Identity Theft

By David

All this has gone too far. I’ve just read Timed Finals’ report of the fun being poked at Ian Thorpe on some Australian lamb commercial. The report discusses the distractions Thorpe faced during his time in Hollywood and includes the following two sentences.

“Is there anything more un-Australian than those gold medal-hungry Yanks who tried to poison a big-hearted Aussie champion with the lure of Hollywood just to stop him racing? It’s like Phar Lap all over again.”

If you then click on the Phar Lap button you read this:

He triumphed during the Great Depression of the early 1930s, when a hero was most needed by the people of Australia. He conquered the local racing scene—36 wins from his last 41 starts—and then won North America’s richest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap, in 1932.

Now, I don’t blame Timed Finals for this injustice, this miscarriage of all that’s fair and decent, this travesty of a thousand years of western civilization (oh, the passion of “inter-national” rivalry!) but, Phar Lap was not a bloody Australian horse. Te was born in Timaru, New Zealand in 1926 and lived there until he was sold for 160 guineas as a colt to an Australian trainer. That makes him a bloody New Zealand horse.

Those Australians have been claiming Phar Lap and many of our other finest and best since those two countries began. New Zealand’s best known swimmer and part time actor, Russell Crowe, used to compete for the Roskill Swim Club in Auckland, is always being called an Australian when, in fact, he really isn’t. He lives in Australia now but his heritage is of finer stuff.

New Zealand’s best known sportsman, Sir Edmund Hillary, was once listed by some Australian newspaper as one of Australia’s ten best sportsmen. He’d have never climbed Everest first if he’d been born in that country. The closest thing they’ve got to a mountain is Ayres Rock. A pair of sneakers will get you to the top of that thing. I’ve heard another testing Australian climb is the ascent of Sydney’s Harbor Bridge.

Every list of famous Australians includes their best author Ruth Park, eye surgeon Dr Fred Hollows, classical singer Dame Joan Hammond, country and country singer Keith Urban (yep, Whangarei-born!) and the Queensland premier Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. All New Zealanders trying to bring culture, health and prosperity to the poor souls who live in Australia.

We probably should not be surprised at this identity theft. Australia did begin life as a UK penal colony. I’m told a New Zealand Maori entering Australia recently was asked by an immigration official, “Do you have a criminal record?” Without the slightest smile he replied, “I didn’t realize you still needed one to get in here.”

Mind you, the Australians do get their own back. Not so long ago I was in Canet, France at the Mare Nostrum swim meet. A very well known international Australian swimming coach asked me if I knew why New Zealand and Australian swimmers resembled the sheep of their countries. Australia’s sheep, he said, were skinny and brown and so were their swimmers. New Zealand sheep were fat and white. We knew we’d come across some humor that we couldn’t beat with that!

The New Zealand Prime Minister, Sir Robert Muldoon was asked if he had any comment to make on the New Zealanders that were leaving to live in Australia. He replied that those leaving would likely raise the average IQ in both countries. The fact that they’re still claiming Phar Lap proves he was probably bloody right.

Jane’s Editorial Note: SwimWatch actually loves Australians and those of us who haven’t been to Oz since 2001 (damnit!) would love to go back there soon. However, not handing out some bovine excrement in the direction of the green and gold would be unpatriotic on the part of our New Zealand contributors. And Phar Lap really was ours :)