Today the Penguin family went (as we often do) to Darling Harbour. Over easter, there is a circus festival. Which meant that we saw three different live shows out of the ten on offer – The Pitts, Leo Bonne, and Ace P. Freckle. They were all good. The Pitts (my favourite), especially was a seriously good acrobatic display with choreography that also made it great slapstick for Chatterboy and Hungry Boy to laugh themselves sick at.
Nearly 20 years ago, when Darling Harbour was first reborn (according to the website) from “a derelict dockyard to one of the world’s great waterfront destinations”, it was the laughing stock of Sydney. At first, it was a shopping mall, and a few fountains, in a place that nobody would be interested in going. Worse, it was connected to the CBD by a very ugly monorail that nobody wanted (well that part is still pretty accurate). It’s still got a fairly low brow reputation. But today, the place was buzzing. And although the majority of groups there were family groups, it was a pretty diverse crowd, with younger and older children, and mostly the tourists providing a leavening of groups without kids.
In twenty years, it has grown up and become a destination. Reading Jane Jacobs about what makes a place successful, it ticks many boxes. Culture – two major museums, among other attractions. Shopping – the shopping centre is gradually becoming slightly more than a bunch of discount shops. Business – increasingly, the CBD is coming down to the edge of Darling Harbour, with KPMG, Westpac and PwC among the landmark tenants on the edge. It’s got an excellent children’s playground which is as big and varied as any I’ve seen in Sydney. And restaurants – the waterfront is ringed with restaurants – too many for all of them to get away with being horrible tourist traps.
The monorail is still a poor excuse for a public transport system, but from being an artificial attempt at creating a destination, the destination has become reality. Friends I know without children still look at me sideways when I sing its praises, but Darling Harbour has become a place where I will happily spend a few hours (as we did today), without even visiting one of the “attractions”.