There was a time in the middle 1980s when Western Australia punched above its weight in the Culture Stakes of Australia. Those were the days of Alan Bond, the Royal Perth Yacht Club, America’s Cup and Swan Lager. One of the more famous video clips of Bob Hawke, who had been Prime Minister for only 6 months by the time Australia II became the first challenger in 132 years to win the Cup, thereby breaking the longest winning streak in sporting history, had Bob on breakfast TV looking as if he was soaked in champagne. Still, such was the era that his image was enhanced. Today, one can imagine a craven apology being delivered by a subdued PM guilty of much less wayward antics than merely being soaked in champagne at breakfast.
I was reminded of those days recently while in my local Dan Murphys liquor store in Melbourne when I spotted a beer that I had not seen in over 30 years: Emu Export. The label says ‘Beer for Western Australia’. Well, of course I had to buy a supply. For in my younger days, at the start of my career, I spent two years working in Perth, WA, the State of Excitement as the local car number plates intoned. It wasn’t particularly exciting in those days if your car was low on petrol at the weekend because the filling stations went onto a roster system so that half would shut down for the weekend. This could require some planning in the pre internet days of finding out where the nearest open filling station was. There was no app.
I was working in the intricacies of mortality and interest functions as a junior actuarial analyst learning the actuarial ropes of life, death and money, and while doing so I had one of those fine views of the Swan River from high in a St George’s terrace office tower. I could look down the Swan River, past Kings Park, on a Wednesday afternoon to see the yachts jostling for a starting position in a race around the buoys.
By then, the America’s Cup had flown. It had been won back by the Americans and the locals of Fremantle harbour were quiet again after a 4 year party. The business practices of Alan Bond and some of his associates were being questioned, the Swan brewery changed hands and the glamorous Swan Lager logo was no longer featured on giant spinnakers of 12m yachts racing off Cottesloe Beach in the reliably strong Fremantle Doctor seabreeze. By the way, 12m in yacht design does not mean 12m long boats. These boats were in the vicinity of 20m in length – very substantial. I can confirm from racing on Melbourne’s Port Phillip that having one of the yachts of that era, Kookaburra, slip past to windward is a bit like having an office tower block scraping past at 15 knots.
However, Emu Export remained a faithful ally of the Friday afternoon city workers, including young actuarial types who had managed to complete their sums in timely fashion, looking to step outside for a cooling restorative at the end of the week. WA was hit hard by the 1990s recession and the post Bond era, the recriminations of the cowboy merchant bankers and crony politicians. Then came the mining boom of the 2000s to reinvigorate things. Perhaps fly in fly out workers and remote controlled mining trucks do not have the same glamour, but as Emu Export has found a new home in Melbourne, things cannot be all bad.