Studies indicate that a million people will visit Perth in the 12 months beginning February 1986. "The America's Cup has created an awareness that never existed," says Dion Bromilow, an officer with the Western Australia Tourism Commission. "No amount of money could have bought that advertising. Now people say, 'Oh, yes. Perth. The America's Cup.' It was a tremendous shot in the arm that Western Australians never foresaw—except Alan Bond."
Bond, the feisty little head of the Australia II syndicate who finally put Perth on the world map after three unsuccessful previous challenges, is known in the Australian press as a "takeover merchant." Hardly a day passes without reports that he is acquiring, or threatening to acquire, yet another major Australian company. His interests range widely, from the Swan Brewery in Perth to diamond mines in the Kimberly region in the north of the state. "Bondy's hobby is business," says Lexcen. "He's good at it. He plays at it like a riverboat gambler playing poker. He's not boring. He risks."
Bond lives in a palatial establishment overlooking the Swan River in the Perth suburb of Dalkeith. He's said to own a great collection of French Impressionist paintings. Yet only 30 years ago Bond was a sign painter in Fremantle. An example of his early work can still be seen there—a large red dog on a white wall of the Great Southern Roller Flour Mills. It's an ad for the mills' Dingo brand flour.
Bond is involved in the Cup defense every day by phone and he drops in at the Fremantle headquarters of the syndicate .(now called America's Cup Defence 1987 Limited) once a month or so. Supervision of the operation is left to John Longley, a former schoolteacher known as Chink, and Skip Lissiman. Longley was a grinder and Lissiman a sail trimmer on Australia II in '83. Both are sandgropers, native Western Australians. "It's not a good nickname, sand-groper," Longley says. "It's not derogatory enough. South Australians are crow eaters. Crow eater is nice and derogatory." Longley's and Lissiman's domain is only a few hundred feet down Mews Road from the Americans at Fremantle Boat Lifters, and it's comparable in size and self-sufficiency.
"It's too good, really," says Newton Roberts, first mate on Black Swan, the tender that tows Australia II to practice races each morning. "We've got everything under one roof for once. In Newport, if you needed a crane it was always 'out in Middletown.' "
The Bond group has an arrangement with the South Australian syndicate headed by Sir James Hardy, the affable Adelaide winegrower who skippered three Australian challengers in Newport and was backup helmsman to John Bertrand in 1983. Gentleman Jim and his organization paid Bond $600,000 for Ben Lexcen's next 12-meter design (Lexcen has a contract with Bond's syndicate), for the temporary use of Australia II as training vessel and trial horse against the new Lexcen and for a full suit of sails designed by New Zealand's Tom Schnackenberg, who designed the sails for Australia II and is considered by many the best at his craft in the world. In addition to money, Bond gets use of the new boat for the first eight weeks after launching, which will be in March.
The arrangement is an ingenious one. South Australia gets the benefit of the talent that Bond has tied up, and Bond's syndicate gets a Lexcen boat to experiment with without having to pay for it.
Still another Lexcen 12-meter, Australia III, is scheduled to be delivered to Bond's syndicate in September 1985. It's the odds-on favorite to defend, even before it comes off the drawing board, but that's all right with Hardy. "If at the end of the day South Australia can be the defender, that's terrific, but I really think that Australia's only chance to keep the Cup is to engender the best competition we can," he says. "So in that way I want to stay as close as I can to [Bond's group] and push them and push them and push them over the top if I can."
Happy as they are to be home, some of the Australians miss Newport a little. "Yeah, I loved the place," says Roberts. "I have dear friends there." Damian Fewster, the bowman on Australia II, still wears an old green cap he bought at R.C. Hart, a Newport clothing store. He secures it with strings, tied under his chin, and he has added small white paper ears—"lamb's ears," he calls them—for effect.
Longley sees similarities between Newport and Fremantle. Each, he says, has seen hard economic times and come through them. Each has an architectural heritage that has been preserved. And each is a small town. "I think it would have been tragic," he says, "if the Cup had been won by a Sydney or Melbourne yacht, where it would have been swallowed up by the town and would be just another sporting event. Here in Fremantle it can relate to a town again."