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Lifestyle : NSW Tourism Awards 2011
1HERSA1 0004 com out of your sh ll for endless holiday adventures To receive a copy of our free escape planner phone 1300 303 155 or book your holiday online at portmacquarieinfo.com.au 4 SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2011 THE SUN-HERALD travel nsw tourism awards special report Unearth some hip digs Sydney Harbour YHA offers comfy beds and a whole lot of history, writes Louise Schwartzkoff. Some of the housing remnants . . . date back to the 1790s. New era . . . clockwise from top left, objects found by archaeologists; views from the YHA rooftop; a street view. WHEN visitors arrive at the Sydney Harbour YHA, they sometimes ask whether the building work is incomplete. The steps into the hostel ascend exposed bedrock but the rubble on the ground is not the result of careless building. It is an archaeological site that offers clues about the earliest days of colonial Sydney. The YHA and attached archaeology education centre, The Big Dig, were selected as finalists in the heritage and culture section of the NSW Tourism Awards. A short stroll from major attractions, including the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, the building is a steel web with layers of cladding, designed to protect the archaeology and maintain access to the digging site. Backpackers can explore the site and school groups arrive to learn about Sydney's history. Glass cases display objects found during the archaeological survey: a medicine bottle, a doll's head, a collection of marbles and shards upon shards of blue-and-white patterned crockery. These fragments hint at the working-class lives of those who once lived here. ''People think The Rocks in those days was full of brothels and opium dens,'' the YHA's education and interpretation officer, Alison Frappell, says. ''But those were closer to the wharves for the sailors.'' Some of the housing remnants on the site date back to the 1790s. The foundations of one house show a tiny front room and tinier kitchen backing on to a cesspit. ''It must have smelt lovely during the summer,'' Frappell says. Another house belonged to George Cribb, who was sentenced to 14 years in Australia for being in possession of forged banknotes. While serving time, he established a successful abattoir and butchery and married fellow convict Fanny Barnett -- despite the fact he had a wife living in England. When his first wife announced she would travel to the colony to share his new wealth, Cribb paid Barnett £300 to disappear. The hostel and archaeological centre faced competition from a range of other finalists, including Bells Milk Bar and Museum in Broken Hill. Along with malted milks and soda spiders, the milk bar serves a taste of history within original 1950s decor. The Bathurst Goldfields has a replica 1850s gold-mining village and a museum exploring the discovery of gold in central-west NSW. The Blue Mountains region is replete with more than 320 kilometres of walking tracks, 37 of which are on the NSW State Heritage Register. Some began as tracks worn by Aborigines, while others were surveyors' routes and early roads. The tracks provide a glimpse into the area's history, as well as spectacular views. Another Blue Mountains finalist, Jenolan Caves, is Australia's longest continually operating tourist destination. Visitors can learn about the site's heritage through a series of tours, festivals, concerts and an artist-in-residence program. Also on the list of finalists are the Glasshouse, Port Macquarie's arts, heritage and cultural centre; the Hawkesbury Regional Museum, which tells stories about Australia's third mainland settlement; and the family-owned- and-operated Avoca Beach Picture Theatre, built in 1951 and still a cultural hub for locals and tourists. Cultural revelation The Coffs Coast Aboriginal Discovery Program has brought the culture of the Gumbaynggirr people to thousands of visitors to the region. Launched six years ago, the program, winner in the indigenous tourism category, now caters for about 5000 people a year, with activities including interpretive canoe tours, bush- tucker tours, whale watching and night-bird watching. A senior ranger with NSW National Parks, Barbara Webster, says the program has been successful because of the close involvement of the local Aboriginal community, including elders. ''They have a key role in deciding what they want to interpret and which stories to share,'' Webster says. ''Sharing their traditional knowledge has helped to keep the culture and language alive.'' There are four Aboriginal rangers who guide visitors and Webster says the program has led to greater respect and awareness of the area's indigenous culture. One of the popular activities in summer is ''muttonbirds by moonlight'', where visitors are taken out in the evening to see the rookery on Muttonbird Island, a sacred site for the local Aboriginal community. In winter, Aboriginal rangers take visitors to whale watching spots and educate them about Aboriginal culture as well as the passing whales. A recent development has been the building of an outdoor cultural heritage centre at the base of the Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve. The amphitheatre-style venue features a significant piece of Aboriginal art, carved into a timber screen. Webster says discovery program activities are centred on school holidays. For more information, phone the local National Parks office on (02) 6652 0900. Jane E. Fraser
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