Australia's beautiful harbour city has provided a spectacular backdrop for many Hollywood films. Various locations around Sydney have featured in such blockbusters as The Matrix, Mission Impossible and Superman Returns to name but a few. And with the recent release of The Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman in the iconic role, Sydney is again on show. The movie was filmed at various sites around the city but none more picturesque than the Chinese Garden of Friendship - located within the Darling Harbour entertainment precinct.
Nathan Jay, who manages the operational day-to-day running of the Garden, liaised with Fox Films Australia during the pre-production process and was on-site when the scenes were shot last September.
"Fox Films Australia approached the Chinese Garden for a site inspection. We provided them with architectural plans of the garden, which their art department used to put together plans and drawings for the film. The Director also came out and inspected the garden to check for suitability," said Nathan.
"The production team spent about a week and a half installing the different set elements; they had to crane the set over the walls of the Garden. Everything had to be done with sustainability in mind; respecting the original elements and the cultural significance of the garden. The production crew worked fantastically to ensure minimal disruption. It was a mammoth task. I just couldn't get over how well it was executed. Their professionalism was outstanding."
The garden, which opened in 1988 as part of Sydney's bicentennial celebrations, was symbolically named to acknowledge the bond between China and Australia. Being one of the few traditional public Chinese gardens outside China, this oasis presents a rare insight into Chinese heritage and culture and is perfectly situated just moments from Dixon Street, the heart of Sydney's Chinatown district. Interestingly, the whole garden cannot be seen in its entirety from any one point within it.
The Horticulturist for the Chinese Garden is Andrew Meade.
"In essence there are several important elements of a Chinese Garden, which is a miniature version of great things in real life. Water is the spiritual heart of the garden. There are rocks that are placed in groups to symbolise the rugged peaks and soaring cliffs and architectural features including the pavilions and covered walkways that offer places to rest and contemplate," said Andrew.
However when watching The Wolverine, cinema-goers may be forgiven for not immediately recognising the Darling Harbour attraction – the film's designers transformed the Chinese elements into a typical Japanese Garden as the movie was set in Tokyo.
"It was quite remarkable how they did it. And it worked. They brought in different plants such as bonsai and conifers. And they put a huge floating pavilion in the middle. I couldn't believe how long it takes to film each scene and the amount of people involved in the production. It was fun to be a part of," said Andrew.
Both Andrew and his colleague Nathan are proud to work for such a unique attraction.
"This is a hectare of Chinese culture within Sydney. It's unique because it's smack bang in the middle of Sydney but when you walk through the main doors all of the sounds of Sydney disappear. A lot of the elements within the garden have come directly from China. This isn't a recreation but a real authentic garden," said Nathan.
"My favourite spot is the Water Pavilion of Lotus Fragrance because it offers uninterrupted views across the Lake of Brightness. I enjoy sitting in the pavilion where all you can hear is water and all you can see is water. There are a number of other pavilions such as the Round Pavilion and the Twin Pavilion; they're all unique."
On the other hand, Andrew's favourite place is by the Sleeping Boy Buddha where he enjoys looking up to the Gurr, a hexagonal two-storey construction that's situated at the garden's highest point; the golden roof tiles and wood carvings on the Pavilion were originally gifts from Guangdong. From this spot, Andrew, who's been in his current position for three and a half years, believes that you wouldn't even realise you're in the heart of Australia's busiest city.
"The energy of the feng shui means the garden feels so peaceful and tranquil. It's easy to feel lost and to think that you're in China."
The Chinese Garden of Friendship is open daily from 9.30am to 5pm excluding Good Friday and Christmas Day.