The Gold Coast boasts being the party pad for Australian teenagers. But the ‘things to know’ section about the city also throws a cautionary note about the city’s notorious traffic.
As we drive into the city via a deserted M1 from Brisbane airport on a wet Tuesday morning, though, we are greeted by empty streets, shops and restaurants with their shutters down and houses with locked doors. A 92-mile drive is finished in just 45 minutes. Is this their definition of chaos? The Goldies need to spend some time on the Western Express Highway at peak hour to understand the true meaning of the word.
But the paranoia was such that most of the residents have left the city, while the majority of tourists from other states who were expected to flock in never did, fearing the same. It’s killed the local business – several companies have sent their employees on a two-week unpaid leave whereas the logistics industry, one of the main enterprises here, has reversed its working hours – instead of the morning 10-4 shifts, they now operate 10-4 at night.
The hospitality sector, however, claims to be the worst hit. Sonia and Amol, a married couple from Mumbai, own a fine-dine restaurant on the Broadbeach. Sonia, who lived in Thane before moving here, says they hired extra staff, additional supplies and a tiny storage space anticipating more people. Now, they’ve been forced to layoff the extras while the supplies continue to rot. Panic really sets in when the organising committee, on the eve of the Games, say that 140,000 tickets are still unsold.
As we count down to the opening ceremony, the Gold Coast is a ghost town.
The opening gala seems to have struck a chord and the Coast is bathing in the afterglow of an unpretentious ceremony the previous night. The fears are slowly proving to be unfounded.
The Australians are a rare breed of enthusiasts who stay up at ungodly hours to follow their sport. “But because we live on a different planet,” jokes Peter Edwards, a retired policeman from Tasmania, “we are all put on the graveyard shift to watch all sport on TV. This is a rare chance to go watch something really global, live.”
They turn out in the thousands. Children garbed in green and gold, their faces smudged in sun block and stuffing themselves with French fries, chant the country’s sporting anthem: “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – oi, oi, oi.” The Australian flags start mushrooming everywhere – window panes, terraces, lawns… Just half-a-day into the Games, some start moaning about the jingoistic coverage. “It’s as if there’s just one country competing at the Games,” complains a South African reporter.
Can’t say about the coverage, but as the medals start flowing, it does feel like there’s just one nation competing.
There are some moments at the Commonwealth Games where irony practically writes itself. Like an India-Pakistan rivalry being glorified, and analysed, by a Brit in the stands. He wants to understand the history and relevance in the current context, and audaciously suggests the tie ‘represents the spirit’ of the Commonwealth.
Thankfully, he’s in the minority. This, though, is the game of the Games, as far as hockey is concerned. The hockey-loving Australian public snap up the tickets within minutes of them going on sale. A lot of Indians from Sydney and Brisbane have driven down but there’s literally one Pakistani fan.
He lives on a hope and prayer, which is answered in the most dramatic of fashions. Pakistan, who expected a drubbing, escape with a draw. Post match, India coach Sjoerd Marijne is at pains to convince that the poor performance wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He sounds like an insurance agent who is trying to convince you that your untimely death is the best thing to happen to your family.
The Pakistan match isn’t an aberration; it would be the first of many hair-tearingly frustrating performances by India.
British Virgin Island’s Kyron McMaster is one of the most surprising medallists of the Games. And he knew how to turn it to his advantage. “I am going to take a picture of this,” he says, pointing to his 400m hurdles gold, “and put it on Tinder.” And he was just a swipe away from a Commonwealth encounter.
The Games’ claim of being the friendly Games has been taken quite literally by the athletes. McMaster says dozens of them have been trying to find a match on the dating app so as to pass some time at the Village.
The Village, which will be turned into a university hostel in the coming weeks, resembles a dorm. Alysha Burnett, the young Australian heptathlete, says she’s heard of a few athletes trying it out but the Indians insist the best way to while away time here is by training and recovering.
The other athletes seem to disagree. Northern Ireland triathlete James Edgar boasted of his endurance by claiming he ‘can go all night long’ while an English boxer, posing shirtless, says ‘he’s looking for some fun.’
It’s fun and Games, indeed.
It’s not all that fun for the spectators, though, who’ve to watch their step. Literally. Jump a signal and you could be fined Au$280.
The organisers have beefed up the security at Broadbeach. There’s no impending threat, instead the additional force is to ensure there’s no jaywalking.
The city’s traffic rules are among the strictest in the country. Car owners are often protected by the city’s controversial meter maids, the golden bikini clad women who put money into the parking metres so that there’s no ticket for a car that might inadvertently overstay its parking duration.
If you jaywalk, though, then even the meter maids may not help you.
The mornings follow a routine: a walk through the beach and breakfast at the restaurants on the beachfront before heading off to the venues. It’s a mesmerising sight that never gets old. It’s easy to understand why the Gold Coast has been keeping the beach at the forefront of every activity through these Games.
This is the city’s first shot at hosting something really big. The biggest gathering they’ve had before this is the Schoolies. It’s a full-on teenage binge each November thrown by the City Council to the thousands who pass out their schools. Students from all over Australia land at the Cavil Avenue, Esplanade, and Surfer Paradise for the week-long gig. Officially, just lemonade flows. This time, though, the beaches have been turned into giant open-air arenas with live concerts each night. It’s not much different from the Schoolies. Lemonade, though, isn’t the drink of choice anymore.
The only thing consistent about India at the Commonwealth Games is its controversial relationship with the event. This time, it’s the syringe-gate. But equally embarrassing are the officials at the Games. Take for instance, the case of a federation president. On the penultimate day of the Games, a few security lines are shut because of technical errors. A queue forms at the entrance of the Carrara Stadium, with several VIPs waiting their turn.
The president of an Indian federation, though, is in a hurry. He pretends to initiate a conversation with this correspondent, jumps the queue and evades the security check to enter the stadium. A volunteer tries to follow him but gives up the chase.
The same day, a star Indian wrestler is reprimanded by the Games security after his followers crowd the arena and get a bit unruly. The next day, another one gets a stern warning after his supporters try to enter the venue on his accreditation.
At the Village, the officials are in a perennial damage-control mode after the twin needle incidents. One of them takes you around the Village, acknowledges it’s one of the prettier ones he has been to, and just before bidding you goodbye, walks up to a tree and spits out the tobacco he’s chewing. The red stain, a blot on the country’s reputation.
The last day here and after spending days at the beaches, it’s time to head up to the mountains. The contrast as you drive up to Mt Tamborine is dramatic. The white sand beaches make way for a forest of deciduous trees and pines, growing as far as the eye can see; the chirping birds and waterfall pounding the rocks adding to the drama. It’s a magical place.
Lynn and Daryl, a retired couple, show us around. We haven’t met before. But such has been the spirit of these Games that it hasn’t taken much time for complete strangers to act as if they’ve been acquainted for years. This place looks like the set of a Wes Anderson movie. Well, Anderson hasn’t shot here but the raw beauty of this place hasn’t escaped Hollywood’s eye. The rainforests have been immortalised in Thor Ragnarok.
Lynn invites us to their place for tea and scones. The view of the valley from their house is breathtaking – trees kissing the blue skies while in the background, you can see the blue satin water threaded with silver, and traces of white sand. It’s a view that defines the Gold Coast. “We can host the Games here all year long,” Daryl says. It’s a great idea to have such events at places like these.
Actually not. Because it sucks to be working at such a beautiful place.