‘ The opening ceremony at Carrara Stadium was brighter than the weather.
Awet night on the Gold Coast of Australia!” cried TVNZ 1’s Peter Williams from the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. As the Alternative Commentary Collective’s Matt Heath observed on TVNZ’s Duke channel, “It appears to be pissing down.”
Still, nothing could dampen the madness of another Games opening extravaganza, not even the barrage of hipster dad jokes from the collective. When things got dull, there was the suspense of listening to them pull themselves back from the brink of an ill-advised gag about the Queen’s Baton.
Opening ceremonies: who could forget Matilda, a sort of motorised winking marsupial Dalek, at Brisbane 1982. “Matilda’s pouch doubles as a door,” intoned the commentator, “and inside some 20 children …”
This ceremony advanced the less-scary proposition that life is a beach. Cue some young surfers, one inexplicably eating a banana: “Ever think that, like, right now, billions of miles away, there could be a bunch of aliens, lying on a cosmic beach …?” Hopes of a full-scale alien invasion of Carrara Stadium were soon dashed. Instead, we hurtled back in time 335 million years for a lot of tectonic plate-shifting and an old bloke – God? One of the collective hazarded it was Rolf Harris – holding a glowing globe. “From here you can’t see borders. No barriers built to divide us …” Nice, if fanciful.
Prince Charles and Camilla were there looking, it was extensively noted, sullen. A photo of Camilla flicking listlessly through the programme went viral, as did an inevitable wardrobe malfunction, not Camilla’s. During a tribute to that great Australian ritual, getting your togs off behind a towel, a dancer inadvertently flashed her underclad posterior. She was a good sport about it. “Last night I was feeling really bummed … butt that’s all behind me now!” went a caption on her Instagram.
Missing in action: Borobi, the blue koala and Games mascot, and John Farnham. The collective refused to give up hope, speculating that the iconic Aussie rocker might appear, like a child from the belly of Matilda, from the vast interior of the show’s floating white whale, Migaloo, who represented the unity of all life or something. But no.
Bored royals, pretty, potted versions of the history of humankind … You might argue it’s all hopelessly lacking in contemporary relevance. Yet this ceremony had something to say about a changing world as it beamed from the beachy playground of a country that really could use some change. The indigenous cultures of the country – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – were front and centre. Yugambeh elders Patricia O’Connor and Ted Williams welcomed the world. It was the first event of its kind, it was reported, to have a Reconciliation Action
Plan. The royals found themselves being blessed in a totally impressive smoking ceremony performed by Yugambeh Aboriginal artist Luther Cora and his family.
Meanwhile, outside the stadium, there were protests against the “stolenwealth games”. But the changed cultural dynamic inside the stadium was powerful enough to enrage the usual dinosaurs. Pauline Hanson once again demonstrated that any sentence beginning “I have got nothing against the Aboriginal people but …” is going nowhere good. “I’m sick and tired of being made to feel that I’m a secondclass citizen in my own country,” she declared preposterously.
Later, Yugambeh spokesman Rory O’Connor took her down with a few facts: “Out of 4500 people on stage that night, less than 300 of them were indigenous. Of 150 minutes of performance, less than 20 minutes was indigenous.”
For Patricia O’Connor, the ceremony represented “an acknowledgement of the truth of our past, the power of our future and an opportunity to stand together united.” Outside, the protesters were highlighting how far there is to go on that score. But it was worth watching the opening to see something that looked a little more like that acknowledgement; to feel the tectonic plates shifting just a fraction.
The Games’ opening ceremony: a small shift.