Two worlds, sharing one passion

Click to follow
IF THE battle to assert Australian nationalism was lost at the ballot box yesterday, at least it could be upheld in the place where an Australian's patriotic heart beats loudest - on the playing field.

On the day Australia's republican cause was booted into touch by the electorate, the 800 patrons packing the One World Sports Bar in Sydney's Darling Harbour were determined to uphold national honour as they watched live coverage of the rugby World Cup final from Cardiff.

The referendum result had been officially announced hours before, leaving drinkers to look for the Wallabies to nurse the bruised sense of Australian nationalism. The giant video monitors relaying the live feed from Wales went silent when Rolf Harris and John Williamson sang "Waltzing Matilda" before the kick-off - leaving the fans in the One World Sports Bar to sing the unofficial Australian anthem themselves.

The brief shot of the Queen, known locally as Betty Windsor, taking her seat in the royal box at the Millennium Stadium was greeted with spontaneous boos and hisses delivered at a decibel level that far exceeded any of the opprobrium vented at the French players as they took the field. Although Buckingham Palace had repeatedly said the decision whether or not to become a republic was entirely a concern for Australians themselves, the Queen was public enemy number one for the drinking classes in Darling Harbour last night.

The bar was not a place for neutrals, although a few knots of expatriate French with Tricolores around their shoulders were at least given a chance to sing their national anthem without interruption or interference.

But when first blood went to the Australians, literally, as a French forward was led off the field to re-emerge with a bandage across his face, the crowd hooted: "You poof. Get off the field."

The atmosphere quietened into something approaching anxiety as the French took the lead with a penalty. The kick was taken with loud boos from the crowd, as if they believed they could put off the kicker from half a world away.

Tensions began to creep in with the teams exchanging penalty goals. A TV cameraman who pointed his lens and lights at the crowd in front of the largest video screen was told: "Shut it down, mate. I can't see the bloody screen when you point that thing."

Ragged attempts at a rendition of "Waltzing Matilda" were drowned in the bottom of beer glasses as French pressure mounted on the field in Cardiff. "Jeez - if we lose this after what has already happened today, I'll kill myself," muttered one shaven-headed monster.

There may have been a team of four commentators bringing the match to Australians, but the bar was full of experts, their insights little diminished by the attempt to drink their weight in Victoria Bitter.

When the French battled their way into the Australian 22-metre area and won the subsequent line-out, one pub pundit remarked: "They're going to kick it for a drop goal. They haven't got the guts to run it for a try."

But it was to be Australia's night - at least after half-time. The winger Ben Tune's try was greeted with the sort of frenzy that might have been reserved for Australia's first president. And when the substitute Owen Finegan bullocked his way over for a second score, the frenzy increased in volume.

By then, knots of French supporters were making their way quietly into the warm early-morning air, their only consolation being the knowledge that at least the woman presenting the World Cup wasn't their head of state.