If your only experience of Sydney is frantically bolting through ‘troops in white collars’ on a mission to attend a meeting you are already late for, an espresso in one hand, a briefcase in the other, and your iPhone skilfully hoisted to your ear by your trusty shoulder…. You’re certainly missing out. If your venture into the city involves hurdling across the Druitt/George Street intersection to squeeze in a quick Woolies run before boarding the M10 to University… you’re missing out too. Actually, if you find yourself in the city with the intention of splurging at Top Shop, waiting for a train or getting wasted at the Cross …. well, you are denying yourself one of life’s most underrated pleasures; strolling through the streets of Sydney after dark. Nightwalking. Not purposefully exploring, just simply walking. Walking without being interrupted by the hissing of morning coffee machines, the roar of city traffic or the irritating buzzing of mobile phones. Escaping the noise that cloaks our existence by strolling in silence.
I have always maintained that there is an element of awkwardness associated with life at 4 o’clock in the morning. As an insomniac, I have realised that it is a dichotomous time… a very confusing time….. too early for breakfast, and too dark to be considered morning. 4 o’clock is in every sense of the word, a time-filler. It bridges the gap, providing a smooth transition between the scariness of 3am (after all, if there is anything Paranormal Activity has taught me, it’s that 3am is prime time for spirits to emerge), and the hectic nature of 5am (work runs). On the surface, 4am supposedly serves no particular purpose; bars close, transport halts and the streets are practically empty.
So what do you do if you find yourself awake at this hour? Go for a nightwalk. 4am is prime nightwalking time.
Before I began nightwalking, I attempted to avoid spending my leisurely time in the city at all costs. Years of working in Sydney has subconsciously spurned an emotional association with intense stress and even anxiety. But wandering through the streets under the dark city sky has shed light upon how stunningly peaceful the world can be. Not eerily peaceful, or unnervingly peaceful…it’s meditatively serene. It’s almost like, after an intense day of office-folk treading on its footpaths and a long night of drunken brawls and headache inducing music, the city is given a chance to breathe and unwind. And as it exhales, you can feel its soothing breath in the calm winds that blow through your hair. Yes, 4am is Yoga time for Sydney’s structures.
All nightwalks commence from a familiar starting place. For me, it was (and don’t judge) the Maccas on George Street. Remember what I said about nothing being open? Well knowing your closest Maccas is an essential aspect of a nightwalkers preparation, incase one requires a pick-me-up-sundae to continue their journey. As a melting pot of different casts of people, I began to experience first-hand the sheer diversity of Sydney’s residents. As I sat in the McCafe, I observed construction workers and homeless teenagers enjoy the warmth of french fries in the wee hours of a chilly morning. I saw gamers exploiting free wi-fi and tourists with large suitcases sharing an apple pie whilst analysing a Sydney map. I even witnessed a crime; a partygoer attempting to steal shabby McCafe macaroons! Boredom is never a concern for a nightwalker; after all, you bear witness to an endless procession of unique faces who provide you with free, reality entertainment of a kind that will never be screened on MTV.
From this starting point, you begin to pace down the streets you recognise. You start to notice intricacies of the city that are often camouflaged during the working hours of the day. Your eyes dance around the perplexing, detailed architecture of the ornate federation building on your left; its stained glass windows ricocheting the street lamps’ luminescent glow into a kaleidoscope of pinks blues and greens. As you turn your head to your right, you see your modern, angular, clinical workplace and wonder, how did the stunningly beautiful designs of the 1800’s evolve into the sterile buildings of today? Indeed, my friend, through simply appreciating architecture, you just experienced history and travelled through time.
If you wander fearlessly, you will expose yourself to new places and areas, enabling you to mentally link-up new streets and landmarks to those you are familiar with. It’s almost like connecting the dots in your mind. As your understanding of the geography of city widens, so too does your understanding of yourself. Nightwalking in the silence of the early morning amplifies the thoughts and memories that you associate with elements of the world around you. And it is these thoughts that make us who we are. As you unearth a new part of the city, you may be lucky enough to discover a new aspect of yourself that has been suppressed by the noise of daily life. And all this understanding emerges from the silence.
Why is it easier to surround myself with noise and keep trudging forward, than to stop in silence? Because when I walk in solitude, I hear myself… all my desires and fears. I recall my proudest moments, shameful memories and biggest regrets. And it can be overwhelming. As I ventured towards the harbour, forging a new nightwalking route, I asked myself whether there is a connection between the amount of noise and stress in my life and my inability to hear my true voice…. Indeed it is these realisations and epiphanies that can truly change who we are.
When you wander the streets at night, visual and audible noises are eliminated. You see the world in all its beauty and you cannot help but feel as though you are more than your job description or university degree. You’re a part of something more meaningful, more beautiful. Rather than discussing your endless worries over what is and what will be, I implore you to soak up the silence, and listen to that inner voice… appreciate what you have to say. Don’t let your anxiety manifest into how you live your life. Be a 4am nightwalker. Who knows? I might see you on the banks of Sydney Harbour.