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Australia to Celebrate Nation's 200th Birthday

November 29, 1987|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section.

SYDNEY, Australia — It was in Sydney harbor's Botany Bay that the British penal settlement of Australia began on Jan. 26, 1788, after a fleet of 11 sailing ships arrived with 736 men, women and convicts, a military escort of 200 and a small number of free settlers.

Now Australia, with a population of only 16 million in a land area comparable to the continental United States, is about to begin its 1988 Bicentenary 200th birthday celebration with more than 1,000 events at the national level and tens of thousands more at state and local levels.

Beginning Jan. 1, centennial events will be under way for four months before World Expo 88 opens in Brisbane on April 30.

After the Expo closes on Oct. 30, centennial events will continue through December. From Dec. 26 to 31, 1988, a record-setting turnout of more than 3,000 jazz musicians is expected to gather at the University of Sydney for the country's 43rd annual jazz festival.

Two-Month Cavalcade

On Jan. 1, the Festival of Sydney will launch a two-month cavalcade of theater, dance, music and outdoor concerts around the one-time penal colony that has become a major world port and cultural center. Sydney is Australia's largest city with more than 3 million people.

On Jan. 16, the Darling Harbor area of Sydney will open as the greatest urban redevelopment in the history of Australia--an entertainment center that will include parks and gardens, a new museum and an aquarium, a Chinese garden, a convention and exhibition center that will be the largest in Australia, the Harborside Festival Marketplace that will showcase 200 speciality shops, restaurants and cafes, plus a monorail that will carry some 12 million passengers annually to and from the city center.

In addition to all the countries that will have pavilions at Expo 88, the Australian government has invited some 145 nations to take part in such diverse events as Tall Ships, the International Mathematics Olympiad, the Bicentennial Air Show and Naval Review and the International Scout Jamboree.

An exchange rate that has currently dropped the Australian dollar to less than 70 cents against the U.S. dollar is stimulating interest in the wide diversity of events and attractions during the Bicentenary.

Australia is calling its 200th birthday bash a Bicentenary rather than a Bicentennial, taking the grammatical stance that the latter word is an adjective rather than a noun.

Story in Perspective

The convict story itself has been brought into perspective for Bicentennial-year visitors by an internationally recognized author who was born and raised in Sydney.

Historian and film writer Robert Hughes has been an art critic for Time magazine since 1970. His new book, "The Fatal Shore--The Epic of Australia's Founding" (Alfred A. Knopf: $24.95), documents the historical reality between Australia's pre-1960s tendency to be silent about its convict origins and the efforts of sensational popular writings to exploit what happened.

A walking tour through where it all began reveals preserved historic buildings along with arts and crafts galleries, specialty shops, pubs and international cuisine restaurants, new residences and commercial buildings. Gas lamps have been replaced, courtyards repaved with cobblestones.

We started our rediscovery in the Rocks area of Sydney at the Rocks Visitors' Center, 104 George St., with a film about the Rocks. Cadman's Cottage on George Street, completed in about 1816, is the oldest building still standing in the city.

The cornerstone of the Garrison Church on the village green of Argyle Place was laid in 1840. The Geological and Mining Museum is one of the best in the Southern Hemisphere. The Hero of Waterloo is Sydney's oldest pub.

Behind the Rocks is the soaring glass-and-steel skyline of modern Sydney. Just across Sydney Cove and around Circular Quay, with its piers for ferries and cruise ships, the roof of the famed Opera House is the silhouette of a ship perpetually under sail.

The Quay has been remodeled for the Bicentennial, with a covered walkway leading to the Opera House.

Trip to Parramatta

A short ferry ride up the Parramatta River on a Sydney Harbor Ferry brings one to the city of Parramatta, which made possible the survival of the first penal colony. Captain Phillip, who became the first governor, found here fertile lands that didn't exist at the Rocks.

Farming developed slowly but steadily. John MacArthur helped to found Australia's wool industry here. Today the architecture and colonial gardens of Elizabeth Farm, named after his wife, take visitors back to the upper-class life style of the late 18th to early 19th centuries.

Lake Parramatta is within a central city picnic and strolling parkland. Koala Park intrigues everyone who ever wanted to be photographed holding a cuddly koala.

The Experimental Farm Cottage, built on the first land grant given to an ex-convict, is now a National Trust. Golf, tennis and the race course are close by.

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