THE red neon “Harry’s” sign above Harry’s Cafe de Wheels glows weakly in the dawn light. Inside the small store there is the clatter of work but the shutters aren’t yet open for a breakfast pie.

Millionaires’ boats that line the dock of Woolloomooloo Bay bob gently on the water. Over at Garden Island the grey hulks of the naval ships, almost lost in morning shadows, feel neither threatening or reassuring. On this still, serene morning the very idea of a battle at sea is absurd.

There are few people on the path that runs by Andrew “Boy” Charlton pool and skirts the headland to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. In an hour or so runners will jostle past one another.

At Mrs Macquarie’s Chair there will be busloads of tourists and honeymooners getting photos with the Harbour Bridge in the background. Now, there’s one man doing dips on the park bench and a lone photographer catching the sunrise.

A ferry motors across the harbour. In its wake water laps against the rocks exposed at low tide, gnarled with oyster shells, and slaps against the sea wall in Farm Cove. At the bottom of the Fleet Steps automatic sprinklers click and whirr as they water-in freshly laid turf.

Seagulls flutter around but there isn’t much squawking from them. The normally intrusive ibises, that plunder bins and harass picnickers once crowds arrive, are sedate. From a distance, as they pick over an open grass field, their bulky white bodies could be taken for small sheep.

At the foot of the Opera House a few dozen construction workers in white helmets and fluro safety shirts gather before the work day starts. The street lamps that skirt the Opera House are still on but cast no shadows now.

At Circular Quay a sprinkling of office workers come off ferries that pull out empty of passengers, like ghost ships. There is a gentle hum of traffic from Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Cahill Expressway. There are no buskers out this early: no didgeridoo dance music or painted statues.

A cafe worker washes away last night’s mess with a high pressure hose before throwing chairs beneath tables. Construction work finally starts at the Opera House. The air fills with the sound of heavy machinery and voices yelling over the din. The spell has broken. Another day has begun.