Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Sydney and get you in the mood for travel
An Australian cinema classic telling the story of rival newsreel cameramen in the 1940s and '50s. After the arrival of television in 1956, their very livelihood comes under threat.
Puberty Blues (1981)
Riddled with teen angst, Puberty Blues lifts the lid on the still-present social and surf hierarchies on Sydney’s southern beaches. Directed by Oscar-nominated Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Black Robe).
Two Hands (1999)
A blunt, darkly humorous exploration of the Kings Cross underworld: Heath Ledger loses $10,000 belonging to a local gangster, and finds himself in a world of trouble.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Hugely popular animated kids’ classic tracing the journey of Nemo, an errant clownfish who finds his way into Sydney Harbour. Featuring the voices of Eric Bana, Ellen DeGeneres, and Willem Dafoe.
Bra Boys (2007)
Powerful documentary examining the culture and values of the infamous “Bra Boys” surf gang from Maroubra in Sydney’s southeast. Directed by gang member Sunny Abberton; narrated by Russell Crowe.
Heyy Babyy (2007)
A Bollywood extravaganza loosely based around Hollywood’s Three Men and a Baby. Technicolor dance routines gyrate through Darling Harbour and Circular Quay, around the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
30 Days in Sydney, by Peter Carey (2001)
Carey’s “Wildly Distorted Account” documents 30 days he spent in the “Emerald City” in 2000, returning to Australia after 17 years abroad.
The Bodysurfers, by Robert Drewe (1983)
Collection of disquieting, sensual short stories laced with Sydney beach imagery (you can almost smell the suntan oil). Adapted into a TV miniseries in the late-1980s.
He Died With a Felafel in His Hand, by John Birmingham (1994)
An Australian “grunge” handbook, Birmingham’s beer-stained exposé of the Sydney share-housing scene is hilarious and cringe-worthy. Not for the mild-mannered.
Sydney: Biography of a City, by Lucy Turnbull (1999)
Turnbull—the first female Lord Mayor of Sydney—comes from a conspicuous Sydney family. Her weighty, 500-page homage to Sydney traces the city’s history and development from a politically engaged perspective.
Unreliable Memoirs, by Clive James (1980)
Poet, larrikin, and media doyen, Clive James grew up in post-WWII, blue-collar Kogarah in Sydney’s south. His childhood memoirs are highly amusing, engaging, and socially barbed.
Voss, by Patrick White (1957)
Sunburned mediation on early Australian history from Nobel Prize-winning White. A story of adversity in exploring Australia’s harsh interior set against the complexities of colonial Sydney life.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Midnight Oil exposed Sydney’s suburban complacency on their apocalyptic 1982 masterpiece. “Power and the Passion” is the stand-out track.
Breakfast at Sweethearts
Edgy, urban, alcohol-fuelled 1979 album from rock legends Cold Chisel. Don Walker’s lyrics celebrate Sydney’s seamy underbelly.
Singer-songwriter Paul Kelly evokes vivid Sydney imagery on his 1986 album: South Dowling Street, Darlinghurst, and Randwick all receive the Kelly treatment.
Recorded in Sydney, the 1997 release from rockers You Am I is heavy on local lore and suburban lyricism: Circular Quay, the Town Hall steps, milk trucks, and late-night AM radio.
Love This City
1999 album by Sydney band The Whitlams, digging under the city’s skin, exploring social change, urban gentrification, and commercialization.
Sydney conjures up a powerful sense of place that songwriters, from rockers to ramblers, can’t help but tap into. Some favorites:
1. “Botany Bay” (traditional ballad) by various artists
2. “Darlinghurst Nights” by The Go-Betweens
3. “Deep Water” by Richard Clapton
4. “From St. Kilda To Kings Cross” by Paul Kelly
5. “If We Can’t Get It Together” by You Am I
6. “Khe Sanh” by Cold Chisel
7. “Power and the Passion” by Midnight Oil
8. “Reckless” by Australian Crawl
9. “Somewhere in Sydney” by Skyhooks
10. “You Gotta Love This City” by The Whitlams
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