When Australia Beat The Americans At Their Own Game

Australians rose early to watch the Australia II cross the finish line ahead of the Americans in the race that was later deemed the “race of the century.”

“I'll tell you what … any boss who sacks anyone today for not turning up is a bum.''

The legendary words of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, are remembered fondly during a time of great economic uncertainty. 1983 was a time of high inflation and low employment;

“{The 80s} was a difficult time, the economy was really in trouble,” remembers former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

Australia was in desperate need of a win, which came in the form of an America’s Cup.

On the 26th of September 1983, Australia won the oldest sporting trophy in the world, becoming the first country to beat the Americans for the America’s Cup in 132 years. It was a momentous win for the Aussies, one that threw Australia into the limelight and marked our debut on the international sporting stage.

The unimaginatively named Australia II, was the product of former businessman Alan Bond and designer Ben Lexcen. The winning yacht was built and designed by the Western Australian syndicate, who had unsuccessfully challenged the American team, New York Yacht Club, three times. But the team persevered, James Bertand the skipper for Australia II remembers:

“Most people think you’re wasting your time, anyone in their right mind would. But our team figured we had a real shot at this thing.”

Ben Lexcen was the genius designer behind the Australia II, spending his time privately testing new designs in the Netherlands. The results of his extensive testing showed that a winged keel performed faster than traditional keels, he believed this would give the Australia II an edge over the American teams.

In a time when America was considered the world leader in technological development, Australia’s Ben Lexcen came up with a piece of technology that ultimately, won the Australians the race. As former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke so adequately put it:

“Here was little Australia popping up with Ben Lexcen's new technology and knocking the buggers off.”

The mystery of Lexcen’s new keel gained international traction, with many competing teams desperate to see the final design. Under Hugh Treharne, an Australia II crew member’s advice the team decided to keep the design hidden from the world.

When the race began, speakers boomed classic rock songs on either side of the yacht decks, the Aussie boxing Kangaroo flag of green and gold flew high from the Australia II’s mast against the Rhode Island Sky.

The race, which is won by best of seven races over several weeks, was tied three-all at the last race. The nail-biting final for the Aussies was fraught with challenges, but after swapping the lead with the Americans countless times, the Aussies came out on top by 41 seconds. Bertand remembers the excitement as he saw the white smoke come out of the canon, signaling the team’s victory. It was a historic day for all Australians; Ray Martin recalls the sudden joy and immense sense of pride as the Aussie underdogs crossed the finish line:

“Then suddenly, we’d won, that sudden euphoria, like we’d won the impossible.”

Image: Doing what Aussies do best, The Australian Eighties.

Australia celebrated in typical Aussie fashion. Drinks and boats and dancing, Aussies took to the streets and filled the harbour , Bertand remembers when Alan Bond revealed the Lexcen’s new keel design, everyone jumped into the harbour, including men dressed in full dress suits. The win even prompted Bob Hawke to famously and unofficially declare in front of the nation, the day a public holiday.

“I'll tell you what … any boss who sacks anyone today for not turning up is a bum.''

Image: Bob Hawke,The Australian Eighties

Unfortunately, much to every Aussie's dismay, the holiday didn’t stick, but every 26th of September Aussies remember with immense pride the “race of the century” and the day we knocked those American “buggers” off.

Lead image: The Australian Eighties

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