DURBAN, South Africa — Australians are an enviable people. They may mirror Americans in many ways, mostly in the departments of brashness, individuality, and obliviousness, but they travel differently than Americans.
And they support their national team differently, too.
Case in point: The 958 Aussie fans camping inside the Sahara Stadium Kingsmead in Durban.
The stadium, home to the cricket team KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins, has been converted into a fortified village for the duration of Australia’s first-round games. There are 364 army-style tents arranged in streets named after Australian soccer legends, like Mark Viduka Ave. They have showers, ATMs, food tents hawking local grub, and a massive bar (named after the burly goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, known as much for his partying as his hands) that has also doubled as a performing tent for the likes of Fat Boy Slim and Powderfinger, a.k.a. the Coldplay of Australia.
“It’s a really quality set up,” Anthony Mancini said as he soaked up some Durban sun outside his green tent. “The environment’s great. It’s good team building.”
Organized by an Australian tour group called the Fanatics and a local company called Edu Sport, the site took about 18 months of planning.
“It started as an idea sitting over coffee in Germany back in 2006,” said Rob Brooks, a media liaison for the Fanatics.
The Fanatics set up a more rural camp for fans in Germany, but their 2010 home has topped that one, by all accounts.
“This is the real deal,” Mancini said as he and his “mates” gathered around the bar’s big screens to watch the “State of Origins,” a massive Rugby League match between the states of New South Wales and Queensland. “We’ve got everything we need here.”
The Fanatics also organized a number of optional excursions around Durban and outside the city. A group bussed to the townships to donate used computer equipment to a school while spending the day with kids. The whole camp also uprooting for each of Australia’s group games, including Saturday’s draw with Ghana in Rustenburg.
“The best moment of my time so far here were between six and eight last weekend,” Patty Boyle said of the mass march that he and 2,000 or so other Australians made north from the cricket grounds to Moses Mabhida Stadium for Australia’s opening match against Germany. “It was amazing.”
Can we Americans learn from the Aussies? Would a travel group like the Fanatics work for Americans? There are more than enough young and willing American travelers here to compete with the Socceroo army.
When one of the few girls at the Fanatics camp was asked why she and her friends would do something like this, living in barracks and supporting a team that even Australians don't believe can make the second round, she had a good response.
“Um,” she said, “because we’re Australian.”