With countdown for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games nearing, the skies had opened up leaving fans in the Carrara stadium drenched. That, however, did not deter Australia from rolling out a colorfully choreographed event that left viewers enthralled.
The theme of the ceremony highlighted Australia’s aboriginal people and its laid-back beach lifestyle on the Gold Coast. As showcasing the country’s culture and heritage took center stage, it was however marred by protests by aboriginals who reminded the country of its bloody colonial past.
Despite the hiccups, the Gold Coast welcomed 71 nations of the Commonwealth including the British Royalty — Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla.
Badminton ace P V Sindhu, flagbearer of the Indian contingent, led the athletes to a warm reception from the 25,000 strong crowd that was in attendance. Indian athletes ditched tradition for comfort at the ceremony as they marched out in navy blue blazers and trousers rather than the traditional sarees and bandhgalas like in the previous ceremony.
After the Parade of Nations ended, Prince Charles read out a brief message from his mother and Queen Elizabeth II and declared the games open.
“It is fitting that the Commonwealth Games is known as ‘The Friendly Games’ as one of the world’s friendliest countries has invited us into their homes for this momentous sporting event,” said Prince Charles, representing the Queen at the ceremony.
But the festivities inside could not completely overshadow the protests by aboriginal groups, who raised slogans and blocked the Queen’s Baton Relay for close to an hour at The Spit area of the city.
They protested against the brutalities committed during Britain’s occupation and insisted that the country should have nothing to do with the Commonwealth, given the land and a generation that was “stolen” by the colonial masters.
The party went on nonetheless and the ceremony began with a countdown sequence that welcomed the visitors to the “oldest living culture in the world” and went on to pay tribute to Australia’s heritage before the European invasion.
In fact, it was all about revisiting the past as the ceremony paid an emotional homage to the Australian heritage, especially the aboriginals, the indigenous people who suffered massively after the European invasion in the country.
A skycam was launched to the soundtrack of a soaring eagle to reveal an aboriginal family in the stands. A young girl in group used a smartphone to activate a digital countdown superimposed over a sky full of stars.
The aboriginal family in the stands was Delvene Cockatoo-Collins, who designed the medals for the Games. Her niece Isabella Graham activated the countdown which took off from 65,000 years.
Most of the countdown passed in a blur and when it ended, a burst of pyrotechnics created a blue dome of light, representing planet earth at the center of space.
What followed was an imaginative celebration of the past, present and future of Australia and most notably, the way of life at ‘the surfers’ paradise’ of this magnificent city.
It went back to the time when Australia was connected to Antarctica, represented by a white whale Migaloo, which migrates an arduous 12,000km from Antarctica to North Queensland every year to mate and give birth.
One of the most touching moments of the ceremony was when childhood abuse survivor Damien Rider was revealed one of the last baton-bearers before it reached the Carrara Stadium.
Rider is a celebrated campaigner against child abuse here and broke three world records while paddling 800km from Coolangatta to Bondi on his board. His 17-day effort made him a recognised face Down Under.
Share the Dream — Gold Coast had been asking its inhabitants and visitors before the Games and though that dream did not find resonance with some, it did have quite a ring among those who braved the rain to celebrate the Aussie spirit.
(with PTI inputs)