NRL’s tropical island proposal is preposterous. But it just might work

And, in an instant, one blade of the propeller breaks off about two thirds from the tip and once they cut the engine, they can see it wafting back and forth pathetically, like half an arm removed by a brutal machete. One engine down.

Can it still stay in the air on two motors, now snarling under the strain?

Tropical Queensland anyone? The players would jump at the chance to save the season.Credit:Getty

Perhaps, just.

Kingsford Smith turns the “old bus” around to get back to Australia and to save weight they start throwing out everything not bolted down, bar men and the mail, before finally hurling out the latter, too, together with 100 gallons of petrol. Meantime navigator and co-pilot Bill Taylor moves to the cabin’s navigation table to try to plot exactly just how many miles up Shit Creek they actually are. Answer? A long way.

Radio operator John Stannage broadcasts to an Australia holding its breath:

7.34am: “Wish you could see Smithy clawing the air; he’s a world-beater. Makes a few feet and then tries to save the other two engines.”

But now look!

The roaring port engine is blowing blue smoke under the strain, overheating, and the gauge in the cockpit shows that it is losing oil pressure. But still the Southern Cross itself wants to fight on.

“Is it fantastic,” Stannage notes, “to think that a man-made mechanism can possess a soul – a spirit, a personality, call it what you will? A man may become attached to a car so that it becomes almost part of him. He is the brains and the machine is the body. The dear old Southern Cross always seemed to be something more than the sum of her parts. She had spirit. She had feeling.”

And she wants to fight! Even though events “practically tore the vitals from the stout old bus; yet she still staggered on when her master was forced cruelly to spur her on.”

Bill Taylor, however, has been doing some serious thinking. Without oil, the port engine will die, as will they shortly afterwards. They need to get oil into the port engine. And yes they have oil with them! The only problem: it is in the crippled starboard engine. The only way to get it is to climb out of the small opening on the side of the cockpit, into the slipstream and get that oil!

Bill calmly removes his boots and within minutes climbs through the window, out into the 100mph slipstream and, holding on to the struts, inches towards the bottom of the starboard engine. The wind is a living, killing thing, slapping his face, pulling his hair, tearing at his entire body, billowing into his shirt, up his sleeves, inside his coat, even as the breath was sucked from his lungs and his ears were filled with the roar of a thousand banshees screaming his death song. But against all odds he manages to get the spanner to the bottom of the engine, turn the nut on the drain plug on the bottom of the engine, and gather the precious oil into the thermos flask he carries. He passes it back to Stannage who pours it into an emptied briefcase. Again and again they do it, until the engine is empty of oil and the briefcase is full.

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

Climbing back, Taylor knows he only has one thing left to do. Climb out to the port engine and put that oil in!

Against all odds, nearly tumbling to his death, he does exactly that, looks back to see Smithy and Stannage waving at him and grinning hugely. The oil pressure had started to inch upwards and is soon back to normal.

Late that afternoon, the Southern Cross coughs and hacks its way over Cronulla beach and dribbles in to Mascot Airport. They are alive!

And here’s the point. When Taylor was asked afterwards how he had done such a thing, he made the killer point: “If I did do it, I would almost certainly die. If I didn’t do it, I was dead.”


Which brings us to the idea floated – and apparently being considered by the NRL – to ship every NRL player to a resort island off Queensland, test every man jack of them for coronavirus, as well as everybody else on the island, and then from that sealed environment organise them to play matches for the rest of the season.

Outrageous! Preposterous. Couldn’t work! ‘Cept …


‘Cept when you are already dead like they are, it just might. You could only do it if they were totally sealed off, and you played the games on the actual island but, under the circumstances, you know you’d have everyone’s complete concentration.

We do this, we don’t whinge, we get on with it, or we blow most of our yearly salary. Who’s in?

I reckon they’d be all in. You’d give employment to that resort and revive a small part of the sports industry. I reckon they’d have as much chance as Bill Taylor of pulling it off. Not Buckley’s and none, and not quite three-fifths of bugger all. But at least more chance than certain death.

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