Sydney events

Jul 11

Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe, Circular Quay


If you enjoy chocolate and good coffee, this is a must-visit. It is located at Shop 10, Opera Quays, so the view, as you’d expect, is wonderful. You can sit indoors or outside. With a group, I’ve always preferred outside, but there’s good circulation space inside too and a number of smaller tables if you’re sitting alone. The entry, like most shops in the Opera Quays, is flat.

While the primary food served is sweet, especially chocolate, you can also have a light meal including salads, ciabatta and savory pastries. They serve an incredible Dark Chocolate Milkshake ($9) which is truly to die for. The coffee is good too, mild, but very drinkable, and the cappuccino is served at the right temperature. And the sprinkle of Guylian Chocolate on top certainly helps.

The accessible bathroom is excellent, with good circulation space and sufficient room under the sink to really get under. Everything is easy to reach, the door locks simply and there’s even pleasant music piped in. Circular Quay and the Opera House precinct is really lacking accessible bathroom facilities. For the price of a coffee or great milkshake, this cafe offers an excellent addition.

It’s highly recommended.

Feb 11

Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe, Opera Quays

If you enjoy chocolate and good coffee, this place is a must-visit. It is located at Shop 10, Opera Quays, so the view, as you’d expect, is wonderful. You can sit indoors or outside. With a group, I’ve always preferred outside, but there’s good circulation space inside too and a number of smaller tables if you’re sitting alone.

While the primary foods served are sweet — chocolate, cakes and desserts — you can also have a light meal, a beer, glass of wine or champagne. They also serve a full breakfast. The incredible Dark Chocolate Milkshake ($9) is truly to die for.

Access is no issue inside or out. Everything is flat, and there is an excellent accessible toilet inside (no key required), just to the left of the main service area. Given the dearth of accessible toilets around Circular Quay and the Opera House, this one is worth remembering.

Given the location, it’s no surprise that nothing comes cheap in this cafe. However, it’s a special place to take visitors to Sydney, before or after a show at The Opera House, or if you just feel like some decadence with your coffee.

Nov 10

Wildfire Restaurant at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal

A recent farewell for a colleague and friend who is moving overseas gave me an opportunity to dine at Wildfire for the first time. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.

Opened in 2002 and situated in Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal, Wildfire takes advantage of the rich history of Sydney’s Rocks district. The view is truly stunning; I could have looked out on the Opera House and Harbour all night and not bothered with dinner. The only thing that detracts from this world famous view is the infamous ‘toaster’ (known formally as Opera Quays) sitting like an ill-formed lump to the right of the Opera House. When you stroll the very pleasant shops and eateries of Opera Quays you really don’t get a sense of just how ugly it is. Wildfire gives a perfect perspective to do that, and to see, like all architectural monstrosities, how badly it has aged in just 10 years.

You enter Wildfire from the rear, which is flat entry. There’s a curb ramp just to the left of the entry, so access from the street or parking spaces is simple. It’s also a simple, and very pleasant, wheel around from Circular Quay Station (also accessible) if you choose to come by train.

Inside Wildfire

The interior of Wildfire is quite stunning. The main dining room is large and luxurious, with high ceilings, adorned with chandeliers. As a large group, we were seated at a long table, and it was this table that first impressed me. It was high enough for me to get under in my powerchair. For once I didn’t need to eat dinner on my lap while seated a metre out from the table. While I’m sure this is just a happy coincidence rather than design, it’s no coincidence that there’s also plenty of circulation space. The place is built on a grand scale and that works for me.

The accessible bathroom is also well designed and very functional. Most importantly, it’s easy to get to, located just to the right of the main entry. There are few things more irritating in a restaurant than needing to ask multiple tables of diners to move to allow you to get your wheelchair through to visit the bathroom. Once there, the door opens inwards, the rails are positioned well, and there’s good circulation space. Everything is within reach and functional. My only gripe was that the door had one of those clever ‘butterfly’ locks that (for me at least) never work.

The menu is contemporary Australian, and consists mostly of grills, wood-fired meats and rotisseries. For this vegetarian, that was slightly confronting. Our host had (in advance) chosen a Brazilian-inspired ‘Churrasco’ menu featuring a selection of spit-roasted seafood and meats. However, the three of us in the group who were vegetarian were well catered for with an excellent Mushroom Risotto and several rounds of tasty vegetarian starters. Dessert was to die for, with very traditional European selections of chocolate mousse, tiramisu, crème brulee and more.  

Wildfire presents a fine dining experience of culinary and service excellence, a wonderful wine list and acute attention to service detail – all packaged in a magnificent location and venue with great access. It’s a perfect choice for those times you want to show off the best of Sydney to your visitors.

Jun 10

Spotted Today in Summer Hill

Where's your sticker?

Now, I don’t mean to say there should not be police with disabilities driving around in patrol cars, but IF there are, this one didn’t have a sticker.

Jun 10

Australian Girls Choir Winter Showcase – The Hills Centre, Castle Hill

Looking from upstairs

The Australian Girls Choir is probably best known for their role in Qantas TV ads, singing ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ but the Winter Showcase Concert is one of two major performances the full choir does each year. It’s mostly a family affair, but easily of a quality outsiders could attend and enjoy. We always look forward to this show, not least because our daughter is a committed chorister and has been part of the choir for five years. This year was an exceptionally professional production once again, with a blend of choreographed performances of popular songs and more traditional pieces.

As a venue, The Hills Centre, in Carrington Rd, Castle Hill, is pretty good. There are only two disabled parking spaces, both in front of the main entrance. However, there is plenty of room to set down passengers on the main roundabout entrance. If you can, it’s a good idea to take advantage of this, because while there’s plenty of parking further away, you have to wheel on the road to get back – there’s no footpath and no shortcut.

Entry to the foyer is flat and very straightforward. The accessible toilet (only one) is to the left of the foyer and the lifts are immediately on your right. I’m not sure if wheelchair patrons are ever seated upstairs – on each occasion we’ve been we have sat on the floor level.

The wheelchair seating on ground level is good, with clear, unobstructed viewing and good sightlines. On this occasion we were offered the end of the 2nd row, but after the performance started, I moved to the 3rd row, which gave a slightly better angle.

The accessible toilet has solid rails but they are really too short to be much use. Perhaps they satisfy the Australian Standard but in my view they need to be longer for someone transferring alone. The basin is possible to wheel under (if you don’t mind bumping your knees) and the soap and dryer are within reach (though a bit of a stretch).There’s a sliding door but unfortunately, as I find with most sliding toilet doors, they soon go out of alignment and become impossible to lock, like this one. It appears that an electromagnetic lock had been installed but it didn’t work, at least not for me. The toilet doubles as a baby change room, meaning it can be in demand, especially at family shows.

In summary, The Hills Centre is a good place to see performances, but they really need to do some work on the accessible toilet and consider making all parking spaces at the front disabled only.

Jun 10

Disability Rocks Concert – Sunday, 1 August at 3pm


The Great Jim Conway

At the Seymour Centre on Sunday, 1 August 2010

Show you’re Mad as Hell about Australia’s current dysfunctional disability system and support lasting change for people with disability, their families and carers at a great afternoon of jazz, blues, dance and politics.

How better to spend a winter’s Sunday afternoon than lounging back to Blues, Jump and Swing; reveling in funky Dance moves of young performers, and listening to inspirational speakers intent on improving the disability service system in Australia?

Featuring entertainment from Jim Conway’s Big Wheel, The James Valentine Quartet and Studio Artes dance troupe and singers.

Jun 10

Animal Kingdom at Palace Cinemas Norton Street

My wife and I went to see Animal Kingdom today at Palace Cinemas Norton Street in Leichhardt. Rather than reviewing the movie, which others have done far better than I can, I’ll review the access.

The front doors from Norton Street are manual and very heavy. They’d be possible to handle alone, but not easily. The lift, located immediately to the right of the entry doors, is small but the buttons are within easy reach, and thankfully you don’t need to turn around – you come in through the front and out through the back.

Tickets are sold in any of three locations – one just as you enter on street level, and two locations upstairs. If, as today, tickets are being sold at the bar, you can take the opportunity to grab a wonderful variety of treats and drinks – far better than the regulation choc-tops you see in larger cinemas. And a boon for me – I could smell no popcorn.

There are only two cinemas and both are a short wheel from the lift. You sit in the back row but the cinema is small so it’s not a problem. I actually prefer that to being right at the front and needing to crane your neck to see.

Apologies to those who take less interest in the intricacies of disabled toilets than me, but the toilets at Palace Norton Street are excellent. First, there’s a very welcome sign on the door. ‘These toilets are for the use of disabled patrons only’. So there’s no waiting in a queue while half the cinema use the loo. Moreover, they are very thoughtfully designed, with an inward opening door, wheel-under sink, low mirror, and everything where you can reach.

In summary, the access compares well to major multiplexes, with the shorter distances involved a major plus. And it’s far, far cooler.

It was funny, as we sat waiting for the feature to start, we watched an ad for a restaurant nearby. The final line in the ad was ‘great to enjoy with anyone’. Sorry, not me. I know where that place is and, like too much of Norton Street, there’s no access.

Almost forgot the movie. I’ll give a one word review – brilliant. Go see it.

Jun 10

The Rocks Fire Water, part of Vivid Sydney

On Saturday night, my daughter and I joined thousands of other Sydneysiders in The Rocks for Fire Water – a part of Vivid Sydney.

I love being in the City at night – especially when there’s an event on. I think the last time we were in was New Year’s Eve, so it’s not something we do every day.

This time, we took train to Circular Quay, which is a stress-free way to travel. Circular Quay is a good station, fairly compact and easy to get away from. Spoilt by my simple commute to work, we didn’t check the timetable, missed an Express train by 1 minute and had to settle for an all-stations service 20 minutes later. Still, it was a pleasant trundle. We opted for a taxi on the way home – just simpler, safer and easier with the time approaching 10pm.

We decided to check out the markets first. The markets seemed larger than I remembered, and several roads were closed. There’s an incredible feeling of freedom when they close roads for an event. Roads offer so much better access than footpaths. Think about it. They are smoother, better maintained, rarely dug up in private renovations and are unimpeded by tree roots. And why? Cars have great big wheels that don’t get stuck on uneven edges, they don’t trip over and have excellent suspension. Surely footpaths should be better than roads. I guess the difference is just a question of priorities.

Where the roads weren’t closed, access was only fair. The Rocks is an historic precinct so I assume the council is limited in making major modifications. But that doesn’t excuse footpaths you follow for 500 metres only to find there’s no gutter ramp at the end and you have to frustratingly turn back. Or gutter ramps encouraging you to cross the road, but without a corresponding ramp on the other side, meaning you have to wheel through traffic to find one. Or not putting ‘no parking’ signs near ramps, so they are parked out and you can’t access them. These things are not good enough.

Fire Water was quite spectacular. It was a beautiful night in the City – cold but clear and calm – and the Opera House was brilliantly lit up, giving us a full Sydney panorama.

All up, a good night out beside beautiful Sydney Harbour. Note to self: don’t wait 6 months before doing it again.

May 10

Million Paws Walk – Sydney Olympic Park

They call it the ‘friendliest event of the year’ and this is one case where the spin meets the substance.

Let me explain.

I walk our dog, Blossom, a 2 ½-year-old Golden Retriever, most days. She’s a good girl now, well past her rambunctious puppy stage, and unless she spots a cat sunning itself, is happy to trot along at a fair pace beside my powerchair. She rarely pulls, sits for road crossings, and joyously says hello to any dog we pass on the footpath (even the small yappy ones who look more like lunch than dogs). People often mistake her for an assistance dog, and she plays along.

The bane of any trip is when she stops to answer the call of nature. Remarkably, she manages to do this nearly every trip, no matter of the time of day or night, or when she has previously eaten. She seems to bottle it up all day. I’m a responsible dog owner, so I always carry bags and a pooper scooper, as I can’t reach the ground from my chair. But it’s a bit of a business, requiring dexterity, especially in a wind. And all the while I’m trying to coordinate bag and scooper, Bloss stands impatiently, whimpering as if she has no idea what has possessed me to stop and pick up this rubbish from the medium strip.

It’s funny, but no-one ever stops to offer to help with this task, even other dog walkers passing by. That’s fine; I don’t ask for help, but it is surprising. In the rest of my life, people offer help all the time. If I stop to adjust my feet on the footplate, someone appears and asks if I’m ok. Ditto if I get a text message and stop to answer it.

Which brings me back to the Million Paws Walk.

This year, as Bloss and I were travelling just in front of ANZ Stadium, en route to the starting point, she stopped and squatted. As I reached for my bags, a guy came out of nowhere and said ‘no problem mate, I’ve got it’. I thanked him profusely and we continued our journey. The friendliest event of the year had lived up to its slogan.

The Walk is held at Sydney Olympic Park, so as well as being dog heaven, it’s a wheelie paradise. Everything is accessible, there are accessible toilets everywhere, there are even places to stop and recharge. The Walk takes you from The Overflow, out through the Wetlands, and back past the Brickpit. It’s a pretty 4km walk, on a stable dirt surface, all with a gentle gradient, and easy in a chair or on a scooter.

Back at The Overflow, there are displays and dog washing, and lots for the kids to do. All up, it’s a great day out for the whole family, regardless of whether they have 2 or 4 legs, or wheels.

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