I was pleased to have a few days of downtime in Christchurch after the New Zealand National Championships. Since we had arrived in Boracay, there had been little time to rest and collect thoughts and even less time to just do nothing. Though I was initially put off by the ghost town-like feel of Christchurch, by the end of my three days there, I had grown quite comfortable in its peacefulness. I enjoyed walks to the Re-start market — a market made of giant steel storage containers where a handful of delicious food carts called home — and inspecting the many art installations like moss-covered lawn furniture, a laundry machine re-purposed as a giant boombox plus dance floor and more. These pieces, called “gap fillers,” are distributed around the city to help keep things more interesting as the city continues to rebuild. Most of all, I enjoyed strolls through the city’s Botanical Gardens which featured a stunning rose garden and great space to simply stretch our and read.
Soon my time in New Zealand had come to an end, and after bidding farewell to David Picon, who remained stuck in New Zealand due to visa troubles, I boarded my jet for Melbourne, Australia.
I was picked-up by Heads of State coach Simon Talbot. Simon, who had focused much of his life on playing amateur Australian Football (or footy), towers over me, his beard suggesting that I am perhaps being taken to Hogwarts. I throw my bags into his old red station and we head away from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.
Graceland (called Graceland because the house sits on Grace Ct. in the far out neighborhood of Kew) is my residence for my extended stay here in Australia. It is home to three teammates plus Simon and two cats who have become more friendly despite my allergic comfort level and their initial fear of my presence. Immediately I’m engrossed in a world where AFL is the hot topic. When my housemates are home, footy is on the TV and a major topic of conversation. The hard-hitting sport is actually quite fun to watch, and despite not knowing if I should root for Hawthorne or Carlton (I’m told not to root for Carlton), I’m getting quite familiar with the basic idea of the game. It makes me think about how people must feel when they encounter a bunch of ultimate players obsessing over teams and players no one outside of the sport has ever heard of.
Since arriving in Melbourne, I’ve been to one team practice and a warm-up tournament for Aussie Nats in a boiling hot Brisbane called BCI. Playing with this team coupled with the home atmosphere seems a lot like being in college again, exemplified by watching footy together at a teammates’ parents house after our first day at BCI. The camaraderie, the inside jokes, the hanging around watching sports, the unwashed dishes. Establishing such an environment when much of the team is now in their mid-twenties is no coincidence. The Heads of State core has been playing together since 2006, when a bunch of local junior players decided they wanted to play together with “their mates” rather than join the leading local team, Chilly. Since then, most of the crew has stayed together, expanding into a club organization with three teams: Burgundy (the premier team), White (the development team) and Academy (the starter team).
Ultimate in Australia has been the easiest competent to be a part of so far. BCI featured the eight top teams competing for a national championship later this month, revealing the field of competition in a way I haven’t had the opportunity to experience on my previous two stops. HoS had a strong tournament, finishing in 4th after losing to two and a half teams — a veteran masters team called Phat Chilly and a split squad team, called Colony.
Colony seems to be the biggest challenge standing in HoS’s way of a National Championship. With three titles to the club’s name, Colony is a unique entity in the world of ultimate. Colony brings not one, but two teams to the Australian National championships, both of which have been top 3 in the last three years, most recently competing in the final in 2012 and 2013. This year, the club remains strong, looking to make a big splash as one combined Colony team at Worlds in Italy this summer. Both Colony teams (Pillage and Plunder handled HoS with relative ease, finishing 1st and 3rd at BCI, with Phat Chilly finishing 2nd. Regardless, I am encouraged by HoS’s chances at Aussie Nats.
Perhaps the most unexpected challenge in Melbourne has not been the ultimate but the enormity of time. The last month was full of activity. Under a more compressed timeline, every day was filled with training, or shooting a new segment. All of a sudden, I have an extra week here in Australia to tackle this project, and in turn, to return to some sort of normalcy (at least schedule-wise).
In between practice, I’ve gradually returned to a more regular schedule of work and have spent my odd hours planning segments, locating new Picon-caliber cinematographers (for which I have fortunately had success) and wandering the city. The Seattle-like drizzle this week has helped me to feel eerily at home but in some parallel universe where there’s an abundance of sushi takeout restaurants (heaven), prioritization of walking on the left side of the sidewalk, and a distinct lack of Chipotle (hell). I find myself chasing down a shadow of routine in this big city that I may or may not find before HoS departs for Sydney at the end of the month.
Melbourne itself is a sprawling city composed of numerous neighborhoods that each have their own distinct vibe. So far I particularly enjoy South Yarra and Fitzroy, which can be best classified as gentrified, hipster urbane. There are still many neighborhoods to explore and much to discover (and a bill to pay at a Mexican restaurant where I had forgotten my wallet). This week looks to wrap with a live footy game, a surf trip down the great Ocean Road, and a long Saturday practice with the Heads of State as we continue to prepare for the Aussie National Championships in Sydney.