The Shark’s Infested Waters

November 20, 2006 at 1:35 am (Uncategorized)

My Tamworth familiarisation was great…lovely people, cool accommodation, perfect weather, and some great food and wine. I was also lucky enough to be part of a really fun group, which made the experience even more enjoyable.

I am now full of useless pieces of Tamworth trivia, like its airport is one of Australia’s top ten busiest, based on landings and take-offs. What else could these ratings possibly be based on, you ask? Well, it has a training academy there, so their training exercises require lots of both, but neither have anything to do with commercial flights and their somewhat less than awesome frequency in and out of Tamworth (although I was amazed and impressed to discover Tamworth supports five Sydney flights a day – pretty good going for a country town). I love bogus statistics like that top ten busiest one, because upon even the most cursory examination, it emerges that such a claim doesn’t really mean anything. One of the journalists on the trip, a very sweet lady, was quick to point out that per capita, the Melbourne-Sydney shuttle is the busiest route in the world. I think that’s a fantastic use of “per capita” bogus data. When you consider the entire population of this enormous country throbs permanently through the one city of Tokyo, you can’t help but appreciate how truly meaningless such a claim to air traffic fame really is. I am fascinated by that kind of wilful blindness. Australians are great for it. Oh, and Tamworth has an obelisk commemorating the arrival of street lights – apparently Tamworth was the second place in Australia, following Sydney, to get them. Why? Nobody knew. But the obelisk is there, and beneath it lies buried a time capsule that’s due to be opened on the bicentenary of Tamworth’s street lights. That’ll be 2088, so unfortunately none of us will be around to see what those crazy kids back in 1888 thought worth burying for the future.

Anyway, after a smooth as silk Sunday morning Qantas-link flight back to Sydney, including truly jaw-dropping views over the harbour on the way in, Llew picked me up and we went to the Australian Open at the Royal Sydney Golf Club for the day. He’d been the day before, and had a sheepish look when he picked me up that said he hadn’t missed me at all, and that he had in fact fallen madly in love with someone else whilst I’d been away. It turns out that’s exactly what happened. Once at the Open, it became quite clear who had stolen his affections away from me: Greg Norman, a.k.a “The Shark,” “The Great White Shark,” “Living Legend,” “National Sporting Hero,” or just plain Greggles, as I like to call him.

Llew and Greg had sealed their love the day before, when Norman apparently had a blinder on the course, and ended up back in the middle of the field after being close to not making the cut. Llew was thrilled – he was only there to see Norman in action because the man himself has allegedly said he won’t play another Australian Open. Happily for Llew, Saturday’s round was a beauty. His admiration – Greg Norman leads the life Llew desperately wants to lead – was complete, right down to the fact that Norman seemed genuinely embarrassed by the crowd he was pulling. Being nowhere near the leaders’ board, his star power was curious and yet simultaneously completely undiminished. A massive swarm of devotees – us included – fell over each other to watch every swing and putt. We enthusiastically applauded when the ball eventually went in the hole, even though I personally didn’t see Norman putt one first shot on the green – they all just missed. What was I applauding, exactly? I’m still not sure. I think I was applauding his charisma, not his golf. We famously like to cut down tall poppies in this country, but once we’ve collectively decided – and who knows how these things happen in the minds and hearts of a population? – that you’re one of our heroes, we will be slavishly devoted, long after death has parted us (exhibit A, with all due respect: Sir Donald Bradman). Greg Norman doesn’t even live in Australia to the best of my knowledge, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the crowd surging behind and alongside him on the weekend seemed to think that he was any moment about to take the title, and sure to claim the spot that, however inexplicably, seemed rightfully his. It was a bizarre and telling spectacle, Australian hero-worship nothing if not a complicated, hardy, and many-tentacled beast. I was swept up in their – no, our – love for him, and then I was a little disturbed by it. A beer and a meat pie on the 9th hole helped shake me free from the hypnotic grip of mass idolatry, and in the end Llew and I were able to walk away.

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