pacific markets. Contemporary Sydney is not an easy place to pin down, though. Morris describes it as a city bustling with contradictions. The city is more than the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. The inhabitants of Sydney have a reputation for their sense of humor, which Morris finds to be well earned. They also love to play hard. Recreational activities and beer-drinking seem to be the natural outlets of the majority of inhabitants. But Sydney is so much more, and Morris details the many noble—and not so noble—attributes of Sydney’s city and suburban dwellers. Morris cannot help but think of the Aboriginals, though, and how their lives continue to be crushed under the city’s rush to the future. SYDNEY is a lively and sobering introduction to Australia’s most famous city, and one can hope that Morris will return to this subject again in the not-too-distant future.