When I landed in Australia I expected to find all the quintessential Aussie cliches – surfers, beaches and copious amounts of sunburn. However, I found that when I arrived in Sydney in mid-October, millions of Australians were absorbed by the new season of international cricket.

Being from Canada (the only Commonwealth country whose people think cricket is a noisy invertebrate) I vowed to understand this English game that the Australians have mastered and embraced. So I bought a ticket for the first One Day Cricket series that came to Sydney.

Before I went to the famed Sydney Cricket Ground all I knew about cricket was that it was lengthy and involved a lethal-looking bat and something called a wicket. The rules were alien and the players even more foreign, yet I entered the stadium excited to engage in this Australian pastime.

While Canadians enjoy sport, we usually associate a good night of athletics with ice skates and bloody brawls, not exactly a place to bring a hot date. I expected a cricket stadium to be filled with proper English gentlemen watching the game with partial interest while they updated their trust funds. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The cricket grounds were buzzing as the visiting team entered the field but the real applause began when the Australian players casually strolled out. The crowd didn’t just applaud but broke into numerous unintelligible chants while throwing profuse amounts of beer cups and confetti on the field. This atmosphere gave the game an aura of a major event that would decide the champion of the universe, rather than one game of a season filled with dozens more.

When I finally found my seat in the section of the stadium that was so high up that they required oxygen tanks, I settled in for eight to 10 hours of non-stop cricket excitement. As the crowd went ballistic, I found that the spectators around me were a United Nations of cultural influence.

There was certainly the regular regiment of boisterous Australians, but the ranks also included Indians, Sri Lankans, English, Irish and New Zealanders.

As this reality hit me I felt out of place and somehow very inadequate. Here I was losing my cricket virginity while all these experienced devotees of the game went about their cricket viewing business. I sat there for a few minutes with a puzzled look on my face before the Australian gentleman sitting next to me noticed my confusion and said, ‘You must be Canadian.’ I was astonished that he could pinpoint my nationality by just looking at me, but then I remembered I was wearing a T-shirt with ‘Canada’ written on it.

After feeling like an air-head for a few moments, I explained to him that I was new to this game and didn’t understand the rules of the sport. He told me he would be more than happy to explain the game and said he was always thrilled to meet an individual willing to learn the sport of cricket.

As the hours passed and I learned what a batsman, a bowler and an over was, I discovered that more and more people sitting around me contributed to my cricket education. Some noticed that I was not from a cricketing country and were overjoyed that I was willing to learn, while others were displaying old-fashioned Australian hospitality. As the game reached its half-way point it became obvious that I was a bit of an oddity in my little part of the stadium, and received several free beers and even an offer for a free place to stay while I was in Sydney.

When the game ended, I found I was a connoisseur of the sport and was able to talk on the same level with my new friends. As we left the cricket grounds, I realized that I had found the perfect place for the lone traveller to experience Australian culture while meeting natives and foreigners alike.

My cricket experience taught me to dive in head first with regard to the Australian lifestyle and that most Australians are grateful to display what they love about their country. Now that I’m a cricket lover, I think it’s time to finally re-introduce this game to the ice hockey arenas of Canada. ‘No doubt about it, eh!’

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While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.

Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.

After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.

Ugly mothertruckers

Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.

Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.

So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.

Roadhouse blues

Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!

The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.

So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!

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