Part of the appeal of moving to Melbourne was being able to get wrapped up in the city’s AFL culture. Multiple football games on every winter weekend. Scarf and guernsey-wearing fans crowding the streets and public transport network. The ability to be front and centre as the country’s AFL heartland erupts into football fever. Well, that was the intention.
Yet, some how, up until last weekend, I was yet to set foot in Melbourne’s undercover Etihad Stadium. It took me 14 months. A travesty, I was told. Nor was I yet to don my Adelaide Crows colours on Victorian soil. Another travesty. This led to my husband Jude and I embarking on a leg-warming five-kilometre Sunday stroll from Prahran to Etihad Stadium, all to watch the Adelaide Crows be annihilated by the Western Bulldogs.
Getting to Melbourne, by foot
The easy option to get to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne’s Docklands would have been to catch the train to Spencer Street Station via Flinders Street. But what’s the point in paying a hefty premium to live a Frisbee throw from the city itself if you never explore the five-kilometre belt of interesting that separates Prahran from the Melbourne CBD? And while exploring by bike might be a more efficient use of time, I also feel it would result in me toppling into the Yarra. So foot it is.
So on (a very chilly) Sunday we set off with our boots, thermals and North Face vests, heading in the direction of Etihad Stadium. And as the rainsquall approached and the southerly wind increased, I felt, for the first time in my 500-day Melbourne dwelling life, appropriately dressed. Even if I did look like an Eskimo.
Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens are so peaceful, until a rhinoceros gets in the way
As much as I love the hustle of life living on Chapel Street, getting any form of quiet is as rare as finding a diamond the size of Kim Kardashian’s engagement ring in your backyard. There’s always noise. Whether it’s the couple in the apartment above you vacuuming or the one next door having a rowdy cocaine-fuelled Sunday night bender. Whether it’s the trams rattling along ringing their bell 50-over-the-top times or the Chapel Street descendants who at 4am insist on the neighbourhood sharing in their jovial state.
Cutting through Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens is not only a short cut, but a much appreciated slice of peace. Our moment of quiet disturbed not by cars or partygoers but by the birds having an afternoon chat. They must have been placing their tips on this afternoon’s game. I hope they tipped Bulldogs.
Then my moment of peace is also disturbed by my husband, playing his favourite sport: hunting. Hunting me that is! Whether we’re in parks, shopping centres or Coles, he disturbingly loves to disappear and sneak up on me. A scream being the ultimate peverted reward. In the Royal Botanic Gardens I had been dawdling behind admiring a little hidden waterfall, when coming up the stairs I realised he’d vanished. Great!
Covering my flank, I moved into the clearing away from any easy-to-hide-behind trees and continued on my walk to Etihad Stadium. Hoping that he was just playing and not seriously injured somewhere. Walking off I sensed a big 6″3″ rhinoceros-sized object running towards me. Totally busted.
Ponyfish Island: the bar under the bridge
No trolls under this bridge, just a bar. And after all that walking and hunting, what better place to stop for an (alcoholic) refreshment than a bar under a bridge.
A hidden oasis literally in the middle of the Yarra River. Having a drink at Ponyfish Island, located underneath the Southbank pedestrian bridge, is a tourist’s must. Sadly, up until Sunday, we were still yet to chink ciders and tick off this exotic, tropical island-themed, iconic bar, having made our way, multiple times, down the steps only to be deterred back up onto the bridge by the cold and rain.
Fortunately, on Sunday, the rain had cleared and the sun was shining. So there I was, a rugged up Eskimo, basking in the slither of available sun and the happiness of finding an Adelaide Hills cider.
With (at the time) the Crows on top of the AFL ladder, I had decided it was time to be one of those fans and pull the red, blue and yellow out from the back of the wardrobe, where it had been hiding since 2012, and lay eyes on this cosy ‘Dome’. Although I was embarrassingly told that the Docklands Stadium hasn’t been called the Telstra Dome for many years.
Once seated, I inconveniently remembered the reason why I much prefer watching games on TV in the comfort of my home, with access to a heater, edible hot dogs and reasonably-priced drinks. I’m blind! My long-distance glasses proved nothing more than decorative, with the large screen resembling a fuzzy blimp and the player ants scrambling about building their ant hills. And don’t get me started on the 20-inch pointless plasmas dotted around the roof – even if you had 20:20 hunting vision I’m not sure you could make out which team has the ball, let alone which player, on those tiny things.
Hailing from Adelaide, I’m also used to being surrounded by a sea of cheering Crows fans. Here, in Melbourne, there’s no sea, but a few pieces of stray Adelaide-coloured driftwood floating about awkwardly in the home team’s cheer squad.
So here I was at Etihad Stadium, feeling highly uncomfortable sitting amidst a pack of bulldogs, with any Adelaide-pro clapping and excited screams (which there were few of) being met by snarls. When an Adelaide player (couldn’t tell you who because they all looked the same to my blind eyes) laid a brilliant tackle on a Bulldogs player, Jude shot up screaming for him to stay down, I thought we were about to be put down by all the beedy eyes staring in our direction.
It was possibly the worst game to see live, watching your team be entirely out-classed by the opposition. So instead of admiring my team, I spent a lot of time admiring the stadium. Looking anywhere but at the on-field bloodbath.
Although the roof did provide a much drier experience, I’m not sure about Etihad Stadium being ‘cosy’, given I sat there for four quarters wondering where the 20-knot wind was coming from.
What I did enjoy was the Docklands experience. The big city buzz is electric as footygoers flock into Etihad Stadium like a well-run machine, with the harbour and stadium twinkling under the dusk sky in the background.
When the final siren rang and we were put out of our misery, with a score too embarrassing to document, we slinked out of the stadium as the Bulldogs song was played (excessively) over and over. We quickly got on the train hiding our heads with our Crows scarves, wanting to get home as quickly as possible.