The Last Post

I write this having been back in the cold, wet and windy UK for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to adjust to what is, quite frankly, a far more mundane existence. It has also given me time to reflect on my trip.

My trip has been an amazing experience and I have many memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Pretty much everything I have done on the trip has been fantastic but there have been two real highlights that stand out.

The first is the 6 days I spent on the South Island of New Zealand. I loved the wonderful scenery and doing some amazing things including whale watching, a heli-hike onto Franz Josef Glacier and jet boating.

Whale watching at Kaikoura

Whale watching at Kaikoura

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Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The second highlight was the week in India touring the “Golden Triangle” with G Adventures. I loved travelling through such a vibrant country seeing some amazing sights, experiencing the culture and eating some absolutely fabulous food.

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Jaipur

Jaipur

Palace of the Winds

Palace of the Winds

Trying to make a puri

Trying to make a puri

Amber Fort

Amber Fort

I have seen some amazing sights Including:-

Uluru

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The Taj Mahal

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Sydney Harbour

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The cricket obviously didn’t go according to plan. I watched every one of England’s losses to Australia and became increasingly resigned to the entirely predictable nature of these defeats. Disappointing as the cricket was it gave me a base to explore the great cities of Australia. I was part of the world record attendance for a test match at the MCG on Boxing Day.

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Some stats!! My trip took me away from home for 79 nights. I travelled in 5 countries – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, India and the United Arab Emirates. I went on 17 flights and travelled with 8 different airlines. I stayed in 20 different hotels. So making all these flights certainly means I have had an impact on the environment. All the air miles equate to 4.85 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The driving I did in New Zealand, 1095 kilometres, added a further 0.26 tonnes of CO2 emissions. I am investigating what I can do to offset this.

Best airline – QANTAS. I flew with them more than any other airline. Great service delivered by “real people” not the archetypal young “trolley dolly” you find elsewhere.

Best airport – Dubai. Space age. Roomy. Waterfalls!

Worst airport – Goa International Airport. Dirty toilets and rowing cleaners. Make sure you scan your luggage first! I also had issues at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport with baggage coming off the wrong carousel and lengthy queues for biosecurity checks.

Favourite hotel – The Point, Brisbane. Great service and a room with a fantastic view. Well located for the Gabba and the free boat service into central Brisbane. I also had fantastic service and food at the Resort Terra Paraiso in Goa. Excellent towel and pillow art by housekeeping!

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

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Housekeeping art at Resort Terra Paraiso, Goa

Worst hotel – Great Southern Hotel, Sydney. Room very dated and felt claustrophobic

Favourite cricket stadium – Sydney Cricket Ground. Blends futuristic new stands with well preserved old pavilions.

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Worst cricket stadium – The WACA, Perth. Little shade and needs urgent redevelopment.

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So would I do it again??? The trip has been very much a once in a lifetime opportunity. It has cost a pretty penny and I now need to start earning again. 11 weeks away is a long time and there were times particularly around Christmas and New Year when I was really starting to miss family. Keeping in touch through instant messaging, email, FaceTime and Facebook has been invaluable. When you can talk to somebody and see them on screen the world does not seem such a big place.  I have loved experiencing the different countries and cultures and a much better climate. So yes I would definitely do a big trip again but not for as long.

Has the trip changed me??? Well I don’t feel any different. It may have given me a different perspective on a few things. The trip has definitely given me the desire to travel more and explore further some of the places I have been to.

A successful trip can only take place with help from others. I have had great support from friends and family. They seemed to think my trip was a much bigger deal than I thought myself and showed this with a great send off before I went away. I was worried about my house being left empty for an extended period of time. Thanks to Mum and Dad and my next door neighbours Kathryn and Steve for keeping an eye on it for me whilst I was away. My house remained totally intact whilst I was away but ironically suffered storm damage within a week of my return!

A big thank you to my travel agents, Round the World Experts, and in particular Nigel Wright for turning my dreams into reality.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog. I have enjoyed writing it and it is something I can always look back on. The blog seems to have generated quite a lot of interest – It has had over 4300 views and over 100 comments.

Finishing the blog helps me put the trip “to bed” and allows me to focus on the next phase of my life which starts with the search to generate an income.

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

Book Review – Down Under by Bill Bryson

I absolutely loved this book. I took loads of books away with me on the trip, mainly cricket related, and finished them all but this stands head and shoulders above the other books. Reading it was an absolute joy. I remember loving Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” about his travels round the UK which I read this many moons ago and “Down Under” was no different. What made reading this book particularly timely for me was reading about Bryson’s travels round Australia after I had recently spent considerable time there myself. “Down Under” was published quite a few years ago in 2000 but I felt that many of his observations about places that I had also visited were similar to my own. Bryson is a fantastic storyteller and brings out some great humour into his writing. There were times I laughed out loud particularly when he told of his experience of getting terrible sunburn in Perth and how people reacted to him afterwards.

I think one place that Bryson really enjoyed that to some degree passed me by was Adelaide. I do not really think my time there did the place justice and next time I visit there I need to check out North Adelaide, the extensive parklands and some wineries. Australia is of course an unbelievably vast country and so much of it is still relatively unexplored. Bryson went to lots of places that I didn’t manage to get to such as Darwin and the Great Barrier Reef. If anything the book has made me more determined to go back to Australia and visit more of this fascinating country. Bryson spent some time travelling across Australia by train and this sounded a great way to see the country.

One area that Bryson explored in some detail was that of Aboriginal Australians. I encountered very few on my travels round Australia. The total Aboriginal population is around 700,000 or 3% of the total Australian population. However in the Northern Territory they are much more commonplace. I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I found the episode of Australian history relating to colonisation and the treatment of the indigenous Australians very troubling. Bryson detailed massacres of Aborigines that took place in the years of colonisation and in particular the Myall Creek Massacre of 1838. This is notable not so much from the fact that there was terrible loss of life – 28 Aboriginal men, women and children were murdered – but that for the first time in Australian history the killers were brought to trial and hanged. After arriving in the new colony some of the early settlers pushed into inland Australia with the aim of seizing Aboriginal land which the indigenous population had looked after and had sustained them for tens of thousands of years. Of course the Aborginal population would not give up this land without a fight. The scale of the massacres which took place is shocking and perhaps has received relatively little publicity. The journalist John Pilger is quoted as saying “More first Australians were killed than Native Americans on the American frontier and Maoris in New Zealand. The state of Queensland was a slaughterhouse”.

I am left with the feeling that for the indigenous Australians the impact of the arrival of settlers into their world has been like a huge nightmare. Their whole world.was thrown upside down and they are still recovering from this. Bryson detailed his experience at Todd Street Mall in Alice Springs on a Saturday morning. “The people on the street were overwhelmingly white Australian but there were Aborigines about, too – not great numbers but always there, on the edges of the frame, unobtrusive, nearly always silent, peripheral. The white people never looked at the Aborigines, and the Aborigines never looked at the white people. The two races seemed to inhabit separate but parallel universes. I felt as if I was the only person who could see both races at first. It was very strange. A very high proportion of the Aborigines looked beaten up”. Having visited Alice Springs well over a decade later I can say that little has changed. The scene which Bryson witnessed was identical to my own experience. Bryson did say that ” The most ruined Aborigines are those you see in towns”. In Perth I saw a number of Aborigines hanging around on the streets and in one instance a couple of them being bundled into a police van in the main shopping mall late in the afternoon. So there is a big problem in Australia here that needs addressing but I fear the solution is very very difficult. I hope it is high on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s priority list.

I can’t recommend Down Under more highly and it inspires me to check out more of Bryson’s work.

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My Last 48 Hours in Sydney

So with the cricket finishing 2 days early this gave me an opportunity for extra sightseeing.

On the first spare day I fancied time at the beach but to begin with went to Darling Harbour for a spot of breakfast at one of the harbour front restaurants. This also gave me the opportunity to check out some of the boats moored there including the worlds largest operational steam ferry “South Steyne”. It used to operate as the Manly Ferry. There is also a full replica of Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour at Darling Harbour as part of the maritime museum.

South Steyne

South Steyne

Replica of HMS Endeavour

Replica of HMS Endeavour

The famous Sydney beach is Bondi but another beach, Coogee, had been recommended to me. I travelled there by bus. The journey takes around half an hour and takes you past the Sydney Cricket Ground and through the suburb of Randwick. On the way through Randwick I spotted a racecourse, the University of New South Wales and Sydney Children’s Hospital.

It was an absolutely glorious summers day with cloudless skies and a temperature in the high 20’s. On arrival at Coogee I headed to get a view of the beach. It’s a belter! Wide golden sands and crashing waves. Like other Aussie sea side resorts the early settlers tried to replicate what they were familiar with from England. So Coogee had at one time a pier, a tram, separate baths for gentlemen and ladies and a Palace Aquarium which featured a whole host of different entertainments. One thing quite different which you won’t find in Blackpool was a shark net. Now the only visible sign of these remaining that I could see was the Palace Aquarium which has now been redeveloped as the Beach Palace Hotel. The pier and shark net have long since been claimed by the sea.

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach facing South

Coogee Beach facing South

The Coogee Bay Hotel sits just across the road from the beach. I had been told that it has the biggest bar in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m not sure about that but it does have the biggest beer garden in Sydney and certainly the biggest I have ever seen! The website says it has 7 bars and a 1,750 capacity venue where bands such as INXS and the Foo Fighters have played. Well I think I missed some of these bars and the venue but as well as the beer garden bar I saw a beach bar and a sports bar. The sports bar area in particular was massive and included an area for gambling on horses and greyhounds. There was also a separate “VIP lounge”. The “VIP lounge” is something I had not noticed in any other part of Australia so I am guessing it only applies in New South Wales. I was rather excited to discover that my hotel in Sydney had a VIP lounge and wondered who the VIP’s may be that frequented it. Kylie and Danni Minogue?  Shane Warne? Tony Abbott? On further investigation after checking into the Great Southern Hotel I rather disappointingly discovered that a VIP lounge is actually a room full of fruit machines. Every pub and hotel in Sydney seems to have one and suggests that this part of a Australia has a real gambling culture. So anyway back to the Coogee Bay hotel. I settled into the beach bar and enjoyed a Chaucer golden ale and a fish and chip lunch. Having done further research into the Coogee Bay Hotel for writing this blog I found a story from 2008 entitled the “Coogee Bay Hotel poo scandal”. I won’t go into the gory details here but google it and you can see what it’s about. Suffice to say had I read that before going to Coogee I am not sure I would have chosen to eat at the Coogee Bay Hotel…. The fish and chips were fine though.

Coogee Bay Hotel

Coogee Bay Hotel

Beer garden at Coogee Bay hotel

Beer garden at Coogee Bay hotel

I decided to walk off lunch and headed north on the coastal path and passed through Gordon’s Bay before stopping for a sunbathe and paddle at Clovelly Beach.

Gordon's Bay

Gordon’s Bay

Clovelly Beach

Clovelly Beach

On day 2 I spent some time on chores ahead of the next leg of my journey. Laundry, haircut and a bit of shopping. With that out of the way I headed for one last time to Sydney Harbour. This time I went a slightly different route which took in the Queen Victoria building which has been lovingly restored to include shopping and eating places. A bit like the Victoria Quarter in Leeds. I also visited briefly the St Mary’s (Catholic) Cathedral before heading for the mightily impressive Royal Botanical Gardens which stretch right down to the Opera House. Earlier that day the Aussie cricket team had been at the Opera House celebrating the 5 nil whitewash but thankfully by the time I arrived they were long gone.

Interior of Queen Victoria building

Interior of Queen Victoria building

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral

Royal Botanical Gardens

Royal Botanical Gardens

After getting more photos of the opera house and harbour bridge I headed for the Rocks area. This part of Sydney, which as it turned out where I had been to see the fireworks on New Years Eve, is the oldest part of Sydney and has recently been transformed into bars, restaurants and shops.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

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The Rocks

The Rocks

So my time in Sydney and Australia had come to an end. I can’t believe it’s now 7 weeks since I arrived in Brisbane. My time in Australia has been fantastic and Sydney has been a fitting end to it. But now it’s time to move on. Next destination Thailand!

The Sydney Cricket Ground

Having now visited all 5 of the grounds in Australia that have hosted the Ashes fixtures I have to say that I think the SCG is my favourite. I love the way that the two beautiful old stands have been retained whilst the ground is redeveloped. These old stands the Ladies Pavilion and Members Pavilion sit next to a huge new Northern Pavilion within which are contained the MA Noble and Don Bradman stands. The new stands were completed on the eve of this test match – actually more work is needed to 100% complete the work as the roof is not fully finished. This new stand was getting rave reviews from the SCG members who were using it for the first time. I was seated in the lower tier of the Brewongle stand. It was a decent view. The facilities were not the best that I have seen in comparison to the Gabba, Adelaide Oval or MCG but there plans to redevelop this stand along with the Churchill and O’Reilly stands. On balance the SCG gets my vote as my favourite of the 5 venues for the way that old has been retained whilst redeveloping new stands. I also had the best view of the scoreboard at the SCG. That’s important!

The Ladies and Members Pavilions with the Sydney skyline in the distance

The Ladies and Members Pavilions with the Sydney skyline in the distance

The new Northern Pavilion

The new Northern Pavilion

The scoreboard and the Bill O'Reilly stand

The scoreboard and the Bill O’Reilly stand

My second favourite ground is the Adelaide Oval. They have built some massive magnificent new stands there. But all the old stands have gone. The main item that had been retained to preserve history is the lovely old scoreboard.

Third is the MCG. It’s massive and I had a fantastic view. However it is all a bit the same. It’s a huge bowl. It is gob smacking when you first see it.

Fourth is the Gabba. To a large degree a smaller version of the MCG. I had a great view of the pitch but not of the scoreboard. Also this was the one ground where I was in the shade all day. That is very welcome when your watching cricket. It doesn’t have much character though.

Fifth and by some distance is the WACA. It desperately needs redevelopment. There are a hotch potch of old and temporary stands. There is also little shade which is a big issue given the heat experienced there during the Australia summer. The facilities are also by far the worst I experienced. I like the grass banks though! The WACA needs to work hard to retain it’s test ground status. I hear the ground at Hobart is in better shape to host test cricket although it’s more likely to rain there!

Ashes 5th Test at Sydney – A 5 nil whitewash

The outcome of the 5th test was entirely predictable given the gulf between the two teams that I had witnessed in the earlier 4 fixtures. In fact the script could almost have been written before the match started.

So we saw 2 England batting collapses and in both innings they failed to score over 200 runs. A number of terrible shots were played often by England’s most experienced batsmen. It really looks like the intensity of this series has got to them. Decision making over which balls to play and which to leave is generally much much poorer than you would expect from players of this talent and experience. I think their brains have become scrambled meaning they can not think clearly out in the middle. The England tail yet again failed to score many meaningful runs when the top 5 had failed.

Yet again we saw England’s bowlers getting us into a good position. On day 1, after Alastair Cook won his first toss of the series and put Australia into bat on an overcast morning and with a green tinged pitch. just after lunch the Aussies were 97 for 5. Then we saw a combination of poor England bowling, they bowled too short after lunch, and another fantastic innings from Brad Haddin well supported by Steve Smith. So Australia are let off the hook and managed to compile a score of 326.

Michael Clarke departs the field after being out for 10 on the morning of day 1 with England on top

Michael Clarke departs the field after being out for 10 on the morning of day 1 with England on top

Broad bowls to Harris as England let a good position slip on day 1

Broad bowls to Harris as England let a good position slip on day 1

What was particularly galling about this defeat was that it happened in under 3 days. The England batting performance in the second innings was particularly pathetic. They were all out in only 31.4 overs. There was little fight and it looked like they couldn’t get out of the SCG quickly enough. Did they have a plane to catch?

England’s cricket supporters who have travelled to Australia at huge cost and in big numbers deserved far far better.

At the end of the game I did not linger for long. I watched the immediate celebrations of the Aussie team and headed out of there. I felt strangely emotional for a few seconds knowing this was my last day at the cricket on this trIp. In total over the last 7 weeks I have been to 20 days of ashes cricket and have only missed the last day in Perth and a couple of sessions in Melbourne. Although the results have been incredibly disappointing I have found much of the action compelling. The most memorable sessions have been the England batting collapses often when Mitchell Johnson was steaming in bowling at 145 km/h plus. He rightly was named man of the series. When England collapsed on day 2 at the Gabba amidst some incredibly hostile, fast and accurate bowling from Johnson the die was cast. Johnson had the X factor and England have no equivalent bowler. The speed of the bowling they faced unsettled the whole team and I don’t think they ever recovered from the shock of what happened on day 2 at Brisbane.

Oh dear!

Oh dear!

Boyd Rankin is out to confirm the 5-0 whitewash

Boyd Rankin is out to confirm the 5-0 whitewash

The Aussie players celebrate

The Aussie players celebrate

Jubilant scenes

Jubilant scenes

Steve Smith applauds the crowd

Steve Smith applauds the crowd

My last look at the SCG

My last look at the SCG

New Years Eve in Sydney

I was booked on the midday flight from Melbourne to Sydney and was at the airport in plenty of time. The automated Qantas check in system at the airport give gave me the option of boarding either the 11am or 11.30am flights instead! Get in! So I ended up boarding the 11am flight. Just before the flight boarded I saw Aussie off-spinner Nathan Lyon clad in his international tracksuit carrying a baby. Perhaps I was flying with the Australian cricket team? As I was boarding and walking through business class I saw Lyon again and Ryan Harris sat with their WAGs. A tall dark haired guy in a track suit got out of my way as I walked past. I turned round and saw the unmistakeable moustached face of Mitchell Johnson. I attempted to give him a hard stare in the style of the stares he gives our batsmen. I’m not sure if the whole team was on the flight. I just saw those 3 and also Darren “Boof” Lehman in arrivals in Sydney.

On the flight I was pleasantly surprised with the scenery with most of the flight seemingly over mountains with many lakes. Were we crossing the Blue Mountains? As the plane descended we were rewarded with clear views of the harbour bridge and opera house and the stunning natural harbour.

Later, having checked in to the hotel I headed out to get my bearings and suss out my plan for viewing the New Years Eve fireworks. I am staying on George Street, in Chinatown, and around ten minutes from Darling Harbour. I headed there first. The harbour was busy with people enjoying the New Year’s Eve sunshine. I was aware that at 3pm there were already people getting in position for the fireworks that night!

The New Year's Eve stage in place at Darling Harbour

The New Year’s Eve stage in place at Darling Harbour

From Darling Harbour I headed in the direction of Circular Quay. I headed past a huge construction project that is underway at the top end of Darling Harbour in an area called Barangaroo. This redevelopment will lead to further hotels, office space (including skyscrapers), residential, retail and leisure facilities within Sydney’s central business district. So next time I visit Sydney it will look noticeably different.

I stopped for a coffee at Walsh Bay and got my first glimpse of the harbour bridge. I saw huge crowds already in position for the fireworks on the other side of the bridge. I walked round to circular quay and got an excellent view of the opera house. It was already getting very busy some eight hours before midnight. I needed a plan!

The Harbour Bridge viewed from Walsh Bay

The Harbour Bridge viewed from Walsh Bay

The crowds in place for the fireworks 8 hours in advance!

The crowds in place for the fireworks 8 hours in advance!

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I walked along George Street for around half an hour before I reached my hotel. I turned on the tv in my room and learnt that there were to be fireworks earlier in the evening at around 9pm and that they would be at Darling Harbour as well as around the harbour bridge.

So I headed out again at 7.30 and went to Darling Harbour. As dusk approached the crowds swelled. There was a stage set up in the harbour and the entertainment included Chinese dragons and fire dancers. The crowds included lots of families and kids and the ethnic mix was highly oriental reflecting the part of the city I was in. At 9pm the fireworks started and were fantastic. Definitely better than Denby Dale Cricket Club Bonfire Night fire works! I did however feel that this firework display was a mere starter for the main course to come.

Crowds gathering at Darling harbour

Crowds gathering at Darling harbour

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I headed to the Barmy Army New Years Eve party at the Paragon Hotel. I spent an enjoyable couple of hours or so there. They had a Coldplay tribute band playing and in between breaks there was Barmy Army song singing led by Billy the Trumpeter.

At 11.45 I headed out of the Paragon to look for a vantage point. Police had stopped any more people getting into the Circular Quay viewing area. So I headed with others at some speed to a road that was up above close to the harbour bridge. I was in position by midnight and saw some fantastic fireworks. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a great position. In cricketing terms I had a view from square leg rather than from behind the bowlers arm. This meant that I didn’t see the fireworks going off at the opera house and for those on the bridge I had a side on rather than front on view. Oh and I also had a street light in the way!

It was a great experience and after the fireworks had finished, after about 10 minutes, I walked down George Street with the massive crowds.

The crowds heading down Geroge St after the fireworks

The crowds heading down George St after the fireworks

I enclose here some of my best photos and some I found online. I am sure you will be able to tell which is which!

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My last day in Melbourne

So with my time in Melbourne being dominated by cricket and Christmas I was determined to spend my last day there getting to know the city better.

From my hotel I headed for the docklands area. This was just a few minutes walk but had been hidden for me for the last week by the Southern Cross railway station. I had been told there was another big sports stadium in that direction. Well before long the Etihad Stadium was in view. No, I had not been teleported to Manchester! The Melbourne Etihad stadium has a capacity of just over 50,000 and is primarily used for Aussie Rules football. It is also the home of Melbourne Renegades in the big bash cricket and Melbourne Victory in the A-league soccer.

Melbourne's Etihad stadium

Melbourne’s Etihad stadium

Melbourne's docklands area

Melbourne’s docklands area

Melbourne's free city centre circular tram

Melbourne’s free city centre circular tram

From the Docklands I caught the free (no. 35) circular tram that is an excellent way of getting to know the city. I got the clockwise tram which enabled me to see the North side of the city centre for the first time. I got off at Carlton Gardens which is where the Melbourne Museum is and also the site of the Melbourne International Exhibition held in 1880. The international exhibition building and surrounding gardens are mightily impressive.

The building from the Melbourne international Exhibition in 1880

The building from the Melbourne international Exhibition in 1880

The Melbourne Museum were holding an exhibition on James Bond but I was much more interested in finding out more about the history of Melbourne and of Australia. One of the first exhibits I encountered was a incredibly well preserved star Australian racehorse called Phar Lap who in the late 1920’s and really 1930’s won 37 out of 51 races including the prestigious Melbourne Cup.

Phar Lap

Phar Lap

Now there are some aspects of Australia’s history I find deeply troubling. In particular the way the Aboriginal people were treated by the early settlers. Being forced off their lands and deprived of rights of access to resources and foods. The whole impact of settlement on them was totally devastating. However I was not prepared for the next exhibit. It was based on the national apology made in 2009 to forgotten Australians and former child migrants . These are children who were robbed of a childhood. Aboriginal children taken from their families. British and Maltese child migrants. Children whose parents were unable to cope. They were kept in state care but many were frightened, abused and neglected. The handwritten extracts written by some of these children, now adults, were totally heartbreaking. I watched some of the footage of the apology delivered by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2009 to the Forgotten Australians. In the audience were 900 survivors of this period of “state care”. I would recommend this as something for you to view. It’s available on You Tube. It’s not an easy watch but it gives a very good insight into this ugly episode of Australia’s history.

From the Museum I headed to the delightful Fitzroy Gardens. In the grounds is Captain Cook’s cottage which has been transported from Great Ayton in North Yorkshire to Melbourne and was rebuilt here in 1933. For a small sum (I got a discount with my Barmy Army membership card!) you can go inside the house and walk in the gardens. The girl in the shop told me that Captain Cook had never actually lived in the house but it had been the Cook family home.

Captain Cook's cottage

Captain Cook’s cottage

The kitchen in captain cook's cottage

The kitchen in captain cook’s cottage

From Fitzroy Gardens I headed along Collins Street, known as the classiest street in Melbourne. There are some great buildings on there. I was impressed by the preserved trading hall in one of the original Australian banks in Melbourne. I made a diversion to get a photo of Flinders Street station which is one if the iconic buildings in Melbourne.

A festive Flinders Street station

A festive Flinders Street station

On Collins Street

On Collins Street

The ornate ceiling of an early bank on Collins Street

The ornate ceiling of an early bank on Collins Street

So for me the highlights of Melbourne are the trams, the sporting stadia, the bar and restaurant scene on the south bank, St Kilda, the many parks and some fine old buildings.

Next to Sydney…

Australia go 4 nil up in the Ashes

I have been watching this series from the start in Brisbane. During today’s performance I started to get angry!

The day started with Australia on 30 without loss requiring 231 runs to win the match. Although Australia were firm favourites this would have been the highest fourth innings score to win a test match at the MCG for many years. I was just about to take up my seat shortly after start of play when I saw a chance dropped in the slips. It looked to me as if Alastair Cook had dropped a difficult chance at first slip off Stuart Broad’s bowling. On the radio commentary, they blamed Jonny Bairstow for not diving across from wicket keeper to take the catch. Broad was surprisingly taken out of the attack after bowling just 2 overs. Soon after this Cook drops a total sitter off Ben Stokes’ bowling. Catches win matches!!

After only half an hour of the day part time off spinner Joe Root came onto bowl. What’s going on? Aren’t we trying to win this match? We need our front line bowlers not part timers?

Joe Root brought into the bowling attack after 30 minutes

Joe Root brought into the bowling attack after 30 minutes

A wicket falls. Warner is caught behind from Bairstow. A wicket for Stokes. 64-1.

in the Aussie first innings England bowled really well. They bowled really tightly and made it difficult for the Aussies to score. In this innings England are really sloppy. Runs flow easily at 4 an over and the fielding is sloppy. Cook takes an age to make fielding changes and some of the crowd, including me, get annoyed.

Australia reach 100 for the loss of one wicket. Rogers gets his fifty.

Our front line spinner, Monty Panesar, hasn’t bowled yet. What’s going on? Cook finally turns to Panesar when the score is 118-1. But it’s far too late. Monty bowls badly and is hit for 10 off one over.

Runs continue to flow. A century partnership between Watson and Rogers. Then Chris Rogers gets his 100 off just 135 balls. Soon after Shane Watson gets his 50 off just 70 balls. Interestingly, 39% of Chris Rogers runs were through 3rd man but Cook refuses to place a fielder in that position.

This is getting embarrassing. Bresnan goes for 14 in one over. It’s a shambles.

Rogers finally departs for 116 and gets a standing ovation as he leaves the field. A wicket for Monty. However scoring continues to be very quick. Monty goes for 14 off an over.

Before long, at 2.26pm, Australia reach their target. I decide not to linger for the presentations.

An embarrassing scoreline

An embarrassing scoreline

I am now beginning to seriously question our captain. Some of the decisions today were, to me, inexplicable. Is the pressure of the job getting to him? Would it be better if he reverted to batting?

Over the four days of the test match the total attendance was 221,865. That’s a staggering number of people. I have enjoyed the spectacle of watching a match at the MCG but not the England performance.

I had an excellent seat to watch the action. It was two seats away from a seat which marks the point where the biggest ever 6 hit at the MCG landed. In 1993, during a Sheffield Shield match, a shot by Simon O’Donnell from the bowling of Greg Matthews landed there. It’s denoted by a plaque and the seat is a different colour to the others in the section. All I can say is it must have been one helluva strike!

Marking the spot where the biggest. 6 at the MCG landed

Marking the spot where the biggest. 6 at the MCG landed

So with the match finishing a day early this gives me more time to explore Melbourne. Stay tuned for blog updates on this.

4th Ashes Test at Melbourne – Day 2

Having batted very patiently on day 1, Kevin Pietersen started day 2 in a different mindset. He hit a 4 from the first ball of the day. It looks like he means business! Bresnan is out from the first ball of Mitchell Johnson’s first over. He is unable to successfully fend off a short ball from Johnson and is caught at short leg. KP is out from the 5th ball of the same over. He hits across the line of the ball and is clean bowled. It was a silly reckless shot.

Broad is then out lbw. Another wicket for Johnson. He has now taken 5 wickets with the new ball. A spell of 5 wickets for 18 runs. Another devastating hostile spell of fast bowling reminiscent of his spells in Adelaide and Brisbane. There is some resistance from Monty and Jimmy. But then Monty leaves a ball from Lyon and is bowled. England have collapsed from 226-6 to 255 all out. Another batting collapse!

Disillusioned I go walkabout. I need a coffee and head to the bottom tier to find one. Whilst in the queue the Aussies start batting and I watch the action on a monitor on the concourse. Having got my coffee I watch whilst stood behind the section where the Barmy Army are sitting. Warner is out for 9. He miscues a ball from Jimmy Anderson high in the air and is caught by Jonny Bairstow. The Barmies sing a rousing chorus of “oh Jimmy Jimmy! Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Anderson”. I join in!

Soon after Ben Stokes gets Shane Watson’s wicket. The Barmies start singing the “Hokey Stokey”. Despite practising this on Christmas Day I am still struggling to remember the words and actions to that one.

At lunch Australia are 38-2. A good start by England. I head out of the MCG to go for a walk. I reach a pub called the Cricketers Arms and head in for a beer. It’s an old pub with cricket memorabilia on the wall. A sign on the wall in the bar refers to the authentic pre World War 2 Art Deco German bar fittings. Having enjoyed a VB I head back to the MCG.

The Art Deco bar at the cricketers arms

The Art Deco bar at the cricketers arms

The cricketers arms

The cricketers arms

After lunch Rogers is hit on the helmet by a ball from Broad. There is blood and a delay whilst he regains composure. Clarke is bowled by Jimmy and is out for 10. “Oh Jimmy Jimmy!”.

Rogers gets his 50 just before tea. In the tea interval I watched some pantomime going on in the nets at the MCG. TV personality Piers Morgan had been very disparaging on Twitter about England’s batting performances on this series and in particular how they have performed against Mitchell Johnson. This had led to some banter and ultimately to Morgan facing an over from legendary former Aussie fast bowler Brett Lee. Quite a crowd had built up to watch this. Lee steamed in. Morgan failed to connect with the bat in any of the 6 deliveries. During the over he gets hit on the body, backs away from a ball and is bowled by one delivery. It was a good laugh.

Piers Morgan facing Brett Lee

Piers Morgan facing Brett Lee

After tea, Broad breaks a partnership of 48 between Smith and Rogers. A great catch in the slips from Bell. Smith is out for 19. 110-4.

Bresnan strikes. Rogers is out for 61. KP takes the catch in the deep. Bailey is out for a duck after a DRS review goes our way. Thanks snicko!

Haddin is in and yet again in this series is batting well. Oh no! Jimmy drops Johnson off Bresnan.

Monty thinks he has a wicket. Haddin is given out lbw by the umpire but survives on a DRS review.

Johnson is gone! Bresnan gets him in the end and Anderson this time takes the catch. The Aussies are 151-7 and are rocking!

The crowd for day 2 is announced at 78,346. Another fantastic attendance!

Harris is out for 6. A wicket for Broad. Siddle then falls. It’s close of play and the Aussies are 164-9.

This has been the best day of the series for England. They have bowled really well with all the bowlers playing their part. They have bowled a good line and length and exerted real pressure. It’s been just like how the Aussies have bowled all through these series. England are giving a rousing ovation from their fans as they leave the pitch.

The tv cameras view at the MCG.

The tv cameras view at the MCG.

After play I was invited to go for drinks by the tour company my tickets have been supplied through. Former England player Adam Hollioake, who I met in Brisbane, is working for the tour company out here. He would be at the drinks reception with the possibility of a current England player. When I turned up there were a number of the tour party in the bar listening to Adam and Michael Carberry. This gave me the opportunity for a photo….

Me with Adam Hollioake and Michael Carberry.

Me with Adam Hollioake and Michael Carberry.

After Adam and Michael left I headed off to the Barmy Army bar, PJ O’Briens, for a couple of drinks. There was an excellent live band playing. I then walked back to my hotel along the south bank before crossing over a bridge over the Yarra River.

Melbourne at night

Melbourne at night reflected in the Yarra.

4th Ashes Test at Melbourne – Day 1

The Boxing Day test match in Melbourne is a massive tradition. People in these parts are big sports fans and Boxing Day always attracts big crowds to the MCG.

After collecting my tickets I walked along the banks of the Yarra river towards the MCG. There were loads and loads of people heading in the same direction. At a bend in the river the MCG came into view. It looked huge! I was also impressed to see other sporting arenas in the area including Melbourne Park where the Australian open tennis is held. Heading over a railway bridge close to the MCG there was a clear view of the Rod Laver arena and outside courts. Melbourne is clearly a great place to come to watch live sport.

My first view of the MCG

My first view of the MCG

The crowds heading to the MCG

The crowds heading to the MCG

The Rod Laver arena viewed from the MCG. This is the main show court for the Aussie open tennis

The Rod Laver arena viewed from the MCG. This is the main show court for the Aussie open tennis

In entering the MCG I went looking for my seat. This was no easy task in a ground which can accommodate over 100,000. Having successfully found where I was sitting I looked around me. The MCG is a huge cavernous bowl and it’s jaw dropping when you first enter. I have been in huge stadia before such as Wembley and the Nou Camp but this feels on a different scale. I have a great view of the action from my seat which is close to behind the bowlers arm. I am quite high up in the 3rd of four tiers.

The MCG

The MCG

Another view of the MCG

A panoramic view of the MCG

My view of the action

My view of the action

The toss was held in very overcast conditions. Yet again it was won by Australia. The surprise was that Michael Clarke put England into bat. Now there is a saying in cricket that 9 times out of ten when you win the toss you should bat and the 10th time you think long and hard about bowling and then decide to bat. I can only think that Michael Clarke fancied having a go at the England batsmen under overcast skies. There were a couple of changes in the England line up with Jonny Bairstow replacing Matt Prior behind the stumps. Monty Panesar was in the team for the retired Graham Swann.

Day 1 was much like other days I have watched in this series. The Australia bowlers were excellent. They bowled a good line and length and made it difficult for the England batsmen to score. A number of batsmen got in, then got bogged down and then got out. Cook 27, Carberry 38 and Root 24 are examples. This was a big innings for Kevin Pietersen. He has endured much criticism on this tour for his peformances. He has massive talent but also a big propensity for getting himself out by playing daft shots. Whilst on 6 he hits a slog and is caught out on the boundary. However the substitute fielder, Coulter-Nile, can not prevent himself stepping over the rope. KP is reprieved.

Scoring is really slow. To be honest the cricket is a bit boring. There is talk on the radio commentary about this being potentially the lowest ever score in a  test match on Boxing Day at the MCG.

I had been set a challenge by Kathryn my next door neighbour back home. Her two brothers would be at MCG on Boxing Day. I had their seat numbers so it sounded quite a straightforward task to find them. They were on the 4th tier. It took me around 10 minutes to find the section they were sitting in. After a bit of an explanation between me and the steward she told the two brothers, Martin and Paul, that there was guy from the UK looking to meet them. Martin had emigrated to Melbourne 30 years ago and Paul is on holiday here with his wife Lynne. This was only the second time that they had spent time with each other in over 30 years. Martin last visited the UK back in 1996.

Me with Paul (left) and Martin (right)

Me with Paul (left) and Martin (right)

After tea, Bell falls for 27. England are 173-4. Pietersen is still in though. Soon after a drinks break, he is dropped by Bailey. Pietersen is not happy. There is a big delay whilst he goes down on his haunches. He wants another drink. The Aussies in the crowd give him dogs abuse. There is talk on the radio that he had swallowed a fly!

The crowd is huge. The official attendance is announced as 91,092. This is a record official attendance for a day of cricket. There are rumoured to have been bigger attendances in Calcutta but there are no official records. It was great to be part of a world record crowd.

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Before the end of the day Stokes is out for 14 and Bairstow falls for 10. At stumps England are 226-6. Pietersen is unbeaten at 67 and has been batting very patiently. It’s a good wicket though and so Australia will be happier with their days work than England.