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So, the ‘iconic’ (obligatory adjective) Sydney Opera House is our biggest billboard, so sayeth PM Scott Morrison aka ScoMo, endorsing NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s approval of advertising on the famous roof sails of this UNESCO Heritage-listed building, to promote a horse-racing event. 

It’s a quintessential Sydney story, where Shock Jock Supremo Jones pulls the strings on Our Gladys, and we then learn that his business partners have nags running in the race – a redolent whiff of his ‘cash for comment’ era. 

I’m not sure that’s what UNESCO had in mind, but maybe it’s the epitome of OzCulture for crass gambling promotion to prevail over aesthetic considerations in a display of rampant philistinism (a word to put back into common usage). To cap it off, ingenuous ScoMo doesn’t get what all the fuss is about. I believe him.

The Pentecostal PM evinces a daggy soccer dad image, and as self-styled marketing guru who in a previous gig at the Australian Tourist Commission oversaw the cringeworthy ‘where the bloody hell are you’ advertising campaign, he has a track record as Chief Philistine. And is Our Glad channelling Edna Everage?

The horse racing event is called The Everest, so how the image of that word on the Opera House will promote tourism here is a mystery only explained by bluster and bullshit. And make no mistake, the Sport of Kings is for gambling, and certainly not for the benefit of exercising the poor nags and jockeys.

Cultural cringe at being Australian is the only response to this travesty, at least amongst us elitists, but it’s not a comfortable feeling. Optimists thought we had left fundamental philistinism behind us in the maligned 1950s, but it’s in our DNA!

ducks in a row

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Recently while on assignment in Berlin your KC correspondent tip-toed in his father’s footsteps at Olympia-Stadion, the site of Hitler’s Olympic Games in 1936, which also took place in the first fortnight of August.

John O’Hara was one of three top wrestlers (freestyle) in the thirty-three member Australian team. Their medal hopes were high: light-heavyweight Eddie Scarf had won bronze in 1932 at Los Angeles and lightweight Dick Garrard would go on to win a silver medal in 1948 in London.

Cruelly their chances were spoiled by different European judging rules, resulting in disputed decisions, threats of boycott by other non-European teams and official protests. Nevertheless adverse decisions held and none of the Aussies progressed to the finals. My father’s loss in his third match, to the eventual silver medal winner in the welterweight division, was however considered a fair result.

Since 1936 the Olympic stadium has been substantially upgraded and de-Nazified with removal of offending symbols, but it retains the original stone construction – and is now home to Berlin soccer club Hertha BSC. Standing in his special box we try to imagine the atmosphere of 110,000 spectators saluting Hitler. The Australian team did not give the Nazi salute and were booed by some of that crowd.

The wrestling and boxing were held in the Deutschland Hall, a kilometre or so away. Unfortunately the building was demolished and is now the sight of a fun fair, so no chance of a pilgrimage to the venue of the wrestling contests.

The Australians were billeted in the Olympic village 14 kilometres away. It reverted to the Wehrmacht (German army) after the Games, and then to the Russians after WWII. Their troops left in 1992 and the village was then abandoned and fell into disrepair. I didn’t try to visit it but discovered this Berlin insider website with its story and a news item.

To celebrate our Olympic pilgrimage the KC team did however swim our laps in the rundown original pool, which remains unchanged, with its diving tower and green tiles. Australia did not send swimmers in 1936, as money was tight!

Recommended reading: Dangerous Games: Australia at the 1936 Nazi Olympics” by Larry Writer.

Photo hints: JOH is playfully fitted with the Olympic steward uniform cap in the press cutting – spot him in other photos. In the shot of eight casual training mates, Garrard is 2L and Scarf 4R.

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An Australian batsman is struck by a ball at the base of the skull and dies after a cricket test match. Followed by an amazing outpouring of grief, eulogies, hero worship and memorials of all sorts across the country. Way out of proportion. The incident is described as a ‘freak accident’. Why it was freakish is puzzling. It’s actually freakish that more such accidents don’t occur.

The huge elephant in the cricket change rooms and corridors of power is the modern version of ‘bodyline’, a term used during the 1932-33 test series against England. English fast bowler Harold Larwood targeted Australian batsmen instead of the wicket, which was considered shockingly ungentlemanly, dangerous and unfair play. Just not cricket! These days it’s normal bowling practice for all teams.

In the wake, so to speak, of the recent death, the cricket commentariat were resolutely silent about a glaring, fundamental problem at the heart of the game. Along with administrators and players themselves, an omertà rules: not a word about the danger of hurling a hard ball at speeds up to 160 kph directly at another human being, including his head. The only rule is to make it bounce first and try to ensure he’s in front of the wicket. It’s tantamount to aggravated assault, or worse. The wearing of helmets and other protection, including the ‘box’, for sensitive body parts only underscores the problem. The rules of the sacrosanct game should change, but mentioning it would be apostasy of the highest order.

Add so-called sledging, that is verbally insulting your opponents, preferably with racist taunts, and you have an unsavoury cocktail of super aggressive, negative role model behaviour. The big-money professional sports have refined their games for profit and entertainment so that only vague vestiges of sportsmanship remain. An obsolete, old-fashioned idea that can also be interred.

Unknown

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The world’s highest mountain, Everest, also known as Sagarmatha or Qomolangma (‘Holy Mother’), is the ultimate bucket-list item for super egos. Last week over two hundred climbers tried for the summit during good weather.

Holy Mother was more defiled than usual by the tragedy unfolding on her flanks on the last stretch below the summit at 8000+m altitude. The Death Zone lived up to its reputation, with four climbers dying there in the same 36 hour period.

The Australian report makes chilling (no pun intended) reading. The final climb route is narrow with room for only one fixed rope, so climbers have to literally climb over each other if someone stops, dead or otherwise. Britisher Leanna Shuttleworth, 19 years old, and her father Mark did just that.

The first body they met was Shriya Shah-Klorfine, a Nepalese-Canadian woman who had died the previous day. They unclipped themselves off the rope to go past her, and then clipped back on to continue. Shuttleworth reports on their next encounter: “There was another man who was almost dead; he was sitting attached to an anchor…and I just thought it was a dead body rocking in the wind, but as we passed he raised his arm and looked at us. He didn’t know anyone was there. He was almost dead. He was dead when we came back down”.  Just think for a moment about what she is actually saying. They literally left him for dead.

That body was either Wang Yifa, a Chinese climber, or South Korean Song Won-bin, both of whom died in that period. Next was the dead body of Eberhard Schaaf, a German doctor. Shuttleworth’s team cut him from the rope to get past.

Leanna was ‘briefly elated’ when she reached the peak but believes the day will haunt her for life: “You’re thinking, ‘Is there anything I could have done?’ It’s put me off Everest. I really, really didn’t enjoy summit day because of that”. What a shame her fun was spoilt.

The answer to her question: yes, her team should’ve tried to help Yifa or Won-bin. How did she know that the semi-conscious climber was unseeing or almost dead? The callous and matter-of-fact rationalisations are very cold indeed. What happened to common decency and empathy? Shuttleworth deserves to be haunted. She still lacks remorse and insight.

The story has a redeeming strand of mountaineering ethics. Israeli Nadav Ben Yehuda, 24 yrs old, came across Turkish-American climber Aydin Irmak, who he’d befriended at base camp, slumped only 250m from the summit. Yehuda gave up his ascent, carried him back down and Irmak survived. Yehuda also found a semi-conscious Malaysian climber on the way down, when another climbing team appeared: “After a long debate they gave him oxygen and he survived”. Debate about what, one wonders? And, where were the abandoned climbers’ mates?

The selfish indifference of all these ambitious goal-seekers determined to claim their moment of glory and bragging rights is staggering. Is this the inevitable result of our corporate-cultured and self-centred societies, that we can climb over dead bodies, or walk past those still alive, merely in pursuit of our own fame?

Special thanks to Christian Wild for permission to use these photos

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Well, actually it’s shark season all year round because the ocean is where sharks live. But as most humans don’t venture into the water much in winter we can consider the onslaught, so to speak, of the summer months as shark season. As regular KC readers know, despite its inland location Kookynie has a tradition of body surfing, practised these days by a small coterie of avid afficionados. Add ocean swimming practitioners and that makes a handful of alert citizens vigilant to the shark menace, so time for an update.

According to University of Florida shark researchers, in 2010 there were 79 attacks on humans worldwide, of which 6 were fatal. This was the highest recorded in 10 years, and represents a 25% increase on 2009, but you’ve got to concede it’s a statistically small base. That’s kinda the good news: your chances of being attacked by a shark, particularly, for example, at netted metropolitan Sydney beaches are extremely tiny.

The not-so-good news is that the south-western coast of Oztralia has witnessed three fatal shark attacks in the last year or more, so roughly half the worldwide fatalities have occurred on either side of the Great Australian Bight. Yeah, some pranksters might say that’s a spelling mistake! The latest was on a bodyboarder in September at Bunker Bay, in the vicinity of WA’s legendary Margaret River.

KC’s environmental travel team visited these southern and western coastlines back in 2009, and definitely experienced that ‘sharky’ feeling on many occasions – this photo of a tiger shark cruising in shallow water was taken in Shark Bay (oh yeah) in the exact spot we had just swum in!

So, as the local ocean-going cognoscenti gather in the Kookynie pub, over a pint or three of KB (Kookynie Bitter, of course), sober (ha!) assessments are being made about the coming season’s risks. On those lonely Bight beaches, scanning ‘out the back’ before entering the water is serious.

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Body surfing at Kookynie goes back to those big rain days of yore when flood waters rushed down the creek into Niagara Dam. Older Kookyniers remember surfing through boulders using kangaroo-skin & wooden flippers. In 1897-98 the dam was built to assure water supply for the new mining metropolis, and named after its US counterpart, inaugurated by WA Premier Forrest. It was an instant ‘white elephant’.

BightPOHFlood creek flows into the dam are rare these days, so surfers have a long drive down to the Great Australian Bight. You can get lucky though – blue skies and waves to yourself and seals. Winter ocean temperature means wetsuit is de rigeur. Send ’em up Huey!

BodysurfPOH

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Last October the first-home buyers ‘grant’ for purchase of established homes was doubled to $14,000, and tripled to $21,000 for new ones. Since then the average first home loan has blown out by $22,400 to $284,700. Of course, any nexus between those similar amounts is purely coincidental.

National house prices increased 4.2% in the June quarter, and declined only 1.4% over the last 12 years. So the Global Financial Chicken has hardly slowed our lemming-like rush into home ownership, particularly as interest rates remain historically low. And you can bet on them not rising again any time soon! So this is the fun of our national sport, Real Estate, with massive bets being laid on capital gains as well – a bet both ways, so to speak. Quintessentially Australian.

Housing in Australia is about 25% over-valued, according to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, which refers to a ‘house price gap’. Steve Keen (A/Prof Economics & Finance at UWS) reckons the over-valuation is in fact about 60%, compared to consumer prices generally. Strangely, real estate agents don’t agree and reckon prices are about right.

Go you sure thing, the Great Australian Dream!

Cottage

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