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Soup of This Day #61: Now I’m Standing On The Corner, All The World’s Gone Home

September 2, 2011

Perth Skyline Feb 2011
Perth, Western Australia. The city skyline from Kings Park looking down to the CBD – Photo: Gorant87, 2011. Gorant87 is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Australia is the lucky country. It’s a term you hear often and generally in a positive way. Ironically it’s origin is as the title of a book, The Lucky Country, by social critic Donald Horne, where it was… well… meant to be ironic. Horne’s full phrase from which the title is drawn was:

‘Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.’

In spite of Horne’s negative connotation the title has been taken at face value by most people. Partly because we like irony and being ironic about something ironic is a little bit amusing. But mostly it’s because we are actually a lucky country.

I can say this because I’ve recently seen the results of the 2011 Most Liveable Cities survey. Australian cities made up 4 of the top 10. Melbourne was number 1, knocking off Vancouver, who had held down the top spot (or a share of it) for 10 years. Sydney was 6th, Perth (my hometown) was tied with Adelaide for 8th. Apart from Vancouver (3rd), 2 other Canadian metropolises featured (Toronto in 4th and Calgary in 5th). The highest ranked US city was Honolulu in 26th. Vienna (2nd) was the highest placed European city, with Helsinki (10th) next. London was 53rd presumably because Arsenal lost 8-2 to Man U. I would certainly mark down the whole place based on that.

The survey measures stuff like infrastructure and crime. The Canadians were apparently usurped because of a degradation in transport infrastructure. I still like Vancouver though. The photos make the place look like a postcard – a clean, beautiful city seemingly built into an astonishing, rugged wilderness. It looks like an outdoor wear catalog. With occasional hockey violence.

Vancouver 2011 Hockey Riot Kiss

Sidebar: This photograph, taken by Rich Lam, Getty Images, shows a couple kissing amidst the carnage of the 2011 Vancouver hockey riots. The man is a Perth lad, Scott Jones, and he was trying to calm his upset partner. That’s why we’re in 8th baby.

Vancouver also has Michael Buble. I don’t mind The Buble. Not the musician, although he’s inoffensive and by extension ok. I meant the burger you can get at a Perth eatery that is called The Buble. It has blue cheese and a mushroom sauce and is decent. Now that I think about it the burger is a bit like Perth. Bill Bryson once said in his book Down Under that he liked Perth:

‘You will never see bluer city skies or purer sunlight bouncing off skyscrapers than here.’

Which is nice, but not what you’d put on a postcard. No, Perth doesn’t have a great standout feature like the Louvre or the Golden Gate Bridge. What it does have are lovely parks, a river running through the middle and a modern standard of living that is bemoaned by some locals but really is very good compared to most other places. I haven’t independently verified this but I think I’m on safe ground here with respect to say, Kabul.

We also have functional, if unspectacular, architecture and our sporting grounds are suitable without being memorable. Our flagship is the WACA Ground, known for it’s hard, pacy pitches and the late afternoon cooling breeze (‘The Fremantle Doctor’). Despite being perched on the edge of the Swan River it’s not really a ground that sticks in your mind otherwise.

Which brings me to Galle in Sri Lanka’s south west. I’m not sure where Galle, a seaport city of just under 100,000, landed on the ‘Most Liveable Cities’ index, or even if they were deemed large enough to get rated at all but I reckon they should have been if for no other reason than they have a quite brilliant Cricket ground. The Galle International Stadium is bordered on 2 sides by the Indian Ocean and on a 3rd by the 17th century Galle Fort. The fort, with it’s iconic clock tower looms impressively at one end of the wicket (The Fort End).

Galle

In this image of historic Galle, the ground can be seen in the ‘neck’ of the peninsular.

In 2004 Galle was devastated by the Boxing Day Tsunami. Thousands lost their lives in the city and the ground was damaged to such an extent that locals considered rebuilding elsewhere. They didn’t though, choosing instead to renovate with new stands and subsequently an increased capacity. On December 17th, 2007, Sri Lanka hosted England in the 1st Test at the reborn stadium.

Galle hosted another memorable feat in July of 2010 when Cricket’s greatest bowler, Muttiah Muralidaran (His preferred spelling) played his last Test match. The Sri Lankan right-arm spinner started the Test, against India, on 792 Test wickets. He took 5 for in the 1st innings and took 2 more in the 2nd to be on 799 as India stumbled to 9 down. For the next 90 minutes Pragyan Ojha defied the maestro and threatened to spoil the farewell, however in the end he succumbed, making Murali the 1st to record 800 Test wickets and with his last ball to boot.

This history and the old fort might give the impression that Galle has long hosted Test cricket. It hasn’t. The ground made it’s Test debut as recently as June of 1998 as Sri Lanka hosted New Zealand, thumping them by an innings and 16 runs. To date Sri Lanka have won 9 of 18 Tests on Galle’s spin-friendly pitches, drawing 5, losing 3 and with 1 still in doubt. I am postulating that this winning record is in part because the opposition spend too much time gazing around the ground and exclaiming:

‘Hey, is that a freakin’ castle up there?’

The 1st One Day International should have been a fortnight after the 1st Test but it was rained out. And therein lies Galle’s major cricketing problem. The region is tropical in climate. The average rainfall in February is 86mm (3.4 inches) and that’s as dry as it gets. The wettest month is typically October with a torrential average of 340mm (13.4 inches). In September it’s a cup-overflowing 210 mm (8.4 inches).

It’s against this waterfall-like backdrop that Australia are currently engaged in a Test match in Galle – The ‘1 still in doubt’ I referred to previously. Day 1, Wednesday, 31st started late due to a water-logged ground. There was also a rain delay late on Day 2 and a rain delay early today, Day 3. The smart money is on more precipitation to come.

Not that it will save the Sri Lankans. Batting 1st the Aussies made a solid 273, with veteran Western Australian Mike Hussey belying his 36 years to compile a measured 95. In reply the Sri Lankans collapsed calamitously, losing their last 7 for 18 runs as they stumbled to 105. Australia’s 2nd dig then added 210 with skipper Michael Clarke’s 60 the backbone. Chasing an unlikely 379 for the win the Sri Lankans survived to stumps on Day 3 but only just. They’re 5 for 120, still 259 from victory and 2 days from a draw. They’ll need some luck to get either positive result and as previously established Australia is the lucky country.

Another piece of evidence to indicate how lucky we are is the determined attempts of so-called ‘illegal immigrants’ to get to our island. Putting aside that, since they are seeking asylum they really can’t be logically ‘illegal’, these are men, women and children who by and large charter boats, often from dubious ‘people smugglers’ at ridiculous cost and personal risk. They then set sail for Australia, hoping to make it to golden soil girt by sea and a new life.

What actually happens is that we intercept most of them, put them in detention camps and then assess whether they are really in need of asylum. This is a long, drawn-out process, more so since 9/11 changed the way we viewed those with differing cultures. As a modern practice this was kicked off by John Winston Howard, Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007. ‘I’ll stop the boats’ was 1 of his catch cries and indeed he did stop them. Mostly by intercepting them and then sending the demonised refugees to offshore processing camps.

Howard, who won the 2001 election largely off the back of 9/11 and an incident in which some refugees were falsely alleged to have thrown children overboard in an attempt to gain asylum, is also a Cricket tragic. In 2004, as Prime Minister, he decried Muttiah Muralidaran as a ‘chucker’, a heinous accusation in the world of Cricket. Murali was cleared of such accusations at least 3 times, several times via testing here in Perth.

There are currently less than 5000 refugees, some of whom are ethnic Tamils (Like Murali) who have fled Sri Lanka, in detention camps awaiting assessment of their asylum claims. As opposed to our current population of 22 million. Living in an area equivalent to almost 11 times that of Texas (The Lone Star State has 25 million residents). We could/should look at the comparatively small number of desperate people, get some compassion and maybe just suck it up. We don’t though.

Although the WACA isn’t a patch on the Galle International Stadium (It has no fort for a start) we’re still a lucky country. I don’t know that we’re a nice 1. Maybe Horne was right and we are a little ‘second-rate’.

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