What does a yacht race have in common with ancient Rome? This blog explores the link between the 1983 America’s cup win by team Australia and the streets named in the suburb of Marsfield after this triumph
What if I told you that the 1983 America’s cup sailing race won by Australia has a connection to the Field of Mars and ancient Rome? Australia as a country defines itself through historic events. The ANZAC’s fighting at Gallipoli, the men who fought in the Vietnam war, but sport remains one of Australia’s major influences on the narrative of a nation. The 1983 America’s cup was no different as it was the first time the Americans had lost the cup in 132 years, to the ultimate underdog - Australia. The story of the younger brother toppling the older brother led to intense national pride and event being immortalised in Australia, specifically in the suburb of Marsfield in which four streets are named after people who played pivotal roles in the success.
Marsfield is a suburb whose streets are lined with historical references, with many streets named after wars that involved the British empire. So, in a Sydney suburb named after a historical site in Rome, why are there four streets and two parks in a Sydney suburb named after a sailing competition? First, there must be an understanding of how significant the sailing victory was to the Australian identity. The America’s cup is a race laden with tradition in a sport not traditionally watched by the populous. However, Australia is a country that has a chip on the shoulder of its identity and beating America is a cause that seems to unite people from all walks of life. The idealised ANZAC spirit connotes courage, ingenuity, endurance, humour and larrikinism. When Australia caused one of the greatest sporting upsets by defeating America in the prestigious race, the pride of ANZAC spirit was reignited throughout the country. Celebrations ran through the night and into the morning, prompting Prime Minister Bob Hawke to declare on national television, [Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.] If you were born after 1983, merely ask your parents or grandparents about the 1983 America’s cup and they will tell you where they were when Australia II crossed the finish line. The four streets in Marsfield were named after the skipper, John Bertrand, Alan Bond, the financial backer of the team, and the onboard tactician, Hugh Treharne, and Ben Lexcen, the innovative designer of the winged keel that stunned the world and gave Australia II its advantage in the water. Incidentally, in honour of the achievement, the Toyota Lexcen was released in Australia in 1988.
In the 1960s, the New South Wales government purchased a prime bit of land in Marsfield to build a primary school but with the ongoing war in Asia occurring, the project was put on the backburner until it was scrapped in 1982. In 1984, the land was ultimately subdivided, and the surrounding streets and parks needed to be named. The government turned to celebrate the recent America’s cup triumph by immortalising these men and the event by having them as permanent fixtures in the suburb. On face value, these four streets stick out as they are not colonial battles, however, the America’s cup in essence is remarkably like the battles that the surrounding streets are named after as it contributed heavily to the national identity of Australia and left a legacy on not only the people involved, but the people from all social classes who supported the Australian team.
The national identity of Australia is one of pride, resilience, innovation, and the ability to succeed when being viewed as the ultimate underdog. Some may compare the 1983 America’s cup to David and Goliath however some would say even comparison to David and Goliath does not do the Australian sailing team justice in their remarkable achievement in toppling America. As a result of this triumph, the Australian sailing team and ancient history are linked forever through the suburb of Marsfield.
Hartley, J. “A State of Excitement: Western Australia and the America’s Cup” Cultural Studies pg 117-126 (2006)
Montfort, C. “The Legacy of Australia II: Sailing and Australian Cultural identity” Signals Issue 104. Pg 16-21 (2013)
Payne, D. “Aussie Icons and Ocean Racing Legends” Signals issue 98 pg 50-52 (2012)
Wann, D. “An examination of sport fandom in Australia: Socialisation, team identification and social behaviour”, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Vol 46, Issue 4 (2011)