This weekend I paid a visit to The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, Australia, built atop sandstone cliffs that stagger straight down to the briny green waters of Sydney Harbour.
Once upon a time, The Rocks was populated with convicts, sailors, gangs and the poorest of the poor. Back then it was simply called ‘Sydney Town’ because there was not much more to Sydney than The Rocks.
Today this old village is a tourist destination but, if you listen closely enough, you can still hear the echoes of its long and colourful past. In The Rocks, time unravels. It is at once antique and contemporary. I snapped some photographs to take you there with me.
As I explored the labyrinthine laneways and streets of The Rocks, I carried in my purse an old, dogeared paperback of Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, which haunted me when I read it as a child. Set amid those same cobblestones now under my feet, Playing Beatie Bow is an eerie coming-of-age story that crosses two centuries and a timeless mystery.
* * *
The children in the playground were playing a group game. The dark came down fast around them. Soon it would rain.
“They’re playing Beatie Bow and it scares me.”
These are the words of four-year-old Natalie. The book’s heroine, Abigail, is babysitting her. And the game is scary.
“Oh Mudda, what’s that? What can it be?” The children chant. And while ‘Mudda’ insists it is “nothing at all,” the children hear bloodcurdling moans, a clatter of stones, and then they see a ghost.
“It’s Beatie Bow,” shrieked Mudda in a voice of horror, “risen from the dead!”
Watching the game, unseen by all except Abigail and Natalie, is “the little furry girl,” an urchin of about 10 with cropped blonde hair.
But when Abigail pursues the little girl up a steep alley opposite the playground and into the gathering dusk on Harrington Street, time dissolves under her feet. Before she could make another move she heard a clinking and creaking and rattling and the unmistakable sound of a horse’s hoofs.
Abigail is in 1873. And she is trapped.
* * *
This is the second time in recent weeks that I have come to think of time in layers, instead of lines. And I believe places, in particular, hold on to time. They vibrate with the past, the present and the anticipation of the future. So when we step inside these places we are standing inside time. Isn’t the world wonderful?
Naomi Bulger (guest posting on Tuesday nights)