As many of you are aware, in 2006 I began my post-graduate academic career in the discipline of anthropology by commencing my PhD.  Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control (Fiji’s military coup), I could not complete my research and thus withdrew from my candidacy.  Having recently returned to Adelaide for a brief visit, I stumbled upon my original research proposal.  Although outdated, and a subject I would no longer wish to pursue, I felt after reading it that there was still some interesting material I had produced.  I had worked hard on this proposal and was rewarded with outstanding reports permitting my fieldwork.  Who knows where I would be now if I had moved to Fiji to complete my thesis?  I’ve had a few friends mention that they would be interested to read my proposal and get a sense of what it is I did, would’ve done and would’ve achieved.  And what use is research, whether published or not, if it’s not read by an audience?  So it is with humility, and a fraction of trepidation, that I post my entire research proposal for my once-intended anthropological doctorate.  Intellectual property owned by Craig Gilbert and the University of Adelaide.

Title

Rucking The Islands: Professionalism, Post-Colonialism and National Identity in Fijian Rugby

Project Description and Background

Introduction, Background and Central Problem

Rucking The Islands titles the proposed anthropological research on an internationally reported situation, yet previously disregarded issue within academia.  Rugby union is the most popular sport within the Pacific Islands and remains a powerful cultural entity in local communities.  Yet despite the considerable valorisation of this sport in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, external global forces and local structures  significantly inhibit success at an international level.  ‘Rucking’, in rugby terminology, described the process of stomping on an opponent who is impeding the movement of the ball.  A painful but legal manoeuvre during play, it is essentially the only moment in sport where you’re allowed to kick an opponent while they’re down.  Thus, the title for this project is a metaphor for the problem soon to be described, and while contextualised in Fiji, is endemic in the wider Pacific Island region.

Fijian rugby within the international sporting community is recognised for its unique style.  Like their Island neighbours, Fijians have an acclaimed ‘flair’ – a fast and running, physical and confrontational, and instinctual and risky playing style.  Since 1995, when rugby union turned professional world wide, international clubs and provinces in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Asia have sought Fijian players.  This has created a diaspora of Fijian athletes around the world.  However, due to contractual obligations and their economic needs, players have been made unavailable to represent Fiji at international test level (Rugby Warriors 2005).  At the same time, several Island players have adopted their clubs’ nations as their own, going on to represent New Zealand and Australia as examples.

As an avid sports fan, rugby union enthusiast and budding anthropologist, this pattern concerned me.  The migration of players away from their home countries (remembering Tonga and Samoa have shared similar experiences with Fiji) appeared to dilute the strength of these Tier Two nations.[1] Without a level playing field enforced by rugby’s governing body, competition between nations is limited and success restricted to a privileged few.  From a sheer financial position, how can Fiji profit from international tests, missing a number of star players, and grow the game locally if there is no interest from the sport’s global supporters and media, believing matches will remain one-sided contests?  And how will rugby as a marketable product grow and succeed if it remains stagnant and predictable?  However, perhaps of greater concern is the affect this trend has on the Fijian people, their national identity, self and value.  When a cultural entity is invested with such meaning, shared and articulated in communities as rugby is in Fiji, what is the impact of such processes?

In 2004, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa experimented with a unified Pacific Island team.  While competitive on an international tour against the southern hemisphere rugby powers, they were not admitted into the expanding Super 14 rugby competition.[2] Sporting commentators, after already expressing their concerns over the unavailability of Island players for the 2003 Rugby World Cup, argued that a form of contemporary colonialism existed in rugby.  It was acceptable for New Zealand, Australia and South Africa to poach players for their club sides, but unacceptable to admit an Island team into their competition (see Narsey 2004 and Hadfield 2003).  Ultimately, these events and continuing trends as witnessed by the rugby community have inspired the central problem which this research will address: how has the implementation of professionalism in the sport of rugby union affected the Fijian people and their valued cultural entity of rugby?  How does one measure the impact the migration of players away from the Islands for professional playing opportunities has upon the Fijian sense of national identity, self and value?

This specific, and rather substantial, problem paves the foundation for this research.  However, a number of more general questions must similarly be addressed to further encapsulate the Fijian experience in relation to rugby, as well as to produce a well-rounded thesis.  Including our central concern, these include:

  1. What is it about sport that makes it such a powerful cultural entity?  Why is rugby in Fiji so important and so meaningful?  What does it give to community and what is drawn from the game?  Does it take anything away?
  2. What is rugby’s role in the development and ‘myth-making’ of community figures, past and present?  How does the contemporary state of rugby affect this?  What historical and social forces have impacted upon rugby in Fiji and its community figures?  What social capital is there in being a sports personality?
  3. What impact does the professionalism of rugby have on the migration and movements of individuals?  And what affect does this have on the construction of national identity, self-worth and histories?
  4. Does a form of colonialism still exist through rugby in post-colonial Fiji?  What are the interactions between Fijian rugby and other powerful rugby nations?  What are Fijian rugby and players doing in response to external forces?
  5. How does rugby in a Fijian context explain the themes of: profit versus play, economic migrancy, national identity, consumed bodies, habitus and the embodiment of rugby culture, playing styles and stereotypes, sporting aggression and violence, spectator ownership and island boundness?

An immersion in local and grassroots rugby in Fiji will help analyse the structures that impact upon players and their communities and the expression of agency within these processes.  However, rugby in Fiji remains a rich reservoir of social issues and cultural facets begging for academic research.  As Palmer (2002, 253) states, “sport and sporting events tap into some of the most enduring themes in social anthropology: how do human beings create and sustain meaning, where is meaning located, and how is meaning transmitted?”  Therefore, these focus questions will elicit a balanced ethnographic description of rugby’s role in Fiji.

As will be elaborated upon later, this sporting research will bring “the study of complexly constructed, subtly nuanced, passionately pursued and intellectually fascinating sets of activities, relationships, beliefs and purposes from the margins into the mainstream of anthropological concern” (Dyck 2000, 34).  For it is through sport that the uncommon, unreal and impossible happens (Flanagan 2003, 158).  It has a resonance with people that remains unexplained yet ought to be; an investment of such value and meaning that must be understood, contextualised and communicated.  Rugby in Fiji is a “sport… fundamental to the identity of the individuals that are part of the broader community” (Howe 1997, 14) and the issues that have emerged from its embedment in their culture forms the background for this proposed ethnographic research and must be investigated.

Mythologising the Fijian Style

As discussed above, the Fijian style of rugby is recognised as unique.  It has been described as such well before rugby union turned professional, both internally (within Fijian society) and externally (global sports commentators and rugby audiences).  Even in 1939, the Waikato Times of New Zealand described the Fijian style of rugby as

the most brilliant exhibition of football seen in Hamilton for many years… Almost uncanny in handling the ball, lightning in the pace of their sprinting, relentless in their dive tackling… and all the time pursuing methods of bright, open football, the Fijians gave a sparkling display and thrilled the large crowd (Duxbury 2006).

The embodiment of these traits into the ethos of Fijian rugby, as recognised globally, is what Hoberman (1999, 68) describes as the “globalising of racial folklore bearing on athletic performance”.  Every racial myth regarding athletic ability or inadequacy results from the interplay of actual athletic performance and the ethnic stereotypes that shape our interpretation of the performance (Hoberman 1999, 69).  It is instinctually assumed that Pacific Islanders excel in rugby union due to their size and speed, relentless competitiveness and pride.  How these traits are ingrained into the Fijian national identity, however, is what becomes important.  And as it’s these traits that are most desired by foreign rugby clubs, measuring the impact the apparent commodification of the Fijian style has on a Fijian national identity is equally as important.

As the many Pacific Island voices testify in the documentary Rugby Warriors (2005), Fijian rugby is unique, possessing a flair unmatched and unlike any other style of play.  It is professed that this style is part of the Fijian culture and identity, an orality of narratives confirming this mythical style for themselves.  And it is attributed both to cognitive practices (that players learn in an unstructured, practical and communal way rather than via individual, scientific study) and the geographical environment;[3] one player jokes that their exceptional ability to run and ‘side-step’ is not just skill, but rather “we’re jumping off of rocks on the field and it hurts” (Rugby Warriors 2005).  As Archetti (2003, 218-221) notes in his chapter on Argentinean football, the style of play is rooted in self-imagery and identity, and the imagined nationalism is integrated into social practice.  Central to this is the body, as bodily practices are indelibly involved in the formation of national imagery.  This indeed could be said of the Fijian rugby style, and the way the image has been globalised for worldwide audiences.

Archetti (2003, 222), however, also notes that playing style is what it is by what it is not.  That is, Argentinean football came to develop its own style through inventive creolisation.  As the British invented and imported football to Argentina, football was incorporated “as an important bodily practice in their leisure time”.  When British clubs declined and players moved away, Argentinean natives and Italian immigrants formed club and national teams, and an ideological construction of a dichotomy between a British style and creole style was formed.

‘Britishness’ was identified with being phlegmatic, disciplined and methodical, and concentrated around elements of the collective, of force and of physical power.  These virtues helped to create a repetitive style, similar to that of a ‘machine’.  In this way, British football was conceptualised as ‘perfect’, that is, industrially perfect.  The creole (criollo), owing to the Latin influence, was exactly the opposite: restless, individualistic, undisciplined, based on personal effort, agile and skilful (Archetti 2003, 222).

The Fijian style of rugby, as opposed to a British or European style, has similarly been engraved in local and global perceptions of union.  Fijian rugby is thus perceived to be not structured, not machine-like, not disciplined and not without passion.  It is understood and recognised in opposition to the founders of the sport, rooting it amongst dominant national imageries.

MacClancy (1996b, 190) draws similar correlations between the Basque club Athletic de Bilbao’s style of football with a Basque identity, describing it as

la furia vasca, the characteristic style of Athletic… The most lauded components… fieriness and long passes.  It was unpretentious, direct, and aggressive… vigorous players… relentlessly pursue the ball…courageous and furious… admired and feared… This style of strength, speed and total commitment was regarded as very Basque, since it exemplified the customarily prized attributes of male force and determination (MacClancy 1996b, 190).

With that said, however, one must remain sceptical of the association MacClancy has made between national identity and style of play.  The connections remain vague and in correlating a Fijian style of rugby with their national identity, I would have to do more to validate these notions.  After all, one must question whether this Fijian reputation in rugby is warranted or justified, not to mention problematic.  That is, is Fijian rugby simply a homogenous style, without diversity and easily stereotyped?  Is the globalising of this homogenous style an attributing factor to the migration of players and failure to succeed?  Only detailed ethnographic work can reveal the answers to these problems.

Returning then to the commodification of this Fijian style, one must consider the commodification of the body, as “the body is the fundamental tool with which a participant in sport has to work” (Howe 2003, 229).  The body in a Fijian rugby context is worthy of a thesis chapter in itself, and thus will not be explored here.  But Howe’s (1997, 19) analysis of the commercialism of rugby and the impact this has on the body draws on both Foucault’s theory of the socially disciplined body and Bourdieu’s theory of habitus – the learned embodiment of sporting practice and social groups.  Using the concepts formulated by Howe, I will examine the hypothesis that the sporting body is not an alienated commodity for the athlete.  Rather, it is the most valued commodity (if a commodity is how the body is viewed) a sportsperson has and the more they train and develop it, the more value it has for the individual, and perhaps their family, community and nation.  Nonetheless, if the body does not become an alienated commodity, is there a loss of the self in the construction of the athlete?  Fieldwork in the Fijian rugby context will hopefully answer these inquiries.

Professionalism, Globalisation and (Post)Colonialism

“Professional sport has become big business.  It is more often about record salaries than about record performance, dollars rather than diversion, and profit rather than play” (Blanchard 1995, xvi).  But when considering the professionalism of rugby union and its impact on Fiji, one must not limit themselves to an analysis of those players who have migrated for profitable sporting opportunities.  The impacts of professionalism are felt at the level of grassroots rugby and community lifestyle, as much as it is for the rugby star competing in a foreign competition.  Thus the worldwide professionalism of rugby union is engrained in globalisation debates as the affects are felt in different ways around the world.  For Fijian players and wider communities, this feeling may be one of a colonial-like oppression, affecting constructions of identity and locality, lifestyles and social processes.

In August of 1995, the cherished amateur principle of rugby union, in existence for over a century, was surrendered by the International Rugby Board, sanctioning player payments, professionalising the sport (Rugby Football History 2006).  This global process transformed the amateur game of rugby and the connections and interrelations between unions.  One such transformation was the increased migration of rugby talent, whose labour was now paid for by clubs all over the world.  As Maguire and Bale (1994, 1) state, “The migration of sports talent as athletic labour is a pronounced feature of sports development in the late twentieth century”.  And several aspects of the modernity of sport highlight the interconnections between globalisation and this talent migration, including the establishment of sports organisations, the global standardisation of rules, and the growth of competition across countries both at club and national level (Maguire & Bale 1994, 5-6).

There are thus a number of dimensions to this social change which coincide with global cultural flows, one of which being Appadurai’s (2001, 51) ethnoscapes.  Ethnoscapes refer to “the landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles, guestworkers, and other moving groups and persons constitute an essential feature of the world, and appear to affect the politics of and between nations to a hitherto unprecedented degree” (Appadurai 2001, 51).  Bale (1999, 83) states that the sporting ethnoscape, where athletes cross global spaces to ply their trade, is a powerful feature of the new global cultural economy.  The migration of sporting talent occurring at ever-increasing levels proves that “human motion is definitive of social life more often than it is exceptional in our contemporary world” (Appadurai 1995, 215).  Thus, in the context of Fijian rugby, players form part of this shifting world landscape, and it is argued then that this migration has significant consequences for the global sport, the local community and the people’s production of locality as part of social life.

It is a desire of this proposed research to identify what impact the professionalism of rugby union has on the Fijian people, particularly constructions and contestations of identity.  Drawing from fieldwork with Kenyan runners, Bale (1999, 75) claims that athletic migration becomes part of the country’s national ideology.  As part of the ‘global reality’ of contemporary sport, Kenyan athletes are drawn to American universities through scholarships and are said to be

lost to Kenya and are unable to represent their district in local competitions.  They are no longer so readily able to act as local models for younger athletes.  The power that the colleges are able to exert over the athletes may also prevent them from representing their region or nation (Bale 1999, 75).

At the same time, however, track and field in Kenya is seen to be a good thing and it is quite acceptable for athletes to leave Kenya and obtain athletic scholarships overseas.  The parallels in this instance with Fijian rugby appear quite compelling, as the sport of rugby is considered an integral part of the culture and sports migration of its players inevitable, yet at the same time the unavailability of players ‘lost’ to Fiji impacts upon their feelings of value and exploitation and their national ideology.

An important element of this notion is Fiji’s remittance economy.  “Pacific players ply their trade from Japan to the UK, to New Zealand, their wages being used to provide much needed financial support for their families back home” (Hadfield 2003).  However, it is this need for financial earnings, as much for the family as for the player, which results in the competing feelings and contested identities in the Fijian position.  As Fiji Rugby’s marketing manager, Charlie Chartis, says, “these players… have been brutalised by the emotional conflict that they’ve gone through, having to make these desperate choices between the professional rewards of what could be a very short career, and their instinctive emotional commitment to their countries” (Hadfield 2003).  The remittance economy must be studied in the field to better understand what impact the professionalism and globalisation of rugby union has on the sport’s culture, individual lifestyles, national identities and ideologies, as well as the added complexities and stresses in the need to provide money.

The movement of players as a feature of globalisation has resulted in, as described by Wadan Narsey (2004), a new colonialism.  Referring to the rejection of a unified Pacific Islands team into the expanded Super 14 competition, Narsey claims that there is no level playing field in rugby and local players are forced to migrate out of the Pacific, weakening Island rugby, exploiting players and strengthening foreign systems.  “The individual Islander raw materials continue to be extracted for Australian and NZ Super 12 and national test rugby teams, but the combined Pacific Islander team is kept out” (Narsey 2004, 70).  This relates to two out of the three imperialist dimensions of the globalisation of sport: the extraction of raw materials from new sources and the search for new sources of cheap or skilled labour (Maguire & Bale 1994, 13).  The third, the search for new markets in which to sell products, must be analysed in the field to understand the reception of global processes.  Similarly, Blanchard’s (1995, 72-75) discussion of the Neo-Marxist conflict theory, where sport is a tool of oppression that masks exploitation, resonates with these colonialist experiences felt in Fijian rugby.  As Chartis says, “the South Pacific nations… have become the victims of both their own ability and the globalisation of the sport” (Hadfield 2003).

Runciman’s (2006) report on African football offers further explanations regarding colonialism in sport.  He states that African teams are not making advances and may never win the FIFA World Cup, despite individual players’ advancements in the world game.  Due to global markets, overseas clubs find and nurture African players which national federations are unable to do, driven by a desire for affordable labour.  This trend sees a failure in the development of African infrastructures, with money failing to find its way back to grassroots football in Africa (Runciman 2006, 15-17).  By comparison, it appears that money does find its way back into Fijian communities, but the Fijian rugby infrastructures are inhibited by a lack of funding from both the IRB and profitable matches and events.  Runciman (2006, 16) questions why African players should give back to football in their countries.  As described in Rugby Warriors (2005), Island players value the need to offer something to the game, as well as the wider community.  But it must be researched to discover if this is realised and to what extent, or whether the players and their value to the community are lost like the Kenyan runners.  Alternatively, and as an aside, research should be carried out into the appropriation of rugby union by Fiji as a tool of independence and counter-colonialism, much like Wagg (2005) discusses cricket’s role in forging identities in ex-colonial territories.  This furthers Appadurai’s (2001, 59) notion that “globalisation involves the use of a variety of instruments of homogenisation… which are absorbed into local political and cultural economies, only to be repatriated as heterogeneous dialogues of national sovereignty”.

Accordingly, the study of professionalisation of rugby in the specific context of Fiji, will add to the complexities of existing globalisation debates.  As Sands (1999a) reminds us, sport is a common but powerful way in which the people of the world have come into contact with each other.  And Maguire and Bale’s (1994, 15) world system theory illustrates how both colonial and globalising forces act upon Fiji through rugby, as well as the impact professionalism has on player migration.  However, it also permits room for the ethnographic examination of local Fijian rugby culture as lived by the people, noting inward and outward cultural flows.  Foer (2004) offers a number of cases in the study of globalisation themes as relating to football, which echo with several of our pre-fieldwork concerns and ideas.  These include: the breakdown of national borders and boundaries through the interactions of football nations; the binding power of football within community; football as a global religion; the role of local cultures within the global game and response of these entities on globalising forces; the great migration of football talent with Europe tapping the international labour market; club control over players; the transgression of sport into national politics; nationalism and tribalism; grassroots expenditure; and the adoption of foreigners into clubs and eventual citizenship as made easier through football.

One such addition to the anthropological reflections on globalisation this project will offer is the contextualising of the ambiguous terms ‘local’ and ‘global’, and their role in constructions of homogenisation or articulations of heterogeneity, within the Fijian situation.  These will surface from the ethnographic study of the impact of rugby’s professionalism on Fijian communities.  Of particular resonance, Moller (2002, 214) discusses the affects globalisation has on local identity, using the South Sydney rugby league team as his focus, and raises the concept of ‘glocality’.  This refers to the idea that global processes are inflected with local characteristics, and that localities are not powerless when they respond to the compression of space and time brought about by globalisation.  Understanding what these Fijian responses are and entail is essential to this project.  As mentioned earlier, expressions of agency within Fijian communities are just as valued to these globalising forces as individuals make active choices.

The particularity of local institutions, communities and histories matter to ‘globalising’ processes.  As actors in the production, dissemination and consumption of images and meanings, fans explicitly demand that global processes not only respect local cultures, but that the production of symbolic goods such as club names, colours, merchandise and histories be based on them… Failing to recognise the power of localities… leaves global corporations… with nothing to interest consumers (Moller 2002, 216).

And this is the thing which Moller effectively explores.  Clubs, nations and individuals possess exchangeable values that are directly linked with a locality.  These exchangeable values (some of which we discussed as lived through the bodies and playing style of Fijian rugby players) are distinctive of Fiji, articulated by Fijians and desired by global sports audiences.

It must thus be mentioned at this point, returning to one of our key questions, that rugby (perhaps sport in general), as a means of experiencing globalisation, differs to how it is experienced through alternative cultural phenomena.  We have asked what it is about sport that makes it such a powerful cultural entity, invested with such meaning.  But also, what is it about sport that makes experiencing globalisation – the reception of global processes, expressions of agency and constructions of identities – different to that of an alternative cultural phenomenon?  Something about it appears to consider the value of locality within cultural flows and the failure to be mere receptors of an imperialistic or homogenous global culture.  As Guttmann (1978, 157) states,

Despite imperfections and false emphases, modern sports hold forth the possibility of a realm of relative if not absolute freedom… In sport we can discover the euphoric sense of wholeness, autonomy, and potency which is often denied us in the dreary rounds of routinised work that are the fate of most men and women.

How this differs to other phenomena, only research can effectively discover.  While impacted upon considerably by global processes, Fijian rugby at the grassroots level emphasises the value of a locality.  Thus, this research, in its general analysis of ascriptions of meaning to the sport, will address the lived experience of globalisation through Fijian rugby within Fijian communities ethnographically.

Further Thematic Considerations

A number of themes have yet to be discussed in this project description, yet must be mentioned to facilitate a more encompassing analysis of rugby in Fiji.  The role of community figures in Fijian society is particularly powerful, as “hierarchy is a principle of social relations” (Toren 1999, 23).  This of course must be contextualised within traditional village life.  Nevertheless, Hadfield (2003) notes, “The Rugby players on Saturdays are the spiritual leaders on Sundays, and the community leaders for the rest of the week”.  Why is this so?  How is this attributed to the investment of meaning Fijian people have for rugby as this valued cultural thing?  While acknowledged, the idea that sporting figures are also community leaders requires further research.  It is assumed that the community figure, past or present, has contributed greatly to a construction of local, or perhaps national, identity within Fiji.  Their achievements or contribution to the sport as part of their culture honours them with a social status.  Yet are they community figures simply by being renowned rugby players, or by something else they partake in within society?

Flanagan (2003, 143) recognises the role some players in Australian Rules Football have within their communities, not just as sporting icons, but by their use of such status to address local and national issues.  Nathan Buckley, captain of the Collingwood Football Club, simply by visiting rural Aboriginal communities, meeting elders and mixing with the local children, was described as doing much for white-black relations in Australia.  “Because of the game he had become fluent in two cultures without knowing he had bridged a gap most of his countrymen and women would never cross” (Flanagan 2003, 156).  Similarly, Malec and Beckles (1999) investigate the social significance of athletes and their roles in affecting history and culture, using Jackie Robinson (baseball) and Frank Worrell (cricket) as case studies.  But what of the local Fijian community figure?  It is accepted that famous sports people are going to be viewed as community leaders.  But what makes the Fijian rugby player a local identity?  What social capital is possessed and communicated by being a Fijian athlete?  Is this unique to the Pacific Island region?  And relating these notions to our core problem, if rugby does play a role in the construction of community figures, what impact does the professionalism of the sport and potential migration of players have on the community?  Where are the community leaders if players don’t return?  Granted, there are more questions here than answers, but this further highlights the need for such research.

Of just as much consequence is the notion of spectator ownership.  Fans and spectators of rugby teams must invest something, often emotionally, into the game for it to be as valued as it is, thus resulting in a perceived sense of shared ownership of a team and direct connection to its players and values.  In turn, a greater connection to images and constructions of local and national identities emerges through this communion of sporting experiences.  As MacClancy (1996b, 189) alludes to, teams are more than just sporting organisations; they are part of society’s emotional landscape.  And Moller (2002, 217) adds, “that attachment to a football club is inseparable from the opportunity it provides to share a specific emotional investment with others”.  Therefore, it is Moller (2002) and MacClancy (1996b) that best conceptualise the idea of spectator ownership for its application within the Fijian rugby context.

MacClancy (1996b) describes how the Athletic de Bilbao club belongs to the broader community, as support of the team is attributed not to the success of the team but by what the team represents – the Basque region.  Fans identify directly with players who embody the Basque identity through football, cultivated by a policy of Basque-only players.  Thus, any success earned by the team is attributed equally to the fans.  “In our innermost being lies the belief that Athletic wins its matches because we urge them on… We have stimulated and urged the team on, and they have won; therefore we ourselves have won, and for that reason we are a part of Athletic” (MacClancy 1996b, 188).  This furthers the previously discussed correlations drawn between style and identity, with the broader community directly sharing in the successes of the club based upon what the team represents.  However, Moller (2002) broadens these concepts (perhaps more effectively) by positioning spectator ownership within globalisation debates and productions of locality.  Being a fan requires an investment, within the public leisure sphere, in the performance of a team.  That investment also lies in the associated locality of that team, which communicates certain values as lived by its community members.  Inevitably, a rearticulation of identity occurs through the values associated with a locale as fans share and exchange them.  So it is understood that a sense of spectator ownership, and the success that comes with loyal support, is not only attributed to a team merely representing a region; it is developed and lived through an attachment to the “personal, social and cultural values of the locality” in which the team is based (Moller 2002, 216).  Thus, fans of Fijian rugby and specific Fijian clubs may invest emotionally into the sport by an attachment to Fijian values as associated with specific localities.  These values must be articulated and exchanged for spectator ownership to be meaningful, and through this proposed fieldwork, understanding what local values are communicated by spectators in relation to localities will be essential to furthering an understanding of the meaning rugby has for Fijians.

What has been omitted in this proposal, yet will be addressed both in the field and in the ensuing thesis is a reflection on the constructions of masculinity through rugby union in Fiji.  “Rugby has long been rooted in masculinity due to the confrontational nature of the sport” (Howe 2003, 231).  Stemming from this is the differentiation between legitimate aggression and illegitimate violence in sport.[4] Gender is ingrained in the construction of identities, and as women also invest a considerable amount into the culture of rugby, what role do aggression and the construction of masculinities play in the female position?  Also, the playing of rugby by women must transform the social space of the sport and the identities constructed and embodied through it.  As Howe (2003) analyses the changing social barriers of rugby through the women’s game in Pontypridd, it would be foolish of me to ignore women’s rugby, women and rugby, and the positions they fill in the Fijian sport’s culture.

It remains essential for this proposed research to ensure a balance between the specific and the general.  That is, by ethnographically studying the role and meaning rugby has in my Fijian context, these notions will inform the effects professionalism has had on the constructions and transformations of national identity and sports migration.  In turn, by addressing this core social problem, both academia and wider communities will better understand the role and value of sport in societies.

Significance and Innovation

Much of the significance of Rucking The Islands extends from the lack of prior academic research and literature on this significant topic.  No apparent weight has been given to the rugby situation among the Pacific Islands, despite the ever-present concerns as discussed and debated by local and international media.  In fact, little anthropological research has been conducted on rugby union in general, nor sport within a Pacific Island context.  But as Sands (1999a, 3) emphasises

Sport is, indeed, not only universal but perhaps one of the best indicators or expressions of culture… sport reflects culture… A closer look at the sports and related behaviour produces a blueprint of those important and valued behaviours that are the foundation of the larger culture in which sport is embedded.

This is not to say that sport is merely a tool for the expression of culture or “as a means of understanding another facet of culture” (Palmer 2002, 254).  Sport is far too valuable a cultural entity in and of itself to ignore.  Therefore, this research on Fijian rugby is not about understanding it as a metaphor for kinship or ritual for example (although these may be addressed if revealed).  It is about the cultural meaning and richness rugby has for the people, and what issues evolve from its resonance.  For reasons which remain unjustified to me, sport has often been overlooked for and out-valued by other social issues and practices.[5] This research on Fijian rugby will both highlight the importance of sports and add to the much-needed literature within the discipline of anthropology.

As mentioned, the current state of Pacific Island rugby has received a considerable amount of media attention both locally (in Fiji) and internationally (Australia in particular), and has coincided with rugby union turning professional in 1995.  Media publicity for this issue comes to a head every four years with the Rugby World Cup (Wadan Narsey in 1999, Warwick Hadfield and Peter Jenkins in 2003), but reporting occurs regularly[6].  And as 2007 is a RWC year, assuming the media cycle will hold true, interest and media publicity will once again be at an all-time high while conducting my fieldwork.  But if the media is continually addressing this particular social issue, then what insight can ethnographic research bring to the topic?  Perhaps Palmer (2002, 255-256) best answers:

by experiencing first hand, in a very real and visceral way, the processes, practices, social and structural relationships that underpin the cultural expression of sporting lives, the ‘sporting anthropologist’ occupies a position of certain advantage in portraying particular cultural attributes to a wider audience… Through ethnography, anthropologists can provide a portrait of athletes’ and spectators lives while, at the same time, adding significantly to our theoretical knowledge about culture and society.

Remembering that this research is focussed just as much on the Fijian experience of grassroots rugby and its meaning within local communities as it is the plight of national representation in international rugby during the professional era, ethnographic research offers an innovative and extended means of addressing all rugby-related issues affecting Fiji.

No academic research within the social sciences has been done on this proposed topic.  However, although few, there are some pieces of literature on rugby union.  Perhaps the leader in this field is the previously discussed anthropologist Peter David Howe with his work on the Pontypridd Rugby Football Club (1997).  Most relevant for his ethnographic account of rugby within a specific Welsh context, looking at the significant effects professionalism has on the local game, national identity through the sporting experience, the sporting body and therapeutic practices, and the socialisation of injury, Howe provides a unique case in which one could compare and contrast the Fijian experience of rugby union – its professionalism, production of national identity, potential commodification of the body and the like.  His later chapter (Howe 2003) on the women’s Pontypridd club is, to my knowledge, the only anthropological work on women in rugby.  It is of similar value to my Fijian research, looking at the embodiment of rugby, the male/female dichotomy within the sport and community, and the affect of professionalism on the female game, including body image and the ‘amateur’ ideology still possessed by women in the sport.  Like his thesis, this chapter offers a valuable contrast to the women’s game in Fiji, but remains just as applicable to both genders.

Nauright and Chandler’s (1996) collection of essays on masculinity within rugby union spans several countries including Britain, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  Each piece, mostly spawned from disciplines of history or politics, discusses the construction of male identities in specific contexts and relating it to several themes including national identity, amateurism and militarism.  Crawford’s (1999) piece on rugby in South Africa as an evolving symbol of Afrikaners and white values, the decline of apartheid and the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a powerful sporting symbol for a new, multicultural South Africa, emphasises rugby’s role in political change and cultural exchange.  Williams’ (1994) historical look at the migration of rugby players to and from Welsh regions, due mostly to the ebbs and flows of their coal and steel industries, provides a fascinating look at specific social contexts that impact upon sports migration.  And Dunning and Sheard’s (1979) historical analysis of the modernisation of rugby union points to several interesting themes contrasting professionalism and amateurism within the sport.

The purpose of this intentionally concise summary of rugby-related literature was not to highlight its utility.  Rather, these books or chapters emphasise the significance of my own research in Fijian rugby as they adhere to one or both of two problems: 1) the analysis is far from ethnographic, falling well outside the discipline of anthropology and failing to share in the lived experience of players and community members, or 2) the accounts are Anglo-centric and/or contextualised in developed societies.  Most of the literature on rugby union, including Howe’s (1997; 2003), is set in Britain or the southern hemisphere Tier One unions.  These contexts are mostly white, or at least focussed upon Anglo-rugby at the time of publication, and occur within Western or industrialised nations.  Even much of the Welsh literature, which stresses the economic hardships of the proletariat, still has its context bound in the industrialised world.  Thus, there is a desired space for rugby-related research in a non-Anglo and oft-perceived economically struggling Fiji.  My proposed research will be a significant addition to the limited academic literature on rugby union.

Also, despite the extensive amount of anthropological literature on Fiji, little if any of it touches the topic of sport.  Fijian ethnographies traditionally focus on the ethnic relations between autochthonous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, ceremonial rituals, exchange and material items, kinship and vakavanua (‘the way of the land’).  Christina Toren’s (1999) fieldwork in Sawaieke (central Fiji) has produced one of the most interesting collections of essays regarding the phenomenological and inter-subjective processes in history building.  Her mantra, that “mind is a function of the whole person that is constituted over time in inter-subjective relations with others in the environing world” (Toren 1999, 21), paves the way for her research into social relations and hierarchy, children’s cognition and construction of knowledge, the material condition of people’s lives which help structure their social understanding of categories and meaning, and the mind as a material phenomenon that embodies a history of lived relations.  Hermann and Kempf (2005) further discuss the dynamics of relationships as articulated and transformed between the past and present, between people and land, or between people.  And Ravuvu’s (1983) detailed book on the Fijian way of life addresses the major social principles of Fijian society.

What these texts do offer nonetheless is a foundation for the way Fijian people construct and embody social relations, meanings and histories, and these notions can be understood in relation to rugby culture in Fiji.  For example, Hermann and Kempf (2005, 314) consider how persons and groups articulate relations in multiple forms, and inturn are transformed through cultural practice.  Rugby union could indeed be a form of articulated relations that has yet to be analysed; a tool for the expression of connections between people and their localities.  And Ravuvu’s (1983, 107) description of social status as equated with physical height may have some bearing on the analysis of Fijian rugby players and their roles as community leaders.  Therefore, this research can offer a new approach and point of reference for Fijian ethnographies, significantly adding to the sport-barren literature.

As discussed earlier, this proposed research will address and add to the complexity of postcolonial and globalisation debates.  However, it is envisaged that this innovative research can be applied to generate the level playing field so desperately desired by the rugby minnows.  Whether that involves producing the necessary knowledge the IRB, ARU or other bureaucratic bodies could use to execute the structural and organisational changes required across the rugby levels, emphasising the need and desire for players to remain in or be available for Fiji and to compete in southern hemisphere competitions with improved facilities and resources, allowing individuals from grassroots rugby to articulate their concerns beyond the local media, or marketing the importance of maintaining an interesting and vibrant sporting product for the longevity of rugby, this thesis must add to the lives of those studied as much as it does to the discipline of anthropology.

Approach

In order to study rugby culture within the Fijian context and to address our previously described key project questions and themes, I will employ the anthropological technique of ethnographic research.  This technique, as comprehensively described by O’Reilly (2005) and Bryman (2004), includes extensive participant observation and fieldwork in the lives of the people and informants involved, also utilising structured, semi-structured and unstructured interviews, textual, visual and discourse analysis, and both qualitative and quantitative data collection.  Thus, as the anthropologist involved in “the intimate participation in a community and observation of modes of behaviour and the organisation of social life” (Keesing & Strathern 1998, 7), I aim to understand what rugby means to Fiji through “an intersubjective process of sharing experience” (Jackson 1996, 8).

Thus, to share this experience, the research will last for a minimum of 12 months positioning myself predominantly in two locations: Nadi and Suva on the Fijian island of Viti Levu.  There are a number of reasons for selecting these field sites.  Firstly, Viti Levu (Great Island) is the largest island in the archipelago, with a population of almost 600,000 people, two-thirds of the entire Fijian population (Cole et.al. 2003, 124).  It is the island which hosts the most clubs and, as a result, has the greatest number of players and rugby affiliated individuals from whom to gather information.  Along similar lines, Suva, the Fijian capital, with a population of over 350,000 (Cole et.al. 2003, 141), is Fiji’s metropolitan hub.  Suva thus has club sides across all levels of Fijian rugby competitions[7], increasing the regularity of contact with those critical to the study.  Also, Suva is home to the University of the South Pacific where communication with local academics and library services are both possible and likely.  Similarly, Fiji Times (the daily national newspaper) and Teivovo (a popular rugby magazine) are both produced in Suva, promising opportunities to meet with and discuss research related topics with knowledgeable media personalities.  Like Suva, Nadi also has several club sides across the various national competitions, despite its considerably smaller population.  However, it is also the home of the newly developed High Performance Unit where “it is envisaged that our athletes [Fijian rugby players] will live in the facility for up to 200 days per year” with access to two world class rugby fields, weight gyms, swimming pools, accommodation for players and management, and food and beverage facilities (Fiji Rugby Union 2006).  This HPU not only offers contact with the Fijian Rugby Union and its members, it also highlights the growing professionalism the game demands in Fiji and will be of considerable analytical benefit.

In addition to these Fijian cities, there may be an opportunity to conduct further research in other offshore locations, including Australia and New Zealand.  While my research, as previously mentioned, is concerned primarily with grassroots rugby in Fiji, it would be foolish not to pursue opportunities to communicate with players and families in movement, specifically to or from the recognised rugby destinations of Sydney and Auckland.  Player migration between the different unions, either through the success of recruitment or the disappointment of failure, would be extremely valuable to this research to better understand the impact of professionalism and financial imbursement, the processes involved, the experiences of the individuals and so on.  Sharing these journeys with those who are ‘making it’ or reflecting on these themes with those already ‘there’ would be incredibly important to better understanding rugby’s importance to Fijians.  Fieldwork time in Sydney and/or Auckland would quite likely be towards the end of the 12-month research.

It is envisaged that the first one to two months, commencing early January 2007, will be spent acclimatising to the location, developing informants and recording everyday occurrences, as “it’s in the course of endlessly describing all the mundane details of daily life that one discovers what the interesting questions might be” (Toren 1999, 84).  Suva, rather than Nadi, will be my first field site, allowing me to build both knowledge and rapport before accessing Nadi’s High Performance Unit at a future and undisclosed date.  Also, contact has been made through a small number of Adelaide club rugby players with a Fijian-Australian in Suva, facilitating a smoother transition into Fijian life.  Throughout the subsequent months, much of my time will be spent researching concurrently with the different rugby competitions, typically running from February to October.  This does not take into consideration the international tests and tours by the Flying Fijians.  The highlight of the year however will be the 2007 IRB Rugby World Cup in France – the pinnacle international rugby tournament held every four years.  This tournament runs across September and October and will be the talking point for much of the year.  Sharing this experience with informants, players and fans within the Fijian context may yield some of the most useful research material.  While November, December and January are, as a rule, off-season for rugby competition, player recruitment, movement and training will still be of high importance both to the local sport and my research.

The research itself will entail several key fieldwork activities.  First and foremost is the attendance of rugby matches and rugby related events.  As Howe (1997, 17) states,

an important component of my research methodology was attendance at each match and training session.  This gave me, in my role as ethnographer, a common ground from which to discuss [the research topic]… It also allowed me to adopt community membership as it gave me an opening interlude for discussions of other issues when conducting interviews and while participating in informal discussion.

This initial (and proceeding) attendance is perhaps the most critical of all fieldwork periods, as what is achieved in the initial stages has repercussions for the length of the fieldwork.  That is, participating in the social experience of rugby matches with spectators, understanding its key place within community life and developing contact with players in and around these events will pave the way for the remainder of the fieldwork.  Fijians are internationally recognised as warm, friendly and hospitable people, an emergent characteristic of the traditional value of vakataruga (Ravuvu 1983, 103-106).  Thus, fieldwork conducted within these welcoming circumstances bodes well for regular discussion, adoptive community membership and networking.  And as Bryman (2004) frequently mentions, the ‘snowball technique’ will allow me to broaden my network of informants by building rapport with those also in attendance and meeting new contacts through existing ones.

Due in part to the length of the fieldwork, involvement with one or more specific clubs, most likely in Suva, will be a similarly valuable pursuit.  Howe’s (1997) research conducted within the Pontypridd club and region emphasises the significance of a specifically localised site.  Here, the local social factors (economic hardship in South Welsh valleys) contributed greatly to the importance placed on community sport and the commercialisation of the local game.  Perhaps then, Suva’s club sides will reveal similarly centralised themes regarding Fijian rugby.  This club participation would involve administration, coaching, assisting or playing, depending on opportunities.  If playing is a possibility[8], Sands (1999b, 33) calls for intensive participation – deeper levels of experience for the cognitive understanding of that universe, “to reproduce what it felt like to be an athlete”.  Thus, in pursuing what it feels like to be a Fijian rugby player, I should become a rugby player.

However, in addition to intensive participation within specific clubs, perpetual textual, visual and discourse analysis of rugby related media would be conducted.  These will include pieces from the aforementioned Fiji Times and Teivovo as well as other television, radio and internet sources.  Local media pieces are spoken from a local voice, thus analysis must be made into what issues are pertinent to the Fijian people.  Nevertheless, as Silverman (2001, 128-138) highlights regarding texts, what are also of considerable importance are: the effects (desired and realised) of the media pieces, the depiction of reality, the social organisation of texts, their production and consumption, the construction of identities and so on.  For the anthropologist, media analysis is not limited to semiotics but should encapsulate all processes involved in the reporting, depiction and reception of the pieces within the local context.

Not only will there be analysis of media pieces, but interviews with media personalities is greatly desired.  These voices will perhaps be some of the most knowledgeable regarding my overall research topic, including Dr. Wadan Narsey, a leading Fijian economist and writer of numerous media pieces, and Jeremy Duxbury, editor of Teivovo.  Interviews will raise several of the aforementioned research questions and themes.  In addition to these local personalities, international media figures will be pursued for interviews, particularly upon return to Australia (through Sydney) towards the end of fieldwork.  As writers on Pacific Island rugby in the past, personalities such as Greg Growden, Peter Jenkins and Peter Fitzsimons could offer additional perspectives regarding rugby in Fiji.

Of course, interviews, both structured and unstructured, will mostly rely on local Fijian informants rather than foreign media figures.  Players, spectators and fans, family members, administrators, coaches and other community members will be interviewed in both public and private spheres.  Essentially then, the selection of informants is based on those connected to or involved with rugby in Fiji or those with the potential to contribute to the study.  The number of informants could be countless because rugby is a cultural phenomenon that permeates multiple levels of society.  In the same vein, ruby’s permeation throughout Fijian communities means attendance at other community events and gatherings is essential to my research.  It is hoped that exposure to former and current rugby identities will highlight their roles away from the rugby field.  If nothing else, it remains part of the rapport building and contact development process.  However, as AFL in Victoria, rugby league in Sydney, or association football on most other continents, rugby union in Fiji is an inescapable entity often discussed and featured in the many levels of community life.  Participating in public events and discussions will help answer why rugby, or perhaps sport in general, is such a powerful and meaningful cultural entity, why rugby figures are just as important to the community away from the game, and the impact of the sport in society.

National Benefit

In addition to some of the significant and innovative features of this research discussed above, Rucking The Islands will have considerable national benefit in both its knowledge production and potential application.  It is understandable to assume, and rightfully desirable, that this investigation will benefit Fiji more so than Australia.  Nevertheless, due to Australia’s involvement in the Oceania, Australasia and Pacific Island region, the nature of the game of rugby union, current trends in global labour migration, and shared thematic developments in Fiji and Australia, the proposed research will have significant resonance for Australia.

The survival of Australian rugby owes much to the Pacific Islands.  In 1952, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) was on the verge of bankruptcy, struggling in the post-war years against the other football codes, namely professional rugby league.  Yet the Fijian side drew record crowds in a two-test tour against the Australian team, impressing spectators with their unique style and spirit, and coming away with a victory.  A second tour two years later saw even larger crowds, again resulting in a one-all draw and financial boost for the sport in Australia (Duxbury 2006).  The Tongan national side provided a similar boost in the early 1970s.  Thus, a sense of duty to Pacific Island’s rugby must be realised by Australia.  As discussed earlier, the now strong Australian Rugby Union still draws heavily from its Island neighbours, as do other national unions.  But for the game to survive in these regions, and consequently for Australia to garner a fraction of the benefits, Australia must help address the problems surrounding Fijian rugby, which this research will draw attention to.

Sport in the modern era is big business (see Blanchard 1995; MacClancy 1996a; Cole & King 1999).  It relies heavily on media coverage, sponsorship and gate takings for its survival in a competitive marketplace.  For a professional sporting product like rugby to hold interest and be successful, it must remain fresh and diverse.  This freshness comes in the style of rugby played and the exposure to new athletic talent, while its diversity results from a competitive playing field.  The Pacific Islands, and in this case Fiji, offers that kind of rugby for a global audience, so long as it is provided the opportunity.  As Schuster[9] states, “it is important to promote and grow rugby as a sport, to keep people interested… have a World Cup that is competitive with more than just eight main players [national teams]” (Gregory 2004).  Australia can facilitate this progress through financial aid, access to players normally locked away as investments and regular international competition.  Some of the anthropological knowledge raised in this research will benefit the sport in Australia, as an improvement in opposition would see a more competitive product and a more interested spectatorship, media and sponsors included.  Consequently, the profits will follow for both Australia and Fiji.

Michael Jones, former All Black and current Manu Samoa coach, is often regarded as the voice for Pacific Island rugby, particularly under its current circumstances.  He comments

There is a moral obligation because Pacific Islands rugby has contributed a lot to Australian and New Zealand rugby in many ways.  We are looking to our bigger brothers…  We are totally desperate and on the last legs…  We clearly want to be in the international global game and it is up to our brothers, Australia and New Zealand to help out the Pacific Islands (Field 2003).

The language selection here, identifying Australia as a ‘big brother’, highlights both the existing and potential role this nation has in these debates.  Australia, like other powerful nations, has played a significant part in the professionalism of rugby union and has both directly and indirectly impacted upon the Fijian condition.  An ethnographic study on the meaning of rugby within Fiji, as well as its impact on the global sport, will hopefully provoke a renewed Australian response.

The 2003 Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland saw sport make the agenda for the first time (Garner & Young 2003).  Adding to the previously discussed notion that sport is now considered an important cultural entity in itself, Michael Jones sought to bring to attention the plight of Pacific Island rugby.  Australia, as one of 16 member states in the inter-governmental consultative organization, pledged with all fellow members to lobby the Australian Rugby Union, New Zealand Rugby Union and the International Rugby Board for policy changes regarding Island players around the world (Tunnah & Garner 2003).  Thus, Australia’s close association with its Pacific neighbours places it in a key position to address a multitude of social, economic and political issues.  This research may further assist in the policy making and implementation regarding Fiji’s rugby situation, as well as benefiting Australia’s relationship with its Island neighbours.

Of course, the benefits of this research are not limited to our place within Oceania and relationship with the Pacific Islands.  Yes, the movement of Fijian players to our country for professional sporting opportunities has some impact upon Australian society.  But thematically, several of the issues the research will address have a strong resonance with our own sporting culture.  Sport is often considered a secular faith; “Sport is the ultimate Australian super-religion, the one thing every Australian believes in passionately” (Guttmann 1978, 25).  As rugby union holds a religious-like following in Fiji, an array of sports holds a religious-like following in Australian societies[10].  Understanding the Fijian experience of sport can be compared and contrasted to our own.  Similarly, the opportunity to understand labour migration, sporting aggression, spectator ownership, and national and local identity through this Fijian context may provide significant insight into Australian understandings of these notions.

To further understand this potential benefit, a future study of colonial forces acting upon Indigenous Australian sport may be contrasted with the colonial forces acting upon Fijian rugby, as perceived by the people.  Daryle Rigney’s (2003) chapter summates that sports are socially conditioned and influenced strongly by the power of the nation state.  Colonial structures of power are controlled by a privileged few, resulting in forms of cultural domination.  As it may be felt that the IRB, ARU and NZRU are foreign colonial structures resulting in the cultural domination of Fijian rugby, what could be the forces acting upon Indigenous Australian sport?  Is there an imposition of colonial norms?  And if so, in what way?  He interprets, perhaps sensationally, the notion that modern sports are British inventions sent forth to conquer the world.  Stemming from this, Rigney states that if Indigenous peoples are oppressed, what are those in sport doing about it?  As he says, “what is the value or point in being fitter, stronger and faster if we do so only in ways and within limits set for us by those who oppress Indigenous Australian people?” (2003, 55).  The same question may indeed be asked of Fijian rugby players.  The anthropology of sport and research into current sporting issues, this proposed topic included, has the capacity to develop further knowledge in Australian communities.  Already, interest in my work has witnessed discussions regarding the establishment of viable sporting competitions for Australian Indigenous youth[11].

And this ethnographic research will be an Australian-produced thesis, further establishing Australia’s role in the field of sports anthropology.  The anthropology of sport is relatively new in regards to research within the social sciences.  Nevertheless, significant progress has been made in the past twenty years by academics in the Americas and Europe.  Association football (soccer) is perhaps the sport to most profit from this research.  But Australia, despite its obsession with sport, has yet to take an indelible stride in becoming a leader in sports anthropology, and rugby union is one of many sports not warranted the analysis it deserves.  This proposed research and subsequent thesis will further Australia’s charge into the world of sports anthropology.

Communication of Results

Communication of the research results will be multifaceted and include:

  • The production of a PhD Thesis for the University of Adelaide
  • The presentation of results at relevant academic and professional conferences
  • The publication of findings in relevant peer review journals
  • The distribution of findings and thesis drafts to key informants and interested parties associated with the research
  • The potential issuing of press releases to media bodies regarding findings, particularly sporting media and Oceanic/Australasian media

Description of Personnel

  1. Mr. Craig Gilbert (B Arts Hons, Grad. Dip. Ed.), PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide, Anthropology Department – Principal Researcher (data collection, thesis production)
  2. Professor John Gray, Head of School of Social Sciences, University of Adelaide, Anthropology Department – Principal Supervisor
  3. Dr. Michael Wilmore, Postgraduate Coordinator, University of Adelaide, Anthropology Department – Co-Supervisor

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Palmer, Catherine.  2002.  ‘Introduction: Anthropology and Sport’.  The Australian Journal of Anthropology.  13(3) December, pp.253-256.

Park, Julie.  2000.  ‘“The Worst Hassle Is You Can’t Play Rugby”: Haemophilia and Masculinity in New Zealand’.  Current Anthropology.  41(3) June, pp.443.

Peace, Adrian.  2006.  ‘Envious of a new global religion’.  The Advertiser (Australia).  5th June, pp.26.

Prasad, Jeetendra.  2004.  ‘Future of Pacific rugby at stake’.  Fiji Times.  5th March, pp.44.

Qiolevu, Atunaisa.  2005.  ‘Veteran wants more IRB help’.  Fiji Times.  17th May, pp.30.

Ravuvu, Asesela.  1983.  The Fijian Way Of Life: Vaka i Taukei.  Suva: University of the South Pacific.

Rigney, Daryle.  2003.  ‘Sport, Indigenous Australians and Invader Dreaming: A Critique’.  Sport and Postcolonialism.  Ed. J. Bale and M. Cronin.  Oxford, New York: Berg, pp.45-56.

Rugby Football History.  2006.  Rugby Football History.  <http://www.rugbyfootballhistory.com/&gt;.  Accessed October 2006.

Rugby Warriors.  2005.  Television Documentary.  Fox Sports One, Sydney: Live Design Australia.  Aired March 2006.

Runciman, David.  2006.  ‘They can play, but they can never win’.  New Statesman (United Kingdom).  29th May, pp.14-17.

Sands, Robert R.  1999a.  ‘Anthropology and Sport’.  Anthropology, Sport and Culture.  Ed. R.R. Sands.  Connecticut, London: Bergin & Garvey, pp.3-13.

Sands, Robert R.  1999b.  ‘Experiential Ethnography: Playing with the Boys’.  Anthropology, Sport and Culture.  Ed. R.R. Sands.  Connecticut, London: Bergin & Garvey, pp.15-37.

Silverman, David.  2001.  ‘Texts’.  Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction (2nd Ed.).  London, California: Sage Publications, pp.119-158.

Singh, Indra.  2006.  ‘Islanders suffer setback’.  Fiji Times.  20th October.

Toren, Christina.  1999.  Mind, Materiality and History: Explorations in Fijian Ethnography.  London, New York: Routledge.

Tunnah, Helen and Theresa Garner.  2003.  ‘Leaders back Islands rugby plea’.  The New Zealand Herald (General News section).  18th August.

Wagg, Stephen.  2005.  ‘Introduction: Following on’.  Cricket And National Identity In The Postcolonial Age: Following on.  Ed. S. Wagg.  London and New York: Routledge, pp.1-6.

Williams, Gareth.  1994.  ‘The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited: The Migration of Welsh Rugby Talent since 1918’.  The Global Sports Arena: Athletic Talent Migration in an Interdependent World.  Ed. J. Bale and J. Maguire.  London: Frank Cass, pp.25-38.


[1] The International Rugby Board’s ranking system for national unions considers success, financial resources and infrastructure.  Australia, New Zealand, England and other strong countries are classified as Tier One unions.  Fiji, its Island neighbours and other less strong union nations are classified as Tier Two (International Rugby Board 2006).

[2] 2005 saw the last season of Super 12 rugby, expanding to Super 14 in 2006.  Super Rugby is a provincial competition, often regarded as the world’s best, featuring fourteen teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  It is considered the stepping-stone for international rugby within these nations.

[3] Tamara Kohn (2003) further explores the role physical and geographical environments play in the development of the Aikido body.  While Aikido is not considered a sport (it is a non-competitive martial art) by some, Kohn explores how the national is embodied in the body through environments, directly impacting upon training and skill development.  “Their [Aikido students] strength, character, receptiveness to change and attitudes are also shaped by the environments they have been raised in, and these are seen… to vary significantly from place to place.  He [a sensei] associates northern climates with simpler diets that feed the aikido body in a particularly strong and martial way.  Relationships to time are also seen to vary between subcontinents…” (Kohn 2003, 150).

[4] Constructions of masculinities through sport have been written about extensively.  Those that would inform my research of this theme include Park (2000), Howe (1997; 2003), Archetti (1999) and Nauright & Chandler (1996).  Similarly, sporting violence and aggression has been addressed comprehensively, and those most useful include Kerr (2005), Foer (2004), Blanchard (1995) and Giulianotti (et al 1994).

[5] For a concise overview of anthropology’s study of sport, its slow incorporation into the discipline and reasons as to why it has been perceived as ‘frivolous’ and not viable for study, see Sands’ (1999a) opening chapter in Anthropology, Sport, and Culture and Dyck’s (2000) chapter in Games, Sports and Cultures.

[6] The plight of Pacific Island rugby is a continuous concern of the global sports media.  Perennial reporting highlights its importance among Fijians, Islanders and the wider rugby community, but also emphasises the persistent failures to effectively address the issue.  Such noted Australian media personalities who have reported on the Fijian rugby condition include Greg Growden (2005) and Peter Jenkins (2005), while the Fiji Times (2006a; 2006b; Qiolevu 2005; Duthie 2005; Prasad 2004; Kalouniviti 2006; Singh 2006) has a multitude of writers who report on the issue regularly.

[7] There are numerous levels of competition in Fijian rugby union, which include: The Colonial Cup, The Sanyo Fiji Cup, The Farebrother-Sullivan Trophy, The BP Oil 7s Series, The Island Zone Competition, an Indo-Fijian Rugby program and a Women’s Rugby program.  Many competitions have a Schools Division, Under-19 Division, Under-21 Division, B Division and First Grade Division.  On top of this, there are the national teams – the FMF Flying Fijians and Fijian 7s.  The national union side also competes in the new IRB Pacific Nations Cup, as well as in international test matches, while the currently-ranked-number-one Fijian 7s side tours perennially (Duxbury 2006; Fiji Rugby Union 2006).

[8] Although I have never played club rugby union, my knowledge of the game and sporting background, as well as the desire to play, could enable me to both train and play within the lower divisions.

[9] Harry Schuster is Chairman of the IRB’s Federation of Oceania Rugby Union.

[10] See Peace’s (2006) brief article on the religious-like following of international football.

[11] Informal discussions took place early September with Barry Williams (University of South Australia) and colleagues after they inquired as to what I was researching.  The interest raised several possibilities (none of which will be formally initiated in the near future) regarding sport among Indigenous youth and the benefits of sports research for the development of programs.  Thus with knowledge and interest comes the potential for action.

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When I last wrote, I was only days away from visiting Montreal, was still unemployed, and had never spent a Christmas away from my family.  Since then, Hab-country has been explored, a bi-monthly pay cheque is being banked (they don’t use the term ‘fortnight’ here), and a day that kinda felt like Christmas, without the margarita-flavoured hangover, has since come and gone.

Of course, the big news is that I am indeed employed.  And this has been the main reason for my blog post drought.  Writing time is now considerably reduced, as has been my mental energy.  But I’m still working through my Montreal and UFC 124 recollections and will hopefully have that adventure posted soon, along with my 2010 music recap.

I am now a sales assistant at Adrenaline Professional Body Piercing and Tattoo, a position I enjoy very much.  I am essentially filling the vacancy left by our friend and fellow Adelaidean, Stephen, who is returning home after living in Vancouver for the last seven months.  When Bec and I sadly learned of his decision to farewell us, Stephen put in a good word for me with Adrenaline, and within days I was given shifts upon my return from Montreal and was learning the intricacies of piercings, jewellery types and prices, and tattoos.

Adrenaline Vancity is a big shop.  With eight fantastic tattoo artists, and at least one piercer always on site, the shop is a chic studio selling a large range of clothing, accessories, artwork and more.  We also have a smaller Vancouver shop at Kitsilano, a short bus ride across the bridge to the mainland.  The staff are fantastic and, although they’re not my Stepney girls, I really enjoy working with some hilarious, entertaining, and downright intriguing characters, some of whom I already consider valued friends.

The job is by no means a glamorous anthropology or recruitment position, nor is it superbly paid.  As Dave, the owner, affirmed at my interview, “you know you’re way too qualified for this?”.  But it’s also something I’ve never tried before, an industry I have no experience in, and while I’m on the other side of the world, I’m excited to attempt new things and broaden my skill set.

And as Bec can now testify, it has its perks working in a tattoo and piercing studio.  Bec accepted an offer of a free microdermal piercing, valued at $120, which now adorns her sternum.  It won’t be long and I’ll most likely be adding to the existing ink on my body, especially with the quality of artists we have at Adrenaline and the rampant ideas racing through my mind.

As for Bec’s new work?  She’s now been in her position at The Old Barn Community Centre for a little less than two months and it’s still going fine.  It’s taking her a while to willingly accommodate the child-friendly nature of her work place, and I tease her for spending all day on Facebook, but the job is great for her career and to be on a salary is a huge benefit in Vancouver.  The community centre is in a beautiful location on the University grounds, surrounded by charming apartments and townhouses, numerous amenities and sports fields, and nearby forests and streams, and Bec’s daily travel time is worth the commute to get away from the downtown area.

Bec’s job has also provided me with the opportunity to further my writing, as Bec and her editor asked me to produce an article for the University Neighbourhoods Association newspaper, The Campus Resident, in which I compared my Aussie Christmas experiences with my first Canadian Christmas.  Writing a PG-rated article, to a readership I didn’t know, in a less-esoteric style, proved a tad vapid, but the words came easy and the article went to print, without edit, to an end I was happy with.

The only significant problem we’re facing is negotiating our free time and varying work schedules; I work mostly nights and predominantly weekends at Adrenaline, while Bec’s rocking the 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday thing at The Old Barn.  Getting some quality time together has proved challenging, but it’s made us appreciate what minimal time we can share.  Thankfully, as it currently stands, we are both able to cover rent (Bec far easier than I), with most of my remaining income going towards food, my ever-present gig addiction, and of course my looming trip home.

I am back in rAdelaide for Smiddy’s wedding in a month’s time, arriving on February 26 and departing March 9.  Flights are paid for and I’m newly suited up (and may I say how ridiculously sexy I look).  Although half of that time will be dedicated to my duties as best man, I hope to catch up with as many of the A-Town crew as possible, as well as absorb some much needed sun after surviving this long in vitamin D-deficient Canada.

My Christmas this year was not the classic, white one so many of you wished for us.  There was no snow and, sadly, no family to share it with, something I’d not yet experienced.  I attended the Rogers Santa Claus parade along with thousands of other families to immerse myself in the Christmas spirit, but it was a lesser version of Adelaide’s glorious pageant.  And, although both brand new employees at the time, Bec and I attended our work Christmas functions; The Old Barn’s event combined games of bowling with a formal dinner, while Adrenaline’s slightly rowdier affair was held at Romer’s Burger Bar.

I managed to message in for Annual Traditional Christmas Eve Margaritas, for which Dr Hëddy graciously hosted its sixth installment, and spent my own Christmas eve watching movies, decorating rooms, eating cupcakes and having drinks with a few new workmates.

Christmas Day was a quiet affair as Bec cooked up a monster turkey, filling our tiny oven and, subsequently, our bellies for many days later.  We also devoured a massive Toblerone cheesecake, played our new PS3 which we had treated ourselves with (Bec has become an amazing skater courtesy of Tony Hawk), watched plenty of TV, and stoked the artificial log fire on Channel 4.

The weather continues to be bitterly cold this winter, with snow hitting downtown on the rare occasion.  But I’m fairing well despite catching a flu-like cold recently, and the locals appear to feel the chill more than the visiting Aussies.  A new North Face jacket has certainly helped in that department.

And speaking of JAFAs (‘Just Another Fucking Aussie’ for those who don’t already know), winter is definitely the season for Australian tourists in Vancouver.  Hitting the nearby slopes for snowboard season, Australians have come in droves, predominantly from Queensland and New South Wales (although I’ve met travelers from all over Australia), and we get a large number visiting our shop for their souvenir piercings or tattoos.

While on her Christmas break, Bec visited Whistler and came back with some amazing photos of its snow-covered beauty.  But she reported that all she heard were Aussie accents and it’s been similarly said that Whistler is a temporary Australian colony.  Australia Day was apparently chaotic up there, with a number of travelers opting for a Vancouver day trip to escape the revelry.  It’s no surprise that Vancouverites are indifferent to Australians as we plague British Columbia during ski season.

But our own Australia Day was quite entertaining, as we offered a free piercing to the first person to serenade me with Advance Australia Fair.  Within 30 minutes, the competition was won.  There was no BBQ, no Triple J Hottest 100, but we did farewell Stephen at The Factory, monstering burgers and sinking some beers over a Canucks game.

You’ll all be pleased to know that the Canucks are currently atop the western conference, and if they’ve ever got a chance at the Stanley Cup, it’s this year.

I also saw Australia Day in with a fantastic gig headlined by Devil Driver and supported by Cancer Bats and Baptised In Blood at Venue.  For just $23, I jumped at the chance to see Canadian band Cancer Bats after their solid 2010 release Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones.  Easily the highlight of the show, Cancer Bats tore the crowd a new one with a set featuring songs from all albums.  Devil Driver were strong, and sounded much better than when I saw them support Lamb Of God in Australia.  They also revealed a new song from their upcoming album, Beast, which was typically crushing.  Baptised In Blood, although fairly generic in style, did a superb job of warming the crowd.  This was a great show in a great venue and had enough variety to entertain throughout.

Also a fantastic show was the Wolves In The Throne Room gig at The Rickshaw Theatre in early January.  Wolves are quite the enigmatic band, embodying their extreme-environmentalist ideology in their show.  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a band request no moshing, along with no flash photography, as they perform in the dark and decorate their stage with tree clippings, candles and lanterns, and animal skulls.  Wolves played for more than an hour and I was as captivated as when I saw them a year earlier at Fowlers Live.  Interestingly, Wolves had never performed in Vancouver, despite living just across the border in Washington.

In early December, Bec and I caught Kylesa at The Media Club.  This was our first experience at this venue, and it’s a venue I’ve fallen in love with.  Super small, extremely intimate, The Media Club feels like you’re on the stage when the band performs; think the Crown & Anchor meets the bar in Dillinger’s Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants video.  Kylesa were amazing and it’s the first time I’ve been drawn into a pit for a while.  Playing for barely an hour and mostly songs from their latest Spiral Shadow, Kylesa’s double drum groove and sludgy riffs are reminiscent of fellow Georgians Baroness and Mastodon.  Baptists (think Converge) and Haggatha (think doom with a hint of southern sludge) were fantastic supports and made the show a great overall gig.

I’m a frequent visitor at Scrape Records, an independent music store stocking predominantly metal, and have bought my tickets to Motorhead & Clutch, The Dillinger Escape Plan & Deftones, and Sepultura & Nevermore.  It’s a fantastic little shop, and once the bank balance returns to a healthier size, there are a ridiculous amount of 2011 releases worthy of my coin.

Also to come out of the Kylesa show was our new friendship with Rachel and Gareth, a couple from Ireland who had only just moved to Vancouver and who enjoy the same type of music as we do.  We have since dined out on many occasion, usually at the cheaper Moose, Factory or Warehouse, spinning stories of our musical experiences (Gareth was in a band back home and landed some large support slots) and getting a tad liquored.  It’s nice to have found new gig buddies and we’re looking forward to tearing up Saint Patrick’s Day together.  Look out liver.

The four of us managed to get up to the Capilano Suspension Bridge yet again, this time for the Canyon Lights.  At Christmas time, the bridge, nearby buildings and trees are illuminated with thousands of lights, making it quite the spectacle.  Of course, being winter, the rain and cold made it all the more challenging a visit.  But it was still worth the trip to North Vancouver.  Unfortunately, we missed out on the Stanley Park Christmas lights as work schedules and the weather were less than ideal.  But we’ll have to check them out for our next Canadian Christmas.

Unless we’re in South America by then.

On less warmer thoughts, the homeless situation in Vancouver remains an ever-present realisation.  And in winter, I wonder how so many cope with living on the streets.  After the Kylesa gig, we bumped into a charming, homeless gentleman named Patrick who struggled to pick our less-thick Australian accents; “I’ve never met anyone from Adelaide before”.  When I asked Patrick why he chooses to stay on the streets in winter rather than stay at the shelters news services tells us are half empty, he replied that at his age, 58, he’s too old to stay in the shelters, all based in the infamous East-Van area, as all the crack-heads come in, beat everyone and steal their limited belongings.  It’s a terrible shame that beds are available, but those who most deserve it are too afraid to utilise them.

More local observations:

  • Vancouver Canucks fans are definitely card-carrying members of Woo Nation
  • Cocaine is about a quarter of the price here in Canada compared to what it is in Australia
  • Almost anyone from Ontario says they’re from “On-terrible”
  • Vancouver is way too cool for fireworks on New Year’s Eve
  • The 10th annual Taboo Sex Show did not live up to its name and was fairly tame

February is going to be a crazy month for me.  We’re about to celebrate Bec’s birthday in a variety of ways, including a dinner for the two of us, a group get-together and Motorhead.  As always, there’ll be work, and then I return to Australia for just under two weeks.  I absolutely can’t wait to see my family and friends, and although I won’t be able to catch Soundwave Festival, a brief taste of home is going to do me wonders.

Keep your eyes peeled for my Montreal recap and my 2010 music review over the next two weeks.

And remember, Rain City loves you.

Cold out?

Posted: December 1, 2010 in Travel

Although winter has not yet arrived, technically speaking, it’s pretty damn cold here.  Vancouver’s just coming out of a cold snap that saw a significant amount of snow cover the downtown area, a rarity in the mild B.C. south.  Only nine months prior, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics struggled to cope with the lack of snow for its outdoor events, but now, locals are describing this weather as the coldest start to the holiday season as they can recall.

I’m well aware that there are far colder locations in Canada and around the world.  As I type this, Edmonton is hosting the 98th Grey Cup (the CFL’s equivalent of the Superbowl), which has recently seen maximum temperatures of -16 degrees.  Neighbouring Saskatchewan has had it twice as cold.  But to this Aussie, who’s used to little more than a T-shirt and hoodie in winter, Vancouver’s wind chill cuts straight through me.  It’s safe to say that the shorts are retired for a few months and my sexy, feminine ankles are in hiding.

It truly is a different cold here, and my home town of Adelaide’s long and dreary winter earlier this year simply doesn’t compare.  Waking up to -9 degree mornings has been challenging, and with daylight saving finished for the year in Canada, the sun disappears by 4:30 in the afternoon, just as the Pacific north-west winds race through the city streets and everyone scurries for the warmth of indoors.  It’s only going to get colder.

With all that said, the cold hasn’t got me down yet.  I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning when I woke to heavy snowfall, and, despite my appendages feeling every bit of Vancouver’s icy touch, I happily ventured outdoors and trudged through the blanket of white that had covered the city.

It’s been a busy month or so for Bec and I, and the time has certainly vanished faster than we anticipated.  You could perhaps interpret that to mean we’ve run out of money, but we’re still doing quite okay.  In fact, our situation’s improved significantly with news this week of employment; Bec’s hard work has been rewarded with a full-time and well paid position as a graphic designer and events coordinator with the Old Barn Community Centre.  Bec’s job searching endeavours weren’t without their stresses and disappointments, but of all the positions she applied for, this is easily the most exciting and one most ideal for her skill set and career.

My own job hunting will intensify once I return from Montreal in mid-December.  I certainly wasn’t going to allow work to get in the way of seeing Georges St Pierre destroy Josh Koscheck in his home, welterweight title defense.  But, there are a few potential job opportunities in the works that may come to fruition by my next blog post.  I was also offered an amazing job opportunity back in Australia, one made all the more attractive knowing how well paid it could be and in a field I’m passionate about and have an aptitude for.  The position was as a consultant anthropologist conducting cultural surveys with great people on breathtaking country.  Alas, I turned down the offer knowing I had much more to see, do and achieve here in Canada and can only hope that such an offer will be available upon my eventual return home.

As part of our eventful month just past, we accommodated our first Australian visitor since our arrival.  Emma stayed with us for a week on her journey across North America, Europe and beyond, and while the weather wasn’t always its most pleasant, we took the opportunity to both revisit some of our favourite places and try a few things we’d not yet done.  In addition to Bec and Em getting in some necessary girl-time over coffees, brunches and shopping, the three of us dined at a few new spots, including a magnificent breakfast at Twisted Fork (they had the best tomato dipping sauce) and a late night snack at Naam, a 24 hour organic vegetarian cafe.  And with the help of our good friend Stara, we finally visited Sanafir for an unforgettable dinner.  Sanafir is a Moroccan-themed tapas restaurant, whose stunning interior and decor is bettered only by the variety and quality of the dishes we sampled.  Bec, Em, Stara, Darren and I all ate our fill for a 50% staff discount courtesy of Dan (a young manager of another Glowbal-owned restaurant), and we managed to have a glorious night in one of Vancouver’s most dynamic restaurants to open Em’s week with us.

To add to our growing list of quality eateries, Bec and I also fine-dined at Brix restaurant for our anniversary, enjoying an amazing three-course meal under candle-light, all while seated in a charming, outdoor, dining space that was sandwiched between two vine-covered buildings and illuminated by chandelier.  To perfect an already lovely day, I was gifted a book – All Known Metal Bands – that I had first seen two years earlier when partying with a Mr Robb Flynn of Machine Head.  I am now the proud owner of metal’s (un)holy book of books.

Also with Em, we returned to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which was a significantly different experience now that it was late fall.  Our original visit was in the peak of summer and was thus hot, humid and riddled with tourists.  But in contrast, this excursion was far less populated by visitors.  The cloud cover was as low as the bridge itself and the heavy rains had made the greenery that much more vibrant.  Huge yellow and brown maple leaves littered the muddy trails, mushrooms and moss thrived in the dampness, and the Hemlocks, Firs and Cedars reached even higher for their chance at some sunlight.  And the cold was biting, so much so that Em’s fingers had turned a shade of black and required a few emergency warming measures.

Colder still was our decision to hire three push bikes for a morning and ride the seawall around Stanley Park.  We visited the totem poles, the Lions Gate bridge and a number of other vantage points, but the freezing wind coming off the harbour’s water numbed our hands and faces to the point of distraction.  While thoroughly enjoyable, and a preferred method of exploring Stanley Park, the weather simply wasn’t ideal for the ride.

Of course, what is ideal for this weather is ice skating, and I finally got my skate on at a nearby rink.  I love ice skating, have ever since the Kym Street kids bladed the neighbourhood and conquered the ice at Mount Thebarton.  But I hadn’t skated in quite a few years, and although rusty, I felt quite at home back on the ice.  I’m not so sure the girls shared my enthusiasm for skating around in circles, particularly with their less comfortable skates, but I couldn’t allow Em to come to Canada and not get some ice time in.  As Stara told Bec, Canadian kids don’t learn to swim; they learn to skate.  When I locate some expendable coin, I’m going to purchase my own pair of skates and hit the ice on a more regular basis.

Before Em joined us in Vancouver, Bec and I got to our first National Hockey League game, seeing our beloved Canucks dominate the Minnesota Wild 5-1.  At $150 a ticket, we’d hoped for a victorious night and were rewarded with a fantastic game, lots of goals and most importantly, a big win.  Hockey is without a doubt a religion here in Canada, dominating the sports media, and in Vancouver, the Canucks team is its deity, Rogers Arena is its shrine, and the Sedin twins its clerics.  And I’m converted.  It is a truly beautiful game; a sport whose skill level supersedes any preconceived ideas about it’s mere roughness, hits and fights, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of my first live NHL experience.

The two of us also got to Grease, the Broadway musical at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.  For those familiar with the film, the story and songs in the live production are noticeably different.  Nevertheless, the show was highly entertaining, well produced and well performed.  And some time in the new year is Wicked which I’m even more excited for.

Perhaps less family-friendly was the Dimmu Borgir gig at the Rickshaw Theatre, supported by Enslaved, Blood Red Throne and Dawn Of Ashes.  I can’t say that I’m a huge black metal fan, preferring the newer, genre-blurring black metal-inspired artists, but this was a show I had to see.  And what a night it was.  The whole show, from first act to Dimmu Borgir’s four song encore, made the subzero temperatures and stomach bug a forgettable inconvenience, and my inner corpse-painted viking was summoned at the blood-curdling growls of each band.  The self-control required of me to prevent my arson hands from lighting up a church or two on my journey home post-gig was challenged but maintained.  The turnout for these bands was huge; the mosh pit was as brutal a mosh I’ve seen and was constantly active and violent.  And true to previous posts, Dimmu Borgir confirmed Vancouver’s fans as vocal and rabid as any they’d witnessed that tour.  Enslaved and Blood Red Throne were equally as awesome as each other, and different enough to bring some variety to the exceptional show.

The Stone Temple Pilots gig at the Pacific Coliseum was as good as I expected, but not mind-blowing.  STP is one of Bec’s favourite bands and this was a gig she had to cross off her list of must-see shows before she dies.  I’m grateful, for her sake, that we got a sober Scott Weiland and a full 90 minute show featuring some classic songs from some amazing albums.  But the band were loose, perhaps showing their age, their exhaustion, or their waning talent.  And the arena they performed in was barely half full, limiting the atmosphere this legendary band deserved.  I’m not saying that this wasn’t a great gig.  I still loved singing along to Vasoline, Plush, Sex Type Thing and Dead & Bloated, and the light show and visuals behind the band were effective.  But comparing the impeccable tightness of Alice In Chains only a month earlier with the looseness and error-strewn performance by STP won’t get this gig in my favourites of 2010.

As an aside, gig security at Vancouver’s arenas is ridiculously strict.  I’ve now been to two arena shows at Rogers Arena and Pacific Coliseum, and the number of security guards and checks at these shows has been unbelievable.  With warnings on tickets and signs at doors not to bring in any photographic, video or recording equipment, Bec and I have had to smuggle in our contraband.  But with pat-downs (including the taking off of larger clothing items), metal detector wands and bag checks, this has been a challenge.  It’s not uncommon to pass twenty or more security personnel just getting to the floor.  Yet seeing the amount of cameras present at gigs, not to mention the copious amounts of pot smoked on the floor, I wonder how effective that amount of manpower truly is.  And with phone technology where it is, they’re going to have to ban mobile phones at gigs if they’re so intent on performances remaining unrecorded.

As per the post below, I celebrated my first North American Halloween by carving a jack-o’-lantern worthy of Dio.  This was only my second attempt at a pumpkin carving, and I must say, my creative talents continue to amaze even myself.  Artistic genius aside, the Vancouver kids love their Halloween, and Granville Street was swamped with hundreds of costume-clad cats for the entire weekend.  Stara and Darren took Bec and I out to Commercial Drive on the Saturday for the Secret Souls Walk.  From what I understand, this is a neighbourhood initiative where houses along a designated route adorn their yards, garages or other property with anything Halloween related.  The walk covered about three large blocks and we witnessed Dexter-inspired killing rooms, Thriller dance groups, folk bands and story tellers, and of course, costumed residents and pumpkins as far as the eye could see.  The effort is admirable and was rewarded with thousands of visitors despite the rain.

More creepy than our Halloween experience was our visit to Gunther Von Hagens’ Body Worlds & The Brain at the Telus Science World.  For those with a stomach for the moderately gruesome, I absolutely recommend seeing this when it comes to your town.  Full bodies and individual body parts are dissected, preserved and positioned by plastination for inquisitive minds to examine.  One can witness embryos and fetuses at all stages of development, cross-sections of many body parts, cancers and tumors on several  organs (often comparing them to healthy ones), entire body structures showcasing muscle usage in a variety of poses, and the list goes on.  This really is an enlightening and fascinating exhibit, and we managed to accompany it with a lecture on neurolinguistic programming and hypnosis by a Yaletown expert.

Just this past weekend, we attended a beautiful photographic exhibition on Granville Island called The Tattoo Project: Body. Art. Image.  Completed in just three days of shooting, 12 photographers captured 100 tattooed models in all their glory, and the final result was a magnificent body of work.  Whether you’re a fan of tattoos, photography or art in general, many hours could be spent admiring how each photographer captured the decorated body in a different way.  After two years without feeling the needle, my itch is definitely back (not that it left) and it needs to be scratched.  Andy bro, you need to get over here to finish my sleeve.

Bec and I are considering upgrading to a larger place, still in the same building, but one with a bedroom separate to the living area.  For an extra $170 per month, the new apartment is attractive for its additional space.  However, it’s likely that we’ll keep our little place which now feels like a home, thanks mostly to my growing stack of CDs and Bec’s ever-expanding wardrobe and kitchenware.  Now, if only the evacuation alarms would stop sounding in the middle of the night every week; standing on the curb in little more than your underwear as it rains or snows is simply cruel.

Care for more local observations?

  • Vancouver’s artistic scene is vibrant, none more so than its strong graffiti culture seen on many a bridge and wall (often commissioned by councils)
  • The weather forecast is never correct; expect the opposite and you won’t be disappointed
  • Vancouver hasn’t grasped the concept of roundabouts yet despite television commercials explaining them (yes, you read right); four-way stop signs are still the norm
  • My Adelaide accent is more often than not mistaken for English
  • North America may have the worst television ads and jingles ever, seriously
  • An entree is called a “starter” or “appetizer”; a main is called an “entree”

If anyone is looking for a ticket to Adelaide’s 2011 Soundwave Festival, I will have one to sell.  I’m definitely back in Australia at that time for Smiddy’s wedding and will need to find a buyer; if you know anyone or want it, please hit me up.  It’s likely I will have a second to sell also as Bec won’t be back for it either.  Hopefully I can catch the Sydney event on my way home, but this is looking less and less likely.  Either way, I can’t wait to see you all.

Expect a new blog post in a couple of weeks describing my visit to French Canada and the incredible feeling of witnessing a Rush victory in person.

And for those keeping score, Montreal defeated Saskatchewan by three points to win this year’s Grey Cup.

The Halloween spirit

Posted: October 29, 2010 in Music

How can The Count move to North America and not get into the Halloween spirit?  And is there a more metal holiday than Halloween?  I think not.  As the motto stands… STAY METAL.

Below is my pumpkin carving effort.  Mad horns!

The Banff edition

Posted: October 27, 2010 in Travel

It would be amiss of me to open this post without first stating that Baggzz, and his lovely lady friend, The Fly, are two of the best hosts I’ve been fortunate enough to stay with.  For that, I thank them.

If you’ve not yet met him, Baggzz (birth name William) is one of my A-Town brothers who made the move to Canada a bit over a year before I did.  After six months working in Vancouver, he made the move to Banff and has been there ever since working for Hostelling International’s Banff Alpine Centre.  Baggzz is the kind of host that hooks you up with everything you need for an awesome stay, long before you either ask or realise you need it.  And flanked by the uncontainable ball of energy in The Fly (birth name Claire), my week was set for both mischief and magic.

I took the opportunity, while sans-employment, to duck across the BC/Alberta border to visit Baggzz in Banff and to catch some of its famous sites.  Banff National Park is Canada’s first national park, and the town itself is Canada’s second highest in terms of altitude, with the nearby Lake Louise at top elevation.  Unfortunately, my timing was not ideal, booking the Thanksgiving long-weekend for my travels, leaving Bec on her lonesome.  Thankfully, Bec was able to jump the US border and explore rainy Seattle on her days off from work, and from all reports, had a great time.

Despite being the cheapest mode of transport, I can’t say that I enjoyed my Greyhound journeys between Vancouver and Banff.  If you’ve got money to burn, fly.  I opted for overnight bus trips to maximise my daylight hours and to pass the tedious journeys faster with sleep; travel time between these two towns was between 13 and 14 hours each way, with many, many stops.  Of course, night travel brings the crazies out.  I managed to meet an ex-cocaine dealer/antiques collector who had a broken arm after being set upon by “ten guys”, had all he possessed in the three bags on him, and was due in court the very next morning, as well as an engaged Toronto girl who was a tad over-infatuated after meeting her first Aussie.  Nevertheless, I managed to get a few broken hours of sleep on each journey and was more than happy waking up to mountain upon mountain in the breaking dawn light on my way to Banff.

The town of Banff has a very peculiar feel about it.  Nestled into the Canadian Rockies, whose beauty is as close to unparalleled as I’ve witnessed first-hand, Banff is a polished and pristine tourist town.  Populated by as many Aussies as Albertans, souvenir stores make up every third shop along Banff Avenue, pedestrians dominate the main strip with vehicles having to give way to all, and if you’re not at least a little bit interested in the looming ski season, you’re in the wrong place.  But within minutes, you can be immersed in the natural landscapes of snow-capped mountains, crystal clear waters and local wildlife, without another individual in ear shot.

Baggzz thankfully had three consecutive days off work during my time in Banff, and as previously mentioned, managed to organise much for the week.  Day one of course was spent catching up over a steak sandwich, darts and a number of beers, and strolling a rainy Banff Avenue.  That Sunday evening, the hostel threw a roast turkey dinner for the fall festivities, which we subsequently chased down with many an alcoholic beverage.  Amidst the blur of that evening, we jumped on board a pub crawl, joked, slapped, danced and stumbled our way around town, and taxied home with handfuls of McDonald’s burgers.

Perhaps still partially intoxicated, the three of us thought it a wonderful idea to climb Sulphur Mountain the next day.  Sulphur Mountain is only a short bus ride south of town and is a popular tourist spot with gondolas transporting visitors up to the top in under ten minutes.  However, with the sun out and sandwiches in the belly, we strode up the mountain on a two hour hike, taking in some of the amazing local views.  Of course, when I say “strode”, I imply “struggled”, as The Fly showed up the boys who were mere shadows of their former gym-going selves.

The views at the top were spectacular, and I was more than trigger-happy with my camera.  From Sulphur Mountain’s peak, you could see the town of Banff positioned on the Bow River and resting aside Tunnel Mountain, with Cascade Mountain towering over them all in the background.  It truly is a wonder how the first European settlers stumbled across the local hot springs well over a century ago, bringing the train and wealthy Victorians to the area, and thus originating the town as a tourism mecca.  As the sun began to hide behind Banff’s mountains and the chill set in, we took the gondola to the bottom and rewarded ourselves with coffee and tea at the luxurious Rimrock Resort Hotel.

After consuming a bucket of peanuts during Monday night football, we hit Safeway to stock up on pizza ingredients for the evening’s dinner and following day’s snacks.  Grocery shopping in Banff must be an extreme sport as I was soon introduced to the store’s blood pressure machine.  You’ll be pleased to know that, while my pulse rate was a little high, my blood pressure was in the optimal range.  At least it was until I consumed more of Canada’s exceptionally orange cheese on that evening’s pizza.

Baggzz, making the most of his local contacts, organised for us a hire car for the following two days, allowing us the luxury of exploring more of Banff National Park.  Of course, two Aussies and a Pom driving on the right side of the road made us all initially tentative, but by mid-morning, we were on our way north up Highway 1.

Flanked by running streams and enormous mountains, the highway has a number of small, tunneled bridges at regular intervals just outside of Banff.  I was informed that these bridges are actually for the wildlife in an effort to lessen the number of animal deaths each year on the highway.  Atop the bridges, pieces of barb wire snag clumps of hair from the passing animals, allowing the park staff to identify which animals cross.

Our first stop was Lake Louise, about 60 kilometres northwest of Banff.  Described as the “Jewel of the Rockies”, Lake Louise is one of the most photographed places in all of Canada.  One of its major attractions is the luxurious Fairmont Chateau, positioned metres from the lake’s edge and with views of Victoria Glacier and its surrounding mountains.  Of course, for me, this detracts from the natural majesty of this beautiful spot.  That said, I couldn’t come to Banff National Park without visiting the lake’s soft blue water and it was as stunning as expected.

However, my personal highlight of this day’s travels was hidden only 12 kilometres away.  At the end of a road, closed in winter for cross country skiing, Moraine Lake’s sheer perfection struck me like nothing in Canada thus far.  Without a five star resort shadowing the area, I stood for what felt like hours, staring at Moraine Lake and its snow-capped Ten Peaks partially hidden by clouds.  Words cannot describe how perfectly turquoise the lake’s water is, nor capture the chill as the wind flushes down the mountains, across the water and through your clothes.  But I can never come to Banff now without visiting Moraine Lake.

Almost as glorious are the views of Peyto Lake from the lookout on Bow Summit.  This glacier-fed lake is as blue as Moraine Lake, and the valley views stretch for miles in the distance.  At times, it felt as though you could reach a hand out and touch a perfectly painted water-colour.  And the bus-loads of visitors were testament to the must-see attraction of this spot.  It was also at Peyto Lake where I experienced my first noticeable bit of Canadian snow, happily turning it into snow balls and carving an homage to my metal brethren.

The further north we travelled, the colder it got.  Skimming rocks and tap dancing on nearby decking to keep warm, Bow Lake froze us to the core.  With views of two glaciers and mountains piercing directly out of the water, Bow Lake was one of several remarkable stops along the way.  The Weeping Wall was unfortunately anticlimactic, perhaps more interesting when its waterfalls run heavier and freeze for ambitious ice climbers.  I was also introduced to Canada’s largest and only roundabout, as well as the cheesiest museum at the Columbia Icefield Centre.

But of the more remarkable spots, the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park was quite awe-inspiring and accessible by foot.  I can’t recall a time I was colder, and vaguely remember struggling to take photos with frozen hands while losing all feeling in my nose.  But the enormity of the glacier is lost until you’re standing at its base, and it’s shocking to learn how much of the glacier has disappeared over the past century, retreating deeper and deeper into the mountains.

Covering about 300 kilometres that day, we returned home as the sun set, and had our fill of Japanese cuisine at the Sushi Bistro.  It was our last opportunity for the three of us to share dinner together with Baggzz and The Fly returning to work the following day.  Nevertheless, we managed a few extra drinks at Wild Bill’s, enjoying the dulcet tones of local karaoke and reminding me that I was in country music-loving Alberta.

Still with car, Baggzz and I hit the road the following day, visiting Johnston Canyon and its variety of lower and upper falls.  It was here that the finer differences between a creek beast, falls beast and path babe were defined, as well as learning from Baggzz some local tips on bear safety when hiking on their territory.  The beautiful falls were visually stunning.  But what was most impressive was how the roar of the crashing water shifted from deafening to soothing.  The water’s power was evident, eroding the canyon walls into smooth caves and ancient crevices, and the short hike was worth the trip.

After checking out Castle Mountain, I was soon schooled on the intricacies of shuffleboard over a pint and steak sandwich, as well as shown where to purchase the most gaudy yet awesome cowboy shirts in all of Banff.  More importantly, I was shown Banff’s famous Mer-Man which was preserved at the Indian Trading Post.  This may indeed be the creepiest store I’ve ever set foot in, but like all horrific things, I couldn’t peel myself away.  Mer-Man rules.

With The Fly back on board post-work, we ventured out to Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake and Rundle Mountain, checking out some of the more local scenery.  It’s worth a note that, although I sadly didn’t see any bears or moose this trip, I did often see elk, deer, squirrels and chipmunks, and these were often in or around Banff town, as was the case near Rundle Mountain.

That evening would be my last in Banff, and with Baggzz working the hostel’s bar, The Fly and I consumed copious amounts of alcohol until the early morning hours.  Amidst the jokes, kisses and photos, we managed to convince a young traveler that I was a famous actor, as well as shoot way too many fireballs: a cinnamon whisky which tastes like Christmas.  The night ended with Gavin, Baggzz’s roommate, cooking up two of the finest chicken burgers I’ve consumed while intoxicated.

My final day was flown solo and nursing only a minor hangover.  I managed to check out Cascade Gardens and the recommended Bow Falls as I walked the Bow River, as well as purchase my Canucks jersey (bless oil-rich Alberta for its minimal taxes) and a few little gifts.  But I was truly saddened to depart Banff that evening, leaving one of my brothers and a couple of new friends.

As mentioned in this post’s opening, Baggzz and The Fly helped make this trip worth the two 14 hour bus rides, the crazy night travelers, the time away from home and Bec, and the minimal hit to my already diminished savings.  Their energy, generosity and local knowledge made my Banff sojourn a highlight of my year’s travels.

Banff, the national park and the Rockies in general, are simply gorgeous.  I cannot wait to revisit again and again, and witness their beauty across the changing seasons.

“Congratulations on being selected to move to the next phase of the Recruitment Pool intake.”  What?  This was a British Columbia government job that I applied for back in late-June/early-July while still in Australia and still employed.  I had forgotten about the application until I was emailed by a recruitment consultant three months later.

Needless to say, I am back seeking employment.  But, please, allow me to clarify; I am merely browsing and have been for the past month, rather than aggressively hunting for work.  I still have adequate savings to last the remaining months of 2010 without working and may choose to do so, so long as I maintain the funds to live a footloose and fancy-free lifestyle.  I sacrificed and saved intensely to be in this position and have enjoyed the past three months of leisurely pursuits.

As previously mentioned, the pay in Canada is less than exciting.  $10 an hour is the going rate for most advertised positions.  Even more professional and qualified positions will rarely reach $15.  I attended a Work Fair a few weeks ago at the Vancouver Convention Centre to get a better understanding of the local labour market, to hopefully talk to a few employers, to seek advice and direction and to find positions paying above the minimum wage.  Alas, the experience was utterly uninspiring and the fair was nothing more than a PR exercise or tax write-off for a number of businesses.

Bec has since quit her job at a local coffee shop in anticipation for the arrival of one of her dearest Adelaide friends.  Her employer paid $8 an hour, held $300 of her first pay as a “security deposit”, would thaw and refreeze raw chicken to serve to customers, and disgustingly slandered Bec’s credibility on a number of occasions.  Bec had no hesitation in resigning and is enjoying a temporary break planning a week for herself and Emma.

The work situation is not all doom and gloom.  On our sports-focused evenings at our local bar, Bec and I met a lovely Australian couple who have renewed our faith in local employment opportunities.  Openly sharing their experiences from their arrival in Canada two years prior, the folks from Bris-Vegas gave us tips and hints on networking within this big small-town city, and even may have graphic design possibilities for Bec.  Time will soon tell what opportunities could present themselves.

But enough business.  What leisurely pursuits have entertained me since I last wrote?

Most recently, I spent just under a week visiting one of my Adelaide brothers in Banff across the border in Alberta.  For that recap, I’ll share a separate post in the upcoming week.

For the most part, I’ve done less of the exciting, touristy-type activities these past six or so weeks.  With Bec working full time and the two of us settling in as locals, more of our free time has been spent snapping up tickets to several major events, sampling local cuisine at a number of new eateries, and walking areas we’ve not yet explored.

The Vancouver Fringe Festival was on in September for a week, and unlike the Adelaide Fringe Festival, it truly is fringe.  Based primarily on Granville Island (conveniently across the bridge from us), the festival is perhaps one-twentieth the size of ours at home and is without any recognisable celebrity names.  Nevertheless, its prime location and grassroots promotion by the artists themselves gives the small festival a charm lost on an event of grander scale.  We managed to catch only one comedy show, recommended to us by an old uni friend of mine back in Australia, called Pretending Things Are A Cock.  As the title suggests, the Australian comedian shared a slide show of him posing with various objects resembling penises, spinning anecdotes from his youth and his international travels.  Machu Picchu Cock remains embedded in our minds.

We managed to catch our first Canadian ice hockey match with the season opener of the Western Hockey League between the Vancouver Giants and Chilliwack Bruins.  The WHL makes up part of the Canadian Hockey League, a league for players under 20 years of age and where you’ll most likely catch the NHL stars of tomorrow.  With prime, centre-ice seats, the match was quite inexpensive and highly entertaining.  The skill level and aggression was incredibly high and the Giants came away with a 9-4 victory.  Only now do we have our first National Hockey League game; hopefully the Vancouver Canucks will make the $150 seats worth their price with a victory.

For my fellow music lovers, I’ve managed to catch another couple gigs.  Helmet played Venue and were supported by Bison BC.  I mainly went for the local metal heroes in Bison, but thoroughly enjoyed the entire show.  Bison are crushing, blending an array of styles, and they played tunes from both Dark Ages and Quiet Earth in their set.  My knowledge of Helmet is minimal, but the local fans ate up their 75+ minute set.

Alice In Chains, supported by Deftones and Mastodon, will most likely feature in my top gigs of 2010.  Playing Rogers Arena, the grunge legends gave the masses a 90 minute set featuring old and new material, including a three song encore with a Black Gives Way To Blue acoustic tribute to Layne.  AiC is a band that I often overlook when turning tunes at home, but live, are always incredibly tight, always having fun, always get me dancing and always get me singing.  Deftones were horrible, reminding us why nu-metal died years ago.  Mastodon opened proceedings fantastically with a short set comprised of songs from their last three albums.  Despite being the heaviest band on the bill, their cross-over appeal with songs from Crack The Skye ensured all in attendance were warmed up in style.  Mastodon closed with Blood and Thunder and left this gig-goer with a very sore neck and no voice.

Having attended a few more gigs in Vancouver, there are quite a few similarities between the metal scene of Adelaide and the metal scene of Vancouver.  Although Adelaide’s scene appears bigger (not necessarily based upon big-name bands but by the number of metal-friendly venues, fan sizes at shows, active local bands and regular gigs), both fans are rabid at shows; international acts often seemed surprised and comment as to how impressed they are with the crowd intensity.  I often hear comments by gig attendees that many touring acts skip Vancouver, which, up until more recently, happened quite regularly to Adelaideans.  I’ve already noticed several of the same faces at the few shows I’ve been to, which resembles the community-feel Adelaide’s scene has.  And much like Adelaide is for Australia, Vancouver seems to be the weed capital of Canada.  More comparisons will emerge as I attend more shows, but thus far the similarities outweigh the differences.

As for future events, we’ve still got the aforementioned Canucks hockey game around the corner, as well as Stone Temple Pilots and Grease the musical.  I’ve also, perhaps foolishly, blown a small fortune on a UFC 124 ticket to catch the title fight between welterweight champion Georges St Pierre and Josh Koscheck with 20,000 French Canadians in Montreal this December.  Of course, I justify it as one of the must-do Canadian experiences before I die and I truly can’t wait for it.

Bec and I manage to cook quite a bit at home, but also dine out on the odd occasion.  Supermarkets here are like gourmet continental delis, with an incredible amount of attention given to the layout and design of their stores.  Although more expensive, IGA Market Place and Urban Fare are usually our first port of call.  Price differences to home vary, but most costs are comparable.  As Bec has found out, baking ingredients are very expensive, and there is little incentive to buy free-range eggs besides our own morality when they cost four times the amount of caged eggs.  Cheese here is orange and something we’re still not used to.  Meat can be expensive, but isn’t if you shop selectively; we’ve had many a fine roast or mince-based meal.  They don’t do cordial here, unless you don’t mind powdered, flavoured sweeteners.  Oh, and we may have discovered the most perfect chip flavour of all time: Dutch Crunch’s Jalapeno and Cheddar.  Mmmm, mmmm.

The Famous Warehouse still has Vancouver’s best burger, although A&W give them a good run for their money.  Halibut has thus far been my choice of fish when dining out with its subtle fish flavour and meaty white flesh.  Sushi can be pretty hit or miss here, but Yamato Sushi has given us our best so far.  Salsa Agave is our best local Mexican restaurant and I always leave there regretting how much I’ve consumed.  The Elbow Room is a recent discovery and is our pick of the brunch spots with a massive selection of breakfasts and fantastic, bustling atmosphere.  It’s no Dumpling King, but Chinatown’s New Town Bakery has some pretty mean steamed pork buns.  Much to Bec’s chagrin, we’ve not yet dined at a Moroccan restaurant, but there are rumours of a Moroccan tapas bar nearby.  And I’m always extremely pleased that root beer and Dr Pepper are readily available in most restaurants and stores.

Of course, Bec and I have appreciated the steady stream of care packages from home.  Our parents and friends continue to send us Vegemite, Tim Tams, Milo and Nesquick, Tea Tonic, All Purpose seasoning, Caramello Koalas and more.  We love you all very much.

There are always new areas of discovery for us, and we usually try to pick somewhere different to explore when Bec and I have a spare day together.  Commercial Drive is one such discovery, with a portion of it described as Little Italy.  It is quite a multicultural area and features an array of restaurants including Italian, Ethiopian, Indian, vegetarian and more.  There are many thrift and retro clothing stores along this strip and once I stop spending money on events, I shall throw a little coin in the direction of these shops.  Also recently explored has been North Vancouver across the harbour, home to the Lonsdale Quay Market, steep roads and Walmart.

One free weekend in particular, Bec and I got away to Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia’s capital city.  Four hours each way on two buses, a train and a ferry, we managed to get over to this small, British town, home of the “newly wed and nearly dead”.  I wouldn’t feel the need to return in a hurry, nor spend longer than three days here, but it is a very beautiful and pristine place.  Much of day one was spent on foot, walking the gorgeous harbour, checking out Fisherman’s Wharf and its friendly seals and floating homes, exploring Government Street and Douglas Street, and dining in Canada’s oldest Chinatown.  Day two however was spent on the water with Orca Spirit Adventures in the hopes of spotting the elusive orca whale.  Elusive it was and the twelve year old marine biologist in me was very disappointed to have missed seeing one of planet Earth’s most magnificent creatures.  With that said, the three hour tour gave us humpback whales feeding and trumpeting in the Juan De Fuca Strait, colonies of two types of sea lions, playful porpoises and beautiful scenery.  Two more highlights of the day were our visit to Craigdarroch Castle, where Victoria’s opulence was demonstrated by a coal baron, and the ferry ride home in which the gorgeous sun set over several islands between Swartz Bay and the Georgia Strait.

In other news, you can expect a return visit from me to Australia late February of next year.  Nothing is set in stone, and I’m not sure I’ll even have the funds to get me home, but another A-Town brother is getting married and I’ll make every effort to get there.  The downside to this is that the date of said wedding is the same date as Adelaide’s Soundwave Festival.  Keep your ears peeled for anyone who may need a ticket.  More news soon.

More observations on Vancouver:

  • The aroma of BC Bud is everywhere; you better get used to it if you don’t already like it
  • Women make up a noticeable percentage of the road work/construction industry
  • I don’t imagine British Columbia has known drought based solely on the water levels of their toilets and lack of dual-flush systems
  • If you weren’t already frightened by the regular running of red lights here by drivers, they’ve only just reduced the accepted blood alcohol content from .08 to .05
  • Reruns of Due South are still on the air
  • Pizza prices are unbelievably high and that’s just for a bland, two-topping pizza

Hopefully by my next Vancouver-based post, I will have enjoyable, well-paid work.  But don’t hold your breath; one could get used to this life of leisure.  Until then, keep well and stay metal.

Yes, I’m alive

Posted: September 3, 2010 in Travel

Wow.  Has it really been over a month already since I departed Adelaide’s freezing winter?

I am very sorry for not writing sooner, but I have been too busy working on my tan and spending my non-sleeping hours outdoors exploring this gorgeous city of Vancouver.  After all the updates I’ve received from home, I’m not taking this sun for granted.  Many emails await my attention in my inbox, but this will have to suffice until the nasty rains confine me to my apartment building (which sounds like it will be soon).

Needless to say, I remain unemployed.  And I love it.  Yesterday was the first day I looked at a job website, and thus far I have four applications in for jobs that excite me about as much as the Canadian Football League.  But soon enough, the bank balance will disappear and I may have to accept the pathetic $10 per hour jobs that seem to be available in this city.  We were advised the other day that Canada’s government has failed to increase the minimum wage at the same rate as inflation and the cost of living, hence the incredible number of homeless people throughout Vancouver.

And boy, is it frightening.  Not the homeless themselves, but the sheer number.  It is truly an eye-opening experience, a very confronting experience, jostling your way through crowds of homeless asking for change, admitting their desire to use donations for drugs and alcohol.  I have yet to discover what support and services are available to the homeless here, many of which have noticeable mental health issues.  If you’re looking to visit Vancouver and wish to remain removed of such sites, avoid Gastown and Chinatown.  If you wish to buy your stolen goods back, East Hastings is where it’s at.  I’ve not seen anything of this nature in Australia, at least not to this extent, and I’m reminded daily of how lucky we are back home (even if we still don’t have a ruling government).

Of course, in an effort to avoid residency in a back alley, Bec has attacked the job hunting.  Despite the stresses of dwindling savings, it looks like Bec’s got one confirmed job and the possibility of a second.  I’ll leave Bec to update you on her financial and emotional tribulations.

For the most part, we’ve been too darn busy to worry about work.  There is so much to see and do here; I’ve written a lengthy list of the buildings to visit, the mountains to climb, the harbours to sail and the events to rock, and I’m still about two thirds from completion.  When the weather is fine, the activities are endless.  I am still amused when a few high-20/low-30 degree days are described as a heatwave.  But, perhaps my opinion of Vancouver may differ come the rains and full time employment.

But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll briefly touch upon our time in New Zealand.  As expected, the weather was less than ideal.  It wasn’t so much cold as it was wet, and it limited our movements to Auckland’s CBD despite grand plans of traveling to Rotorua to freefall, zorb and swoop.  We did however explore Auckland on foot, checking out art galleries, shops and even catching Inception (amazingly brilliant movie).  I survived an All Black pub while cheering for my Wallabies, revisited Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World, shot jagermeister out of ice sculptures at the Minus 5 Bar, and fine-dined 200 metres above Auckland in the Sky Tower’s revolving restaurant.

New Zealand remains one of my favourite countries in the world, particularly the south island, and I will no doubt revisit upon my return.

The 13 hour flight from Auckland to Vancouver was tolerable, as I was distracted by Iron Man 2, Clash of the Titans, Full Metal Jacket and The Green Zone.  I absorbed far more violence than I should have on an hour’s sleep.  And somehow, we had our two year working visas processed in minutes and had bypassed customs entirely.  Vancouver’s public transport system seems very good (at least in the few instances we’ve used it thus far), as was the case catching a train from the airport to our new neighbourhood.

Our place is tiny.  It’s a small, studio apartment with a pull-down bed.  But it’s great.  I have to give credit to Bec for doing the research, finding this place and securing it, all before we arrived in Canada.  It’s not cheap, but rent is paid monthly and it covers all our bills and utilities, and includes internet and a gym.  There are no inspections and we’re on a six month lease after-which we pay month-to-month.  And we’re in the most perfect spot.  We are in Downtown Vancouver in the district known as Yaletown; think Burnside meets Unley meets a harbour.  We are a block from Granville Street (food, clubs, shops), a block from Davie Street (the gay district – we missed Pride Week by a few days and the festivities sounded fantastic), and a five minute walk to the water and the seawall.  We have walked everywhere so far and downtown Vancouver is easy to cover on foot.

We’ve set up bank accounts, got our Social Insurance Numbers, and are sharing a mobile phone number.  You wouldn’t believe how expensive calls are here; you get charged for receiving a call as you would making one, and get charged to have a number displayed on your screen.  As a result, emails remain our primary contact.

As expected, we have done many of the touristy things since moving to Vancouver.  The Vancouver Art Gallery is beautiful, and we caught five different exhibitions across four levels, including many works by BC’s Emily Carr and Kerry James Marshall’s amazing black art.  We’ve walked the Stanley Park Seawall which circumnavigates the huge urban park, taking in views of Vancouver, the harbour, North and West Vancouver, several beaches and the Lions Gate Bridge.  We’ve shopped at the Granville Island markets.  We’ve done the Vancouver Aquarium and seen beluga whales, dolphins, sea turtles and more.  We have explored the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Treetops Adventure which is an absolute must for any visitor; the views, wildlife and scenery are gorgeous, and the bridge itself is a spectacle.  We attended the 100th anniversary of the PNE Fair (Royal Show), catching the lumberjacks, the super dogs, the rides and games, and all the food on offer.  We have devoured yum cha in Chinatown and visited the Classical Chinese Garden.  We caught more stunning views of Vancouver from the mainland’s Queen Elizabeth Park.

And the highlight of Vancouver thus far has been Grouse Mountain over in North Vancouver.  Bec and I conquered “mother nature’s stair-master” in the Grouse Grind – a three kilometre hike up the mountain’s vertical 950 metres.  The challenge was as hard as anything I’ve hiked in New Zealand and demolished anything I’ve hiked in Australia, mainly due to the altitude which deceptively killed the lungs.  But on Grouse Mountain, we explored it in style, taking a Zipline Tour all over the 4000 metre high mountain.  Traveling at 70 kilometres per hour across huge valleys and canyons was an amazing adventure and I now look forward to climbing it again and paragliding off its summit.

I’ve also caught two gigs since being here: Karnivool and the Summer Slaughter Tour headlined by Decapitated and featuring Cephalic Carnage and Animals As Leaders.  Gigs are cheap (mostly) and there appears to be a steady flow of events coming to town over the next few months.  Next week is Helmet with Bison BC.  I’m also debating whether to re-attend the PNE Fair just to catch Cyndi Lauper and Joan Jett, or to check out X Japan or Gogol Bordello.  Ah, the choices.

Speaking of gigs, yes, I have seen the Soundwave lineup and yes, I have a ticket.  Whether I’m home for it is another thing, but how can I miss Iron Maiden, Slayer, Primus, Rob Zombie, Devildriver, Protest The Hero, Melvins, All That Remains, High On Fire, The Sword and Kylesa, with more to still be announced?  Align for me stars, align!

I also have two local bars which we frequent: The Famous Warehouse for wicked wing Wednesday, and G Spot Sports Bar for my monthly UFC PPV fix.  Both have a great, relaxed atmosphere with good beers on tap (I recommend the Granville Island Pale Ale) and good service.  Wing Wednesday is a thing here, and we normally knock back 40 in a sitting for about $6.  And I hope to hit G tomorrow night for the Wallabies vs Springboks game.

But we’ve yet to find an Enigma Bar equivalent here and the local metal scene appears to be on the quiet.  We’ve asked around, but most people direct us to the gigs rather than the metal bars.  Cobalt’s the name that gets thrown around a bit, but from all reports, it closed down last year.  How I miss the power stances, air guitar and head banging with my crew at ‘Nigs.

A few other things about Vancouver:

  • Roller blades are still well and truly in fashion here.
  • The controversial HST (tax) and mandatory tipping makes everything deceptively expensive.
  • Everything is written in English and French, which means I am subliminally learning a second language.
  • Everyone has a dog; in Yaletown they have purebred toy dogs, if you’re homeless it’s a mongrel, but everyone has a dog.
  • You know you’re in North America when there’s a steady stream of ads on TV for lawyers ready to sue at the dial of a button.
  • Aussies drive utes, but here, Canucks drive trucks, the manhood-extensions they are.

We have done so much in our first few weeks here, but we’ve not yet traveled beyond Vancouver.  I still have many things to strike off my list and plan to do so before my time here is done.  But for now, this incredibly lengthy post should give you a taste of my experience up here in the Great White North and I really hope to hear from many of you soon to update me on what’s happening back in Radelaide.

Peace and love.  \m/