Sports Mad Melbourne

Melbourne Open

I enjoyed my recent visit to Melbourne. I was able to spend a lot of time with locals and what I suspected was confirmed by my tour guide Daryl–Melbourne is sports mad. In a country whose main religion is sport, this is the mecca or the Jerusalem.

They have the premier horse race of the year: the Melbourne Cup. They invented Australian Rules Football and started the national league. They also host the Australian Open tennis tournament. It is as if New York City, Dallas and Kentucky were all rolled into one.

The 2016 tennis tournament began just as I arrived and it concluded last night. There was a big upset. Serena Williams rolled over everyone she played except one. Angelique Kerber played superbly and never lost her courage. Good on her! Serena was very gracious in defeat.

Just a funny story or two to illustrate how sports influence Aussies. We were traveling on the Great Ocean Road and we kept spotting these big black and white birds. Daryl, our tour guide, told us they are magpies. Then he added, “I hate magpies.” I asked why (since I love Sacramento’s yellow-billed magpies). He explained that the Collingwood football team mascot is the magpies and that the fans from Collingwood (a neighborhood in Melbourne) are “quite feral.”

Melbourne has 11 teams just in their city alone and regularly fill the stadiums. But then they only charge about $45 a ticket. The last time I heard of someone going to a San Francisco 49ers football game the seats were $250 each.

Daryl also told us the story behind the saying “Buckley’s chance.” It implies that the odds are long. William Buckley was a convict who unknowingly bought some stolen goods in England for which he was tried and sentenced to deportation to a new penal colony in Melbourne. The land was inhospitable and the penal colony was not surviving. The leader in charge decided to move everyone to what we now know is Tasmania, but he did not explain this to any of the convicts. So Buckley thought he was being shipped back to England. He was not having any of that, so he and two other men jumped overboard and swam ashore. The jailors decided not to go after them since they were unlikely to survive.

The three men made it ashore and scrabbled around trying to find enough to eat for a few weeks. The two other men decided to set off for Sydney and were never heard of again. Buckley was a tall man–6’4″ and he must of been strapping. He continued to make a go of it on his own. Some time later he met his first aboriginal people. They had just lost their elder who was also a really tall man. So at first they thought Buckley, with his very pale skin, was his spirit. It was all sorted eventually and they taught Buckley to survive. I cannot remember now how well he eventually did, just that he lived long enough to be immortalized with the slang, “You don’t have a Buckley’s chance..”

Some might have said that Angelique Kerber did not have a Buckley’s chance. But now you know the story and you know that Buckley’s luck was both bad and good. And that like Buckley, Kerber made the most of her luck and came out on top.


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