Nick Loughlin, The Northern Echo sports editor, is in Australia for the first two Ashes Tests. He is currently on his way to Adelaide for Thursday's second Test.

The Northern Echo: FAMILIAR SIGHT: The Sydney Harbour Bridge, designed and built by Dorman Long, of Middlesbrough FAMILIAR SIGHT: The Sydney Harbour Bridge, designed and built by Dorman Long, of Middlesbrough

IT’S a cricket-mad nation, it’s officially (well it started on Sunday) the start of summer and the cities are decked out for Christmas.

Welcome to Australia. It’s a surreal sight to see the Festive lights switched on in blazing Melbourne sunshine.

The renowned Boxing Day Test is on the horizon in the city, and the MCG is in the thick of a brilliant sporting hub.

We visited last week for a ground tour, while in the city for a couple of days before heading to Adelaide for the second Test, starting on Thursday.

As an added bonus there was a Sheffield Shield game taking place, between Victoria and South Australia, which we were able to watch.

The ground itself will be full come December 26, with nigh on 100,000 taking their seats.

And one of Durham’s favourite cricketing sons has his place in MCG history assured.

Dean Jones helped Durham establish themselves in their early days as a First Class county, and inside the MCG he’s got his own function room named after him.

Ken, our volunteer tour guide, was able to reel off plenty of stats about Jones’ career – while quickly adding the name of every Aussie to have played for the current county champions.

There was a special luncheon taking place last Friday, when current MCC members celebrating 50 years as part of their empire were invited.

The current waiting list to become a full member of the illustrious club is approaching 45 years.

CIRCLING around the MCG are a host of statues of Australian legends, among them Shane Warne and Dennis Lillie.

The latter has been in the news aplenty, offering his advice to Mitchell Johnson on both his action, temperament and tash.

Movember has been embraced over here, with Johnson’s lavish effort drawing comparisons with the Lillie look of old.

Even coach Darren Lehmann was at it, writing in his column in the Herald Sun: “I loved the whole theatre around Mitchell’s display, right down to the fact that his new moustache brought back memories of the 70s with the stars and their handlebar mos.”

Let’s hope that, similar to Samson, a Johnson shorn of extra hair come Thursday is a weaker animal.

THERE has plenty of anger aimed at Stuart Broad over here after his failure to walk at Lord’s last summer. He’s been public enemy number one. So as part of the history on show at the MCG, for all to see is the picture of Trevor Chappell, the Aussie bowler, rolling down a gentle underarm ball to New Zealand’s Brian McKechnie to ensure victory with the final ball.

Cheating? Gamesmanship?

One rule for one.....

AND in the vicinity of the MCG lies Melbourne Park, home of next month’s Australian Open. While the centrepiece of the tennis home, the Rod Laver Arena, was out of bounds, the surrounding courts were open.

So there we were, sitting in the umpires chair on jumping the net on court three in front of the (empty) grandstands.

IT was from Melbourne – yes we did pay a visit to Ramsey Street, where Neighbours is filmed – onto Adelaide, via the Great Ocean Road.

It’s a spectacular manmade route, built to ensure soldiers returning from World War One were in employment, hugging the coastline where you drive alongside hugging shores and then inside dramatic rainforests within minutes of each other.

Some of the sights are mind blowing.

So it was with a sense of deep regret we landed in Sydney last Tuesday to discover that a horse named Great Ocean Road won at Sedgefield. A couple of dollars on the 28-1 shot would have gone some way to paying for a pint such are the prices out here.

THERE’S plenty of North- East history in Sydney and it’s all around the majestic Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Captain James Cook, born in Middlesbrough, was the first British citizen to set foot on Australian soil when he arrived at Botany Bay in 1770.

Naturally most of the boats offering tours of the harbour area are named after the explorer.

But it’s the Bridge where Teesside comes into its own.

Completed in 1932, it was constructed with Teesside steel and brains. We climbed the three-storey tower standing at one end of the masterpiece which doubles up as a museum.

The design was undertaken by Dorman Long and Co of Middlesbrough and their role has not been overlooked.

Tenders closed on January 1, 1924 with the Teesside bid successful, with the contract signed on March 24 that year. Lawrence Ennis, a Dorman director, was appointed director of construction and had an office on site, where he organised the construction and equipping of on-site workshops, building a shipyard for the giant girders could be delivered - and the small matter of creating a new town for workers to live.

A cheap (five dollars) and inexpensive way to get a fine view of the structure is by taking a ferry ride from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay. The ride takes you right by and under the bridge.

IT is a classic tourist picture, skirting around the harbour.

So we asked for a snap to be taken by a traveller. Usual conversation... “No problem lads, so where are you from?” asked the Aussie.

Same question and “Hartlepool” last week brought the reply of “monkey hangers”.

This time the retort was equally quick..... “Ahhhh, you’ve got that Jeff Stelling on your side.”

It’s frightening how you get recognised these days.

ACROSS the globe, old Colonel Sanders is recognised. But, for the Aussies, the colours – during the Ashes at least – have been changed from red and blue and white to green and gold.

It’s clever marketing as ad hoardings around the ground, takeaways and food cartons have all been given a makeover.

But you won’t catch me eating a KFC, I’ve just had a chicken parmesan .... But not a patch on anything served up in the North-East.

We can bring our technical knowledge and teach them how to build a bridge, but they’ve yet to master a parmo!

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