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Two great Australian monuments

posted by Mickey on 7/21/03

TWO GREAT AUSTRALIAN MONUMENTS

In the group post about 7/4, I spoke a bit about Australia's most famous monument, the Dog on the Tuckerbox near Gundagai. This post is about a couple of the other great monuments in Australia.

1. The Big Banana.

A couple of weeks ago- and it remains a sore point- a pub trivia team I was playing with failed to win a meat tray because missed the last question of the afternoon, about the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

Since then, I have done some research, and I am led to believe there is no such thing as the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. But I also believe that if there really was such a thing, The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour NSW would just have to be on the list. Everyone who has seen it knows in his or her heart of hearts that this monument leaves, for instance, the Great Wall of China and/or the Taj Mahal for dead. To that end, I would like to have a series of television advertisements in which people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christina Aguilera, Ronaldo, and Anna Kournikova could talk about the deeply spiritual feelings they experienced the first time they saw The Banana.  At the end of each advertisement, the tag line would be:  CAN THIS REALLY BE ONLY THE EIGHTH MOST WONDERFUL THING IN THE WORLD??

Australia has no shortage of monuments to primary industries of importance in various regions. Off the top of my head, I can list the Big Pineapple (at Nambour), the Big Cow (also at Nambour, in fact, just across the road from The Pineapple, although much less impressive than it), The Big Merino (at Goulburn), the Big Oyster (at Taree) and the Big Prawn (at Ballina). Nor should the quiet grandeur of the Big Potato in the NSW southern highlands be overlooked. (Although I can't remember exactly what town The Spud is nearest to, I do know the locals affectionately call it 'The Big Turd'). And that list is far from exhaustive. But as majestic as some of these Big Things are, none of them really come close to the gracious dignified might of The Banana, perhaps not the original, but certainly the best, of these monuments.


BA-NA-NA-NA!!

Some facts about The Banana:

· The Big Banana is bigger than a van!
· It contains more fibreglass than 10 surfboards put together!
· It is one of the oldest Big Things in Australia, if not the oldest!
· Since it was constructed, another, rival, “Big Banana” has been constructed, in another town, which is (rather vulgarly) vertical. However, this Johnny-come-lately so-called “big banana” is not as massive as the original engineering feat that is The Big Banana.
· Just so that there can be no mistake about what is depicted in the statue, the words, “The Big Banana: Coffs Harbour” are printed on the side.

Beyond the statistics, however, one of the things that I like best about The Banana is that the fruit depicted in such a mighty magnified ratio to real life bananas is not, as one might expect it to be, a representation of an bright yellow perfect ideal banana. Instead, the model for the heroically scaled fruit is kind of weirdly shaped and has a few little black marks of future corruption on it. It is a realistic touch. Certainly the fruit is not over-ripe. The Banana of The Big Banana is not so far past its use-by date that it will either have to be made into A Big Muffin or thrown away. But, just as in nature, the model for The Banana has some imperfections that the team of engineers who designed the giant fruit did not shy away from depicting.

Some readers may know Shelley's poem, “Ozymandias” about how a traveller in some unnamed part of the east, comes across the pedestal of a statue, on which is inscribed the words, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.” The pay-off comes in the concluding lines of the poem:

Nothing besides remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

If, one day in the remote future, some traveller was to come upon the ruins of Coffs Harbour and was to find the blackened remains of The Banana, it pleases me to think that he or she would have no cause to indulge in such savage irony at its expense. Rather, I like to think, the sculptor of The Banana foresaw that all things must pass, and that there is a time for fruitfulness, and a time for decay.


2. The Collussus of Lang Park.


In the limited space available here, I cannot explain all the nuances of Rugby League football. Basically, the game is similar to American Football in that a team has a number of plays in which to attempt to carry the ball over a line at the extremity of a rectangular playing surface. The most important rule difference is that the offensive team must always pass the ball backwards, although it can be kicked forwards if a team wants to risk possession. All players are expected to take part in both the attacking and defensive phases of the game. Within every team, however, there are two basic groups of players, known as “forwards” and “backs”. Forwards are big violent oafs who are good at pulverizing people. Backs are relatively diminutive violent oafs (ie. bigger than you and me put together, but not as big as forwards) who either have a turn of speed, or possess good ball handling skills.

There was a post by Jon here a couple of months ago where he took exception with soccer players for their supposed sissiness. Rugby League players are much tougher than American footballers, since they play a similarly brutal style of football, but do so without wearing the helmets and protective padding of their American counterparts. Whatever else you say about Rugby League as a spectacle, no-one who has ever watched or (especially) played the sport will deny that it is a tough game.

In every sport there are particular “grudge” games. I don't know enough about American football to say what these may be in the States,, but anyone who knows a little about soccer knows there is always a particular edge when, for instance, Arsenal play against Tottenham Hotspur, or when Glasgow Celtic meet Glasgow Rangers, or Boca Juniors play against River Plate.

In Rugby League, the fiercest games, in what is already a pretty gladiatorial sport, are the three annual games between the Queensland and New South Wales state of origin sides. These games, known simply as “Origin” to Australians, give all sports fans an opportunity to get a glimpse at what things would have been like if Neanderthal Man had developed an interest in carrying a ball over an advantage line.

When it comes to these games, I am kind of like Frank Rusconi, the sculptor of the Dog on the Tuckerbox, ie. completely one-eyed. The everyday complexities of life float away like so much mental froth, and I am left sitting there on the couch, nervously clutching a beer stubby and watching a Queensland team composed of 13 fundamentally regular decent guys who just happen to resemble over-muscled baboons, engaging in a bone-crushing contest with a NSW team composed of 13 evil-henchmen types, every one of whom is pumped to the eyeballs with illegal steroids, and who all report directly to Lucifer for team tactics.

In the circumstances, rooting for Queensland is not just a question of supporting the underdog (although God knows, it is usually that as well) but a simple moral choice that any fair-minded person, regardless of his or her place of birth, could only resolve by supporting the team wearing the maroon guernseys. Outside Queensland, it is not generally recognized that in the years when NSW wins the Origin series, Satan holds dominion over the universe. I forget it myself from time to time. But while I am watching the games, it is a fact that is always vividly present to me.

During the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the NSW team was particularly strong. In particular, it always contained a pack of forwards so heavy and so ornery, that simple logic suggested NSW would dominate Origin. It was during this period, however, that Wally Lewis, the 5/8 for the Queensland team made Origin his own personal stage and won countless games for Queensland by his own personal genius. (OK, there are only three games a year, and I am talking about a span of approximately 10 years, so, strictly speaking, yeah, I suppose you could count them, but you know what I mean).


Where's Wally?

Wally Lewis also played with distinction for the Australian national Rugby League side, but since Australia was (and is) about 500 times better than our nearest rivals at Rugby League, this, through no fault of Wally Lewis, was a comparatively empty achievement.

Lewis was a back and, therefore, physically delicate, as these things are measured in Rugby League. Because of his capacity to turn a game, he was singled out by the NSW defence and would often finish games either clinically dead or close to it. Nevertheless, during the period that is now known as the Wally Lewis era, Queensland defied probability by winning Origin more often than not.

In 1992 a statue of Wally Lewis was commissioned to stand outside Lang Park. My dad used to take me and my brother there every week to see the QRL match of the week, so Lang Park has always been kind of special to me. The ground is really close to Brisbane's major brewery, so the smell of beer always hung in the air. Actually, I am prepared to believe that it was the other way around and it was the proximity of the stadium to the brewery that made the brewery smell of beer so much. Anyway, although the statue itself is unremarkable, no visitor to Brisbane should fail to check it out, if for no other reason that that it will stop every inhabitant of Brisbane wanting to take you there. Let's face it, there are two ways a conversation like the following can go.

BRISBANIAN. Been enjoying Brizzy, ay?

TOURIST. Yes.

BRISBANIAN. Seen the Wally Lewis statue?

TOURIST. Yes. I saw it yesterday.

BRISBANIAN. She's a beauty, ay?

TOURIST. Very impressive, yes.

Or:

BRISBANIAN. Been enjoying Brizzy, ay?

TOURIST. Yes.

BRISBANIAN. Seen the Wally Lewis statue?

TOURIST. No, not yet.

BRISBANIAN. Why not? Jeez, mate/lady. Listen, do you want me to take you there now?

TOURIST. Not really.

BRISBANIAN. Hey, come on, mate/lady, you will regret it for the rest of your life if you don't see it. I'll pay for the taxi, ay? Come on, don't be a flaming idiot. Say, that's some nice dental work you've got there. Be a shame to see it get messed up, ay? Etc etc etc.


Swallow, swallow, little swallow. When in Brisbane, be sure to check out the Wally Lewis statue


Here are some facts about the Wally Lewis statue:

· Although the statue was commissioned to be larger than life-size, it isn't.
· In the statue, the trophy that Wally Lewis is holding aloft appears to be the JJ Giltinan Shield. In fact, no team containing Wally Lewis ever won this trophy. However, that is not to say Wally Lewis would not have waved it over his head if he had come across it.

For all that admiration for Wally Lewis is a particularly Queensland trait, when I think of Wally Lewis, I always remember how my friend Scott met him when he was working behind the counter of a greasy spoon called the Colonial Diner (since demolished) which used to be the closest food outlet to the Sydney Football Stadium. One quiet Monday morning, Scott was wiping a dishrag over a naugehyde surface when two men in suits entered the Diner. The men were Wally Lewis and his business manager, Billy J Smith, a minor celebrity in his own right as host of a television show called “It's a Knockout,” one of the rottenest shows ever broadcast.

During the weekend round of club Rugby League fixtures, Wally Lewis, who was not known as one of the most sportsmanlike players ever to have pushed a mouth-guard into his gob, had been cited for applying an illegal tackle around an opponent's neck, with a view to decapitating him. Consequently Wally and Billy J. were suited up to appear before the tribunal that handed out suspensions, etc. Wally was either on is way to, or on his way from, this appointment, when he stopped in at the diner for brunch.

My friend Scott was naturally impressed to find himself face to face with a sporting legend, then at the height of his powers. Accordingly, I believe him when he says he recalls the conversation they had with perfect 100% accuracy.

SCOTT. Good morning, sir. May I help you?

WALLY LEWIS. [Poking his finger at the condensation that had formed on the plate glass over the hot food display area]. Yeah, mate. What are them little cunts called?

SCOTT. Those are mini dim-sims, sir.

WALLY LEWIS. Gotcha. I'll have a dozen of them little cunts.

An encounter with a great! All in all, I would say Scott got a better anecdote out of his meeting with Wally Lewis than I got out of my meeting with Anatoly Karpov, although I got Karpov's autograph, whereas Wally Lewis didn't even leave a tip.

Mickey
mickey@whatever-dude.com

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