“Just imagine you are holding a large ice-cream cone,” says Scott, our RoofClimb leader, as his small expedition, clad in electric blue jump suits, fingers the chunky metal apparatus dangling from our waists.
“You need to keep them upright until we reach the start of the climb. Once we clamp them onto the safety rail you’ll be attached at all times.”
Safety is paramount when you are taking a group of amateurs across the roof of Adelaide’s most famous sporting arena – not to mention leaning out from a 50m-high platform above the hallowed turf for an obligatory “look where I am, Mum” photograph.
Launched in April 2016 Adelaide Oval’s much-anticipated two-hour RoofClimb experience at the refurbished Adelaide Oval already runs like a well-oiled machine, with a group of 15 highly motivated tour guides, like Scott, and a special climb HQ, complete with reception desk, briefing room and storage lockers, under the soaring Riverbank Stand.
“RoofClimb has only been going nine weeks but the response has been really positive,” says Scott. “We’ve already had our first marriage proposal, which was a bit tricky because climbers are not supposed to take anything loose with them – we had to tape the ring onto the guy’s arm. Luckily, she said yes.”
Unless you have a chronic fear of heights (anyone suffering acrophobia or any other serious medical condition must declare this beforehand) the most challenging thing about RoofClimb is strapping yourself into the elaborate safety harnesses, which look similar to those worn by army paratroopers. Climbers are secured to the safety rail by a large sliding metal bracket, the ice cream cone, which is anchored to the climber’s harness.
Apart from removing watches and surplus clothing (there are lanyards for your eyewear), climbers are also breath tested for alcohol – while RoofClimb uses a network of easy-to-navigate metal walkways, climbers must be vigilant, especially during rainy or windy conditions and on match days when they are suspended above thousands of spectators.
The two-hour expedition begins with a short walk past the old ivy-clad Members Stand and then short ride via the service lift onto the roof of the Western Stand.
Once clamped onto the metal guide rail, climbers follow their team leader onto a narrow walkway that snakes its way across the curving roof. There are fine views across to North Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills and the Park Lands. “Welcome to my office,” says Scott, with some pride.
While RoofClimb is primarily a celebration of the architectural genius behind the new-look $575 million stadium – climbers learn about the special construction methods and materials used to create the Riverbank and Eastern stands – the guided tour also provides an insight into the history of Adelaide, and the role played by its best-known sports arena.
“The Adelaide Oval is a combination of the old and the new,” explains Scott. “The new grandstands and the playing surface feature the very latest in modern technology – for example, underground sensors monitor the condition of the grass precisely on computer. At the same time we’ve kept three important parts of the oval’s heritage: the old wooden scoreboard, the Moreton Bay figs and the Northern Mound.”
Ultimate photo opportunity
Even people born and raised in South Australia are likely to learn something about the Adelaide Oval as they clamber over its sensuously curved roofs – such as the fact that the Northern Mound was constructed from soil dredged from the Torrens and that the Moreton Bay figs were first planted to block the view of non-paying spectators who once gathered on the slopes of Pennington Gardens, to the north.
“The authorities were really annoyed that people were bringing their picnics to the park and enjoying an excellent view of the day’s play and not paying a cent for the privilege,” says Scott, as the sun sets over his shoulder and mist settles on the Hills.
From the Western Stand climbers move across to the Riverbank Stand with its unusual honeycombed roof, which features a hi-tech fabric to reduce weight and ambient heat and several enormous fans supplied by Big Ass Solutions of Kentucky.
The grandstands are linked by a special bridge – perhaps the most confronting part of the climb until you reach the 50m-high viewing platform. Seating 16 people, this narrow (and fenceless) construction juts out onto the southern end of the playing surface. The platform is already popular with AFL fans who can come up here during Port Adelaide games, but for most climbers it’s the ultimate RoofClimb photo opportunity.
“Just lean a bit further back,” Scott tells a young Singaporean woman, who hams it up for the camera, thrusting her arms into the air. But he cannot persuade the girl’s mother who prefers the security of the foldaway plastic seats. “Oh, that’s far too scary,” she says.
As evening falls, the lights of the city are visible across the Torrens. Commuter traffic hums in the background. The floodlit ground, bereft of players, looks serene; beautiful even. Time to go home – luckily the safety harness is easier to remove than climb into.
Commonwealth Bank RoofClimb Adelaide Oval, War Memorial Drive, North Adelaide SA 5006. Phone: 08 8331 5222. RoofClimb offer both day-time (adult: $99; child: $69) and twilight (adult: $109; child: $79) climbs, plus a special AFL match day experience ($225) to watch Port Adelaide. Climbs last approximately two hours, including a pre-climb safety briefing. The price includes a complimentary cap, achievement certificate and group photo. Children under 12 are not permitted to climb.