Australia’s indigenous culture, beach lifestyle and famous music played starring roles in the opening ceremony at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Wednesday evening.
The conclusion of the Queen’s Baton relay, promotion of diversity and inclusion – key themes of this year’s event – an iconic Kombi van and Migaloo the whale also featured on a night when Prince Charles officially opened the 21st Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
More than 4000 performers entertained 35,000 fans, with indigenous culture – which dates back at least 65,000 years – a constant theme of the night amid a series of performances, dances and a didgeridoo orchestra.
Christine Anu, Ricki-Lee Coulter and Delta Goodrem all sang but, with the exception of Anu, were outshone by a local group who provided orchestral interpretations of dozens of classic Aussie songs.
And, of course, the athletes themselves were central to the evening, with all 70 nations and territories at the event receiving warm receptions from a damp Carrara Stadium crowd.
Despite the weather, which threatened to ruin the ceremony when a large downpour struck just five minutes before it was due to begin, the crowd stayed involved throughout and saved their biggest cheer of the night for when hometown hero Sally Pearson handed the Queen’s Baton over to Prince Charles, via a Games official.
Legends of Australian sport in Susie O’Neill, Brad McGee, Kurt Fearnley, Liz Ellis and Brent Livermore had earlier carried the baton across the stadium.
And while those keen to be critical would have picked flaws in the event, namely the significant changes of pace throughout, or the apparent lack of enthusiasm from dignitaries, most good judges regarded it a success.
The bad signs
The build-up to the ceremony was marred by drama.
First, indigenous protesters caused the Queen’s Baton relay to be re-directed, while Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk released the speech she was due to give at the ceremony after being relieved of speaking duties.
There were also public transport issues for frustrated locals so when the heavens opened up organisers must have felt like the world was against them.
Anu’s version of My Island Home, featuring contributions from Torres Strait rapper Mau Power, was perhaps the musical highlight.
Coulter sang Technicolour Love on a traditional Gold Coast beach scene, while Goodrem helped draw the night to a close with a rendition of her new single Welcome to Earth. We’re still trying to figure out the intended audience.
Instead, it was a group comprising of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Youth Orchestra and Gold Coast Youth Orchestra, led by conductor John Foreman, that had the fans tapping their feet as they played interpretations of much-loved Australian music.
They played familiar tunes from the likes of Kylie Minogue, Hunters and Collectors, Men at Work, Midnight Oil, Kasey Chambers and regularly fell back on the tried-and-trusted INXS back catalogue.
There was one eyebrow-raising moment, though, when Tonga walked out to an adaption of I Touch Myself by the Divinyls.
And despite the wishes of many in the crowd, John Farnham did not appear during a lengthy version of his classic You’re The Voice.
Scotland, having hosted the last Commonwealth Games, was the first nation to parade around the stadium, with the men dressed in traditional kilts.
Several members of the Northern Ireland team may have been enjoying themselves pre-Games, given the sunglasses they were sporting in a dark stadium at 8.55pm (AEST), while teams from New Zealand, Jamaica and Canada were given big cheers.
But the most enthusiastic team was definitely Sierra Leone.
They looked anything but embarrassed despite their polka-dot heavy uniform, dancing joyously to the orchestra.
As expected, Australia’s athletes, led by hockey captain Mark Knowles, received a heroes’ reception.
— Channel 7 (@Channel7) April 4, 2018
Prince Charles, attending the event with the Duchess of Cornwall, read to the crowd a message from Queen Elizabeth II, carried to the Games inside the official baton.
“As you come together at the start of these Games, I continue to be inspired by the courage, enthusiasm and dedication of all those taking part,” the letter read.
Prince Charles also mentioned the “many millions” of viewers – a slight contradiction to Gold Coast Commonwealth Games chairman Peter Beattie’s declaration that “over a billion people” were watching on.
Whatever the figure, the majority would have been entertained with what they saw.
Let the Games begin.