MELBOURNE, March 15 (AFP): Giant koalas running amok, a flying tram and a performing duck took centre stage Wednesday as Melbourne staged an eloborate but light-hearted opening ceremony for the 18th Commonwealth Games.
Watched by more than 80,000 people packed into the refurbished Melbourne Cricket Ground, and with a worldwide television audience of 1.5 billion, the event was billed by organisers as a "breathtaking, incredible" launch for the 11-day sporting extravaganza.
Queen Elizabeth II officially declared the Games open after receiving a relay baton that travelled some 180,000 kilometres (112,000 miles) to all the Commonwealth nations, most of them former British colonies, before arriving in Australia.
"Tonight we celebrate the value of sport as a means of bringing together people from 71 nations and territories and from a wide range of cultures, traditions and beliefs," the Queen said after the Games' 4,500 participating athletes paraded into the ground.
The two-hour ceremony began just after sunset with a kilometre-long procession of giant mechanical fish making its way along the Yarra River towards the MCG, escorted by Australian surf rescue rowboats.
Inside the stadium, organisers staged a firework and lighting spectacular involving 2,400 performers and costing tens of millions of dollars.
It commenced simply enough with a demonstration of the backyard cricket beloved to Australians, complete with wheelie bins acting as wickets.
From there the show verged towards the surreal, with a green Melbourne tram carriage sporting huge white wings soaring above the stadium on an elaborate rigging system, giant koalas in y-front underpants and a performing duck.