Australians only take one thing serious and that’s sport. It has impacted our society and politics on more than one ocassion. In light of the recent and very brief visit of the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay, I was reminded of another torch relay in 1956.
It was a very important Olympics, the first that Australia was to host. A proud moment. The torch had fought it’s way through the iconic drought and flooding rain from Cairns at the top of Queensland, down the coast to Sydney on it’s way to Melbourne.
Of course a lavish welcome was planned on the steps of Sydney Town Hall for the evening of the torch’s arrival. Happy cheering people lined the streets to see this once in a lifetime event, Australia’s own torch arriving in their town. The Mayor was there with his prepared speech when a roar when up from the crowds. The torch was on it’s way!
The huge crowds pressed against the fences and police line, as the lone runner carrying a lighted torch ran down the road waving happily to the crowds. It was dark but not so dark under the light of the torch itself and the camera flashes to note that the runner was not wearing white running shorts and shirt like others had previously on the relay, a normal button down shirt, slacks and tie. But what about it? He has the torch and he proudly held it aloft as he ran straight up the stairs of Town Hall to the greetings of the Mayor and the town council.
With reverence the runner bowed to the Mayor and handed over the torch as planned then stepped aside so the Mayor could address the crowd. It was then noted by others nearby that what was actually in his hand, so respectfully given by the runner, was in fact, an old chair leg, a pudding tin with a burning pair of men’s underwear inside.
Of course there was uproar and shouts to find the runner, but in his shirt and tie he looked like everyone else who had just got off work that day, and he’d disappeared into the crowd.
The full story of this prank is found here, but what is more important is why. Mostly for just a dumb college prank, but also as a political protest against the torch relay and it’s origins. The torch relay was first run in 1936. This was the year that the Nazi governed Berlin hosted the games. At the time there was no talk of attrocities against humanity and genocide that would soon be attached to that political party. But twenty years later it was all too clear what agenda the creators of the relay had in mind for the world, and it was that attitude to humanity the pranksters were protesting.
We can’t play a prank like that anymore, relay organisers are too wise to these tricks. But I think that it would be fitting this torch relay to be the last. It would be nice to think that inhumanities like we saw in Europe not long after 1936 and in present day Tibet would also be the last. But I won’t hold my breath.