Sports’ own country
Australia is a heady mix of modernity and natural beauty. It is a country where love of sports is universal.
A.J. Philip shares his impressions after a recent visit
A view of the Manly beach in Sydney.
Opera House — the most recognisable icon of Sydney.
colleague at The Tribune has a huge wall-size photograph
of Sydney harbour in his drawing room. Facing it is an equally
large one of the devout offering prayers at Mecca.
When I asked
him why he juxtaposed the pictures in this manner, his answer
was candid: "I am a Muslim who believes in both tradition
and modernity. Sydney symbolises modernity."
could not have found a better advertiser for their harbour city
than my colleague who finds in the skyscrapers and the gigantic
Opera House that dot the skyline the best that modernity has to
Sydney was not
always like this. Until Captain James Cook discovered the
continent in 1770 and Arthur Phillip reached Sydney to set up a
European settlement in 1788, it had been inhabited by
aboriginals who died by the thousands when the new settlers
brought with them smallpox against which they did not have any
British, Australia was a kaalapani where criminals were
exiled. It was, therefore, a bit amusing to find in the
disembarkation card visitors having to answer the query:
"Have you ever been convicted?" I wondered whether
this was still a qualification to enter Australia. "A poor
joke" my Australian friends would instantly comment.
For all its
modernity, Australia retains much of its environmental purity.
Little surprise, the one question that the customs people ask is
whether you have brought any food, plants or seeds. If your
answer is yes, they will gently lead you to a huge trash can
where you can ‘deposit’ your ‘precious’ stuff.
My friend E.S.
Isaac, who heads Doordarshan Sports, narrated with great `E9lan
how his colleague from Chennai, who had come ‘armed’ with 25
ready-to-eat, vacuum-packed masala dosas to last the entire
duration of his stay in Melbourne to cover the 2006 Commonwealth
Games, had a near-heart attack when he had to deposit the whole
consignment in the trash can.
sure, you have no foodstuff?" repeated the customs official
when I answered "no". Perhaps, he must have figured
out my South Indian ancestry and my unabashed fondness for dosa.
He did not seem to believe me, though he spared my bags.
Statue of Major General Lachlan Macquarie in Windsor. — Photos by the writer
is winter time in Australia", I had been warned in
Chandigarh. But I realised I was overdressed in a three-piece
suit as we waited for Catherine to pick us up. A student of
theology, she looks forward to her marriage with a Dutch pilot
on 08-08-08, the day the Olympics begin in Beijing. "After
the marriage, we can watch the Olympic ceremony!"
The Sun was
blazing when we started out for the Sebel Resort and Spa in
Hawkesbury Valley, an hour’s drive from the airport.
Amazingly, the only human being we saw on the route was a person
of (perhaps) Indian origin trying to cross the road. Small
wonder that Australia is still considered a virgin continent.
Blue Mountains, the hotel, spread over eight hectares, is a
perfect get-away. With little else to do after checking in as
the media conference was to begin only the next day, I went out
to explore Windsor, a few minutes by foot.
Set amidst golf
courses, cricket pitches, badminton courts, baseball grounds and
basketball courts, Windsor is a historic town. Anything around
200 years old is "historic" in Australia. Cemeteries
abound around Windsor.
The locals rue
the fact that the British had used the soldiers from Australia
and New Zealand in the battles they knew they would certainly
lose. The statues of two soldiers – a New Zealander and an
Australian – with their guns pointed downwards as a tribute to
the fallen soldiers flank the Anzac bridge in Sydney.
stepped into the war cemetery at Windsor where a huge column
stands in memory of the "soldiers from Windsor and district
who lost their lives in the service of the Empire in South
Nearby was the
St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, an architectural masterpiece of
famed convict-turned-architect Francis Greenway. In the large
graveyard could be found bronze plaques affixed to the aged
headstones of convicts or freed persons.
From there I
wandered into a park which has at its centre a cute statue of
Major General Lachlan Macquarie who was Governor of New South
Wales from 1810 to 1821, who planned and founded Windsor and
neighbouring towns like Richmond and Wilberforce.
A plaque at the
foot of the statue says about the Major General, "The
honest, sober and industrious inhabitant, whether free settler
or convict, will ever find in me a friend and protector".
How one wishes our own generals, who become governors and
administrators, could say the same to the people they
It was no
surprise that the next day our conference began in a room named
after the Major General. Earlier in the day I attended what was
touted as "Australia’s biggest fund-raising morning tea
party by the poolside".
were less than 100 persons, the size of a kitty party. The money
collected went for the welfare of cancer patients.
The hotel is a
favourite destination for those who plan weddings. Marriages
have not yet become old-fashioned. Dominic Steele, who ministers
to mediapersons and has blessed "at least one marriage a
month for the past 10 years", is certain that not one of
the marriages he solemnised has floundered. How many priests or
pastors can make such a claim in India, forget the West?
If there is any
sporting nation in the world it is Australia. If you are a
cricket-lover, you can chat endlessly with an Australian, who
knows more about the antics of Sreesanth than you.
It was fun
watching two kids play with a baseball. After a while, they
threw the ball away and entered into a friendly wrestling match
that I thought would end in a quarrel. When they got tired, they
again picked up the ball and played with it.
Even so, I was
not prepared for what I saw at the Annandale church in Sydney.
Nobody found anything incongruous in a youth juggling with a
football in the church as the faithful renewed their fellowship
after the service. In India it would have been a sacrilege.
The prospect of
returning to India without getting a feel of Sydney proper
stared us in the face. Thankfully, Steele offered to drive us to
the harbour for a cruise. He showed us some of the architectural
marvels of Sydney like the tallest tower, the impressive library
and the Sydney hospital which has a statue of a black pig
spitting water. He drove us through the botanical garden to a
spot from where you get a breathtaking view of the Sydney
Bridge and the sail-like roofed Opera House looked God’s own
creation from there. A visit to the harbour begins with a tour
of the Opera House— the most recognisable icon of Sydney that
took 14 years to build— and ends with a cruise.
The cruise to
the Manly beach took 30 minutes and provided a panoramic view of
the harbour and everything that is viewable in Sydney. The
suburb is called Manly because Captain Arthur was impressed by
the "confidence and manly behaviour" of the indigenous
people living there, one of whom even speared him.
The beaches are the cleanest I
have seen and they can keep you spellbound for hours. As we got
back to the ferry to return to the harbour and to the airport, a
variation of Robert Frost’s lines formed in my mind,
"Beaches are lovely, bright and beautiful but I have miles
to go and oceans to cross before I can reach Chandigarh".