Saturday, June 12, 2010

Panning For Gold and Bombers Footy

Day one in Melbourne. Day one in Australia. Day one in the last new country I'll visit for some time to come...

For the last time I got that feeling of – huh, so this is [insert country name.] I've been lucky to have that feeling a number of times through the course of this year – no more so than when I was in Europe. Every week would have me thinking that. Still, this was the last time I would wake up with a fresh new expansive land in front of me. Sure – America for two months will take me to amazing places, and Hawaii will be unlike anything I could imagine (because I have no concept of what it will be. In my mind it's just a beach, and lord help me if that's true.) But that's different. It's – you know – America.

Today I woke up and had a chat with the two guys who were also sharing this room. They came in pretty loud last night, and apologize. I didn't really hear them. I've been at this hostel game for too long now. Unless you're snoring, or having sex on the bunk below me (thanks Buenos Aires) I'm good.

They were here from Taz, to see the footy games. The football games. The Ozzie Rules. Sorry, the Australian Football League games. Melbourne has a good eight or more teams, and as such there are three or four played in this city every week, during the season. Now some Melbourners will tell you adding the other cities like Sydney and Perth to the league was a silly idea. Personally I think it makes it a real sport. Imagine if Toronto made up a game, and the entire league was within one city? How could that possibly ever hope to be taken seriously?

I learned about the rules of the game – marks, when a ball is kicked fifteen meters to another player, you can't tackle after the mark until they put it into play. And there are four posts (two middle ones taller than the others.) You kick between the two tall ones, six points. A tall and short, one point, you hit the post, one point. Basic rules, understood. And then it was 10:00. Time for me to go meet up with some girls I met in Antarctica. What a thing to say. “Oh, where did you meet?” ... ... ... “Antarctica.” “Really?” ... ... ... “Yup.” Good times.

Me and the two sisters, after first meeting their giant dogs, and pet lizards, headed off to Sovereign Hill. This is a Gold Mining theme park of sorts. I don't want to think about how much it cost for admission, but I assure you if you're with good people, and willing to have an inhibition free time, it's good fun.

You start off headed to Main Street which is a 19th century strip. Oh yes, there are people in costumes, and there are horses wandering around trying to – I have no doubt of this – run you over. “Out of the way!” the carriage driver yells, just in the nick of time, as if he too would like nothing more than to crush you into 19th century goo.

Quickly we ducked into the blacksmiths. Because there's always a blacksmiths. And there he was banging away on his anvil doing horseshoe related things. As was the style at the time. Beside his place of business was a hotel, where you could wander around and peek in rooms, or eat in their restaurant. Across the street was a bakery, also serving food, and right beside? The bar. An accordion band played which people drank their pots of beer. Or could have. Or would have. Or should have. It wasn't even all that expensive, truth be told, but who comes to the gold mining town to drink beer? It is, after all, a family friendly environment.

As we made our way to the top of the hill red shirted solders marched down main street, and the law enforcement officer led a demonstration on how the guns were to be handled, and fired. Bang.

Just up the street from him was the bowling alley. And let me tell you, nineteenth century bowling was a terrible and tricky game! First, there are nine pins, the alley is about twice as long as whatever you're used to, and the balls are – well just as heavy, but there are no finger holes. Also, the alley is one third as wide as it becomes just before the pins. Tossing it straight down? Not going to work. Wee kids were giving it a go, pushing the ball between their legs. Yes, they were having fun, but it was painful to watch. The ball was never going to go far enough. They had tiny arms, with tiny muscles. And the balls would just stall out, delaying the game for all. I gave it a hard toss, standing up, nearly as you would toss it today, and oh the power it was sent down with. People stopped to look. Down the alley it went, sliding up and down the slightly banked sides, threatening to flip off, and go careening through the air, knocking out the little girl near by.

But it did not. And while I had the power, I had not yet learned how to bank it so it would spin properly when it came off the thin alley towards the pins. This would be taught through expert teaching to Lisa, who was up next. Another fun fact? No automatic ball returns, or pin set ups. No – a third party would be required to stand at the end fulfilling that delightful job. Turns were taken.

We visited the steam house, the boiler room, the engine room, saw stuff move, and dared each other to touch the steaming water that could have been far hotter than it turned out to be. Luckily so, for who can turn down a bet to touch steaming murky water? Not I.

Then we made our way to the river to pan for gold. True story. You can pan, and if you find gold you can keep it. Sure the gold has been gone for a long time, but kids still catch flakes – no more than you'd find in your average shot of gold flake filled spirits (I'm told a lot of people don't know of this fabulous cinnamon flavoured alcohol, that when combined with Jagger is known as liquid cocaine. Who knew?)

On special days they hide lumps of gold for eager panners. But more often than not, it just makes for a good photo.

From the gold river we headed to the Chinese work camp, with real live Chinese people. One of my friends though the people were simply lifelike manikins, such as the ones that confused her earlier in the day. Just as she was about to scream, “Look! Chinese people in this one!” one of the manikins moved, showing itself to be much less a manikin, and far more real life. Awkwardness was spared, but barely so.

Instead we made our way into the Chinese grocers and found props to use for pictures. Now, you wouldn't think props would be hard to come by, but everything is nailed or glued down. Everything! You see a pen on a desk, nailed. A candle and candle holder, glued together, and nailed down. If you can grab it, they've secured it. which is why I felt if it wasn't secured, it was meant to be tampered with, so leaning over the barrier I grabbed some garlic, Kim a broom, and Lisa – well she reached for a small thing on a basket. The small thing? Glued to the basket. The basket? Not glued down. She had her prop too.

In the work camp a recording plays the voice of someone speaking in their most stereotypical Chinese accent. I have no doubt that they really were Chinese, but I do doubt that was not his real voice.

We made our way back up the hill passing peacocks, and piggies (who, while cute when falling over into mud, are still amazingly delicious, despite the angry looks that the girl beside me gave when I made said comment. Vegetarians. I tell you. And if she wasn't? Well then – I hope she thinks of the cute mud falling beast when she next has baby back ribs. Chili's! Baby back ribs.)

The last building to be seen was a school house, and while it too had a gate in front of it, the gate could be pushed away from the wall, opening it just big enough to pass though. Once again, I figured that meant we three should all head inside. Signs were played with, and books were leafed through. We learned that a good student is paramount to a striving community, or some such nonsense. And then – then we went to church. I gave a sermon. The type those who went to concerts at the Warehouse with me eleven years ago would remember well. The less said the better. People were afraid to come in whilst I was engaged. Good fun.

Before we left we wandered through the mine. Well a small section of it. At one point I questioned if we were really underground, and others joined in in said questioning. When we walked up the staircase to escape, all seventy or so steps, it became pretty obvious.

Part of our ticket included access to the gold museum where I learned about an Aussie who is now a hero, but was killed by police with much fanfare. A Robin Hood of this part of the world. He wore armour. Good for him.

Then it was off and away. Despite the signs warning us to watch out for kangaroos and those wee little bears, which I have no doubt are really the terrifying mythical drop bears, I saw nothing.

Dry my tears, and then off to see the footy game. The Bombers were playing the Cats. Lisa supported the Bombers, and as such I supported the Bombers. The Cats, anyway, are like the Yankee's of AFL. And no one likes a Yankee fan. If you've lived in NYC all your life, you go ahead and cheer – but if you're from anywhere else in the whole world, or are new to the city, and you back the pinstripes, well just understand you're hated. And girls who think it's cool to rock the cap? It is not. Fact.

The game started with an early lead for the bombers. And that was the last we'd ever see of that. Fast paced, and hard hitting action went on for the next two and a half hours. Two hours of game time (twenty minute quarters stretched to thirty with the addition of added time.) While I was slightly confused for the first quarter, I picked it up quick enough. It's like Rugby, mixed with Soccer, and a little by of Quiddich. I was spotting stupid moves, terribly calls, and good plays enough so that I could yell and scream. And when it comes to sports, my liking of them is equally proportional to my accepted volume level while watching. This was a good game. A sport that I think I could really get into.

In theory I might want a Bombers jacket. It's a good logo, and it's the team I started to like the sport with. So if I'm going to follow AFL, it makes sense. I dig the game, and I wish we played it. The only thing – even if I got the special sports channels, the time zones would still make watching it a disastrous pain.

I'll try and give it a go, perhaps. I have so many things I need to do when I get back – but I figure that if I bought myself a jacket, I'd care enough to keep paying attention to it.

During halftime I grabbed myself a four and twenty meat pie. It's a cultural experience, I was told, so how could I resist? Not as good as the shark I had for lunch – but hey, not so bad either.

The game ended with the bombers down by 71 points, but the less said about that the better. It was a fun match, and the umpires were ready to crush the Bombers all on their own. They called the Cats for punching one of the players in the fact, and then awarded them the ball anyway! One of our players (see, I say our players – never mind that it's because I have no more ways to describe the team without repeating myself) explained the rules of the game, and how punching in the face, being called against that move, and then getting the ball did not work. The umpire rethought his call. Good for him. Jerk.

Then I got back, made some phone calls, and was told that better showers existed. This is still yet to be proved to me. But I hold out hope.

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