This past week in Melbourne has been full of activity as I had a chance to take part in some events that, every time I’m in Australia, I seem to always find myself attending. Of course, as you probably can guess, none of these events were Music Festivals or any other event that involved camping, yet they were all events that have played a significant role in every one of my visits to this city over the years. Without them, summer in Melbourne just wouldn’t be summer in Melbourne.
THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN TENNIS
At $29, a daily ground pass to the Australian Open offers what I think is quite a good deal, one that I always take advantage of if I’m in Melbourne when the tournament rolls around in mid-January. With this pass, one is allowed to spend an entire day watching any of the tennis matches taking place on any of the 22 outdoor courts, including the stadium-style “Show Court 2” and “Show Court 3” as well as the even larger “Margaret Court Arena”. While you’re not allowed to enter the two indoor arenas – HiSense Arena and the center court in Rod Laver Arena – where tennis’ biggest stars tend to play, there’s definitely no shortage of good players to watch outside.
This year, I went to the Australian Open towards the end of the first week and despite the high temperatures, blazing sun and complete lack of shade (ie. Australian sunburn), the outing was perfect. I stayed for over 8 hours, watching both singles and doubles matches that involved such players as David Ferrer, Marin Cilic, Marcos Baghdatis, Maria Kirilenko (don’t worry, I had never heard of her before either), Santiago Giraldo (or him), Lucie Safarova (or her) and an extraordinary amount of women players from the Czech Republic, including, and not limited to, Benesova, Strycova, Ondraskova, Peschke, Hlavackova, Hradecka, Kvitova and Zakopalova.
Surprisingly, and unlike previous years I’ve attended, there were never any problems finding good seats, even in the more popular Margaret Court Arena when it was time to watch the evening match between Andy Murray and another guy. Ok, hold on, I’ll look it up. The other guy was Illya Marchenko from Ukraine.
And unlike other tennis events, from what I’ve heard, the atmosphere at the Australian Open is somewhat, well, different. With endless beer and wine gardens and fans dressed up in elaborate costumes while chanting such slogans as “If you’re Aussie and you know it, clap your hands”, the vibe resembles that of a circus at times, but a good circus. In fact, such a good circus that I’ll keep on returning to it every time I visit Melbourne.
(Side story: Two days after I went to the tennis, I was sitting in a small cafe on Chapel Street eating some ice cream when I turned around and discovered that the rear end of Venus Williams was only inches from my face. She seemed a bit agitated, not because my nose was practically rubbing against her buttocks, but most likely because an injury forced her to retire from a match the day before, and so I didn’t attempt to speak to her. And after spending a couple minutes waiting in line for ice cream, she walked out of the cafe anyway.)
AUSTRALIA DAY BBQ
Every year, on January 26th, Australians around the country celebrate Australia Day, a national holiday to commemorate the arrival of the “First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip, in 1788” (History of Australia Day).
And typically, on this day, no matter where you live in this vast country, there are endless celebrations, festivals and events taking place. The Australia Day brochure for Melbourne alone this year included over 40 special events, ranging from free breakfasts to parades to musical performances and special museum exhibits, with something interesting to do every single minute of the day.
However, as is the case every single time that I am in Melbourne for this holiday, I actually didn’t attend a single event or participate in a single one of the official celebrations. The reason is that one of my long-time friends from Melbourne happens to be one of the several thousand Australians whose birthday falls on Australia Day. And so, every single year since 2000, this friend has invited people to his house for a large BBQ in order to celebrate both events. To my circle of friends in Melbourne, Justin’s BBQ is an event that remains permanently etched on their calendars and without a real good excuse, is never to be missed.
Three days ago, with all of the ingredients to prepare the perfect sangria stuffed into my backpack, I hopped on the tram at around 1pm and rode out to Justin’s house, where I was greeted by a large group of people who were already into their third drink. This group included many familiar faces, mostly friends from my Uni days whom I hadn’t seen since my last visit two years ago, as well as a handful of people I had never met before.
The grill was fired up, the sangria was prepared and just as I expected, the afternoon passed by as enjoyably as I have come to expect from these BBQs, with a combination of conversation and laughter that made me feel as if I had been living in Melbourne, surrounded by these friends, for the past 10 years straight.
CRICKET AT THE MCG
Finally, I come to the third event of my Australian summer…the cricket. Not only am I talking about attending a cricket match, but I’m talking about attending a cricket match at the MCG, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia’s most famous stadium.
A friend of mine works for the Victorian Cricket Association and as a result, had access to free tickets for yesterday’s evening match between Victoria and South Australia. And as I entered the massive stadium and glanced around at the well-manicured cricket pitch (field) and at the rows of seats rising high into the sky, I again felt as if I’d been coming here to watch sporting events for years.
We settled into our seats and within minutes the match began. Of course, this wasn’t an international match which is normally attended by over 100,000 insanely devout cricket fans. Instead, yesterday’s match was attended by 10,000 or so relatively subdued fans, who, despite attempting the Mexican wave on two occasions, lacked that intense energy often present when the Australian team plays England.
But despite the low attendance, as well as the insignificance of the game (even with a victory Victoria had no chance of making the playoffs), watching a cricket match at the MCG is never dull, especially when you understand the rules of the game. Luckily, thanks to my previous visits to Australia and the two years I’ve spent in India, I do understand the rules of cricket, so if I start clapping my hands, chances are it’s because a Victorian batsman hit a six and not simply because everyone else around me is clapping. Most of the time anyway 🙂
For those of you familiar with cricket, the match yesterday was a Twenty20 match and South Australia managed to escape with a victory when Daniel Christian hit a four during the final over. For those of you not familiar with cricket, South Australia won when a guy hit the ball pretty far just before the end of the match.
So that is a typical summer week in Melbourne, and if you can find a good price on Australia flights, it’s the kind of week that anyone could experience. I’ve now been fortunate enough to experience such weeks during every visit to this city over the past 12 years. And now that I’ve done so this time around, it is time for me to move on.
Any cricket fans out there? Or tennis fans?