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Tying off the threads of doubt

  • 05 August 2021
In times of unexpected or inexplicable crisis, humans all over the globe regardless of race, religion, lineage or historical evidence, will often turn to myth, the occult, each other, to their until then untested and unimpressive leaders, or to a hoped-for apparent miracle to explain what seemed otherwise beyond explanation.

Take the 1956 Melbourne Olympics for example. By means too intricate and complicated to detail here, the task of organising the journey of the Olympic Flame into and round the MCG was hijacked in 1956 by a small group of university students who shall remain nameless to ensure their anonymity even after all these years. The plan was that a hoax torchbearer would greet the Mayor about ten minutes before the genuine runner, Ron Clark, arrived.

This ring-in’s ‘torch’ was a broomstick-like rod with an empty plum-jam can mounted on it stuffed full of ‘smoking’ kerosene-soaked rags. As the real torchbearer approached, however, the phoney stand-in, already tortured by nerves as the crowd grew, succumbed to cold feet and refused to move.

With only minutes to spare before the whole scheme would collapse, one of the original ‘plotters’ grabbed the spluttering ‘torch’ and set off. And the crowd applauded and cheered, ignoring the tin can, the shoddy stick, the outlandish looking torchbearer (he was wearing ordinary street shoes and jeans gaping at the knees) … It was a remarkable demonstration of how people’s expectations will override explicit evidence to the contrary. They’d come to see the torch arrive and they were bloody well going to see it … or invent it.

When it comes to invention, Prime Minister Scott Morrison famously claimed the influence of the occult: ‘I have always believed in miracles’ he declaimed — to explain his party’s against-the-odds 2019 election victory.

It’s unlikely that Morrison, though a self-described man of faith, really believed that miraculous divine intervention won the election, any more than Diego Maradona was certain beyond any possibility of doubt that ‘the hand of God’ had intervened to help decide the 1986 World Cup of Football in Argentina’s favour. In both the election and the match, hard, incontrovertible evidence — numerical in 2019, clear and photographic in 1986 — establish the case for common sense against … well, against the ‘insights’ of Nostradamus, Baba Vanga, Craig Kelly, Alan Jones, Pete Evans, Peta Credlin …

In electioneering mode, John Howard once remarked that ‘the times would suit’ him: he meant that things