Australia is known as the “lucky country.” And while statistically Australians aren’t any luckier than anyone else, why split hairs? Here are a 6 examples of the Luck of the Aussies.
1. Bernhardt Otto Holtermann: Mining by Candle
Many prospectors descended on Australia in the nineteenth century, looking for gold. Nobody, however, did quite as well as German-born miner Bernhardt Holtermann and his business partner, Louis Beyer. Mining by candlelight outside Hill End in October 1872, they struck a gold nugget nearly five feet high, weighing 235 kg (630 pounds), and worth about US$21,000 (a lot of money in those days). At the time it was the world’s largest specimen of reef gold. They extracted the rock in one piece, and prepared to pose for photos, as thousands descended to the mountain to see “Holtermann’s Nugget.” While Holtermann regarded the nugget as his own, his company refused to sell it to him. Instead, the giant nugget was crushed with other quartz, yielding about 93 kg of gold – meaning that, even when his luck ran out, he was still a lucky guy.
2. Jack Buntine: Dodging bullets for a smoke
Eight thousand, one hundred and forty-one Australians died during World War I at the Turkish outpost of Gallipoli. Private Jack Buntine was not one of them – which is almost surprising. Jack was known for running over the tops of trenches (against regulations) to rescue wounded friends or swap cigarettes with enemy soldiers. “I suppose I was pretty lucky,” he later said, “but you know, I never worried about getting hit… We used to go swimming at Gallipoli and they would be shooting at us. You’d see bullets going in the water around you, but they didn’t worry me.”
After surviving a vicious bout with the flu, Jack survived the Great Depression by working as a trapper, shooter and gold miner. His first wife died of peritonitis at the age of 31, leaving him with two children, so he found a more regular job with the Post and Telegraph Department, climbing up telegraph poles and driving maintenance trucks on dangerous, unsealed bush tracks. He enjoyed this so much that he continued to do it until his retirement. He died peacefully in 1998 at age 103.
3. Hugh Jackman: On the strength of a publicity photo
The movie Mission: Impossible II (2000), filmed mostly in Sydney, co-starred a few Aussie actors. But it turned out to be a big break for one Australian actor in particular – and he didn’t even appear in the film! Indeed, it helped his career because he wasn’t in it. As the shooting schedule ran two months overtime, Scottish actor Dougray Scott couldn’t return to Hollywood in time to play his next role: Wolverine, an angry super-hero, in X-Men. The X-Men producers, forced to do a last-minute recast – selected Hugh Jackman on the strength of a mere publicity photo. Jackman, then unknown in Hollywood (and best-known in Australia as the star of stage musicals and light romantic comedies), was thrust into a completely different role, getting top billing over a distinguished cast. Overnight, he became a major Hollywood star, as the X-Men became a successful movie franchise. Not bad for a face in a publicity photo.
4. Ian Thorpe: Saved from 9/11, twice
If things had happened slightly differently, and according to plan, Ian Thorpe might have joined the 2,752 people who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. The swimmer (at the time Australia’s most popular sportsman, and considered by many to be the world’s best swimmer) was visiting New York with his personal assistant, Michelle Flaskas. They were supposed to stay at the Tribeca Hotel, across the road from the World Trade Centre, but were forced to switch to another hotel, 15 minutes’ walk away, because of a double booking. On the morning of September 11, they had planned to go to a viewing platform near the top of one of the Twin Towers. Thorpe first went for a morning jog, then – while waiting for Flaskas to get ready – switched on the television to see that both towers were ablaze. He was perhaps half an hour away from certain death.
5. Victoria Friend: 20 minutes from death
It hardly seems right when an accident survivor is described as “lucky”, even if they’ve just lost friends or relatives. But within those parameters, Victoria Friend was extremely lucky. In 1999, Friend survived a light air crash in the New South Wales bush. The same crash killed her fiancé, Geoff Henderson, and left her lying alone for over 40 hours, with multiple fractures and severe burns to 40 percent of her body. After she was eventually rescued, doctors said that her vital organs were shutting down, and that she wouldn’t have survived much longer. One doctor estimated that she was a mere 20 minutes from death, and was rescued just in the nick of time. She briefly became a national celebrity, praised for her amazing ability to survive.
6. Steven Bradbury: Happy to skate on thin ice
At Salt Lake City in 2002, speed-skater Steven Bradbury won what television commentators called “perhaps the most incredible gold medal in Olympic history”. He was Australia’s first-ever Winter Olympics champion and, of course, the nation was celebrating. Others, however, were not so happy. Bradbury won his medal after his opponents (including the favorite, America’s Apolo Anton Ohno) had crashed in a heap in front of him. He simply skated around them, and cheerfully crossed the finish line first, to the jeers of the mostly American crowd. NBC commentators called it a farce, demanding a re-skate. Even foul play was suggested, as the umpire happened to be Australian. Ohno, meanwhile, picked himself up, continued to the end, and graciously accepted the silver medal.
Bradbury later claimed that he had won a strategic victory; he knew he couldn’t skate faster than his opponents, but he also knew that he could gamble on a crash. Whatever the case, he won – and by his own admission, it was due to luck more than anything else.