The Olympic Torch Relay took an unexpectedly artful journey through the Victorian wheat belt on Monday, visiting Horsham and St Arnaud before settling overnight at Swan Hill.
Horsham was once a holiday destination for novellist Mark Twain. Following a visit in the 1890s, the author of Huckleberry Finn proclaimed it ‘a country town, peaceful, reposeful, inviting, full of snug homes, with garden plots and plenty of shrubbery and flowers’.
‘Reposeful’ was not the word that sprung to mind as Day 47 of the relay kicked off there, literally, before 8am. Crowds cheered as the first two torchbearers, Terry Griffin and Noreen O’Connor, put on an impromptu version of A Chorus Line, performing a series of theatrical kicks as they exchanged the flame.
Outside Horsham, the first town to receive the torch treatment was Murtoa, a major centre for grain production in the area. Among the torchbearers was a former Australian Olympian Kerri Tepper.
After years of domestic and international success in table tennis, extensive knee surgery has recently forced Tepper’s retirement from the sport, and also slowed her relay run to a walk. A clearly excited Tepper said the relay was a fitting end to her Olympic journey.
The flame passed through the towns of Rupanyup and Marnoo before stopping off at St Arnaud for a lunchtime celebration. Once home to a lucrative gold mine, St Arnaud’s economy nowadays revolves around the production of merino wool, grains, legumes and wine.
The relay’s visit provided ample opportunity for locals to shine. Torchbearer Michael Noonan, for example, not only lit the community cauldron to start festivities, he also co-ordinated and directed a performance by The All-Stars, a group of mentally disabled children who thrilled the 1500-strong crowd with excerpts from Grease.
Other torchbearers in St Arnaud included John Dalton, a local police sergeant who is heavily involved in voluntary work. Listed on the Australian Bone Marrow Register, Dalton recently agreed to donate his compatible marrow to a sick child.
Taking a lighthearted approach, Cassandra Jackson dyed her hair green and gold for the occasion and did backflips before her run, while Andrew Wiederman had around 50 local children cheering him on.
Kids also lined the streets in the townships of Charleton, Wycheproof and Lalbert, wearing the cardboard ‘I Saw The Torch’ hats that have become de rigueur attire for the under-10 set in recent days.
At 6pm, the torch roadshow pulled into the Murray River town of Swan Hill. The town was named in 1836 by explorer Major Thomas Mitchell, whose party was kept awake nights by the noise of black swans loitering around the campsite.
Nowadays the town is better known as the home of the Murray River Cod, one of Australia’s favourite breeds of fish. Indeed, the Swan Hill evening celebration featured local children dressed in colourful cod costumes.
Most of Swan Hill’s 10,000 residents turned out for the celebration, which featured local artists, singers and dance troupes.
Source: SOCOG Olympics.com