The Return of Smoke Signals – sit down and grab a drink!

So, I was pretty quiet on FB yesterday, which was probably a relief, lol. The reason being that I was in the city for the best part of 5 hours plotting out a route for what should have been my Larrikin Hash Run, were it not for lockdown.

To clarify a bit further: although I set an Australia Day ‘Joint Run’ for the Larrikins and Harriettes in and around the Cooks River Valley back in January, when it was baking hot, I got called up to set a run in the new Hash committee year, and opted to set a double ‘25th Anniversary’ winter run in August. And then lockdown set in, and thus I’m having to relay the details ‘virtually’, although as mentioned, I did actually head into town yesterday at midday to walk the route.

My ‘health app’ told me I took 14,000 steps in the process, which is 10.67 kms, and I guess it didn’t know that I hopped on the light rail for a couple of stops at one stage, so it was more like 12 km all-up.

So, what’s with the Double Anniversary? Well, although I don’t know the exact date, I do know that early August marks 25 years since I became an Aussie citizen, and 25 years since I stopped smoking cigarettes. My ‘hash handle’ is still ‘Chimney’, a name acquired because  it appeared that I was continually surrounded by a cloud of smoke in my earlier years in Sydney and I did indeed used to smoke like a proverbial chimney.

So that gave me a ‘theme’ for a run, but in the event it turned into a bit more of a ‘This Is Your Life In Sydney’ (‘TIYLIS’) run/walk, covering not 25, but rather 35 years, which in two months time will be the length of time since I first pitched up in Sydney, on a 6 month tourist visa in Oct ‘86, at the end of a 9 month trip through Asia to get here from the UK.

One of the problems with setting a hash run in the city is that there’s nowhere to park, which is something I got chastised about when I set my first run, from the Crystal Palace Hotel, in Haymarket, in early 1989.

At the time I didn’t have a car, and parking never entered my consideration when selecting a pub ‘On On’ venue, but yesterday I figured out that of the 6 different pubs mentioned in the text that the run could have started from, none of them offered any decent (free) parking options, or anywhere one could inconspicuously (and legally?) have a circle and beer bucket at the end of the run. So I guess it’s just as well it’s a virtual run instead of an actual one then..! Plus all six pubs mentioned, and indeed all others passed en route were firmly shut, thanks to the current lockdown. I was dying for a beer by the end of it all too..!

In case anyone should think that I was breaking Lockdown rules by tracing out this virtual run, at no stage was I more than 10 kms from my residence in Marrickville, and I was on my own the whole time. Without the pictures attached (in the hash trash) some of the following might be hard to envision, but in a Facebook post they can be attached, albeit limited to 40 pics, with perhaps a few others in the comments.

Deciding to start off from the Crystal Palace once more, in that, as mentioned, it was the start and end point for my first ever Hash run, the first ‘ TIYLIS’ land marks, facing each other across Railway Square were 2 former places of employment, although like a lot of the other TIYLIS landmarks, they’re now no longer serving the same purpose: the original Student Flights store, which I became the manager of at round about the same time as these anniversary dates occurred, in late July ‘96, is long gone, as indeed is the brand within the Flight Centre organization. Great memories though! Across the road, the building housing the head office of Gordon’s International Tours, my first employers in Australia, still stands, which shook like a leaf when I was in it on the 6th floor during the 1989 Newcastle Earthquake, but alas Gordon’s is no more. Good memories and good friends from those days still, though.

Crossing over Railway Square, the first ‘On Back’ was  the long tunnel under Central Station, through which I must have walked a few hundred times. Instead, the route carried on up George Street to where the huge World Square complex now stands, but which for at least a decade used to be Sydney’s biggest hole in the ground. That gets included because I once slept in a builder’s hut there, when I’d missed the last train back up to Killara (where I was staying at my cousin’s house) in my very early Sydney days! Nearby the Event Cinema complex (which used to be 3 adjacent cinema complexes – Hoyts, Greater Union and Village) gets a look-in because of many great films I’ve seen there, travel industry nights, Mardi Gras and Sydney film festivals, a few hot dates, lol, and a live broadcast of the Oscars, in 1987, beamed in from Hollywood, which were hosted by Paul Hogan, who was big box  office at the time thanks to Crocodile Dundee: I won  that as a prize in ‘Who’ magazine, I think..!

Next to Event Cinemas is the second of the pubs that the run could have started off from, the Albion Place Hotel. The Albion was one of two pubs that used to be a favorite location for Friday arvo ‘Teacher’s Drinks’, whilst I was teaching nearby, and is a good starting point before attending shows or dance parties at the Metro, across the road, or before or after a protest march!

The aforementioned Metro Theatre across the road has hosted some great gigs, plus the Apollo Dance Parties, in great company, before the route turns into Pitt Street, site of the erstwhile ‘Windsor Institute of Languages’, where I first taught ESL.

It was my friends and colleagues here that used to be the fellow attendees at the aforementioned Friday arvo ‘Teacher’s Drinks’, which used to occur either at the previously-mentioned Albion Place, or also at the almost adjacent ‘Edinburgh Hotel’, which is the 3rd of the 6 pubs from which the run could have started and ended. Many fun sessions were had in the upstairs bar at the ‘Eddy’. Incidentally it should be mentioned that good friendships were made with some students, as well as colleagues, at Windsor, which endure to this day. All good.

Diagonally across the road was the now-demolished run-down premises that the Windsor Institute’s successor morphed into -Castle College-  which was the last private ESL college I taught at before moving on to UNSW in 2009.

The route then carried across the southern section of Hyde Park, past the War Memorial, which is the gathering ground for Mardi Gras Parade entrants, before they line up on adjacent Liverpool and College Streets, prior to marching up Oxford Street, Flinders Street and Anzac Parade. Well, it was until this year’s pandemic-adjusted parade, which kept things at the show ground, but being involved as a marshal at the start of a number of parades over the past 12 or so years has been an important part of Sydney life, and the source of many great new friendships.

On to Oxford Street next, a street of many great memories, and although not every venue got noted, I couldn’t pass on ‘Universal’, on the street’s south side, which was known as the Midnight Shift for my first 30 years in Sydney.  Too many great nights there to recall, and many shouldn’t be, lol, but it was also where I simultaneously met Greg and 2 other friends in April 1990, an occasion which features towards the start of the www.charliejohnsonchronicles.com blog, which I really do have to get back to writing again..

Up Oxford Street, past the Colombian and Stonewall establishments, to Taylor Square, spiritual heart of the Rainbow 

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 Village, and then past Kinselas and the Rainbow 

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 crossing, to the tiny side alleyway in which the entrance to the legendary underground ‘Manacle’ club used to be located, where again many a great night was spent, if the friendly leather-clad ‘door bitch’ let you in.

Across Flinders Street takes in Bodyline, a nice place to soak in the hot steam, and scenery, after a big night in the Rainbow Village, also currently shut, and then Arq, another (above ground) nightclub in which many great nights have also occurred, in great company. I’d like to believe  the sign out front which optimistically declares ‘We will all end up
at Arq after the pandemic’.  I certainly hope it’s up and running, and thriving, by the time World Pride arrives in Sydney in 2023.

Back across Taylor Square to pub #4, the Oxford Hotel, which I’m sure the Larrikins are broad minded enough to accept as an on-on venue (although the straight Courthouse Hotel across the road could serve as a Plan B alternative). The Oxford was the first pub in Sydney I ever drank in, taken there by the late ‘Political Pete’, Peter Dalton, whom I’d met in Sri Lanka in January 1986, at the start of my Asian travels, and with whom I’d kept in touch via ‘Poste Restante’, if anyone can remember that very useful (for its time) system, long before the advent of email and internet cafés.

Running/walking up the northern side of Oxford Street, past ‘Palms’ and many famous boutiques, a quick nod was made to the much-missed ‘Phoenix’ Day Club, an underground sweat box that opened at 6 am on Sunday mornings and was an excellent venue in which to either continue a big Saturday night or start off a Sunday morning afresh. It morphed into a classy cocktail bar for a while, but now seems to be closed.. whether that’s forever or just during lockdown I’m not quite sure.

Emerging back at Whitlam Square the route goes along College Street, which is jammed with excited participants before a Mardi Gras Parade under usual circumstances, and then reaches Park Street, which intersects Hyde Park, splitting it into two separate entities. Under normal circumstances excited crowds also jam this street too, at the start of City to Surf runs, which until the pandemic kicked in last year took place in mid August every year. My City-to-Surf days are long gone, but I did clock up 10 runs on it between the early 90s and the mid 00s, and that was also an extremely social event amongst hashing friends from every club.

Cutting across the northern section of Hyde Park, site of many great food fairs in years gone by, the route arrives at the corner of Elizabeth and King Streets. Was a bit saddened to see that Elizabeth Street Flight Centre, my Flight Centre alma mater, is now vacant and up for lease: it was a fellow hasher, Tony ‘Red Ned’ Illingsworth, who recruited me to Flight Centre when it seemed like the (first) Gulf War might lead to the eventual demise of Gordon’s Tours (see earlier!), and much useful experience was gained there, and many new friends made, both colleagues and clients. Was a bit surprised to find that the NAB bank branch with whom I’ve been banking, directly across the road from the old E St FC, is also vacant and up for lease and will apparently be reopening at ‘an exciting new location in the CBD’: I wonder when NAB were/are going to tell me?!

Moving down King Street, a quick pop into the Pitt Street Mall was next by way of an acknowledgement of BBC.. not the British Broadcasting Corporation, but rather ‘Bridge Business College’, a somewhat dodgy mob, for whom, nonetheless, I taught Travel & Tourism evening classes for about 15 months. The college might’ve been shonky, but some of the students were wonderful, and still remain friends, and I’d’ve never wound up at UNSW were it not for one of my students there, and she’d never have become an English teacher were it not for me, but that’s a whole other story!

On down to Martin Place, arguably the beating heart of Sydney, which is currently a bit of a mess with the construction of a large metro interchange going on, but I had to acknowledge the magnificent building that houses what used to be the main Australian Post Office in Sydney. It was here that I walked to on my first day in Sydney, from a backpackers hostel in Kings Cross, to collect my mail from the aforementioned Poste Restante, the last time I ever used it, having previously collected mail that year at Poste Restantes in Colombo, Goa, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuta Beach in Bali.  It was there that I received a postcard from ‘Political Pete’, with his phone number, after which we arranged our meet up at the Oxford, which led to a party invite, where I met a whole bunch of great people, which led to..
 But I digress!

Martin Place has also been the site for an ANZAC Day Dawn Service, an eve-of-execution candle light vigil for the 2 condemned Bali 9 members, and happier ‘Vivid’ installations, amongst a number of events that come to mind. Ducking through an alley the route takes in Angel Place, site of the Sydney Recital Hall (last act seen there was Ben Elton in April) and Ash Street, home to the rooftop Ivy nightclub, where I’ve attended some great ‘I Remember House’ daytime dance parties in great company, and a Mardi Gras pool party or two.

Back on to George St, the route passes Market Street, home of the State Theatre, where countless great concerts have been attended, and then the wonderful QVB (Queen Victoria Building) which had been rescued from polrynusl demolition and conversion into a multi story carpark by a Bicentennial Grant by the time I returned to Australia for good in 1988.  The QVB was part of the Tuesday afternoon ‘Cultural Tours’ that Windsor teachers used to take teachers on, and it would include waiting for the clocks to do their ‘Changing of the Guard’ tricks inside, and throwing a coin for luck into the fountain for Islay, Queen Victoria’s Scotty Dog, who along with Victoria herself has a statue out front of the QVB. A short on back takes the route a bit further up George St to Sydney Town  Hall, the venue for many wonderful Christmas Eve carol services attended, and whose front steps are one of the most famous meeting places in Sydney, and then to St Andrew’s Cathedral, where I once fell asleep and apparently snored loudly, during a Christmas Eve carol service, before discovering the mellower, and more rainbow 

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-infused services next door at the Town Hall.

An on-back here would prevent the pack reaching Event Cinemas again, and would take it down  Druitt St, past Sweeney’s Hotel, the potential
5th starting point for the run, who have the excellent Chimney Thai Restaurant on their 1st floor: it was whilst enjoying a Larrikin Long Lunch there earlier in the year that the idea of a 25th anniversary run first occurred.

Running up Clarence Street, one encounters F*ckwit Tower’ at the corner of Market Street, although its official name is St Martin’s Tower. It got its nickname amongst the staff at Elizabeth St Flight Centre in the early 90s because it was home to some of the most difficult outfits one had to deal with, including Alitalia 

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, Air India 

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, the French consulate 

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, and, worst of all, the dreaded Brazilian consulate 

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. Their collective intransigence and f*ckwittery are worth a book alone!

No time to rest though as the route heads west along Market Street to Pyrmont Bridge and  crosses Cockle Bay, reaching the Darling Harbour precinct. It’s hard to take in how much the skyline, and ground level, has changed since I first lived in Pyrmont, 50 metres from the Darling Harbour Harbourside complex, above what is now a Kebab Shop, but which used to be Zydeco Antiques. It’s exactly next door to the 6th and last of the pubs which could have been the start and end point for the run, the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel, which was obviously the local when I lived next door, and which has been a great meeting point with many different friends in the intervening decades since the late 1988-mid 1990 period that I was living there, and during which it’s had quite a few facelifts.

Back then, and for a couple of years after , the site of what is now the Australian Maritime Museum was a great free parking spot for the cognoscenti for quite a few years until one day a barrier appeared and construction of the museum began.

Back then, if I was running late or feeling lazy, I could hop on the late lamented monorail from Harbourside to the Entertainment Centre, although it often broke down and left one stranded, looking across at the Convention Centre, which also deserves a mention, being then site of a number of memorable Flight Centre end-of-financial-year Award Nights & Balls, as does the adjacent Exhibition Centre, host to a number of travel shows attended, and one or two Sydney 2000 Olympics events (.. wrestling and fencing, I think).

Yesterday, instead of the monorail I actually hopped aboard the light rail, running from beside the aforementioned Pyrmont Bridge Hotel to where the Entertainment Centre once used to be, although a real trail would have taken the pack through Darling Harbour, and past the Pumphouse Brewery to get there. I still miss the Ent Cent, and all the great shows I was able to attend there, but it’s absolutely unrecognizable now, being the site of a huge predominantly Chinese residential and retail complex. Such is change.

Almost at the end now, the route wends up behind Paddy’s Market and back to Quay Street, where the run/walk started , at the Crystal Palace Hotel, just adjacent to Railway Square.

And that’s 12 kms and 35 years of memories!
Thankyou for your indulgence if you got this far, reading it in a Facebook post, or in this week’s edition of the Larrikin Hash Trash. The latter won’t have pics, but I’ll put them on the Larrikins Facebook page (Sydney Sydney South Harbour Hash House Harriers) later today…

In reality, it would probably need to be two different runs, with the photo of the route map showing an obvious split, but the issue of parking and how/where to have a beer bucket and circle remains to be solved.

So, ON ON and ON INN,
Chimney.

PS: there’s a second set of photos to follow in the next post, generally unrelated to ‘memories’, but showing other sights encountered yesterday during what was a really lovely afternoon in downtown Sydney..
People that may relate to various elements in this narrative have been tagged in the first comment attached, except for Larrikins within a running context..