On Sunday the 14th, the Fremantle Dockers played the Crows at the Subiaco Oval, and I sat far up in the crowd with my CIEE study abroad group, trying desperately to follow what was happening on the field.
I woke up genuinely excited for the day ahead. The clouds had finally run out of rain and cleared out of the sky, making the day a sunny and warm one. I knocked on Kacy’s door and she followed me down the blue carpeted hallway of our flat, through our rickety sliding glass door in the living room, out onto our little concrete patio where the other girls in our program were waiting for us. We hadn’t made it very far at all when Rhian suddenly stopped, looked in her bag, and turned around to head back to her room. “You don’t have to wait for me!” she called back, “I forgot something!”. Naturally, we waited. It didn’t take more than two minutes for her to come walking back, explaining that she had left her ticket in her flat. This got me thinking… I was pretty sure that when Paul gave us our tickets a few days before, I put mine in a folder in my backpack so I wouldn’t forget it- which wasn’t helpful at all when I was taking my purse to the game. I went running off to grab my ticket, and after getting my few minutes of cardio for the day, we were off to the bus station.
Not many people were on the bus to the Fremantle station, but we saw purple (Dockers colors) jerseys everywhere once we got on the train. With each stop closer and closer to our destination, the train got increasingly full of groups of people dressed for their favorite teams. The girls and I ended up standing, squished against the side of the train, for the majority of the ride. Finally, we arrived to the station closest to the stadium, and began our short walk there. The locals were obviously excited about the game, but they all handled themselves with respect. No one shouted distasteful things, was obviously intoxicated and obnoxious, or even really talked badly about the other team- all of these things were a pleasant surprise for me, whose only ever experienced American sports games.
We had our bags checked and tickets scanned, then walked by the few food beer stands that periodically lined the walkways. We found our seats easily enough and were thankful to find them in almost the highest part of the stadium, out of the sun and with a great view of the field (the shade can be almost 10 degrees cooler than the sunny areas). Still, I applied a second dose of SPF 50 and settled in to watch the game.
Australian football is a extremely different from American football in pretty much every way. To me, it looked like a giant game of keep-away, where one person tries to move the ball to one side of the playing field and the other team tries to gain control and take it to their side. In this game, 18 players per team are on the field, trying to get the ball to their goal. There is no set goal keeper, like in soccer, and unlike football, there are four goal posts. The ball has to be bounced every 10 meters that a player runs while holding it, there is no limit to how many times you can handball (like a volleyball serve kind of deal) or kick the ball, and players can tackle with their hands or body. The game is played in ~25 minute long quarters, with no breaks or time-outs. So instead of being a strength centered, ballistic sport, AFL is more about endurance type athleticism.
A more thorough explanation of the game can be found here. Sorry mom, wikipedia had the best summary of the game!
We left during the third quarter because the Dockers were definitely not coming back from their 40 point deficit to Adelaide. Paul walked us back to the station, and told us how to get to some good beaches near the train stops. We still had about an hour and a half left of gorgeous Australian sun and wanted to take advantage of it. Claire, Kacy and I decided on stopping in North Fremantle and walked a short ways from the station to the coast. We stopped at a small restaurant called Bib and Tuckers so that Claire could get the coffee that she had been craving all day, and Kacy and I could get ice waters. From there, it was only a short walk to another breathtaking beach.
The wind was blowing and there were several surfers in the water, taking advantage of the strong swells. The sand was cold, but it was worth it to take our shoes off and put our feet in the water, which was warmer than we expected.
We stood at the waters edge and watched as the sun dipped lower and lower into the horizon, sending orange and purple beams of light streaking through the sky. It seemed to sink faster and faster into the edge of the world the closer it got to reaching its goal; like the final sprint of an athlete approaching the finish line.
Once the sun fell out of sight, we packed up our things and began the cold walk to the train station. One short stop later, we arrived at the Fremantle Train Station and found our bus stop, then waited 30 minutes for it to arrive. We boarded the bus, talking excitedly of hot showers and warm beds. The excitement quickly faded as we passed over the bridge into North Fremantle, the way we had just come. We had accidentally boarded the wrong bus.
The street we got off on had a small chain of restaurants and bars, and the bus information sign told us that it would be another 30 minutes for the next bus to arrive. By now, my teeth were chattering and I was starving and ready to be back in my room. We began entertaining the idea of calling an Uber to get us home more quickly, but instead, messaged our Polish friend Voitec from school to see if he was nearby with his car and could pick us up. Luckily, he was already headed our way and offered to come get us. We walked to one of the little restaurants nearby the bus stop to get out of the cold, and sat at a table close to a space heater. We each ordered a drink, much appreciated after the days adventures, and a snack to tide us over until we could get home and make dinner. I sipped on my glass of Pinot Grigio and slowly felt warmth come back into my body. We waited a only a short time before Voitec arrived to rescue us. 30 minutes later, I was back in my flat preparing to take a hot shower and getting ready for Monday’s adventures.