Today was my last full day in Melbourne. In a vain attempt to try and buy some non-tacky souvenirs, we went to Victoria Market in the city. I did actually manage to buy two souvenirs that didn’t fall into the general category of ‘koalas and other Australian miscellaneia’ although it did take some time. To be honest, one of them doesn’t even have anything to do with Australia, it just happened to be a nice present.

All of this souvenir hunting put me in a bit of a thoughtful mood. A few of my friends are currently trotting around in distant places such as Mongolia, Indonesia and Peru. While Australia is also pretty distant from the UK, it doesn’t really reach the same kind of authentic ‘untouched by civilization’ wildlife feel, which might uncharitably be seen as a lack of backpacker attractive power. Either way, it is obvious that on maybe a dozen trips abroad in the last few years, I haven’t gotten any ‘closer to nature’ than my two weeks in the desert at Utah, which was a curious mix of technology and wilderness. Certainly I could have gone to some jungle somewhere (or something similar) instead of going to all of these conferences and western cities.

The thing is, I don’t really see the attraction of getting close to nature. I’m sure it’s a wonderful experience for those who like it and I suppose that I would like it as well if I tried it. However, the fact is that the main reason I travel is to meet interesting new people; if I happen to go and see some nature while I’m at it, great, but seeing the new people is what matters. Hearing the new ideas, visiting the places they like, seeing a new face laugh.

I read a short story by the SF writer John Barnes recently. I forget what it was exactly about, but the character shares my view. In his words, he prefers to commune with people instead of communing with nature. Perhaps I’m just having an automatic backlash against the backpacker culture of continually trying to find the newest, most untouched place on Earth (as I see it). What an old cynic I am.

In concordance with all of this, I communed with 25,830 other people at the Telstra Dome this afternoon to watch a game of Australian rules Football (AFL); St. Kildas against the Kangaroos. AFL can only be described as a mix of football (soccer), rugby and some indescribable Australian component. Actually, it’s not quite indescribable; it involves a lot of swearing and disorganised running around and hitting people – but in a good-natured way.

A while ago someone said I had a very innocent-looking face. Evidently other people wrongly believe this as well, because not only did an attendant open a new gate at immigration control for me at Sydney Airport (and then promptly close it after I’d gone through) but I managed to get my cousin and myself bumped up to the best seating in the stadium without saying a word. I have to say that I expected to pay more than �5 to get two people in; it wasn’t a mistake, incidentally, the ticket-seller simply said, ‘Oh, I can get you into better seats for the same price’ without explaining anything. Not that I wanted an explanation – that would’ve spoiled the magic.

This particular game was a great introduction; St. Kildas scored 61 points in the first quarter, which was 2 off the record. They slowed down in the second, and the Kangaroos caught up in the third. For most of the third and fourth quarters, the two teams went neck and neck in scores to the utter delight of myself and the utter desperation of the rest of the supporters. In the end, St. Kildas won by five points due to a goal (worth six points) scored within the last two minutes of the game. It would’ve been a perfect game but for the two hyperactive kids sitting beside me.

Oh, having heard my cousins play the piano here in Melbourne, I’ve found myself suffused with a strange and unfamiliar drive to start playing again myself, after about a four year hiatus. Who knows, maybe I’ll go completely mad and start playing the violin again.

2 Replies to “AFL”

  1. Well, Adrian, it might be the case that as one gets even older and more cynical one longs to get into the country a bit more.

    I find I am more and more drawn to see people in new and interesting places, and to see new and interesting people in different places too… but sometimes, living in this urban highrise forest that Korea has become, I long for a walk in the bush by myself, like I used to have when I was a kid living up north in Saskatchewan, in central Canada. You know, I can say with some certainty that in some of those places I walked, nobody had been there in a hundred years or more. But it wasn’t the untouchedness that is fetishized by the backpackers that I loved; it was the quiet, the calm patience of the trees, the stillness of the bush.

    Maybe I was impressed by it when I was young and that explains why I miss it now sometimes. It might also be something to do with missing something that’s hard to come by: the closest I’ve got to communing with nature here in Korea was camping 300 meters from a highway below a graveyard at the foot a a hill and the edge of a lake overnight. (Because frankly there’s just not much “nature” left here, in the traditional sense of what we mean when we talk about “nature”.)

    I wonder if you were exposed to nature much as a kid? Maybe that makes some of the difference. In any case, I share your, uh, cynicism regarding the backpackers fetishism but I also think “nature” can be pretty interesting compared to people… sometimes, for a while, anyway. Especially, I might add, if you’re looking for a chance to be uninterruptedly introverted, and when you have all the nice technological amenities.

  2. Urk… but that said… my next two trips planned are a visa run to Osaka or Fukoka (anyway, Japan), and a month-or-two long residence at the start of next year over near Dharamsala in North India, where I’m told I can rent a house for a couple of months for a fair price. (Not, incidentally, out of faddish and misplaced sympathy for “the poor Tibetans” (reasonably sympathetic as I may be) as much as curiosity about the place as a disaporic community.)

    So I guess I don’t expect to see a lot of nature per se on any of my upcoming trips, either.

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