J T

My footy team lost on the weekend.  I was neither surprised nor upset.  (I might same the same about Ferrari.)  We had a good season and I got my money’s worth.  It was going to be hard without Billy Slater, notwithstanding the great show by his replacement.  And we were beaten by a clearly better side on the night led by Jonathon Thurston.

I have spoken of this player here before.  He is clearly one of the best and most attractive sportsmen going around in this country, one of those it is a shame that we do not get to see on the world stage.  In the course of the game, he gave one my boys a spray that Mr Will Swanton in The Australian said could serve as his motto – words to the effect, omitting colour, that there was no need to act like a half-wit.  Mr Swanton says, and most would agree with him, that that is very good advice for a whole of people in and about sport in this country.

Having orchestrated a high octane win over the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night, a human pinball setting up tries with deft passes and one boomerang kick that ensured the Storm would not come back, Thurston returned to Townsville yesterday as the free-spirited, free-wheeling face and co-captain of a power-house club.  More than 1000 cheering fans greeted the team’s return at the airport.

Good grief – this might take us back to when footy was a game.

Mr Swanton commends the spray about half-wits ‘to any athlete or alleged fan who reckons they have the right to behave atrociously before blaming the heat of the moment as an excuse’.

Thurston is the poster-boy for commitment without the cringe factor.  Thurston shows you can be passionate.  You can give it your all.  And you can still be dressed in the cloak of human decency.

I commend Mr Swanton for his words.  And on Sunday evening you may want to have a look at a real champion in action.  Last night he won his fourth League Medal, so passing Andrew Johns, who I put up there with Ablett Senior.  He is the blackfella in the headgear who somehow does not get killed and, unless I am putting the kiss of death on him, passes the ball in a way you have not seen.  And you should get behind the Cowboys – they are yet to win a flag.  They are like Hawthorn in 1961.

You might also give thought to the other rugby.  There was a show last night on when South Africa won the World Cup, when Mandela went into the rooms before and presented the Cup later – a supreme moral genius of our time.  I can offer you an unsurpassable incentive for this weekend.  Australia plays England – and can knock them out.  The only advice I offer is that when we are kicking for goal, you might want to go to the dunny.  I feel better watching Jason Day with a twenty footer.

Two pairs of hands

There is a famous photo of Maria Callas as Violetta, the wronged courtesan of La Traviata (from La dame aux camellias)She is standing weeping like a distressed, wasted waif, wringing her hands.  The caption frequently says that even her hands seemed to weep.  It is a moment of theatre at its highest given by a woman who lit up the whole theatre and changed people’s lives.  Callas used her hands crossed over her chest to remarkable effect when taking bows – or when making an entrance, as at the Garnier before the French President, and upstaging Bridget Bardot, well after her voice had failed.  Callas made even her bows into an art form.

There is another famous photo of Callas in the great Visconti production of La Traviata at La Scala in 1955.  She and Giuseppe di Stefano are taking their bows.  She is what the French call radieuse; he looks handsome and respectful of her priority.  The photo, a copy of which hangs at home, is taken at the side from behind, so that their image is set against rows of boxes near the stage.  Her fulfilled radiance is caught by the full glow of the footlights.  (That loathsome shipper who defiled her life was years away.)  Her right hand holds a bouquet, and di Stefano has her left hand.  This is a portrait of accomplished artistry at what might be called the altar of the temple.

Jonathan Thurston is number 6 for the Cowboys, Queensland (the Maroons), and Australia.  He is a half-back and goal kicker – that is, he is one of the play-directors in his kind of rugby.  When the scouts came back from North Queensland about twenty years ago, they said that they had found a blackfella who could play footy, but they said that this one was too small and could not tackle.  He is now, and has been for some time, widely seen as the most valuable player in his code in the world.  Watching him at work is one of the great moments in Australian sport.  Typically he might be standing there passing the ball between his hands, with twelve of his bruisers behind him, and thirteen of the others facing him.  Each one of them could render him into something like manure, but they seem to be caught in the moment.  He just holds the ball while he holds his eye on them – he is waiting for the first hint of a drop in a shoulder that might suggest a weakness in the line.  If he sees it, he has a split second to move to pass to one of his own players, or to put himself in what he hopes will be a hole in the enemy line.  Because of the off side rule, he has to know what is going on behind him.  He therefore has to have the coolness and the antennae and play-making powers of Diesel Williams (who also had another party trick of a different order).

On the weekend I saw Thurston on TV threading a pass that shocked the commentators.  They said that it was like threading a needle – while human missiles were flying all around him.  After many slow motion replays, we finally caught the moment when that beautiful pair of hands released the pass backwards at the precise moment that allowed it to pierce the fray and to hit its fast moving target.  The other side hardly knew what had happened, and with anyone else we would have said that it was a fluke.

Whether you prefer the grace of the hands of Thurston to those of Callas is a matter of taste, and nothing more than that, but thank God that there is still some magic left in the world to relieve us of the drab misery of the measurers and the fibbers.