I’ve lived in Sydney for four months now. Despite that, I would say I know very little about the city. I’ve seen some of the main tourist sights sure, I’ve whale watched and cruised the harbour, I’ve even hiked in the nearby Royal National Park…. but when it comes to Sydney’s history and what makes Sydney well…. Sydney… I know very little.
When I was offered a chance to join a walking tour with Context Tours I jumped on the opportunity. Context tours are for the intellectually curious. That’s what makes these tours stand apart. In depth and themed tours are led by local experts. And I mean experts. All guides are MA or Ph.D level scholar guides in the topic they are discussing. Expert guides lead small groups (max. 6 people) around their city and share their passion for whatever topic is being discussed.
There are Context tours available in almost every continent, although the majority are based in Europe. In Australia, you can find tours based out of Melbourne and Sydney. Since I am new to Sydney, I joined “The Making of Sydney” tour, led by a Ph.D historian. We met just outside the Customs House by Circular Quay. It was early on a Saturday morning, and I arrived just early enough to grab a very disappointing coffee. Rule #1, don’t expect good coffee in the tourist mecca of Circular Quay.
There was just me and another couple on our tour. Our guide started out by explaining how the first fleet came to Australia, the types of people that came with it, and how the landscape would have looked for them back in 1788. Equipped with historical maps and drawings, we learned about the challenges faced by the first arrivals to Sydney as they struggled to set up a new society.
It certainly must not have been easy. With only one professional farmer among them and dwindling food supplies, the first settlers in Australia certainly had their challenges ahead. While we discussed the first governors of Sydney, we focused primarily on Governor Macquarie and his wife, Elizabeth, who were instrumental in shaping the new society, building some of the cities most iconic and impressive buildings, and also paving the way for a better understanding between the settlers and the original aboriginal inhabitants.
As we walked along the city streets, past various government buildings, historic warehouses, and museum buildings we learned about how the governors of Sydney dealt with major social issues of the times, like emancipated prisoners, the disproportionate number of men to women, growing food in a new and strange environment, and living in (relative) peace with their aboriginal neighbours. New meaning was suddenly given for buildings I see and walk past every day.
We walked through the city, into the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Sydney hospital and Hyde park, where our tour ended. My feet were sore but I came away with a much deeper understanding and appreciation for this historic and beautiful city.
To learn more about Context Tours, or to book a guided tour with an expert, visit their website.