July 8, 2004
I awoke this morning to wind groaning and flags whipping as I felt Pacific Bliss straining the squeaking dock lines. But no worries. We are safely at the marina here, contemplating our state of origin. We’re happy to be in from the islands, since a trough is coming through, the cold and rainy weather a contrast to the sunny skies we’ve been fortunate to have all the way up the Central Queensland Coast.
We are hunkered down, recuperating from yesterday’s ‘decisive day when the nation reflects on its origin’, according to ‘The Wry Side’ columnist Louise Evens, in The Australian.
No, we’re not talking about an Australian Independence Day. This is more important. It’s about rugby. And yesterday was the decisive game, the two previous games having been rigged so to ensure a level playing field: Queensland 1, New South Wales 1; ‘the winner’ Evens says, ‘gets the Sydney Harbour Bridge.’ According to her, ‘Queenslanders live for State of Origin. It is their one chance to disprove their slow-talking, sun-damaged image and show their state has more to offer than the big country towns with small city attitude.’
The poster centered on the heavy, locked aluminum gate from the berths to the marina proper invited all yachties to attend, but without inside info, visiting yanks like us wouldn’t have a clue what it was about:
STATE OF ORIGON
Mackay Yacht Club 5:30-7:00 PM
“State of Oregon?” questioned Gunter.
“No, it would still be misspelled, I said. It’s something about a state play-off in rugby. Anyway, looks like free appetizers. Let’s go.”
I changed from a navy-and-white outfit to the closest color to Queensland maroon I could find: purple. But I did manage to find a maroon headband. Gunter wore green. “It’s neutral, not blue or navy, like the opposing team’s colors; it will have to do.”
I talked Gunter into being fashionably late. At 6:00, we signed in as a reciprocal yacht club visitor and sauntered to the bar to order a drink that would demonstrate our support for Queensland: a can of ‘Dark and Stormy’ (rum with Bundy ginger beer).
“You actually like that stuff?” a yachtie asked me. He was sailing up the coast from Sydney, on his way to the Whitsundays to find winter warmth.
“Sure. We spent a month in Bundaberg. I like Queensland products, including their four-ex beer.” He ordered a Victoria Bitter. Smug. He would root for the Blues.
Another group invited us to pull up our two-person bar table to form a group and we snugged in close for yachtie talk—wind and weather and islands.
“I wonder where the appetizers are. Don’t see any,” mumbled Gunter, casting inquiring glances toward the kitchen. It was almost 6:30. About 15 minutes later, a yachtie approached our group. “Tucker downstairs,” he said. A grill had been set up on the cement lining the lower level, next to a workshop with stored small power boats. Fat sausages and the longest hotdogs I’d ever seen were sizzling on the grill. A folding table with huge buns, tomatoes, raw onions and condiments had been set up alongside. “Help yourself,” urged a salty-looking, bearded man. These were no little sizzlers of the cocktail type I’d envisioned. But by now I’ve learned not to be too surprised by anything in the Land of Oz. Things are always bigger and better or upside down and backwards.
We went upstairs where the bar and restaurant were filling up. A big screen TV held center stage. The preliminaries were in full swing, with enthusiastic, know-it-all sports commentators and loud commercials, mostly for beer. We settled back in our same seats, took off our jackets, and ordered beers and a plate of calamari to share. The anticipation was building and I was happy to be a part of the action.
There was no question that we would root for Queensland. I thought I had a love affair with Australia, but now I realize that my loyalty is with our state of entry. After all, that’s all we know so far of this vast land. What allegiance the other states will bring remains to be discovered.
Last season, we had entered OZ through the Port of Bundaberg as part of the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu. This season, we had entered through the Brisbane airport, driving with friends up the ‘Sunshine Coast’ for two days in a pouring rain to meet Pacific Bliss, stored in Port Bundaberg Marina. From there, we’ve made it up the coast as far as Mackay; our traveling so far this season totaling only 700 miles, merely getting us into tropical Central Queensland. In Europe, we’d have traveled through a few countries by now. Here, it’s only a small piece of one state. To Cairns is another 400 miles or so, to go ‘over the top’ next year—to the tip of the Cape York Peninsula—is yet another 400. We Americans think Texas is big. The distance from Brisbane to Cairns, the next largest city, is 1700 km!
To put in terms of the games, the distance between Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, and Sydney, the capital of New South Wales—where 82,487 fans were watching the bone-crushing game at Telstra Stadium—is a tortuous 1030 km, about 700 miles.
In the Origin series, the players in these games must have been born in the state they play for. Why were only these two states competing? I don’t know, but it’s fun to guess: In the Northern Territories, the jackaroos are too busy defending their stations from the dingoes, the crocs, and the world’s ten most poisonous snakes. The ACT (Australian Capital Territory) has to run the country; the politicians there are very busy right now throwing mud at each other in a build-up to elections, much like the U.S. Western Australia, its ‘forgotten half,’ is far removed from East Coast bloodletting; it’s a mere 4390 km (2582 miles) from Brisbane to Perth. And perhaps Victoria, South Australia, and the island of Tassie (Tasmania) are just too small.
Twenty-two minutes into the game, Queensland was ahead 8-6. The yachtie couple across the table from us was cheering. The wife took off her pretty light blue fleece and hid it under the table, apparently realizing that it was the wrong color.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“He’s a Kiwi; I’m a Queenslander,” she said proudly.
“Well, I spent my childhood in New Zealand and my adult life here,” her husband remonstrated. Doesn’t that make me an Aussie?”
During the half-time, I thought about the origin question some more. Was my own state of origin Wisconsin, where I was born and spent my childhood and first years of college? Or was it Minnesota where I went to college some more, spent most of my own working years, and raised a family? The back yard of our home there met the back yard of the Fran Tarkenton family; Fran was my kids’ hero (and mine), the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings football team during their glory years. They would always be my favorite NFL team. And then there is California, the ‘can do’ state that now has my primary allegiance.
“Where are you from?” a yachtie seemed to be reading my thoughts. “Originally Midwest U.S. and now California,” I answered.
“And you?” he asked Gunter.
“America,” he answered automatically.
“But your accent? Is it German, or perhaps Swiss?”
“German,” he answered curtly. “But I’m American now. Founded my company in California.” No hesitation there.
“To which team would in the world would you give your allegiance?” I asked Gunter privately.
“San Diego Chargers.”
I remembered when the Chargers had made the Super Bowl back in January of ’95. We were in Bali desperately trying to find a TV set for the game. We had openly cheered them during the first quarter, then sat there glumly as they flamed, then fizzled. We were embarrassed for our home team. No one else seemed to care.
The second half started horribly for Queensland. Winger Sing broke his jaw
clashing heads with NSW player Fittler. Our table found nothing to cheer about
from then on. But plenty of those ‘smug southern yachties’ were
cheering on the Blues as they made one spectacular play after the other. After
243 minutes of bone-crushing rugby, and two months of off-field hysteria preceding
Origin III, the Blues became the State Champions, 36-14.