Worldwide icon-chevron-right South Pacific icon-chevron-right Australia icon-chevron-right Sydney icon-chevron-right Meet Sydney's morning people

Meet Sydney's morning people

These early risers see the best of Sydney before most people hit the snooze button
By Time Out editors |

We chat to Redfern radio hosts, a Banksmeadow baker, a Sydney Harbour ferry operator and Bronte Swimming Club's dedicated freestyler. 

Photography: Daniel Boud & Anna Kucera

Tjarani Barton-Vaofanua  and Casey Miller
Photographer: Daniel Boud

Tjarani Barton-Vaofanua and Casey Miller

Radio hosts
Alarm clock time: 6am

It’s 8.30am and Beyoncé is about to drop the F-bomb. Tjarani Barton-Vaofanua hovers with her finger over a mixing board, and just before Queen Bey swears she hits a button. She’s just live-censored the biggest popstar in the world. It’s a typical morning for the Koori Radio breakfast host. “We probably should have put on a clean song,” says her co-host, Casey Miller. “A lot of the oldies are listening early in the morning,” says Barton-Vaofanua. “The younger ones start listening a little later.” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music is key on their roster. “Everyone knows those classics – Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’ – but we’re here to promote new artists coming through.” Lately, that has meant a lot of Ziggy Ramo and Electric Fields.

In the early hours “you get a lot of happy, friendly people”

Though Miller only just graduated, and Barton-Vaofanua is still at university, the pair have been in the breakfast show slot for over two years, talking about “anything we think is pop culture, related to strong black culture.” The Koori Radio offices are in Redfern, and Barton-Vaofanua finds that in the early hours before work, “you get a lot of happy, friendly people. All the tradies have just kicked off work, and they’re in a good mood. You can tell.” Miller is not a morning person, but Barton-Vaofaunua is. In order to handle the breakfast shift, Miller’s going to bed at 9pm. That said, it doesn’t always help. “We’ve both slept in,” says Miller. “We just say ‘Welcome to the breakfast show with Casey and not Tjarani.’ We’re pretty good at picking up if the other one’s going to be late,” adds Barton-Vaofaunua. “It’s a black magic connection.” Alyx Gorman

↑ Back to top

Cathal Murphy swimming at Bronte Pools
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Cathal Murphy

Morning swimmer
Alarm clock time: 3.30am

Three mornings a week, Cathal Murphy, 43, walks down to Bronte Baths from his home in Charing Cross, puts on his goggles and plunges into the water, swimming freestyle laps as the sun rises over the Tasman. His 20-minute swims begin at 4.10am, the super-early starts necessitated by his work in construction: he has to be on site (currently Parramatta) by 7am. “Bronte Baths is pretty much like a private pool at that time,” Murphy says. “There’s usually just one or two people down there. It’s got to the stage where if I go during the day and there’s other people in the pool, I become quite resentful… I love the exercise, it’s a great way to start the day. Construction can be quite full on, and at home I’ve got three kids and a dog and a wife. So it’s kind of my time to get away from it all.”

“It’s a great way to start the day”

Murphy, a member of the Bronte Swimming Club, wasn’t always an early bird: he says it took him a good three months to get the hang of a 3.30am alarm, and bedtime for him is before 9pm. Nor did being an Irishman give him an advantage when it comes to the cold. “I wear a wetsuit in winter and the others down there give me stick for it. The older guys swim all through winter in their Speedos.” Sometimes he will see partygoers at the baths ending their evenings with a quick dip. Then there was the time he chanced upon a group of shady-looking young guys. “I was like, oh here we go, surely they’ve been drinking. And as I got closer I saw they had brass instruments and were just down there practising. I was laughing to myself about the mean streets of Bronte.” Nick Dent

↑ Back to top

Kaye Baker the Ferry Master at Sydney Harbour
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Kaye Barker

Ferry master
Alarm clock time: 4.30am

There was never any question about what Kaye Barker wanted to do when she grew up. Her grandfather, a master mariner, had passed his love of boats down to his son, who passed it onto his daughter. “Salt water in the veins,” is how she describes it. But it’s certainly not a job for late sleepers – Barker is up at 4.30am in order to get from her Blacktown home to Balmain ferry wharf to begin her morning shift. “I prefer doing the mornings,” she says. “It’s nice to see the city waking up with the birds. Everyone says it’s beautiful at night but it’s so nice to see the city in the morning, there’s a serenity to it. A lot of people don’t see dawn and because we’re on the water we get to see it from different vantage points.

“We get beautiful sunrises and morning fogs”

We get beautiful sunrises and morning fogs as well.” And just in case her job didn’t sound picturesque enough, Barker also clocks a Disney film’s worth of sea life on shift. “We see dolphins, seals, penguins, the occasional whale, though you see them more on the outer harbour runs.” Up in the bridge of the Catherine Hamlin, one of the new Emerald class ferries, there is no wheel, but rather a tiny joystick built into the seats and lever controls that wouldn’t look out of place on the Starship Enterprise. From up here Barker spots one of her regulars on the Eastern Suburbs run, clad in athletic wear and currently upside down in an impressively handstand by the wharf. “He does it every day. He stretches on the boat, but he’ll do [handstands] on the boat while we’re moving.” Clearly a fellow early riser, making the most of another perfect Sydney morning. Emily Lloyd-Tait

↑ Back to top

Richard the Baker pouring flour over dough at Brasserie Bread
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Richard Siale

Alarm clock time: 3am

When Richard Siale steps into the kitchens of Brasserie Bread’s Banksmeadow bakery at 4.30am each morning, there’s more waking up to do. Rows upon rows of sourdough have been ‘sleeping’ overnight, kept cold in wait for his arrival. It’s Siale’s job to move them into the proofer so they can rise into their final, perfect shape. “It’s always good to come early so you can check if anything has gone wrong,” he says. Details like the day’s temperature and tiny variations in flour quality can affect how the sourdough has transformed overnight, and Siale has to conduct a litany of mental calculations, adjusting his method to get each loaf just right. He then wakes up his ovens, which take an hour to reach the 200˚C-plus baking temperatures, which gives him time to read emails, fill out paperwork and check on stock levels.

“I set an alarm but always wake before it rings”

It’s exacting work at an hour when most of Sydney is still deep in slumber, but Siale considers 3am wake-ups a luxury. “This is my second job in Australia – at the one before I had to wake up at 11.30pm for a one o’clock start, so when I found Brasserie – oh, I loved it! This is a sleep in.” Siale grew up in New Caledonia and learned his craft from his father. “I’ve only ever been a baker. I love it. I set an alarm on my iPhone, but I always wake up before it rings.” For the past 13 years, he’s been getting up in the middle of the night to bake Brasserie’s sourdough, which goes out to cafés, restaurants and shops around Sydney. For Siale, the romance of seeing the city in its bare, predawn shape gives way to more practical benefits. “There’s no traffic at 4am – if I was driving from my home in Bankstown at 7.30, it would take hours!” Juliana Yu

↑ Back to top

Make the most of the morning

Bronte Pool
Photograph: Daniel Boud
Things to do

90 things to do in Sydney before 9am

We’re an optimistic bunch – rising at the crack of dawn to snap sunrise pics by the pool or hitting our fitness goals in the park. Set your alarm an hour or two earlier and smash this list of 90 glorious early morning activities.

More to explore