The Block open for inspection

From a distance, it looked like the scene of a disaster: roadblocks, ambulances and stern-faced police herding onlookers behind steel barriers.

But the thumping beat of ABBA’s Take a Chance on Me and the eager punters clutching helium balloons soon dispelled that illusion.

It was, in effect, a renovation rock concert: the first public open for inspection for Channel Nine’s reality smash The Block.

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Producers estimated a crowd of 20,000 at South Melbourne today – but warned they’d only have time to let 2000 inside the four terrace houses.

The first die-hard Block-heads arrived at 3.30am, according to one guard.

Michelle Eastwood and her daughter Gemma drove from Geelong to be there by 8am.

“Last year, we got [to the Richmond Block site] at 11am and didn’t get inside – and we were devastated,” she said, standing near the front of a queue that snaked around Dorcas and Montague Streets.

“We weren’t going to make that mistake again.”

Jessica Dean flew from Newcastle to see the home of fellow Novacastrians Brad and Lara. “I’m sure we’re not the only ones who came from interstate,” she said.

The Sunday Age got an early peek inside the now-famous houses, brimming with nervous realtors and security guards stationed at each door.

Fans hoping to “souvenir” a knick-knack would require the diversionary skills of a stage magician to do so.

But the platter of cupcakes in Brad and Lara’s kitchen, everyone agreed, was unlikely to survive the children whose distracted parents were busily cooing over designer light fittings.

Fragrant candles burned in every room, the billowing wafts of citrus and lavender verging on scent-ual assault.

And the enormous bottles of sponsor-supplied vitamins, strategically placed on bedside tables and bathroom vanities, dwarfed many of the decorative accessories.

Megan O’Toole, manager of the nearby Commons Cafe, has been doing a brisk trade since opening in December, sustaining the tradies with egg-and-bacon rolls and the weekend spectators with coffee.

As each of the four competing couples was paraded on stage, the crowd responded with screams of a Bieber-esque magnitude.

Among the onlookers were many neighbours, none of whom could be blamed for hoping to see the back of the constructions crews and and hordes of sight-seers.

But when The Sunday Age left notes in their letterboxes a few months ago, asking them to share their experiences, we received several calls – all praising producer Julian Cress for knocking on their doors and giving them his mobile number.

Yesterday, they said they’d miss the excitement of filming.

Even the latecomers, huddling against a stiff wind, were surprisingly calm knowing they were unlikely to get in.

Most were just happy to get a glimpse of the contestants.

“I did a private appointment the other day and I felt like the Pied Piper,” said one agent.

“People are just mad for it.”

After another public inspection tomorrow, the properties will go under the hammer in a fortnight.

The auctions will be held inside the townhouses, with a maximum of 30 registered bidders in each.

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