The Colgate Scene
September 2000
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Going to the "green games"
by Kristin VanValkenburg '02

The Olympic Park, outside and in

All 15 of us loaded onto the bus, sleepy-eyed but invigorated by the sunny, clear Australian skies and the good fortune of our timing.

     We members of the Australian Study Group (co-sponsored by the department of geography and the environmental studies program) were in Sydney to study environmental issues for a full semester. Luckily for us, our semester just happened to coincide with the 2000 Olympic Games. While thousands of international tourists desperately attempted to book one of the few hotel rooms, we did not worry. We knew we would be sleeping soundly in our dorm rooms, only an easy train ride from all the venues. And today, our group was finally on its way to tour the Olympic Park.

     Discussions in our seminar had piqued our anticipation for this day. We had analyzed the environmental issues involving the games, especially in the construction of the Olympic site. The structures that had only been simple, flat sketches in the maps we had seen would gain dimension and be brought to life.

     As we approached Homebush Bay, the site of the park, we could see strange structures in the distance. Large, white domes and angular, disc-shaped roofs loomed above the surrounding buildings. I felt as if the Space Age were in the near distance, as if the Olympic Park had been based on the Jetsons' futuristic cartoon town.

     The park was rather ominous, almost intimidating. It had the capacity to hold thousands, but today there were only our group, orange-clad construction workers and a few handfuls of tourists.

     We gathered ourselves and embarked on the walking tour, following our study group leader, Professor of Geography Ellen Kraly. We gazed in awe at the grandeur, but were still eager to get inside one of the structures. Several of us noticed the bathroom complex and I was reminded of the environmental theme of the games when I found that only icy cold water ran from the faucets. We discussed the idea of these "green games" in our seminar and now we were here to see the out-landish energy-saving technologies.

     A week earlier, University of Wollongong Professor Gordon Waitt prepared our class for the Olympic visit. He gave a lecture on his research into the ways Australian officials had marketed Sydney during the bid process. We were encouraged to look critically at all claims of materials or construction methods deemed "environmentally friendly." We were also made mindful that Homebush Bay was once a chemical waste site and landfill. Poisonous byproducts remain just below the surface of the rolling hills of the park. Among the chemicals is a form of chlorinated herbicide that is a constituent in Agent Orange. These facts clash with Australia's image of a pristine, untouched environment that also helped Sydney win the bid.

     With all this in mind, we prepared for our guided tour of Stadium Australia. We whirled through tunnels and hallways and were shown locker rooms, elegant formal dining rooms and full-scale lounges. Throughout the tour, I couldn't help but notice how much glass had been used in the construction, allowing natural light to filter in. All the steel piping that wrapped itself in a maze along the ceilings and down the sides of the stadium, our tour guide informed us, was in place to catch rainfall off the roof and recycle it. This combination of metal and glass only added to the futuristic, space-age feel of the park.

     From some of the choicest seats in the stadium we got our first view of the playing field. I sat and pictured what it would be like to be here with the stadium filled with 110,000 screaming fans. It was neat to see it empty, though, because we could see the wave pattern the blue and purple seats formed, reminiscent of the nearby Pacific Ocean. We were particularly impressed by the two jumbo television screens at each corner, each worth more than $13 million Australian.

The Australian Study Group is in its sixth year of affiliation with the University of Wollongong, which last year was recognized as Australia's University of the Year. [Zoom]
     While I tried to view everything with a healthy skepticism, it was difficult not to be simply awed. We were led down to the field, where we took pictures and remarked on how many world-famous athletes would be standing in our places come September.

     As our tour concluded, we walked down one of the large circular ramps designed to allow the droves to leave in an orderly fashion, though I found the claim that a capacity crowd could completely exit the stadium in 20 minutes hard to believe. On the ramp, we noticed strange wailing noises that sounded like a small animal in pain. The tour guide explained that these were recordings played on hidden speakers to create an urban jungle in the stadium. Perhaps when there are more people, the noises will blend into the crowd better, but they sounded a little creepy to us.

     Once the tour concluded, our group began to disperse. Several of us, swept up in the Olympic excitement, went directly to the ticket booth. We managed to get our hands on a few women's soccer tickets and there will be a Colgate cheering section if the U.S. women make it to the finals.

     Our encounters with Australian environment issues have only continued from the Olympic site. We have several more outings planned for our stay in Wollongong, including a two-week intersession trip during September. We are headed to Ayers Rock and Alice Springs in central Australia, Kakadu National Park, Darwin and, finally, Cairns, to see the Great Barrier Reef. Most of us will also explore on our own throughout the term, perhaps even to Tasmania or New Zealand.

     We all have scheduled a special weekend trip to Jervis Bay National Park, where we plan to help park officials with tree planting so we can leave a positive footprint on the environment during our time in Australia. It is important for us to not simply take in Australia, but to also leave it a little better than we found it. I think of this reforestation project as a "thank you" gesture for the time we spend in this country.

     It's amazing to see what is out here, far from our comfort zones of home.

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