If you're not living in Sydney you are merely camping out, former Australian prime minister (1991-96) Paul Keating once said. That was a cheeky summary of Australia's premier city from one of our most urbane leaders, and it has a lot to say about this country.
Keating was a sublime public speaker. Anyone wanting to find out more about the Australian psyche could do worse than look over his Redfern Park speech on Aboriginal affairs or the Remembrance Day oration on the diggers (both written by Australian historian Don Watson).
But this is a travel site, and we are more interested in Keating's observation as a starting point for travellers about to explore Tinseltown, the tart of the South Pacific and the international gateway to our country, and beyond.
Sydney is a topsy-turvy, larrikin, willful, brassy and beautiful place. It's the largest city in the nation, the first to be settled by Europeans and the corporate and business centre of the country. And it has, of course, one of the most stunning harbours of any city in the world. For all these reasons it's the most popular entry point to the land by far, and a place that most visitors to Australia are likely to see.
For the ever-growing backpacker market, Sydney is the start of the east coast trail whose mandatory stop-offs are Byron Bay in northern NSW and Cairns in Far North Queensland.
For the business traveller with some spare time at the end of her trip, it's the seductive and attractive town filled with internationally acclaimed restaurants, performing arts companies and nightclubs.
For the holiday-maker it's the must-see city with iconic landmarks, including the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Bondi Beach.For all of these people, as well as most Australians who live elsewhere, Sydney is a place of great contradictions. Although we adore it, many of us loathe it at the same time. After all, as we like to point out, it's expensive (especially if you want to buy or rent property), it has an overloaded public transport system, it's noisy, the roads are crowded and
the city centre is abysmally planned. But Sydney doesn't care, because she knows she's like a head-turningly pretty but spoilt young woman -- she's irresistible.
But most of us are on a budget, and are holding to some sort of itinerary. After you've explored Sydney's wonderful harbour and beaches, taken in a show at the Opera House, caught a ferry on the harbour and walked across or climbed over the bridge, you may want to set your sights on the rest of the country.
What you will find will be quite a different place. For a start, the pace is slower, more natural. That goes even for Melbourne, our second-largest city (and a serious rival as a centre for sport, fashion and the arts). Can you imagine Sydneysiders relying on a trundling tram to get home from work?
The further out bush you venture, the more things change. The sub-tropical lush greenery gives way to black and then red-soil country, where silence, sunshine and starlight mark your journey. The multicultural mix becomes increasingly dominated by a harsher, less joyous racial divide of black and white.
Adventure is more likely to take the form of engaging with the physical environment than with the commercial exchange of a night out on the town. This is where you will climb mountains, paddle down rivers, take a dip in a rock pool, be guided to some bush tucker and marvel at the night sky.
When you do go into a pub, it's likely to be dotted with a few colourful locals who'll be happy to spin a yarn or tell you the best local fishing spot. Don't expect haute cuisine; the tucker will be basic but tasty (and plentiful). The beer, on the other hand, will be cold and free-flowing. And both will be relatively cheap.
For those with the time to explore the rest of the country, just about every region has its special places. In the centre, you will experience the timeless lure of Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon and the MacDonell Ranges around Alice Springs. In the Top End, the wetlands of Kakadu are unique (just watch out for hungry crocs).
The rainforests and reefs of Queensland are unsurpassed and the High Country of Victoria and NSW is a rarefied world set apart from the surrounding river country. The many fine wine-growing regions of South Australia will seduce you with their pretty vales as well as their fine food and drink.
In the deserts and scrub of the West, the wildflower season is spectacular: such colour and variety rising from those arid hot plains seems unreal. For a wilderness experience you can't get any wilder than the west country of Tasmania with its untamed rivers and changeable weather.
And accommodation, well, once you're out of Sydney, remember, you're more likely to be camping. And there are some superb camp sites and wilderness huts in the thousands of national parks, as well as the plethora of bed and breakfasts, farmstays, holiday parks, motels and hotels in and around all the other major attractions.So, by all means get to Sydney, but take some time to go camping too…