Sunday, 25 December 2016

Summer in Sydney: Have Yourself a Sizzling Christmas

Christmas in Sydney means prawns

The only thing cold about Sydney’s Christmas is the beer.  For Sydneysiders Christmas comes in the sizzling summer Down Under.  Sunshine, seafood barbecues on the beach, flip-flop clad men in shorts, women wearing wide brim straw hats and white summer dresses, barefoot boys and girls in their swimmers frolicking on the sandy beaches - and of course, lots of beer chilling in the esky are the typical images of Christmas here rather than the snow, the winter-woolies and the roaring fire in the living room.  Nevertheless, the sizzling Sydney Christmas is just as wonderful and magical as any of the white Christmases celebrated in the northern hemisphere.  

Christmas in Sydney is unique - and special.  Over the years, Sydneysiders have lovingly embraced their glorious balmy summers, the fresh and abundant local seafood, summer fruits and vegies and developed their very own summer Christmas traditions.  Some small and intimate, others grand and spectacular.  Like the lone boy playing beautiful Christmas tunes on his saxophone at the street corner.  Or the awe-inspiring Lights of Christmas animated light show at St Mary’s Cathedral, an elegant English Gothic style church in the heart of Sydney.  Or the Sydney Fish Market’s 36-Hour Christmas Seafood Marathon that drives its crowds into a frenzy to grab the freshest seafood for their Christmas lunch.  And the massive and dazzling Swarovski Christmas tree at the iconic 19th century Queen Victoria Building shopping centre that heralds the arrival of the festive season to the Sydneysiders.     

Here is a round-up of some of the things that make Christmas in Sydney unique and special.  Try and check as many of them off your list of of things to do the next time you are in Sydney at Christmastime.   You will be thankful for the wonderful memories you will have of a magical Christmas spent in sizzling Sydney.  A Christmas like no other on Earth...      

Slip an extra prawn on the barbie

First things first - we will start with the traditional gastronomic delight of the Sydney Christmas lunch - Prawns on the Barbie (Australian slang for barbecue).  Yes, prawns.  The rich and moist King prawns, the beautiful and delicious Tiger prawns or the sweet and mild Banana prawns - it is your choice.

There is nothing like prawns hot off the barbecue.  Just make sure you grab the freshest and the best-quality prawns you can find.  Wash it down with a glass (or two) of champagne or any other good quality sparkling wine.  Prawns love wine.   

Join the fun and frenzy of the 36-hour Seafood Marathon at the Sydney Fish Market

The annual 36-hour Seafood Marathon at the Sydney Fish Market is another favourite Christmas tradition of most Sydneysiders.  Retailers stay open for 36 hours from 5am on 23 December right through to 5pm on Christmas Eve.  People flock to the Sydney Fish Market to grab their seafood, especially prawns, for their Christmas lunch.  This year, a whopping 120 tonnes of prawns were sold within 36 hours!   

Be enchanted by the QVB Swarovski Christmas tree - Sydney’s tallest indoor Christmas tree

Every year from late October to early January the following year, the iconic Queen Victoria Building (QVB) displays the QVB Swarovski Christmas tree.  The beautiful glittering tree stands at 24 metres over three floors, residing under the magnificent stained-glass and copper-sheath dome of the 1898 Queen Victoria Building.  The elegant beauty is adorned with over 82,000 sparkling Swarovski crystals and 65,000 twinkling lights topped by a 2.2m wide crystal gilded star weighing over 6.5 tonnes.

For many Sydneysiders, the QVB Swarovski Christmas tree is the first reminder that the festive season has arrived in the city.  It takes over a hundred people and 44 hours to install this gigantic tree.  Once installed, it starts attracting both visitors and locals that want to admire its beauty and take selfies next to it

To fully appreciate the dazzling elegance of this impressive Christmas tree, start at its base which itself is a work of art made out of glass, lights and crystals. Then go up the stairs to the first floor to take a closer look at thousands of sparkling crystals adorning the tree.  Finally, on the second floor you can see the jaw-dropping 6.5-tonne star under the stained-glass dome.  And don’t forget that selfie!                      

Watch the Lights of Christmas animated light show at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney

This spectacular light and sound show is held annually at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney - an elegant English Gothic style cathedral situated in the heart of Sydney.  In December, every evening until Christmas the Lights of Christmas show is projected onto the Cathedral facade from dusk till midnight.  This is an outdoor event held at the Cathedral Square and draws large crowds from all over Sydney.  Enjoy a balmy Sydney summer evening watching this glorious light show under the stars.         

Stop and listen to the Christmas street performers in the city

Around Christmas time you find them at almost every street corner and market square in the city.  Carol singers, saxophone players and sometimes even bagpipe players playing happy Christmas tunes on their instruments and spreading festive cheer.  They help to give the city of Sydney a special vibe.

Take the time to stop and listen to them - you will discover that some of them have real talent.  Some do it for a living. Others, especially primary school children and teenagers, are trying to recoup the cost of their band instruments.  Support their entrepreneurial spirit and throw in $5 (or more if you’re feeling generous) for them.  

Experience the magic of Christmas at Martin Place

Every year at Christmastime, Martin Place, a pedestrian mall in the central business district of Sydney, is transformed into a magical summer wonderland.  The street choirs singing carols perform every night leading up to Christmas.  Then there is the 21 metre tall interactive Christmas tree - the tallest outdoor Christmas tree in Sydney.  You can share your special Christmas message via text and watch it light up the tree for everyone to see!    

Grab your picnic rug and flip-flop over to Carols in the Domain

Carols in the Domain is Sydney’s biggest free Christmas concert, held in the Domain, Sydney annually.  This iconic Christmas celebration pulls huge crowds that picnic on the grass and sing-along to Australia's popular artistes and favourite Christmas songs, under the stars in the warm summer nights.

Sydney Christmas Gallery

The QVB Swarovski Christmas Tree Sydney
Lights Of Christmas Sydney - Madonna and Child

Lights Of Christmas Sydney - Madonna and Child

Lights Of Christmas Sydney - Madonna and Child

Lights Of Christmas Sydney - Madonna and Child

Nativity at Cathedral Square - St Mary's Cathedral Sydney

The Interactive Christmas Tree at Martin Place, Sydney

Martin Place, Sydney - Christmas 2016

Monday, 12 December 2016

Centennial Park, Sydney: Here Come the Emden Geese

Emden Geese at Centennial Park, Sydney

Head to the Duck Pond at Centennial Park in Sydney this summer and you will see more Emden geese there than ducks.  If you decide to have a picnic near the pond these large birds will flock to you demanding your food! Try moving away with your picnic and they will follow you, honking loudly.  They are huge, voracious and persistent but they are  also lovely and cute.  

Emden geese - pretty but pests?

The Centennial Parklands management however does not think very highly of the Emden geese.  In fact they consider them pests that compete with the native bird species for food and other scarce resources.  The Centennial Parklands website mentions that these and other pests ‘contribute to environmental degradation, contribute to the spread of disease and give rise to safety issues through their impacts on the environment’.  

Most likely these domestic geese have been brought to the park and released there by the park visitors.  The Emden goose is the most popular domestic goose breed in New South Wales.        

A goose by any other name:  How to tell if it’s an Emden Goose

The origin of the Emden goose

The Emden goose is believed to have originated from Emden, a town and seaport in Lower Saxony, Germany.  Another theory is that it was created by crossing the German White goose with the English White.  Whatever its origin, the Emden is a prolific breeder and it is the most popular domestic goose breed in Sydney.

What does the Emden goose look like?

  • Plumage - Pure glossy white.
  • Eyes - Bold and ocean blue.
  • Bill - Bright orange.  Short and stout at the base.
  • Head - Long and straight.
  • Neck - Long, graceful and swan-like.
  • Body - Bulky and well rounded with a long back and a short tail.
  • Legs -. Bright orange.  Short but strong.
  • Feet:  Webbed and bright orange.
  • Wings - Long and very strong.

Overall, the Emden geese are a large, heavy breed and the tallest of all geese, reaching up to one meter in height (3.3 feet). 

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

At a glance both the Emden goose (female) and the gander (male) look alike. However telling the male and female Emden geese apart is not as simple as the proverb.  

The males tend to be much larger and their behaviour much cockier.  They strut boldly towards you with their chests puffed out demanding food. They might even challenge your leashed dog!  The male also has a shrill high-pitched and piercing honk.  The female usually sounds more hoarse and low-pitched.  

The Emden goose normally weighs between 9kg and 11kg (20lb - 24lb) while the gander weighs between 11kg and 14kg (24lb - 31lb).

Day-old hatchlings can usually be accurately sexed as the females have a darker down than the males.  However, after a few days this difference in feather colour disappears.  

To feed or not to feed, that is the question

When it comes to feeding the birds at the park, the Centennial Parklands website has this piece of advice for you.

‘If you love these birds, don't feed them!’

But why not?  After all, going to the park to feed the ducks (or geese) has been a family tradition for many generations of Sydneysiders.  The parklands website further elaborates on their advice.

‘Rangers understand that visitors enjoy feeding the birds. However it is requested that when feeding birds visitors think about the food that the birds would normally eat in the wild and feed them accordingly – remember that the birds in Centennial Parklands are not pets.

Bread does not contain all the nutrients that these wild birds need, so try feeding them grass and seeds instead.’

Now remember that we are talking about feeding the Emden geese, not the native species of ducks at the Duck Pond.  As mentioned before, Emden geese have been brought to the park by its visitors and they are considered pests by the Centennial Parklands management.  Therefore we are facing a double dilemma here. 

Emden geese are good foragers and look for tidbits in the grass and water.  In addition to grass, seeds and various greens they also feed on larvae and pupae usually found under rocks as well as small fish, snails and crabs.

But who doesn't like an easy meal?  Emden geese are no different.  They are also not choosy and will eat almost anything that you feed them.

However, sharing your tuna sandwich with the Emden geese can cause them more harm than good.  Human food, specially bread, can be very unhealthy for the geese. This is because bread is low in nutrition. It will fill up the bird and leave little or no room for more nutritious food.  In turn this will leave the bird sluggish and malnourished. 

Human food is a fast and easy option for these geese.  However, over time they will lose their ability to forage for natural food.  It is important to remember that feeding them human food will eventually make them lazy and dependent on humans for their food, which can result in starvation and perhaps death if and when that food source stops. 

If you do decide to feed them, it is a good idea to limit the quantity so the Emden geese retain their natural ability to forage for food themselves.  Also, feed them nutritious food such as collard, turnip greens, spinach and kale.   

They look quite aggressive - will they attack me?

A flock of large Emden geese chasing you around the Duck Pond while honking loudly can certainly be a rather intimidating experience.  My advice to you is, if a gaggle of Emdens is chasing you, DO NOT RUN - specially with food in your hand.  It will bring out the exact behaviour in them that you fear.

The Emden can be an aggressive breed and they tend to bully other geese, specially the weaker ones.  However, they are a domestic breed that is accustomed to the presence of humans, so as long as you keep a safe distance from them you should be okay.  If threatened or provoked, however, they will use their bills and strong wings as weapons to attack you.  So be careful!  

Spend an afternoon with the Emden geese at Centennial Park this summer

Pack a picnic and head to Centennial Park on a sunny summer afternoon.  If you have decided to feed the Emden geese, remember to pack a bit of kale or collard for them, but not too much.  Although the grassy area around the Duck Pond is great for picnics, it is best to have your picnic elsewhere away from these hungry birds!

After you finish your picnic, walk over to the Duck Pond and wait for the Emden geese to find you.  Normally it does not take long, specially if you offer them food.  Often, you find them congregated on the little island with a lot of trees that is in the middle of the Duck Pond, resting and sunning themselves.  It is enough to get the attention of just one goose - all the rest will follow her to you in a straight line.  

Gently throw the greens at them from a safe distance and watch them flocking to the food honking noisily.  You can also try walking away from them slowly to see how they follow you.  And remember do NOT RUN no matter what you do!

Have fun.   

Emden Geese Gallery

The Emden goose has a long, graceful, swan-like neck and short but strong legs.

The Emden gander (male) is much larger than the goose (female).

The Emden is a prolific breeder and it is the most popular domestic goose breed in Sydney.

 Emden geese and other birds foraging for food at Centennial Park, Sydney.

Emden geese and other bird varieties at the Duck Pond, Centennial Park, Sydney.