I like walking. Now. As an adult it has led me through lush woodland and native forest, along rugged cliff tops that overlook the wild blue ocean and into cosmopolitan quarters of our rich city that I didn’t even know existed. Walking takes me out of myself and into a meditative, imaginative place of inspiration and delight. What’s not to like?
When I was a child however walking was agony. Each day I walked to school, itself a place of torture. To get there I had to tramp up an enormous hill and whilst climbing this hill I had to scrape my shoes on the concrete footpath. My parents, having grown up in Fascist Italy had been too afraid to ignore the uniform instructions for Year 7 students, despite my protests. So on my first day of high school, I was the only student wearing shiny, black, patent leather school shoes. Everybody else was wearing desert boots. You may wonder why they wore desert boots in Moorebank. Add the word cultural in front of it and it will all make sense. And so every afternoon I walked home by myself, scraping my school shoes for the whole three kilometres, in an attempt to turn them into desert boots.
But now after many years as an adult that childhood horror has faded and I have discovered the satisfaction of walking. I’m not alone in this. The Aboriginal people who first inhabited this land not only walked it but mapped its landmarks in song, story, dance, and art. Aristotle walked as he talked to his students in his academy in downtown Ancient Athens. The medieval pilgrims traversed whole continents to arrive at their sacred places. Before the industrial revolution farmers sometimes walked several hours a day simply to till their fields and then take their goods to market. And nineteenth century philosophers, a more leisured class, walked as a way to rediscover the joy of existence.
Recently I found myself at Railway Square with time to spare and decided to take myself on a little walking adventure into Sydney’s smoke stack past. The Goods Line, an old rail corridor that runs parallel to Harris Street between UTS and the Powerhouse Museum is a wonderful example of re-imagining industrial space for public use.
This was the site of a busy freight rail system that ran from Dulwich Hill to Central Station, via Rozelle and Darling Harbour in the days before cars and trucks when goods were carted by rail. Much of the line around Darling Harbour has been re-used for the Sydney Light Railway.
At the beginning of the walk you emerge from the darkness of the Devonshire Street tunnel, having crossed under George Street, and into the high, bright light of The Goods Line which then crosses above Ultimo Street, via the oldest iron bridge in Australia, built in 1879. At this end you will find trees and shrubs amongst the remnants of signal boxes and abandoned interlocking rail tracks. There are also table tennis tables and picnic benches, and a children’s water play area with a sand pit shaded by fig trees. It is a peaceful pocket populated by pedestrians and memories of a very different past.
Walking is an urban meditation; a riff through the soul of this made thing we call a city. Both we and it are a work in progress and walking helps us to capture the spirit of these wild new places we find ourselves in. But be warned encountering such wonder in the ordinary can be quite dangerous for your health. Luckily The Goods Line is only about 500 metres long. You’ll know you’ve come to the end of it when you arrive at the Powerhouse Museum Shop & Café where they will serve you a much needed coffee and you can choose from their lovely selection of pastries. And what better place than a coffee house to ruminate on your next ramble.