SYDNEY, Australia — The story probably didn't see daylight in too many newspapers in the United States, what with the Olympics going on, but in Australia things are different.
Sure, when a couple of unfortunate souls were eaten by sharks during the Games, that made the news in the U.S. But what about the Yowie sighting? Who reported that?
The Olympic soccer tournament caused a few wandering scribes to be in Canberra when an item appeared in the local paper detailing how an amateur photographer had filmed "a black, hairy creature with two legs that walked with a kind of limp, crashing through the bush" in the nearby hills.
That would be the Yowie, a Bigfoot-like creature that supposedly has inhabited the Brindabella ranges since the 1880s.
This sort of thing goes on all the time in Australia, where it's not only the flora and fauna that are unique. Australians themselves are a tad peculiar.
Not that that's a bad thing. Quirkiness can be a plus and probably comes from being tucked away at the bottom of the globe, half-forgotten and sort of out there, like Mad Max or Damir Dokic.
"The Americans, when commentating on or writing about sport, are insufferably serious and always concentrate on seeing it as a metaphor for life," cartoonist Bill Leak wrote in the Australian.
Not true. It's simply that here in the land of Oz, weird is almost normal and irreverence is a national pastime.
The just-concluded Olympics provided the perfect opportunity to study the oddness of the average Aussie, which evidences itself in many ways, including the voicing of frequently strange opinions.
During the Games, a gold-medal haul of odd insights could be mined from the country's newspapers at the Main Press Center, a series of converted cattle pavilions--appropriate, right?--from the adjoining showgrounds.
* A man in Victoria wrote: "That microphone anchored to the bottom of the diving pool--there's no TV commentator attached to it. Pity."
* A women in Queensland observed: "I hear that the women athletes are seeing red about their yellow, potentially see-through briefs. Someone is reportedly looking into it."
* In Western Australia, where "boat people" are a political issue, a man suggested a way for IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch to smuggle two banned IOC officials into the country: "Samaranch should not get too upset about the ban. . . . He should just let them know about the option of boats to the Ashmore Reef."
* A man in New South Wales wrote: "The Olympic Games are a disguised sexual extravaganza . . . but say a prayer for the men's coxless four. This event highlights the compassionate spirit of the Games."
* One Queensland resident who dislikes the infinitesimal differences in time or distance between winning gold, silver or bronze medals, suggested: "One answer would be to award gold medals for all three place-getters--of varying diameter perhaps--and silver for fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth."
* A woman in New South Wales wanted to know: "If Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe had a baby, could it run on water?"
* Wrote a Victoria man: "Gee, I'm warming to the game of soccer. The Italian guys take their pants off, the Aussie girl takes her top off, her teammates take it all off."
* A New South Wales man suggested: "If the Olympic Games are really about participation and cultural mingling, why not consider a different approach for Athens 2004? I propose a system where every country randomly selects its quota of 'athletes' from its local phone books. Citizens with surnames starting with S would participate in swimming events; H would stand for high jump and so on."
* From the same state, a man asked: "Up until now I have reserved my verdict on the swimmers' Fastskin body suits. If they are supposed to help them swim faster, are those who wear just the bottom half or top half in danger of jack-knifing or being pulled apart as one half of their body travels faster than the other?"
* A Queensland man commented: "What a pity they dressed our cycling kangaroos to look like horses, but wasn't it great that their attempt to barbecue Cathy Freeman failed?"
* Observed a man from South Australia: "During the opening ceremony, Greece traditionally leads the parade of athletes, and the host nation brings up the rear. In four years' time, when the Games will be in Athens, does that mean the Greeks will have to enter the stadium twice?"
One final note.
The medal tallies that have been printed in newspapers around the globe have failed to detect what to this reporter, at least, was a commendable medal count.
When considering the feats of Leisel, Marion, Steffi and Michellie, it added up to three gold, two silver and three bronze.
All won by people named Jones.
See, Australians don't have a monopoly on the bizarre.