BETWEEN my current accommodation and Melbourne proper is a large open area called Albert Park. You may recognise this as the site of the Australian Grand Prix.
Yesterday I walked there and around the circuit. It was one of the most surreal experiences I have had so far.
To start with, this is not a purpose-built racing circuit. The roads are public roads around the central lake. There are give way signs, bollards and chains lining the track and parking restriction signs along the route. The pit straight has a speed restriction of 20km/h.
I joined the track towards the end of the circuit. Here was a corner with red and white rumble strips and families zooming around in people carriers. The brightly coloured run-off area seen on race weekends was replaced by regular-coloured dead grass. Shortly I reached the pitlane entry. Barricaded by a 'No Entry' sign, there is a parking meter in the small strip of grass to the main track, and parking spaces all along the pit straight. All racing markings, including the start line, had been removed.
The pit buildings were intact and present, but a quick peer through a window showed them to have another role when Formula 1 cars aren't zooming around the track: they are a sports hall complex, behind which is the paddock (a field).
At corners one and two there is a high pressure gas pipeline, and at corner three a golf course and practice driving range. Corner four is perhaps the most bizarre, for it is not a road at all but a car park. A yellow line shows the route taken, but being a car park and not official road markings, family saloons and delivery lorries were parked in the centre of the circuit. From here I made a brief foray to the lake itself, a pleasant body of water with islands, wildlife refuges and a diverse selection of bird life. I watched black swans, coots, moorhens, sea gulls and pelicans all enjoying themselves in the water. Eventually a swan and her cygnets came to me for food, but since all I had on me was chocolate, they were grossly disappointed.
Back on the track I followed the back section, which can be no more than five metres from the edge of the lake. On race weekend there are of course barriers, and I began to appreciate what a monumental effort it must be to run this race. Every single bollard around the 555 acre site must be lifted and every hole filled in. Traffic islands must be removed and the track surface smoothed. Armco barriers must be erected and gravel traps and run off areas prepared. Then of course there need to be bridges and grandstands built, all along the pit straight and start line. Every March this place must be transformed. I can hardly imagine how different it must be.
I had an enjoyable day at Albert Park. I jumped across the start/finish line and climbed the podium steps (albeit without a podium, for that too is temporary). I also walked a very long way, so today shall be a lazy day.