We have two articles this week which focus on the Olympics. Joanna Bogle writes about a man who is competing for an even more difficult prize than a Gold medal – Boris Johnson, the effervescent mayor of London, the majordomo of the Olympics, and a politician with his eye on 10 Downing Street. And Susan Hansson reminds us of a forgotten message of the classic film about the Olympics, Chariots of Fire. Our third feature is a defence of the baby-boomer generation.
The Olympics are one way of showcasing the greatness of the human spirit. On Hobart over the weekend I recalled another way. A while ago I attended a funeral of an elderly Italian lady. I couldn’t pronounce her name and after 50 years in Australia she couldn’t speak any English. But she was the grandmother of a friend, so I trundled along. It was going to be a small affair at the local cathedral, so I arrived, as usual, a couple of minutes late.
This was a mistake, as the church was full. Full to the rafters, full with people standing in the aisles and in the portals, full with people streaming in after me. I had to stand.
I learned her story in the eulogy. I have forgotten her name; let’s call her Maria. During World War II, Maria lived in a village near Monte Cassino. Polish troops there played a leading role in dislodging the Germans. She fell in love with one of them. Straight after the war, he migrated to Tasmania and found a job as a labourer on hydroelectric dams in central Tasmania. He paid her passage, met her at the wharf, went to cathedral, got married, and returned to work.
There are three things for which central Tasmania is notable: isolation, cold and about 300 days of rain a year. Nowadays it has reverted to sodden solitude, but after the war hundreds of European refugees laboured there building dams and substations. Maria settled into married life and soon was pregnant. Six months later her husband died in an accident. She was alone in the cold and wet with a baby and no English.
For several years she took in washing and raised her child. Then she married another Polish man and moved to Hobart. They had three children and then he died. So she raised four children in 1950s Australia without knowing a word of English. But she knew that this was a good country for people who could learn. Year after year she sponsored migrants from Monte Cassino, until nearly the whole village arrived. No wonder they flocked to the funeral: they loved her.
A life like that deserves an Olympic gold, doesn’t it?