Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (19:21): In 1914, with the world on the brink of war, a Victorian named Don Kirkham teamed up with a friend, Ivan ‘Snowy’ Munro, to take the then very arduous task of travelling to Europe. But this was no ordinary trip: Kirkham and Snowy were the first-ever English-speaking competitors in one of the world’s great sporting events, the Tour de France. From 143 starters in that year’s race, only 54 finished, with Kirkham and Munro claiming 17th and 20th respectively. Not long after, the legendary Sir Hubert Opperman made the same journey, with ‘Oppy’ riding in 1928 to finish 12th and again in 1931, when he crossed the line in 18th position.
Those men inspired generations of cyclists. Fast-forward 50 years to Phil Anderson, known as Skippy in Europe, who became the first non-European to wear the leader’s yellow jersey along the road in France. And fast-forward again to 2011, to last month, when a Victorian, born in the Northern Territory, became a national sporting hero and created worldwide headlines.
For the thousands that watched bleary-eyed on TV screens across the country through to the thousands that turned out in Melbourne last week to welcome Cadel Evans home, and the many who watched into the small hours, Cadel represents more than a wonderful Australian sporting victory. His win reached out to anyone who takes even a passing interest in bikes: from our phenomenally successful Cycling Australia elite athletes, to weekend warriors and kids on training wheels getting a push along down the driveway from mum or dad.
Cadel’s win represented a number of milestones. Not only did he become the first Australian to win the tour, at 34 he was the oldest winner of the race in 88 years, something that may give my colleagues the members for Oxley and Parramatta—and perhaps even the Leader of the Opposition—something to aspire to. For those who saw those crucial stages of the race itself, sport doesn’t get much more gripping—in the mountains, desperately hanging on under a fierce attack from his competitors, and then, in that final time trial, a picture of utter determination as, second by second, he wound back the lead of Andy Schleck. Then the final ride down the Champs Elysees, effectively a victory lap.
There is a tradition in the Tour de France known as the lanterne rouge. Translated literally as the red lantern, it is the moniker given to the rider finishing last in the tour. It is the person who never hits the headlines but one who is just as courageous as the winner. He shines a light along the road in order to see the way ahead.
For all the accolades Cadel has received, I am certain he would be the first to acknowledge that heroism stretches well beyond the peloton on the roads of France, and past the fields and courts on which our sporting idols ply their trade. To the everyday Australians carrying their own lanterne rouge, to the unsung heroes, champions from the fields of health, emergency services, law enforcement, environment and many more, Cadel’s win in so many ways represents your achievements, encapsulating those very Australian traits of hard work, tenacity, staying in the race and simply giving it a red hot go. No one could fail to be inspired by those efforts of Cadel and other Australians in other fields.