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Far, Far Down Under

In Australia, the underdog is the most popular dog breed.


[mentality] We like failed attempts in Australia, perhaps more than anywhere else. Because we cultivate the underdog, we cultivate heroic flaws and stoic reactions just as much as we cultivate it to win.

Americans naturally respect real achievements, and they honor victims with tearful talk shows. Here it's different: We cultivate the black humor that comes with adversity – the hero sacrifice. Over the past two weeks, the country has seen the most exceptional example of this in my lifetime.

Our most important national day is Anzac Day, April 25. It is in memory of all military officials, but the name refers to the Australian and New Zealand troops sent in the safe death at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915, on the order of Churchill. Typically, the day does not honor a victory, but a valiant defeat.

On Anzac Day this year, an earthquake measuring 2,2 on Richter's scale shook the small town of Beaconsfield, a place on the eastern part of the island of Tasmania, where 1300 souls live. The epicenter was in a gold mine where stones the size of sheds, cars and refrigerators fell on the men who worked in the mine. Those who could, put on the oxygen masks and ran everything they could.

Three were left below the ground: Larry Knight, Todd Russell and Brant Webb. Knight drove the lift, Russell and Webb sitting in the small metal basket at the top of the lift arm, 925 meters below the ground.

The mine manager told the media that they were "very concerned" about the safety of the three men – usually a coded message that they were looking for corpses, not living people. Shortly afterwards, Larry Knight was found dead. Rescue forces could not go directly to the avalanche for fear of triggering another quake, so they dug a tunnel through the rock from another location.

Four days after the quake, someone went back to where the landslide was. They heard sounds. A microphone was dropped down between the stones. It was the voices of two men.

Brant and Todd had survived the quake because, incredibly, a large rock had thundered down on their metal basket and laid like a lid on it. The basket was two meters long, 1,2 wide and about one and a half meters high, and had become both their prison and their rescue.

Newspaper headlines across the continent shouted, "THEY LIVE!" and the "Mining Miracle". It took another two days before a pipe that was nine centimeters in diameter broke through the stone layers and gave them food and drink, vacuum-packed clothes and blankets, ipods with their favorite music, mobile phones and messages from their families. They had survived six days in over 30 degree heat by licking water off the rocks and sharing a muesli bar.

What came up again from the pipe was even more extraordinary. As a mother understating her own pain to soothe her baby, it was as if Brant and Todd were comforting the rest of us. They knew better than anyone that every blow to them could mean that they literally ended up in the grave. But the messages sent from them – at least those that were reproduced in the media – were reassuring and funny: They wanted meat pies and eggs and bacon, "even if they only got scrambled eggs." They called their cage "a two-star hotel." My favorite comment was when one of them asked to get the job advertisements from the newspaper because he had decided that he "did not like this job much anymore".

On Tuesday, May 9, after 14 days underground, the two miners were rescued. The nation saw them go (go!) From the grave, into the arms of family and friends. We were then told that they had also written the exact time of each explosion on their clothes, as the rescuers exploded closer. If they were killed, experts would be able to learn from it.

Australian media revolve around them, and there are rumors that they have been offered one million Australian dollars for their story. It is said that Oprah Winfrey is also interested. Everyone wishes them luck on the road to recovery. Now we are going to follow Hollywood with interest to see what they get out of our anti-heroes.

Anna Funder is an Australian journalist, author and lawyer. Her book Stasiland has been published in Norwegian. Funder writes exclusively for Ny Tid.

Translated by Gro Stueland Skorpen

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