It’s amazing what the NSW State Government can do when it puts its mind to it.
For a week they set up road closures and bus lanes in the heart of the city that created an urban-wonderland for pedestrians and cyclists.
The much maligned rail network was suddenly on time, efficient and quick.
Live music events filled venues from the harbour to the Domain, public debates and discussions were held in halls and a major theatrical event was staged to an audience of thousands creating the ultimate spirit of festival.
The sheer infrastructure of World Youth Day surpassed even APEC and must have made those that run major sporting, cultural and arts events in Sydney weep with envy.
The Greens have alleged that in total the NSW State Government provided at least $108.5 million which included substantial costs in police, public transport, emergency services and road works. This is in addition to half the $41 million costs to the Australian Jockey Club for the use of Randwick Racecourse as a temporary place of worship and as a camping site and does not include the $22 million that the Commonwealth threw in.
Just imagine what type of event could be staged in Sydney for close to $150 million that was for all citizens. The possibilities are endless. Sports fields could host major carnivals. Regional theatres and public halls could be given a breath of new life. It could be a week long event that would reach from the very east to the very west.
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It was a model of commitment and a fantastic orchestration of infrastructure. But the problem always will be that World Youth Day was an exclusive event controlled through the compulsory registration of participants. It has left a sour taste in the mouths of those not involved with this particular strand of religion.
Unlike the Olympics or the Sydney Festival, the people of Sydney found themselves catering to a very specific cross-section of society. I can only imagine how the Protestant factions of the Christian Church felt over the last seven days.
There’s something to be said for the tolerance of people who live in Sydney. For those that lived in the inner city, taking the swarming masses of pilgrims in their stride, a secret code emerged. Faced with the youth group chants on your way to get milk or bread, you would come across a local non-participant and give each other that look of understanding that said, “Don’t worry, it will all be over soon.”
For the victims of child s-x abuse they saw a real opportunity to engage with the Church, the Vatican and the Pilgrims. The Foster family was on the minds of everyone, not to mention that taxi drivers who listen all day to talk-back radio. But in the end, it was a closed shop. The Foster family didn’t get what they wanted and neither did victims of child abuse.
Others were more freely engaged. A protest of one thousand people gathered in the gay heart of Oxford Street to voice their concerns about the Catholic Church and their dominant political and social policies. Lesbians and gays joined with socially liberal Christians, atheists, disaffected Catholics and representatives from Broken Rites.
They made it clear during all of their speeches that they weren’t anti-Catholic but rather they demanded tolerance and acceptance. Even when a stray group of young American pilgrims found themselves in the middle of the protest they were greeted with smiles and good humour.
And it was smiles and good humour that really summed up the week. I found myself on the final day of World Youth Day sitting on a pub balcony watching the thousands of pilgrims returning. Sitting with a few locals we waved and cheered them for no particular reason.
The local drunk kept yelling at those carrying banners and flags asking where they were from. This was always followed by a cheer. We waved goodbye and found ourselves exactly the same as when the arrived. Nothing has changed and it is such a shame that after all that money, after all those people and all that effort, most of us — the Foster family — weren’t included.