This sport­ing life

Vet­eran wit John Clarke analy­ses the ori­gins of Aussie sport to pro­duce a fas­ci­nat­ing slice of so­cial his­tory, writes David Pougher

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Television -

IT’S a brave man who takes on a pro­ject that dis­sects Aus­tralians’ love of sport and the rea­sons we are so pas­sion­ate about it.

And if that man hap­pens to be a New Zealan­der, there’s a chance there’s some mad­ness be­hind the brav­ery.

But that’s the task ac­tor, writer, co­me­dian and satirist John Clarke ( pic­tured) set him­self in Sport­ing Na­tion, a se­ries that ex­am­ines not just how we con­nect with sport and its he­roes, but why.

Part two of the three- part se­ries airs tonight, show­cas­ing Aus­tralia’s at­tempts to come to grips with the dawn of pro­fes­sional sport, the 1976 Olympics in which we won not a sin­gle event and the ex­plo­sion of tele­vi­sion sport.

The Aus­tralian sport story can per­haps only be told by some­one who has ob­served our ob­ses­sion from out­side be­fore join­ing our ranks.

Clarke was born in Palmer­ston North but moved to Aus­tralia in the late 1970s. He’s al­ways been fas­ci­nated by our re­la­tion­ship to sport as we went from am­a­teur over- achiev­ers post- war to be­wil­dered also- rans as the world went pro­fes­sional in the 1970s and emerged again as big hit­ters in the 1990s.

Mix­ing archive footage, his own acute and some­times laugh- out- loud ob­ser­va­tions and in­ter­views with greats such as Dawn Fraser, Herb El­liott, Cadel Evans, Mur­ray Rose, Rae­lene Boyle and Kieren Perkins ( among many oth­ers), Clarke has pro­duced a fas­ci­nat­ing and hugely en­ter­tain­ing piece of so­cial his­tory.

‘‘ Talk­ing about sport is a bit like tak­ing one of the most con­crete prin­ci­ples, but when you dis­cuss it, you dis­cover it’s a will-’ o- the- wisp and it’s dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple,’’ he says.

‘‘ It’s such a cracker bar­rel of dif­fer­ent things, a sort of prism that we can look through at the his­tory of the coun­try, cer­tainly post- war.

‘‘ The thing about this pro­gram is that al­though it’s partly his­tor­i­cal and ul­ti­mately an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the ideas in sport, I hope that al­though we’re telling this story with th­ese won­der­ful peo­ple who are in­tel­li­gent and elo­quent and au­thor­i­ta­tive, it’s also a pro­gram that peo­ple pro­ject into and get some­thing out of them­selves. It’s not just about those ath­letes, it’s about all Aus­tralians.’’

Clarke was de­lighted to find some of our great­est sport­ing he­roes were equally cu­ri­ous about the rea­sons they did what they did and how it res­onated with so­ci­ety.

It’s an in­di­ca­tion of how im­por­tant sport is to us that Clarke has two for­mer prime min­is­ters on the pro­gram: Mal­colm Fraser, who es­tab­lished the In­sti­tute of Sport af­ter Aus­tralia failed to win a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics; and Bob Hawke, a noted sports­man him­self and some­one who un­der­stood the syn­ergy be­tween Aus­tralians and sport.

But as you’d ex­pect, it’s the ath­letes who steal the show and Clarke has an anec­dote that il­lus­trates the com­pet­i­tive­ness that un­der­pins our sport­ing greats.

‘‘ One of the peo­ple I spoke to told me that when they built the Olympic swimming pool for the Syd­ney Olympics, they had a bit of a press call and they got Shane Gould, Dawn Fraser, Mur­ray Rose, Ian Thorpe and some oth­ers to swim a lap to­gether,’’ Clarke says.

‘‘ So they had a bit of a meet­ing be­fore­hand and said, ‘ What are we go­ing to do, shall we swim a 32- sec­ond lap?’ But a cou­ple of them said, ‘ That’s a bit fast. Let’s do a 35- sec­ond lap’.

‘‘ So they got down on the blocks and said we’ll do ‘ ready, set, go’.

‘‘ They did ‘ ready, set’ and Dawn dived in and went like bug­gery. She was fierce.’’ SPORT­ING NA­TION ABC1, tonight, 7.30

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