Each year the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, through its chairman Rodney Cavalier AO, former NSW Education Minister, hosts a gathering of friends in the Members’ Pavilion overlooking the ‘sacred turf’, as Rodney calls it. Yesterday I was privileged to attend this event.
Over the last 20 years at various times I have been mistaken for various public figures who have wild hair, thick glasses, generous girth and roguish features. After the 1983 election, where I had waged a vigorous but ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Labor interest, I had reason to visit Orange – some hours drive west of Sydney - and was enjoying a pre-prandial beer when I engaged the attention of a group of women on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped bar. They quizzed me on the election campaign and I marvelled at being recognised so far from home. Fame, I mused, spreads like honey. When the conversation was over, the group said in unison “Thanks Mr Combe’. And I realised I had been taken for David Combe, then Labor national secretary and the architect of Bob Hawke’s winning election campaign.
Then, some years ago, attending a function at the National Trust, I saw across the room my former opponent at the polls, Jim Carlton. He signalled me to join the group he was with and proceeded to introduce me as Federal Minister Laurie Ferguson, to whom – on a murky night – I bear a passing resemblance. My immediate dilemma, though, was whether to embarrass Jim before the group or to pretend to be Laurie. I chose the former, although the look on Jim’s face made me immediately regret the decision. I have been mistaken for Laurie many times since.
But yesterday, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, I was mistaken for Rodney Cavalier four times. A maiden Cavalier identity error and a standing record for a single day.
I must say that, on three of the four occasions where people robustly addressed me along the lines of “Good to see you, Rodney, how're you keeping?”, they were approaching me from behind – where, for all I know, there may be a passing similarity. But in the fourth case, much to my surprise, the engagement was full frontal.
I quickly decided that the appropriate strategy – given that the poor chap had no proper excuse (like “well, you do share a post-cranial similarity to Cavalier”) – was to pretend to be Rodney, wish the fellow well and tell him to have a drink on me (that is to say, Rodney). Whereupon he departed, appearing well satisfied with the encounter. God knows who he thought Rodney was when the great man got up to speak. An impostor, I presume.
Upon recounting this tale to Rodney later, he mildly observed that I clearly had the ability to walk backwards into any cricket ground in the land and get preferred treatment. I thought that was a useful idea and will now consider my options.
Photo: Rodney Cavalier, David Combe, Laurie Ferguson or Keith Jackson on the ASOPA reunion Brisbane River cruise