It’s not every day you see two sportsmen tucking in to a friendly pub lunch together just hours before they’re due to battle it out for a prize pot worth $70,000 and a place in the final at one of their sport’s newest and most important ranking events. But that’s exactly what two professional English snooker players, Mark Davis and Barry ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins, did one rainy day in July just gone in Bendigo, Victoria, at the Australian Snooker Goldfields Open.
This is the second year running that the historic gold rush town, located just 150 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, has hosted the Goldfields Open. Last year it was Englishman Stuart Bingham who took the trophy, and this year?
There are few stretches as treacherous as the 630 nautical miles between Sydney and Hobart, Tasmania that are raced every year on Dec. 26. Gale-force storms known as “southerly busters” hurtle through the Bass Strait making the sea choppy and challenging. In 1998, six sailors lost their lives. Six years later, only 59 of the 116 starters completed their journey.
"The competition is very close and very competitive,” says Jessica Watson. “On top of the competition, the race is infamous for its challenging weather conditions. It’s going to be tough, and it could be dangerous, but we’re doing it because we want a challenge. We know what we’re taking on."
Coming as they do from an 18-year-old skippering the youngest-ever crew to compete in the 66-year-old race, those words might be mistaken for youthful hubris. Of course, Jessica Watson is no normal youth.
The future arrived at this year’s Australian wave kiting national championships
A fifty-strong crew of kitesurfers have blown in to Logan’s Beach in Warrnambool in Victoria’s south west for the Australian Kite Surfing Association (AKSA) Wave Kiting Nationals. They’re in the right spot: this is an unforgiving stretch of coast scattered with shipwrecks and revered for its swell. There’s just one essential ingredient missing: wind.
In fact, this windless, waveless calm is the state of play for nearly two of this competition’s three days. Them’s the breaks in this game ... But when the wind finally comes, it comes in full force, frogmarching towards the beach from the south west, blowing a bruised looking cloud bleeding sheets of blinding rain ahead of it. The kitesurfers know what’s behind the raincloud on the warpath: wind. And not just any old wind, but a cross-onshore sou ‘wester, coming at us at around 20 knots. They scramble to inflate their kites, lay out their boards, clamber into their wetsuits and harness up.
For the first time this year, the 12th annual World Solo 24 Hour MTB Championships travelled outside North America. It ripped up the track at Mt Stromlo, Canberra from 8th-10th October 2010, and Australia’s elite female 24hr champion, thirty-seven year old Jess Douglas was there. And by the end of the race Douglas was more than just there; she took out $5,000 in prize money and the title of World Solo Women's Elite 24HR MTB Champion 2010.
Ruyad and Fasile are brothers, eleven and twelve years old. When I ask where they’re from I can tell it’s a question they get all the time; they probably know I’m going to ask it before I do. They’re ready. Our family is from Ethiopia, but we were born in Australia, Fasile says all matter of fact. They are smiling, happy, cheeky boys. They shout things at me from the field, playing up for my camera. Hey lady, watch this!
They’ve never been to the country their parents call home. The Collingwood Housing Estate in inner-eastern Melbourne, this is home. Three industrial era high-rises standing sentinel at either end of a large city block, an eight-laned river of traffic flowing up and down Hoddle Street on one side; Wellington Street reining it in on the other.
Each of the high-rises is twenty stories high, and each story holds ten flats: that’s 200 flats per building. Then there are the 350 or so walk-up flats packed into the land in-between, each home to between one and eight people: all up, the estate is home to around 3,000 residents. Most are of an ethnicity other than Anglo-Celtic, many are of refugee or asylum speaker origin. Vietnamese, Turkish, Chinese, Ethiopian, Somalian, Sudanese, Irani, Koorie.
It’s a late November afternoon in Melbourne, and polo season is in full swing. The air is alive with the thwack of mallet on mallet and the baying of an excited crowd. Take him down! C’mon, be aggressive! I hope you’re gonna clean that up! Kill! Show us your - you get the picture.
Clearly these are not your average polo fanciers. But then, this is not your average polo match; there’s not a safari suit, a picnic hamper or a blade of grass in sight, let alone an actual horse. This is day two of the inaugural Australian Hardcourt Bicycle Polo Championships, the fastest growing urban bike sport around.
It’s an overcast Queen’s Birthday weekend in Victoria, and I’m at an event that would tickle her majesty’s equine fancy - the Melbourne Three Day Event (M3DE) a top notch nag’s get together on the Australian equestrian calendar.
It’s Day Two, Cross Country, and horses and riders of all skill levels, from pony club hopefuls to bonafide Olympians, are traversing the custom designed and built course; 5.8km of 26 jumps multi-element jumps. An interested crowd of fresh faced, well to do country types looks on; men in stockmen’s coats and hats, women in jeans and designer gumboots, and jodhpur-clad, leather-booted teenage girls a plenty.
I’m just grateful I’m on the other side of the fence. A horse and rider round the corner and gallop full tilt down the straight, heading for a 1.2m high jump made from logs of wood stacked one on top of the other, chopping up the grass and making the dirt fly. They seem as one; the rider leaning into the horse, using weight and voice, perhaps a subtle pull on the reins, to communicate speed and direction, pace and reach.
Darren Ma is feeling a bit nervous. This seems an understatement from a man who is tied up like a sheet bend knot - his torso between his legs, his shoulders hooked behind his knees, and his head dangerously close to his backside. On the other side of the room, Ma’s main rival Dave Reid is being manipulated. One foot planted firmly on the ground, the other slices through the air and hovers impossibly above head height. His head, just for the record, is facing in the wrong direction, turning away from his body in a spine crunching twist.
“Nice legs Dave,” calls 44 year-old Ma from firefly, the term for the yoga pose he is practicing. Reid grins and throws a relaxed comment back. Elsewhere in the room, 5 yogis (male practitioners of yoga) and 22 yoginis (female practitioners of yoga) stretch and flex, putting themselves through their paces in preparation for three crucial minutes on stage in competition for the ultimate prize – not enlightenment, but the title of Australian Men's or Women's Bikram Yoga Champion.
For most of us, pinball is a machine tucked away in the corner down at the local, a whiz-bang-pop reminder of a youth spent in gaming arcades. For others, it’s a home-based hobby of machine collecting, maintenance and loving restoration.
American based organising body the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) has a database of 960+ players from all over – the United States and United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Brazil, to name a few - who compete at one or more of 70+ annual tournaments for the prestigious title of World's Greatest Pinball Player. Current IFPA President (and world no.6) Josh Sharpe says that on any given weekend, there is usually at least one tournament being held somewhere in the world where people can compete.
The IFPA oversees the World Pinball Player Rankings (WPPR), which issues monthly rankings based on the results of the previous month’s tournaments, and at year’s end determines who will be crowned the year’s reigning pinball king – or queen – although most of the pinball hardcore are men, women are welcome to compete.