Australia, you beauty

Sidharth Monga / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The first thing you see when you land in Australia. A fine of over A$5000 for one wrong turn. For such a big, wonderful, free-spirited and roomy country with an unmanageable outback, there are a lot of strange rules and fines. Leave the windows of your car down more than 5cm and wander more than three metres away from it in Victoria or Queensland, and you can be fined $117. Have more than 50kg of potatoes on you in Western Australia and your bank account could be $2000 lighter. Some of these, as you would imagine, lead to urban legend. Victoria Energy had to once officially clarify that it was not illegal to change your own lightbulb.

Some day-to-day activities you might not have thought would technically be crimes: riding a bike without a bell or a horn, refusing water to anyone who might knock on your door at any time of the day, eating in a designated smoking area, walking a pet while you are on a bike, not holding a dog on a leash or holding one on a leash longer than two metres in Adelaide Parklands.

Or even, for some posh restaurants, doggie-bagging food without getting an indemnity form signed.

That's the Gilberton Swing Bridge over the River Torrens. Cross it every day on the walk from the bed and breakfast in St Peter's to Adelaide Oval. Was closed to the public because of disrepair in 2014. Was considered beyond repair in 2017. Reopened in January 2018. A piece of Adelaide history. Was constructed by a builder for the benefit of prospective buyers visiting his properties. He donated it to the Walkerville Council. Those who grew up in Adelaide from the 1950s to the 1970s learnt to swim not in pools but at the various swimming clubs by the Gilby. When there was talk of the bridge going down because of safety concerns, a lot of them commented below the line on newspaper articles, urging the authorities to save it.

Rodriguez is now well known after the Oscar-winning documentary Searching For Sugar Man told the tale of his accidental fame in South Africa, even as his work was hardly known in Detroit, his home town, or the US at large. His music was an anthemic backdrop to underground rebellion against apartheid in South Africa, but the first country to accord him fame was Australia. DJ Holger Brockman played the song "Sugar Man" on his evening show, and then started getting requests to play more of Rodriguez, whose almost literary songwriting resonated with listeners. Melbourne-based promoter Zev Eizik tracked the man down, and had him tour Australia twice, in 1979 and 1981. Like many things Australia, the news didn't go out to the rest of the world, and Rodriguez was only really "discovered" after the documentary went to the Oscars. "Australia was my first triumph," Rodriguez said in an interview this year. This will be his fifth trip to Australia, just before which he will also play the Royal Albert Hall.


Anyone who has been hungry after hours in Adelaide knows the sound of "beauuuutiful" for every ingredient you want in your roll at Falafel House on Hindley Street. It is open till 5am and is good for a quick home-like Lebanese meal, with a pint or two, at a fair price. The man behind the voice is George, a Lebanese immigrant. He won't give you a last name, and the moment you stop being inquisitive about his life and his migration to Australia, he will get to being the pleasant host he is. Beauuuutiful.

Loud Afghan and Arabic music plays outside sheesha bars, with chairs out and boardgames on, hookahs by the side. South Australia is prone to droughts, but Hindley Street will never run out of hummus, tabouleh, baklava and Turkish delight.

In the greens alongside War Memorial Drive, which leads up to Adelaide Oval, is many a headstone in memory of those who lost their lives in the many wars fought on behalf of England. There is plaque in tribute to Her Majesty's Australian Ships Manoora, Westralia and Kanimbla, all known for their conspicuous grey livery before they adopted camouflage after an air strike. The cost of the wars to Australia was huge: 60,000 men lost, a further 150,000 injured. It often doesn't get acknowledged outside the country.

How green are these parklands? Take in a panoramic view of Adelaide from the top of Mount Lofty, a comfortable-ish hike equivalent of climbing some 250 floors.

"Under the Southern Cross I stand / A sprig of wattle in my hand." So goes the Australian cricket team song, referring to the ubiquitous tree that bears the national flower of Australia. But it is the Moreton Bay fig, the Australian banyan, or ficus microphylla, found in eastern Australia, that is the most majestic of trees.

At any rate, Australia won't be singing the song in Adelaide after India come back from a hopeless situation on day one - 127 for 6 - to post 250, a total they defend with aplomb. In the last innings, however, India have to bowl 119.5 overs to get the win, which leaves them the least possible time to travel to Perth, adjust to a new time zone and get ready for another Test in three days.

How far away is Western Australia? Enough to make you set your watches back by two and a half hours. Perth is about as far from Singapore as from Sydney. It is the only big city between Adelaide and Africa: that is about 2800km of forbidding desert and about 8000 of sea. It is so far, you are not allowed to carry fruit from the rest of Australia into Perth.

Well, it might not have that much to do with distance. Australia is home to some of the most amazing plants despite the hostile weather and soil. The ones good for a particular soil will thrive in places where they flourish but not elsewhere. Many of the plants in south-western Australia are not found elsewhere in the world. Perhaps a good job to protect them from accidental competition then - even if it comes from within the country.

The bluest city skies, the most brilliant, harshest sunlight are to be found in Perth. It is the most isolated big city in the world, which means there is no one competing for this light. The ozone layer is thin.

It can be the most difficult place to play or watch cricket in. I am not aware of whether studies have been done on how many Australian cricketers suffered from skin cancer - let alone those watching topless - but it must have been Perth that led to the first use of zinc cream in cricket. The WACA Ground has refused to modernise, and Test cricket has now moved on to Perth stadium, across the Matagarup Bridge over the lovely Swan River.

The land both stadiums were built on belonged to the indigenous Nyoongar people. The new Perth Stadium is a homogenous stadium that could well be anywhere in the world. It feels like an airport. The seats in the press box have about the same legroom as an airplane economy cabin. However, the concrete exterior bears a nice touch: an inscription of the poem "Kaya", which means "Yes". It weaves together 11 verses of Nyoongar prose and six of English text. I feel that if I read them walking into a big contest, as part of 60,000 celebrating a match together, these words might give me goose bumps.

The river snaking slow beside;
The arching sky, ourselves beneath.
Though we reach for light and stars
Our fleshy souls they touch the earth
Again and again and again; a never-dying-fall.
Travelling, we are many peoples;
But our footprints make us one.
Voices grow like tongues of flame,
And in tongues of flame the fires come...
Applause it falls like heavy rain.

Back to an Adelaide sunset after Australia level the series in Perth. Feel sorry for the players, who have gone on to Melbourne and are not free to travel anywhere they want. I wonder if they get to explore countries they play in - and Australia is waiting to be explored. Does one stadium merge into another, one dietician-advised meal into another, a hotel room into another, a silly sledge into another?

Feel sorry for myself too, because cricket tours these days hardly give you time to get off the beaten path. Know more about Australia from previous trips, and am reading about it rather than seeing it this time. Mostly Bill Bryson's excellent Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country. Wish to one day travel the length and breadth of this wonderfully hostile and pleasant country. Right now the tour is more than half over. It's like coming towards the end of a book you never want to end. Slow down, Sugar Man.