Good morning, Wollongong

8.17am, Tuesday 1st May, Crown Street, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Morning folks – cool 17 degrees and clear blue skies here in Wollongong – on the coast just over an hour’s train ride south of Sydney.

It used to be called ‘Illawarra Steelers’ country around here when I was much younger and lived in Sydney for three years. That was the name of the local first grade rugby league football team because they were supported by the local steel industry nearby in Port Kembla, and the coal mines in the Illawarra area around it that powered the industry. Those were the good old days before a lot of the teams amalgamated for financial survival.

I followed the fabulous old original Balmain Tigers from the inner west, blue collar, dock working suburbs from Cockatoo Island through Blackwattle Bay to Lidcombe. And a trip down to Wollongong to see the Steelers and Tigers play was like watching old school gladiators go at it. We were dead set certain that every Steelers player got those axe handle shoulders from coal cutting! But the Steelers joined forces with the horrible Saint George and the Tigers hooked up with Western Suburbs, and those days are gone forever! But every now and then when the Tigers suit up in their old orange and black jerseys and play a current round match at their home Leichhardt Oval – which sits right in the heart of Tiger Town just up the road from the Orange Grove Hotel – it’s packed to capacity every single time with screaming Tigers fans of all ages who haven’t forgotten those glory days when we won the night Panasonic Cup, and very nearly won the flag twice in a row!

***For further reading on tragic football fans and their favourite obsession, please read Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” – I completely understand that book, having been a fanatical member of the Balmain Cheer Squad for three heady years.

But it’s back to the here and now, and why I started this way this morning – because the hotel I’m staying at is right next to the Steelers Club and football ground, and as I’ve left this morning to come out and find some breakfast, a stack of absolutely super fit young blokes in red and white Saint George / Steeler singlets and shorts are on their way into morning training sessions. Excellent timing on my part I say!! And all those footy memories from those fab years came flooding back! Which has put me in the most excellent frame of mind for a very long day.

Today we are doing a businessman’s lunch and tasting here in Wollongong, then we drive back up to the outer southern beachside suburbs of Sydney – to Cronulla – where we’re doing a consumer dinner at “3 Fishes”. Then quite a bit later I’ll be trekking into The Rocks area of central Sydney, up onto the hill where you’ll find the extraordinary “Observatory Hotel” – managed by the very capable and severely charming Ralf Brueger.

But for now, here’s what our day looks like in Wollongong …

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Yes folks, some mornings – this job can be pretty tough to take.

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