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In The Country of Sports and Mates

by Pat Beurteaux

I’ve spent the past three months in Australia after an absence of almost 9 years.

I’m not Australian so my perspective tends to be that of a foreigner, of course.  The fact that I lived here for long periods adds piquancy, I like to think. 

There is an element of basic sporting behaviour in most aspects of Aussie life to my way of thinking loyalty to the team no matter what; getting the ball and passing only when you have no hope of scoring yourself; a fondness for uniforms.  That sort of thing.  If you don’t play, or at least watch intensely, some sport, you find yourself most definitely at a social and professional disadvantage.  It’s the main topic of conversation.  Just as an example, I attended a barbecue recently and the host brought the television outside onto the lawn so the football game could be watched.  Conversation was brought to a halt until after the game was finished and then the game was discussed. The use of sport as conversation topic is not unusual to Australia, of course; however, in the Northern Hemisphere we also have the weather.

A recent news story illustrates the general way things work where sport is the basis for social interaction of all kinds and mateship on par with, if not more important than, family.

It seems that, in 1994, at a political convention at which a new party leader was to be chosen, there were two strong contenders John Howard (now Prime Minister) and Peter Costello (now Treasurer). Let’s call them John and Peter for convenience.

According to Peter and another person present at the time, a quiet deal was made, as they so often are in political circles.  The race was down to the wire so John agreed, assuming he would win, to surrender the leadership within a period of time about 10 years.  This would then place Peter in the leadership role and if things had worked out, he’d be Prime Minister any time now.  John categorically denied that this ever happened and insisted that he would decide when he would give up the PM role, but it wouldn’t be any time soon. (He’s been PM for a long time and may have forgotten the part with the voting and stuff.)

Now, that is not only unsportsmanlike but a definite slap in the face to a loyal mate.  After all, Peter had played on the team in good faith.  As well, he is younger than John and would like to make some plans.  No one wants to play the same position forever, especially since the position of Treasurer might look like fun but can’t possibly be since all financial troubles land at your feet and all credit for the good things is given to the PM.

You can imagine the effect all this must have on `the team’.  There’s bound to be a division between those on the `captain’s’ side and those on the other — and for all sorts of reasons.  Opportunity knocks at times like this.  Mateship can take a bit of a beating when there’s a chance to score a goal or at least move up the bench a bit.

While this domestic drama was taking place, the annual inflation rose 4% the highest increase since 1995 excluding the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax.  Prices rose 16% in the June quarter alone.  This little disaster was initially blamed on rising oil and banana prices both beyond the control of Government since oil price increases are the result of international influences and banana prices the fault of a cyclone in Northern Queensland.

But as they say in the commercials, there’s more.  Costs for food are up 8.3%; transportation 7.7%, education 5.8%; childcare 12.4% all  things within the control of Government and its policies, and having a direct impact on the voter.  Australians are heavily indebted due to an overly-heated real estate market and an appetite for a finer life than many can really afford just like the rest of us.

You would have thought the release of numbers like these would have brought the guys to their senses.  Surely no one would want to be PM with a mess like this.

But lo, when Federal Parliament resumed, John had decided the time had come for him to let folks into his confidence and stated he most certainly would contest the next match (election) as captain.  Photo ops (a speciality of this PM’s) showed him out in his jogging suit, doing his regular run, illustrating that he is still young and fit at 67.  One expected to see him get out the skipping rope and do a bit of fancy footwork, ready for the ring the sub-text being that he is ready for the fight any fight.

So much for his mate, Peter, who has to be a good sport about it all.  In public he has been wise enough to be seen to be a good sport and even a loyal team member.  Speaking to the press, he said, in what appeared to be a candid moment, `Inside every MP (Member of Parliament) is a little PM (Prime Minister) trying to get out.’  Laughs all round and a rush of empathy passed through the populace.  We’ve all had our moments of weakness.  We’ve all been let down by a mate. 

There’s nothing like a good team and a good mate and anyone who forgets this can look a right *nong.

You’ve got to love the place.

*nong: a silly person or fool

Born and raised in a small Ontario town that became a large bedroom community post-war, Pat Beurteaux began her career as a primary school teacher, a career that permitted her to travel to Australia as a `working holidayer' in the mid-60s.  At that time any British Commonwealth citizen could travel and work in any other Commonwealth country under certain conditions; a good deal of fun was had by all.  

You may reach Pat by emailing


©2006 Pat Beuteaux for SeniorWomenWeb
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