The path next to the river is used by cyclists, runners and walkers. I rode eastwards: into a cold wind. Overcast. And the sun did not come out. This was normally my running route, but, owing to a slow-recovering injury, I was on my bike as some kind of alternative. This third weekend of October is a part of the transition between footy and cricket seasons. The first test is a month off; grand final celebrations are several weeks gone.
This is the Spring Carnival season, and although the big racing days (Caulfield Cup, Melbourne Cup etc) attract huge crowds: for most, the sport is gambling. The crowd is not partisan to a participating horse: the crowd is partisan to the horse that will bring them the highest windfall. Going to the races though is an event to be marketed and made attractive to an ever-increasing captive audience continually in search of the next distraction. The Gentlemen and Ladies swan the streets of Richmond on their way to the races carrying nothing but the form-guide: bedecked in designer stubble, designer sunglasses and a smart hat. By the end of the day, they are wobbly on their legs and dishevelled around the collar. Probably thinner in the wallet, too. Going to the races.
I’m riding eastwards. East of Burnley are the some of the schools of private Melbourne: Scotch and St Kevins. They are no doubt rivals on sports fields, and on the trams and trains and footpaths where the differently uniformed students cross-paths. The Aboriginal flag flies with the Settler flag. One score and several more years ago, my private school was not even making this concession: probably it still isn’t. A little further on, under the freeway, are the Kooyong tennis courts. The grand stadium, in which Australian Opens were held and where the Rolling Stones played an afternoon concert, has had its iconic grass replaced with a synthetic blue. This makes it more acceptable to international tennis-ers when they come to Melbourne early, to warm up prior to the AO. On the other side of Glenferrie Road, there is a baseball field, a small football (soccer) field, a full-size football pitch, and an Australian rules football field. Only one of the Australian rules fields is being used by cricketers. I cross Gardiner’s Creek and make a few circuits on the old velodrome, briefly watch a lower-grade amateur game of cricket, and then get on my way back towards the city. This time on the south side of the Birrarung (aka Yarra).
I had the breeze behind me and rode along tracks where I had raced in 10km event; some months back. Pre-injury. There is a café and some rowing sheds. I crossed four lanes of traffic, walking my bicycle. It was almost warm. The fields were roughly opposite, that bend in the river, with the little island, called Herring Island, where during summer, art excursions are held. This is Toorak proper and the park is called Como. Along the river, there are signs detailing the area’s Aboriginal heritage. The Stonnington Council is re-vegetating the river’s banks with native flora. How suitable and manageable these grasses, shrubs and bushes look. During late ‘winter’ the wattle had come out: it’s arrival, according to tradition, is that it is the first sign of the Wurundjeri spring. A forgotten calendar.
I park my bicycle and sit down, at the Southern End, just on the east side of the pitch. There is an incline and, sitting a few meters above pitch height, I’ve got a bloody good view. The batting team is resting under the trees, one player has brought his baby, at due square leg. Nearby a grandmother is entertaining her granddaughter, while the older sibling kicks around a small football. There is bird-life. The turf pitch is a light green, but is playing truly, and the heavy-set batsman plays his shots: a few sixes, a few fours, and then, unsurprisingly, out, caught a few centimetres in from long-off boundary. He was sans helmet and was set for a big-un; he was prematurely out, and thus makes the slow trudge eastwards, back to his crew.
I’m home now and the mild speed of a bicycle facilitated my movement through some inner south-east suburbs. The flat grasslands of the Birrarung have a distant heritage; whose functions have been lost. Instead, they’re used as places for congregation for men dressed in plain white, going about their sport for Saturday recreation.