BLOG 1 : April 1, 2014
ARRIVAL DOWN UNDER
Australians hate Americans. As soon as we landed at the Sydney airport we were promptly profiled, harassed, and strip-searched. All of our illegal contraband was confiscated and they threw us into a grimy cell for ten days without a phone call. If you’re reading this mom send help now. I’m not going to describe to you how Harry and I managed to bribe the prison guard into letting us use his iPad to type this.
We look forward to sharing this blog with our beloved friends and family as well as future Gridiron Victoria players, managers, and coaches. We have been blessed with the opportunity to join the Monash Warriors Gridiron Club based in Melbourne, Australia. This blog will chronicle our experiences and adventures and the new friends we meet as we join the Monash family Down Under!
Truthfully, Harry and I flew into Sydney as gracefully as two large strapping young Americans can. Flying from RDU to LAX with a two-hour layover before departing for Australia, we managed to commandeer an exit row seating arrangement with Qantas for a few extra bucks. Accordingly, Harry and I managed to sleep for most of the flight despite a crying baby and a quick detour towards Malaysia to help in the recovery efforts for Flight 370. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and families of those still not found.
We arrived in Sydney early Friday morning on the 21st of March. A dear friend of ours from Broughton High School, Caroline Plott, lives and works in Sydney, and she graciously offered to host us for the weekend. Her quaint apartment above a flower shop on Bondi Road was an ideal location for assimilating quickly into the Aussie lifestyle. Which, we have quickly discovered, is extremely laid back and involves shortening every possible word describing anything, such as Sandwich = Toastie, Barbeque = Barbie, Bike = Fixie, Electricians = Sparkies, Tradesmen or General Laborers = Tradies, Australia = Oz, French Fries = Chips, Australian Football = Footy, Televisions = teles, American Football = Gridiron, and most importantly, Rednecks who tend to not wear shoes anywhere, speaking with a thick Australian accent = Bogans. I reckon some Southerners from the United States could be compared with Bogans in some sense. Cary showed us around Bondi and escorted us to the MLB exhibition between the Australian National Baseball Team and the Arizona Diamondbacks, which preceded the opening series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. It just so happens that we picked the same weekend to arrive so it was perfect timing. The converted Footy Stadium was packed, and we enjoyed a cold brew with Cary and one of her two roommates, a pretty little Aussie named Bridget. The American 3-Foot Hot Dog was a popular commodity of course, but a little pricey for us at $40 AUD a pop. Keep in mind that the cost of living in Australia is significantly higher than the States, but with a higher minimum wage and socialized healthcare.
Saturday was spent frolicking on Sydney’s famed Bondi Beach. Even as the seasons change from summer to fall in Australia, opposite the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures still stay in the 70s-80s with a warm breeze. Sunscreen is a necessity due to the lack of a thick Ozone Layer. I managed to get my feet roasted while Harry, who covered himself in Zinc, got his bronze Bondi rescue on. The water was refreshing and we hiked above the beach on the Bondi to Bronte Cliff walk, which offered stunning views of the little beaches such as Bondi nestled in the coastline. We managed to meet up with a few future teammates on the Warriors, Wayne, Sam, and their lovely families. Wayne has been playing on the team for over 17 years now, and Sam is a defensive lineman and the Defensive Coordinator for the Barbarians, part of the Monash Club and a former Division II team now playing in Division I along with the Warriors. Australia is split into several States according to their locations. Melbourne is within the state of Victoria. Gridiron Victoria is the governing body for the 10 American Football Clubs there that compete league-wide. We had a nice lunch at the Stuffed Beaver, a surfer beach bar on Bondi Road serving American classics like burgers, hot dogs, and of course chips, an Aussie favorite. That night we hit the dance floor hard at King’s Cross, a metropolitan area of Sydney popular with the young crowd. Harry busted a move, stealing the hearts of the Aussie girls watching in amazement while I orchestrated a classic dance battle in the middle of the 3rd floor of the club. We got to see the iconic Coca-Cola sign and even have a late night Kebab, probably one of the most dangerously delicious food items worldwide. Sunday we relaxed with the roomies and visited the Sydney Harbour, catching our first Aborigine playing his didgeridoo for the masses and stopping at the Opera House Bar for a drink whilst enjoying the view. The Sydney Opera House is spectacular and across the bay from the massive Sydney Harbour Bridge. We strolled around the area stopping for pictures and to admire the scenery before heading back to the apartment and procuring flights to Melbourne with Sam, his wife, and their baby due in July, so they could drive us to our host home. We left midday to journey to the domestic airport where Harry decided to bring his entire wardrobe from America, worried about no Giant sized clothes in Oz. Of course he exceeded the weight limit for carry-on and was forced to check his third bag, courtesy of the Bank of Owen due to Jetstar’s obnoxious policy of not taking American Dollars. After dodging irate elderly women in the security line and incompetent workers, we barely made it to the flight after I was chosen, of course, to be taken to the side and wanded. Apparently I’m the “dodgey type of fellow,” Aussie slang for suspicious and untrustworthy. Unbeknownst to us there was a massive thunderstorm preventing all flights from taking off so we were delayed for five hours prior to takeoff and upon landing in Melbourne before we could get off and get our luggage, including Harry’s $150 extra checked Samsonite duffel bag. We finally left the airport and thankfully Sam drove us to Coach Maggio’s house in Mount Eliza, a suburb of Melbourne near the Mornington Peninsula.
We crashed hard at the Maggio’s, but not before getting a chance to meet our Coach and resident superstar, Ralph “I love Curry” Maggio and his beautiful wife, Tina, who had Coronas and Burgers on deck waiting for us, bless her soul. Our flight delays “greatly inconvenienced” their three young children, RJ, Huddy, and Lucy, who were excited to meet us and forced unwillingly to go to bed prior to our arrival. Tuesday we recovered from our Jetlag and got to meet the kids after school, where we held an impromptu game of wiffle ball in the driveway before dinner. The Maggios have a lovely home atop Mount Eliza, a kid’s paradise with a tree house, trampoline, hot tub, and three resident rabbits. Harry and I have our own guest rooms on the first floor of the house, so we unpacked and started getting our football gear in order before our first practice Wednesday evening. We picked up some construction work for one of Ralph’s neighbors who owns a contracting company digging foundation holes all day Wednesday, which was bloody awful due to the heat and physical nature of the job combined with the jetlag and concrete ground we were tasked to dig into. Off we headed to practice after a quick shower where we got to meet up with all the guys and get back to what we know best: Gridiron. The Monash Warriors consist of over 100 guys with varying levels of experience in American Football. Some are former professional basketball players; others played arena and Canadian league football, while still others are converted Pro Footy players who gave Gridiron a go. One new acquisition, Kevin Reed, is another American football player who played at Southern Illinois before making the San Francisco 49ers preseason camp, playing in British Columbia, then joining our sister team in Perth (Western Australia) last season before heading here. He’s a stud linebacker who will anchor a defense that has already been top in the league for many years. Practice went by way too fast, but it’s interesting to see the different levels of play and how some guys play simply for the love of the game, others for continued advancement of their playing careers, or as a supplement for the Australian National Gridiron Team. The Warriors have won the Vic Bowl, or the Gridiron Victoria Championship, two years running now and are attempting the three-peat. From the looks of it, we have the capability to achieve that goal, with a lot of very talented players and a soft-spoken head coach with a lot of experience that everyone respects and enjoys playing for.
Thursday, thanks to Ralph we linked up with a moving company to assist with the relocation of a woman’s home in Mornington that opened to Port Phillip Bay. It was a beautiful older home, with a lot of materials to haul into the new residence. There we met Mick, AKA the man with the biggest hands Down Under who fancied Harry, calling him “Tiny” and making the workday go by quickly with his witty quips. Friday Ralph helped us get set up with Sim Cards for phones so we could contact our Aussie teammates and new associates, along with bank accounts and TFNs (Tax File Numbers). Friday night we chilled at Sam’s house just down the road, after getting lost only a few times with the Tom Tom (GPS). He took us to his dad’s old Fish ‘N Chips restaurant, which was delectable, then we watched a local Footy game on the tele and started to learn the ridiculous concept of Cricket. Saturday was Huddy’s birthday, so we were “forced” to enjoy the Go-Kart track at Le Mans with 7 of his little buddies. Surprisingly, Harry and I weren’t kicked off the track, but we did manage to put each other in the wall a few times, compliments of our extensive Martinsville Speedway experience with teammates and coaches at our Alma Mater Averett University slangin’ Boss Dogs all the way. HONOR DALE! 3!
Sunday morning we had our next practice, which was much improved with Harry and I starting to get comfortable with the playbook and teammates. However, it was not without adventure of course, as the clutch burnt out of the car Ralph is letting us borrow on the way home from the field in Clayton. I had just learned how to drive manual Wednesday night after practice, thanks to extensive coaching from Ralphie, and I was starting to get the hang of it. Driving on the left side of the road took some getting used to, along with the wheel being on the left side of the car. Harry and I stopped for our soon-to-be-traditional-post-Sunday-practice Kebab in Frankston, but when we got back in and tooled up the hill on the Nepean Highway, an acrid smell filled our nostrils and the clutch stopped engaging. The clutch was done, son. Done and dusted. Coach thankfully came and towed us back to the house, where we had our first traditional Aussie Barbie with Tina’s parents and the kiddies. The Maggios have a beautiful porch in the backyard where we ate and talked politics, of course, amongst other topics. We learned that Anzac day is coming up soon, a very important holiday for the Aussies, commemorating the soldiers in World War II who bravely gave their lives at Gallipoli. Harry and I both have family members who have served in the military or are currently doing so, our grandfathers and my brother, respectively, so we definitely want to go to the ceremonies on Anzac Day with the Maggio family. Tina’s mother had many hilarious stories to tell us of how the “Yankees” were beloved Down Under during the Second World War and invited us to go out on her husband JJ’s boat the next morning. The next morning we set off bright and early, and we made it out into Port Phillip Bay for a little while, which was beautiful; before the choppy waves forced us back in. Not to be stopped, JJ and Bridget showed us all around the Mornington Peninsula for most of the day, stopping at numerous surf beaches along the Nepean Way including Gunnamatta and Fort Nepean, which still guards Port Phillip Bay to this day. We had a wonderful time with them before heading back to the house to help the kids with their reading and homework after school. March Madness has been going on back in the States right now, so Harry and I have been trying to keep up with the games online and with the help of some software that allows us to webcast the games. The only problem is the 15-hour time difference, so some games at night back in the States are on early in the morning here. I still have one team from my bracket still in the tourney, Florida, which I picked to win it all, so my mother will be glad to know I might not lose all the money I gambled with.
Today we’re working on trying to get the car back in fighting shape before practice tomorrow and getting our RSA’s so we can responsibly serve alcohol if we were to get a side job working at a bar, restaurant, or comedy club. Harry has already interviewed at a Bottle Shop right down the road, so once we take the four-hour class he’ll be good to go. Please check out our pictures and we will be back next week! Cheers!
Owen & Harry
BLOG 2 : April 18, 2014
Two and a half weeks later and we’re back! We apologize for the delay in updating the blog, but we’ve been rather busy continuing to get assimilated into the Australian culture and overall lifestyle. Disclaimer’s note: someone who must not be named has pointed out previous mistakes in our first blog: Anzac Day, coming up the weekend after Easter, is actually commemorating the services of the Australian and New Zealand military forces in BOTH World War I AND II, respectively. Cheers.
To pick up where we left off, the whole RSA endeavour, which is a class required of anyone in Australia who wants to work at a bar, restaurant, or liquor store, resulted in a little bit of an adventure. The nearest class was offered at the Caulfield campus of Monash University, or Uni (another Aussie abbreviation), which was “just a short drive down the road,” translated in Oz lingo to be anywhere from five minutes to an hour and a half away. We found the pub which was hosting the class, quite ironically, but they were only offering the RSG at that time, which is of course, a class on gambling procedures not alcohol service. We had been bamboozled! We spoke to management and rescheduled for a few days later. Then, due to our illustrious background in riverboat gambling compliments of our male relatives Harry and I did what any respectable American would do in this situation: head to the nearest Pokie (Australian Gambling Restaurant Bar all in one). There we grabbed a few pints, had some fish n’ chips, caught up on the NCAA tournament, and hit the slot machines. Could you blame us?
Wednesday we had practice again, and could really see some improvement in the team as a whole. It’s apparent why the Club has had so much success in the past, which experienced captains and coaches helping bring the new guys along quickly. Keep in mind that some of these guys have never played before, while others have played at high levels internationally or at premiere programs around the world. The Warriors and the Barbarians will both compete at high levels this year, and head coach Ralph Maggio has been clear in his desire for both teams to meet in the Vic Bowl, an unprecedented feat for Gridiron Victoria. Competition will be tough this year, however, with many teams in the league bringing in imports as well and working hard in the preseason to dethrone the champions. Harry and I are here to make sure that does not happen.
Thursday we picked up another landscaping job in Beaumaris, off the Nepean Highway on the edge of Port Phillip Bay. Last week we told you how we got to explore the Mornington Peninsula, including Sorrento Back Beach, Port Nepean, and Gunnamatta, but this trip was in the opposite direction up towards the inner city of Melbourne. Beautiful views of the bay greeted us as we helped a renovation project for a couple from Houston’s new bayside villa. During our lunch break we were treated to some delicious freshly baked muffins with local fruit inside that were chronic. The workday went by fast and we headed back to Mount Eliza to spend some time with the Maggio children and relax with our mind on our money and our money on our mind.
Friday Coach Ralph “MacGyver” Maggio, being resourceful as he always is, managed to acquire a larger vehicle for Princess Harry who is physically unable to fit/drive the Kia due to his “tree trunk legs.” He took the day off, so we helped him clean the car out, program the troublesome Frenchie stereo system, and play Wiffle ball with the kids when they got home from school. Then we headed out to meet up with two of the guys on the team, Andy and Whitey, as he is affectionately called, to catch Captain America at the cinemas. Of course, we saw an American movie in Australia. Cheers.
Saturday I got to explore a little bit of Mount Eliza on a bike ride. It’s situated on top of a huge hill right down the road from Frankston. Beautiful area, full of small coffee shops, restaurants, and cafes, Mount Eliza has little beach access points right down the hill and has a real small town feel to it. The Maggio’s house sits atop of the biggest hills, surrounded by other families with small children that are always playing with each other. We relaxed that afternoon before an extremely competitive game of Balderdash ended up with Harry cheating his way to victory.
Sunday practice went well again, with guys flying around making plays. We’re starting to put Special Teams in, so the team is having a lot of fun with that. Ralph draws up the schemes that the captains have discussed over the week and diagrammed, with Harry and I offering a few suggestions. We even managed to install a few trick plays, one of our specialties back at Averett University. Always fun to surprise the defense on 4th Down with a halfback pass or direct snap up the middle. At the end of practice the always classic Oklahoma drill resulted in a lot of bodies smashing together, as the offense and defense went at it in tackling drills. I think Harry and Sam, one of the defensive linemen and coaches for the Barbs, almost registered on the Richter scale when they collided with each other on the final play.
Monday and Tuesday we worked again, this time right down the road at the contractor’s house helping assemble his back porch, level driveway for cementing, and digging a walkway for the front porch to connect to garage. Harry rather enjoyed using power tools, which I saw as dangerous for both himself and anyone in the vicinity, but we escaped unscathed and then had another solid practice on a rainy Wednesday night. Situations like this will happen to us during the season, so it was good for the guys to get some practice in wet conditions where the ground is treacherous. We only have a few more weeks before the first game of the season, and our next practice on Sunday will be our Black N’ White Scrimmage, where the Warriors Offense and Barbarians Defense will play against the Warriors Defense and the Barbarians Offense. It will be a good judging stick with which to measure where we need to focus our last few weeks’ coaching efforts most on.
Thursday was another rainy day, so we finished up our last job at Daz’s house, before getting a little down time to manage all our banking, diversify our portfolios, that kind of stuff. We’ve found a few gyms in the area, and most are willing to give us a few trial runs before we join. Harry and I can’t understand the concept of squash however, and its similarities to racquetball with a ball that won’t bounce far and no back wall. Then again, it took Sam about an hour to explain Cricket to us and I still don’t understand how a game can take three days or however long some last. I digress
Friday Ralph had off work so we hit the gym then headed with the kids over the Bayside Rock, an indoor rock climbing and bouldering facility, so we could “supervise” them just like at the go kart track. This resulted in Ralph, Harry, and I belaying each other all up and down the walls at differing levels of difficulty and height. Harry was a little cautious at first, but soon got the hang of it and was like a mountain goat in no time, although he had a bit of a scare when the rope was slack and he dropped a few meters before I caught him. What are friends for? We had a blast scaling those walls, and Lucy, Huddy, and RJ did a right proper job as well. Ralph gave us a little history lesson of his time in Colorado when he bouldered regularly, and told us about how he brought Ben and Matt to the same place last year and how much they enjoyed it. That night I headed off to pick up a shift at the Comedy Lounge in the city with another American teammate, Kevin, who plays linebacker and is originally from California. One of our offensive linemen, Grantlee, manages the Comedy Lounge and hooked us up with some temp work when we need it. April is the International Comedy Festival in Melbourne, so some big time comedians are coming and the place was packed for hours. Work went by quickly though, and the comedians were hilarious to catch while coming back and forth from the kitchen.
Saturday I picked up another shift at the Comedy Lounge, and Harry and I went out downtown with Kevin and Grantlee after work was over. We were near Flinder’s Street, one of the biggest metro stops in the heart of the city, near the Footy and Rugby stadiums and full of shops, bars, clubs, and restaurants. Grantlee took us to The Hi-Fi, which was a bar/club that was partnering with the Lounge for the Comedy Festival and let all of us upstairs in the VIP section. It must have been 80’s night, because the DJ was rockin’ a retro look that included a lot of chest hair surrounded by a blazer to go with his flowing locks of curly hair. We boogied the night away and finally headed out in the early morning to crash at Joel’s house near practice the next morning. Probably not the smartest idea to go out so late prior to our first big scrimmage, but we managed to make it to the field on time in the morning.
The Black N’ White Scrimmage went well, and we managed to get some good film of the action to review later. Both sides went back and forth, with the Barbs getting on the scoreboard first, taking a lead into halftime with their Offense clicking and the Warriors Defense playing well. In the second half, the Warriors Offense starting getting going and just ran out of time in the 4th Quarter after launching two drives that resulted in touchdowns and successful two-point conversions that drew the score to within two points, unofficially. However, the referees that were there kept a tight grip on the clock and the Warriors O ran out of time driving down the field to try and take the lead with a minute left. A lot of guys got a lot of reps at different positions, so coaches could evaluate them and decide where they stood on the depth chart. We have a lot of talent at a lot of different positions, so a lot of difficult decisions will have to be made soon as to which players will play for the Warriors or the Barbs.
Monday night Grantlee took Harry and I to our first rugby game at the AAMI Park in Melbourne, where the Melbourne Storm play in the National Rugby League, along with the Melbourne Victory Football Club (Soccer). The Storm had a thrilling comeback win in stoppage time, so we had a great time at our first rugby experience, which involved a lot more strategy than we anticipated and some great athletes. It’s very interesting for us to see how Australia follows Footy, Rugby, Cricket, and even Soccer so passionately like we do back in the States for Football, Basketball, and Baseball.
Tuesday I picked up another shift at work, which I think Harry is allergic to, then avoided all social media so the new episode of Game of Thrones wasn’t spoiled. Wednesday we had our next practice where we installed a few new wrinkles into the offense and analyzed film from the scrimmage so the guys could see what they could work on to improve. A lot of the mistakes made were mental, where guys weren’t lined up correctly or didn’t know what their assignment was, so it is a good thing to get these errors out of the way before the season starts so we can be running on all cylinders come game day May 3rd.
Thursday Sean, another teammate, tried to get me a job interview in Frankston, which would be much closer of a commute than the CBD and the Comedy Lounge, but it fell through until Saturday when the manager would be there. We tooled around the Bayside Shopping Center for a little while, much like a mall back in the States, before I headed back home to roust Harry for a workout. On the way back I drove through Canadian Bay Road, right down from Mount Eliza Village, and found another beach access point that was a little secluded. It would be a great spot to kayak or paddleboard, which Ralph and Tina have and have graciously given permission for us to use. The weather, although cooling a bit, is still warm and the temperature of the water bearable, so that’s definitely a trip we will soon make. Again, the weather in Australia is opposite that of the Northern Hemisphere, so as it heats up in North Carolina it will cool down in Victoria, at least a little bit. They tell us we will never see snow here, unless we head up to the mountains, which we are perfectly content with as we just barely survived the Snowpocalypse in Raleigh.
Today is Good Friday, and most businesses are closed. However, I picked up another shift at the Comedy Lounge’s “Funny Friday” as taskmaster Grantlee affectionately refers to it as, so I’ll hit the gym in the afternoon then take the metro in to work. Harry is headed to Sam’s to try and pilfer all his money on Poker Night. Living the dream. I’m expecting a call from him around midnight trying to borrow more money. Get stuffed.
Shout out to Marty for hooking us up with the newest Game of Thrones Episode.
See y’all next time!
Owen & Harry
Blog 3: June 1st, 2014
April Showers Bring Vegemite Power
G’day folks! Sorry again for the long gap between blogs, Harold and I have been slacking lately. I personally blame it on the laid back Aussie attitude that is quite contagious and encourages an enjoyment of the finer things in life, such as a nice pack of Chewy Caramel Tim Tams (chocolate wafers that are delectable), taking Mondays and/or Fridays off from work, and having mandatory holidays every other week for important events such as the Queen’s Birthday which may or may not be in the same month as the holiday itself.
Anyhow, the Monash Warriors Gridiron Club has officially kicked off its 2014 season, seeking to defend its back to back Vic Bowl Championships. After a solid Black N’ White Scrimmage over the Easter Weekend, we geared up for our opening weekend, featuring a blockbuster championship rematch between the Monash Warriors and the Geelong Buccaneers, perennial runner-ups who always field a strong team that has lost to the Warriors in the past few Vic Bowls. LB Alex Franklin got the scoring started off with a sensational interception return for a touchdown, and after that the points started pouring in. It was a titanic clash, starting off the season with a bang, with big plays in the first half from both sides resulting in a 22-16 halftime lead for the Bucs. Rainy and cold conditions in the second half spelled disaster for the Warriors unfortunately, as any passing game was nullified and the bruising Bucs started gaining chunks of yardage on the ground. Harry made an appearance on the Defensive Line to help shore up the middle, but it was too little and too late, as the Bucs took the opening game 49-22. I was unfortunately on injured reserve with a strained back from squatting a million kilograms earlier in the week in the gym (or something like that, who uses kilograms instead of pounds really, I mean c’mon Oz). Watching from the sideline was tough, but there were definitely a lot of positives to take from the game and lessons to be learned from analyzing the film. The Bucs, as always, will be a tough challenge for the Warriors this year more than ever, and it is my understanding from other players and coaches that in previous years the Bucs have beaten the Warriors in the season opener in Geelong only to lose in the Vic Bowl at the end of the year. We’ll keep that in mind, because right now they are definitely the team to beat in Gridiron Victoria.
The weekend was not without some success though, as the Monash Barbarians opened their first season in Division I off with a rousing 30-14 win against the Northern Raiders! RB James Pho had a solid day on the ground, pounding out a few touchdowns, and WR Travis Di Niese took a kickoff back for a touchdown to start the second half impressively. QB Andrew “Sunshine” Nixon was cool, calm, and collected, distributing the ball effectively to Travy for another touchdown and calling his own number for yet another score. The Barbs definitely showed in the first game that they aim to be competitive in Division I this year.
Sub-blog: Katherine Ann Davis Comes to Town
The real reason to celebrate over the weekend had nothing to do with football, but instead the arrival of my beautiful girlfriend Katie all the way from the Old North State. She flew in early Friday morning, prior to the opening weekend, so I scooped her from the airport and drove her through the city back to Ralph’s estate in Mount Eliza. We spent Friday night hanging out with the kiddies, who quickly fancied Katie, before having an early start to drive the hour or so to Geelong for the morning game. After the disappointing loss, Katie and I headed to Cranbourne to stay with Sam and Misty, aka Sabbas Karagiozoglou (yes it’s possible to have that many syllables in a surname), aka the nicest Greek bloke who married way out of his league. Sam and Misty have quickly become some of our favorite new friends in Oz, with their hospitality reminding us of the good ole South back home. Even though their puppy Denver ate my favorite souvenir t-shirt (you still owe me Sam) when I hung it outside to dry on the laundry line, they quickly made Katie feel right at home and gave us some great advice on places to visit and things to do in the Melbourne area. We set off for Phillip Island Monday morning, a wonderful little vacation spot where I had booked a few night’s accommodations at a romantic oceanfront hotel. After arriving and grabbing some grub, we explored the area and headed off to one of the most popular tourist attractions: The Penguin Parade. At sundown every night on the island, groups of little teeny penguins come ashore to waddle up the steep beach cliffs and find their nests for the night. The Penguin Parade Nature Park had viewing areas right above the beaches where the little suckers swam on in thru the surf and wiggled and squirmed up some pretty hefty hills to their little hidey holes. Of course, the swarms of children and Asian tourists snapping pictures after being told multiple times by the Park Rangers not to distracted the employees long enough for me to get some solid action photos of my new penguin mates. Katie wouldn’t stop smiling and saying “Penguin!” so after a few more minutes I dragged her up to the Conservation Center before we got trampled. The skies opened and rain poured down on us so we rushed back to the car and found some dinner at an authentic Thai restaurant right down the street from the hotel. The next morning, from the suggestions of Sam, Misty, and Joel, another great bloke whose family I might be moving in with soon, we drove to the Maru Koala Animal Park, just a few miles off the island back from whence we came. It was totally worth the 15 minute drive however, and the easiest way for me to describe it to my friends and family back home is a redneck zoo complete with a putt-putt course, café, and interactive exhibits you can actually walk through. I repeat, a redneck zoo where you actually can get a burger, play putt-putt, and walk into the holding pens with the animals to feed them. Far-out right? It was the coolest place I’ve ever been to. Katie and I got to hand-feed emus, pet kangaroos and take pictures with them, play with a koala bear who was doped up on Eucalyptus leaves (I don’t care what they say about low-nutrition diets, those drop bears are drugged), shake our rumps at Wombats, hop around with Wallabies, make crazy noises at Kookaburras, and yell “A dingo ate my babyyyy” at, well, you get the gist. They actually served up a pretty juicy burger in the café, although I wasn’t used to “all the way” getting me a slice of pineapple and beetroot, but hey, it was delicious. We snagged some souvenirs from the gift shop, including multiple danger kangaroo crossing street signs, and tooled back over the bridge onto Phillip Island, stopping at a few surf beaches to admire the views. After having a relaxing evening at the pub attached to the hotel, we got up again early the next morning to check out the Nobbies, a massive boardwalk and conservation centre at the other end of the island providing scenic views of the cliffs, blowhole, and Seal Island just offshore, where you could peer through the Seal Cam to see “Australia’s largest colony of fur seals” playing in the water. We snapped some more photographs and walked up and down the boardwalk before driving off the beaten path and doing a little exploration for aquatic life down a little track that opened to a tiny bay around the corner. Rocks scattered around the ocean’s edge let us creep out a little into the wave pools before the tide coming in forced us back to shore. We found some more dirt roads to peruse and some wild wallabies hopping around through the brush as the sun set over the horizon. Wednesday morning I took the polar plunge into the Pacific Ocean to get my blood pumping, and lasted about 3.5 seconds in the water before running back to the shower. We checked out the last bits of the island we hadn’t gone to yet, which included Woolamai Beach, where crazy people were surfing, the racetrack on the island where some massive spectacles are apparently held every year, some aboriginal caves on the beach which were used for shelter and storage after being hollowed out by the rising and the ebbing of the tides, and the ridiculous amount of humongous jellyfish that were washed ashore. Maybe all those videos and lists of dangerous creatures in Australia that my American friends keep sending me from back home actually contain some validity.
Katie and I wrapped up our Phillip Island adventure the next morning, heading back to Melbourne (which is pronounced Mel-bun here, instead of how it is spelled, but hey whatever Aussies), and Sammy’s overflowing Greek hospitality. Misty is expecting a wonderful baby in a few months, and we couldn’t be more excited for them. We spent the evening relaxing with them before catching up on some sleep. Friday we jetted back to the city to the Fitzsimmons residence, aka the “house of hope,” where you can always find a loving family eager to host, no matter the hour or circumstance. I was rostered behind the bar at the Comic’s Lounge that night, so I brought my missus with me so she could browse the shops on Victoria & Kings Street while I set up the bar “Risky Business” style. All me Warrior mates and their significant others came in with her to check out the packed show, then we went out on the town to our favorite spot: The Carlton. Imagine me telling you that an old hotel turned restaurant and nightclub where inmates released from correctional facilities immediately frequented upon release in order to secure a bed, hot plate of food, and potential female company would be a popular destination amongst Melbournians. What do ya reckon? Yep…The Carlton is a sweet spot for hipsters, young professionals, and the like, but better not walk up too dressy or you’ll get turned back by Thor, the man with the most luscious hair in Melbourne who just so happens to be our starting center AND the nicest bloke ever. The Carlton Club has multiple levels, complete with stuffed ostriches, zebras, and all over types of animals, palm trees, pumping beats, and an incredible rooftop view over the city. We danced the night away before the stereotypical late night kebab stop on the way back…those suckers are deadly with some sweet chili sauce and chips (fries) in the middle. Saturday morning the Barbarians faced a tall task against the Bucs, putting up a valiant effort but being simply overmatched. The afternoon was the Warriors next game against the Berwick Miners, which was handedly won 30-0 on the back of Luke Jackson cutting holes through the defense like Swiss cheese behind Harry and the rest of the O-Line’s pulverizing blocks, a staunch defense, and QB Dom Dearman managing the offense. I was still on the IR, with the back feeling much better but still not 100%, so unfortunately I had to cheer on from the sidelines. The boys were well off without me, so they carried on through the rainy weather for the Club’s first win of the season by the defending champs. It was about time we caught up to the Barbs’ record! Saturday night we were back to Sam’s for more visiting, before heading to the Queen Victoria Market on Sunday morning/arvo (afternoon). There we saw the world’s greatest collection of souvenirs, clothes, handbags, leather, fake jerseys, boomerangs, didgeridoos, keepsakes, talismans, artifacts, and so on and so forth. We even found an Asian BBQ Chicken-on-a-stick cart that was probably serving us cat meat, but man was it good. I blended in after my Aussie flag bucket hat purchase, and Harry almost came away some legit Crocodile Dundee headwear. We all snagged some gifts for our friends and family back home, got yelled at by the fruit and veg guys advertising their produce, and danced a jig or two in front of the blokes playing folk music. Joel was pretending to not be a part of our group, but he was kind enough to take us along and then bring us down the Yarra River Walk to Southbank where we toured the massive Crown Casino complex (without gambling our clothes away) and made our way to the Eureka Skydeck. This skyscraper offers the highest public viewpoint in the Southern Hemisphere, with magical views of the city’s CBD, sports arenas, Port Phillip Bay, the Docklands, and even Tasmania if you have a high-powered telescope. Ok, I’m kidding about the last part, but it was ridiculous view and the sun was setting as we made it to the top so it was rather impressive, to say the least. We paid a little extra to get out on the edge of the Skydeck where the floor vanishes below you and you get to peer 300 meters straight down the building to the ground far, far below. We snagged a few last pictures as the sun was going down and the impressive skyline nightscape was lighting up before heading back. Quite the weekend, but we were lucky enough to get rung by Grantlee on Monday with some tickets with my barmate Tom to the Monday Night Footy at Etihad Stadium. St. Kilda was playing Carlton, two teams from different areas in Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, so it was a competitive match and fun to watch. Australian Football and American Football have a few similarities, but essentially one is played without pads or helmets at a constant pace with a focus on the ball being “hand-balled” amongst teammates to try and kick through different posts at opposite ends of the field and the other, as most of you know, running or catching the ball and advancing it into the endzone for a touchdown. I’ll get into the logistics later, safe it to say that footy is for quick, skinny, very fit or tall blokes whilst football can involve big boys, small guys, and everything in between. But I digress. Tuesday we headed back to Ralphs for Katie’s last night in Oz, where I sprung the mother of all romantic surprise: the Peninsula Hot Springs. Critically acclaimed and recommended by my teammates for a humdinger of a hot date, this massive complex is basically at the edge of the peninsula with natural thermal mineral water flowing up to the surface and the beautiful starry sky visible at night due to its distance from the city. I booked us a private pool, and we journeyed through the complex with its feng shui vibes in our fluffy robes to enjoy a little private bath under the great blue yonder. Rested and relaxed, we cruised back to Mount Eliza before an early trip to the airport the next morning forced me to bid my sheila a teary goodbye. Time had flown by, but off she went back to her wonderful family and the US of A. I stayed, quite distraught, at the airport for a while until I saw the plane take off, ecstatic that I got to show my baby my new friends and teammates in Oz, but saddened to see her go so soon.
Return of the Blogi
I felt good that evening at practice, at least fitness-wise. My back was in fighting shape, and the team looked crisp in its preparation for the weekend and round 3. We faced a new threat, the revamped Bendigo Dragons with a few American imports of their own and a new coaching staff that had them pumped for competition. Unfortunately, they ran into the buzzsaw that is the Monash Warriors Gridiron Club and we decapitated them 44-6. The Offense was clicking as Whitey churned out yardage and TD runs down the sideline and Dom slung the ball around thanks to the O-Line’s steady presence. I managed to snag a few passes in my Victorian debut, catching 14 balls with 2 TDs and around 150 receiving yards. The guys give Dom and I grief about our chemistry because we hang around after practice to throw some extra routes to work on timing, but they can all get stuffed because practice makes perfect. GVTV (local sports coverage of Gridiron in Victoria) selected me the Player of the Game, where I thanked everyone but Harry on the offensive line for blocking so well and Dom for throwing me perfect passes, along with Whitey’s constant big-play run threat, because Harry doesn’t believe in passing the ball. I think RUN is the only word in his vocabulary on game day, but to each his own. The defense, revamped after a few tweakings in first two weeks, played lockdown as they’re beginning to do consistently, with Kev making some big sacks, Oscar poppin pads on the edges and in the flats, and my boys Ben & Dougie locking down the secondary. We definitely have a lot of athletes on the field, with Prince going both ways at WR and corner, Alex, who had highlight reel pick-6 to start the season, killing it at bandit and rover, and Keegan and Andrew holding it down on the D-line. Harry and Thor slide over there to clog up the middle on short yardage plays, displaying their versatility and my Canadian pal Pete has the linebackers looking good while Kevin is dancing post-sack. If our growth from week 1 to 3 is indicative of the season, we are looking like a much improved football club. The Barbs followed our virtuoso performance up with a shellacking of the Miners behind the QB play of all-star and Dos Equis/Dan Bilzerian look-alike Heath Decker, the sure hands of WR Zac Braun and Travy, stout line protection offered by Joel Fitzsimmons himself and Andy “I’m a pastry chef not baker” Sher, and the entire defense holding the Miners to only one score on their home turf. Great weekend for the Club!
I made the transition to Joel’s the next week, who were eager hosts, to take a little bit of logistical burden off the Maggios. We had agreed prior to coming to Oz that Harry and I would live together for a month or so to get acclimated, before I headed to the Fitzsimmons where they had plenty of room for me. They live in Clayton, a Southeastern Suburb right beside Monash University, where the Warriors are centrally located and our practice and game fields lie. Many of our players are currently studying at Uni right now, so it’s a great marketing tool for the exposure of gridiron as a whole and an opportunity for guys who might not have ever played football before to come have a go. With two teams, along with a junior club up to age 19, the Warriors offer differing levels of competition for beginners or seasoned vets at the sport. Harry and I have been helping with some of the offensive schemes, something we both enjoy doing, at our respective positions for the younger guys. It’s interesting to see how an Australian or individual of another nationality without as much exposure to the sport of football views it. Cricket, Rugby, Aussie rules footy, these are all much more popular here than American football. With that being said, there are still quality players, coaches, and obviously organizations to help advertise and offer the sport competitively. Gridiron Victoria is one of the many state organizations here including Gridiron Queensland, Gridiron Western Australia, Gridiron Tasmania, Gridiron ACT, and Gridiron South Australia.
Wednesday we had another good training session, putting in a few new wrinkles, before being invited by Richo and Stokes to join another tradition that is nothing short of greatness: Koko’s. Koko’s is not the most impressive pizza shop from the outside, but when you have 10-15-20 sweaty blokes post-practice in there hootin’ and hollerin’ about sports, politics, and pop culture, it feels like home. The guys there hook us up with pizza, ribs, wedges, and as much non Pepsi Max dranks as you can image (Sorry Dr. Stokes Pepsi Max sucks). We probably keep Koko’s in business for the next 20 years with our Wednesday night shenanigans, but the place is homey and you get heaps of food for very reasonable price. After stuffing our faces we sauntered out and back to our respective lodgings to catch up on Game of Thrones, the greatest HBO series ever. No debate. I gotta catch up on the books. The rest of the week flew by, and on the weekend we faced a formidable foe in the Croydon Rangers. The Rangers have been described as a thorn in the side of the Warriors for decades in Gridiron Victoria history, always giving us a good game and occasionally beating us to advance into the Grand Final of the Playoffs at the end of the year. To make matters worse, we played them on the field in the afternoon game, so the field was torn to pieces in the rain and the mud was thick and juicy. The Barbs drew with the Southeastern Predators 6-6 in the morning game, yes that’s possible here during the regular season just like in soccer if the score is tied at the end of regulation. It was a shocker, with a last second touchdown deciding the match, but the boys played well and a lot of positives can be taken from the draw. In the afternoon game, we grounded and pounded and churned out an ugly 20-6 win. Heath came in in the second half to give the offense a bit of a boost, distributing the ball effectively to myself, Howie, Dan, and Manny “Bippity-Boopity” the Italian Stallion. Defense balled, stalling the Rangers time and time again and forcing them to punt, and we played the field position game until we ran out the clock. Special teams coverage was a deciding factor, along with the battle in the trenches, where our offensive and defensive lines trounced their respective opponents. I reckon our O and D Lines will be our bread and butter for the year, with some big, thick, and nasty boys laying the law down. It took a while for us to scrub all the mud from our bodies after the game, but luckily our new mate and my boss Grantlee, having recently joined the Warriors after coming out of retirement and an illustrious career with the Rangers for 18730870 years, knew where the showers were at Rangers stadium. Cheers buddy.
Next week was where we settled into a bit of a routine, with a few days of work and a lot of gym time getting us to Wednesday for another evening practice and the enticing Koko’s afterwards. Guys are still eager to improve their technique at practice, which is impressive for a Club as successful as the Warriors. It’s hard to get guys that have won repeatedly to continue to look for ways to improve, but everyone here is eager to get even better, probably why they have had so much sustained success. New guys in the system and on the team add a unique touch to each year, with Harry and I being prime examples. After speaking with Ben from last year a few times, who seems like a great chap even though he’s a proper Yankee (and I correct everyone here when they call me one, Yankee DNE Southerner), I’ve learned how the core group of the Warriors stays the same, as with many collegiate and professional teams back in the States, but individuals and newcomers and oldies will come and go and join other clubs or move, so each year is a new challenge. What wasn’t a challenge was going to the Dreamtime Footy Weekend Extravaganza with Marty “The One-Man Party” Moran. Dreamtime weekend at the G (Melbourne Cricket Ground), is a yearly event between Essendon (good guys) and Richmond (not so good guys) in the AFL’s season where they place awareness on the Aboriginal influence and legacy on Melbourne and Australia as a whole. Coming from the Aboriginal mythology The Dreaming, the game is a highlight of a wonderful weekend and Marty GOT US TICKETS! What a bro. We had a few non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages at his humble abode, mixed in with a few games of Mario Kart on the ’64, before tramming to the game decked out in Essendon gear with Joel, Andy, and Kevin in tow. Marty scored us legendary seats right behind the goal posts and the Bombers (Essendon, or the Dons) schmacked the Tigers 104-54. Right around 75,000 raucous fans crowded into the MCG, so it was quite the spectacle. Definitely one of the many highlights of the trip Harry and I have just started on.
Shoutout again to Marty for the tickets, Sam & Misty for all the lovely hospitality for Katie and I, Kokos for providing us with sustenance post-practice and the Dom Dearman Facebook Page for inspiring his teammates with wonderful quotes like “Chuck Norris wears Dom Dearman skivvies.”
Sorry again for the gap in the blogging. We’ll be back soon. Cheers y’all!
Owen & Harry