The “people’s” Australian Open

By Meg Hill

Two resilient locals talk to CBD News about their views on the Australian Open (AO).

In years gone by, the CBD was flocked by visitors attending the Australian Open with many locals content to hang out on Birrarung Marr catching the action from a distance.

Tennis Australia sets up large screens and “the people” watch from the top of the hill with refreshments from nearby stalls.

“Melbourne is known for the Australian Open,” Bree Thomas, a resident of Elizabeth St, said. 

“Every January and February people flock to Melbourne. It’s important they still make it a moment.” 

She hopes there won’t be many changes to the AO Festival but there is no mention on the Tennis Australia website nor in the press of what will be happening on Birrarung Marr.

Publicity appears to be reserved for ticketing agencies and arguments over who is going to pay for the quarantine of high-flying players.

In the past some CBD locals have not exactly been welcome at the tennis. In 2017, police removed rough sleepers from the Yarra to make way for visitors.

This year we appear to be more chilled. One rough sleeper, Liz, was getting ready in her own way for the AO, taking a rest by the river, enjoying the breeze. She wasn’t moving on in a hurry.

Birrawung Marr is one of the most beautiful parks in the City of Melbourne with a row of fig trees edging the bank and a view of Princes Bridge in the distance.

The park is one of the main venues for both passive and active recreation in the CBD.

Even though cyclone fences have already gone up, reserving most of it for the Australian Open, how do more laidback locals feel about the noisy preparations for the first main event in the park since COVID restrictions were eased?

“It doesn’t bother me,” Liz said. She recently ended her residence in the Somerset Hotel on Elizabeth St and has developed a fondness for Birrarung Marr over the city. 

“I never knew it existed,” she said. “I started coming here recently to walk around. I use it for nature therapy. I’ve been on the street for a year and five months. When I was on Bourke and Flinders it was too busy. It was more overwhelming.” 

According to park rangers for the City of Melbourne, passive recreation is good for mental health. Even someone lying on a picnic blanket benefits, the experts say. 

“I’m trying to be a minimalist,” Liz said. “I’m just a beginner. I’ve come a long way. Being next to the water is relaxing. You get a lot of sleep deprivation when you’re on the street. You’re at war with yourself at night. Who’s around? What’s that noise?”

Bree prefers her recreation with a view of the tennis and a drink in her hand and she hasn’t been letting COVID ruin her social life either. 

The enterprising New Zealander has just flown back to Melbourne in time to start work. Six weeks ago, she was in quarantine in Auckland and one week ago on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne.  

The two weeks’ quarantine in an Auckland hotel could cost her $3500 but she’s not complaining.

“I loved it,” she said. “Smokers were allowed out every two hours. We had a terrace outside our rooms. I met some great people.” 

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