July 18, 2007

Snoozer Harraway Memorial Stand

Panther.jpgLike any municipal department with uncertain revenue streams, the Park Authority has always been on the lookout for new and unusual ways of spinning a buck from its assets, and in the last couple of years, its eyes have turned westward to the most profitable urban green-space redevelopment of all time – Pliocene Park in Homebush, the home of Sydney’s only un-extinct mammoths.

Unfortunately for the Authority, they have had neither the funds nor the corporate backers to make an extinct mammal cloning program a reality, so they have been forced to improvise. This has lead to two very tragic disasters – the first resulting in the death of a family pet and a costly law suit; the second resulting in something much worse…

On paper, the first response to Pliocene Park seemed truly inspired. Instead of dredging up some long-dead beast from the distant past, the Authority decided to reanimate a crytpozoological specimen from the present day – the Lithgow Panther. This legendary big cat, which had supposedly roamed the Blue Mountains since the 1850’s, had the advantage of never having being seen (or preserved in a glacier) so verisimilitude wasn’t a problem. All that was necessary was something that prowled around looking appropriately panther-like. To cut costs, the Authority purchased a refurbished animatronic tiger that had been listed on eBay by the liquidators of a Kerala movie studio.

The arrival of the fully serviced and freshly painted panther, which had been christened Rilke, was heralded with much press fanfare and attracted a huge crowd to the recommissioned cricket pitch that was to be its new home. The pitch was right next an oval where dog-owners congregated and where I regularly took Jasper to socialise, so I was able to poke my head in on the festivities without going out of my way.

The event began, as these events normally do, with a speech by a Lord Mayor from a local council whose boundaries had been hastily redrawn to include the cricket pitch, which was now concealed by a large marquee. This was followed by a group of upper class white-boys from a local private school who launched into an excruciating rap about panthers being the “blackest motherf**kers of all”. With all the polite applause sucked out of the surrounding crowd, the organisers then moved on to the piece de resistance – the unveiling of Rilke.

There were collective gasps of awe as a group of workers clumsily dragged away the marquee to reveal its sleek black form which rose jerkily to its feet, opened its jaw wide, and gurgled like a blocked drain. Despite this most un-cat-like of utterances, the crowd seemed convinced that this was a true-to-life rendering of the Lithgow Panther. (This was, after all, a super-cat so the chances of it sounding like any normal feline were slim indeed.)

Then, just as the operators were about demonstrate a carefully choreographed prowl, something unexpected happened. One of the dogs from the oval, a schnauzer, raced down to play with the panther. When it reached Rilke, it zipped back and forth in front of the lumbering animatronic beast and occasionally stopped on its haunches to yap frantically. In response, one of Rilke’s controllers decided it would be a good time to test out its “playful” subroutines. Unfortunately, as would later be revealed, these subroutines had been calibrated for action scenes in movies involving other animatronic big cats and “play”, in these contexts, included anything other than tearing the opposites head off.

Rilke launched itself “playfully” into the air, and brought one of its mechanical paws down hard on the skull of the schnauzer, flattening it to the thickness of a smear. There was a moment of stunned silence, then the dog’s owner ran screaming down from the oval and all hell broke loose.

Some of the crowd launched into an echoing of her shrieks, others ran forward to attack the dog-killing panther. The controllers tried to key in Rilke’s “flight” subroutines, but they were mobbed before they could send the commands and were forced to run for safety. Rilke, meanwhile, was left motionless and undefended as its fake fur was torn from its body and a hundred boots buckled and bent its metal skeleton. The orgy of violence continued for another half hour and only ended when one of the mob tried to drive their Land Rover Discovery over Rilke and broke an axle.

In the aftermath of the Great Lithgow Panther Fiasco, the four members of the Park Authority who had organised the unveiling were summarily dismissed; the owner of the schnauzer, Janelee Harraway, sued the Authority and was awarded $500,000 in damages; the nearby district cricket club stand and clubhouse was renamed in the schnauzer’s honour; and the private school hip-hop troupe released a single about the incident that got played on Video Hits.

For the next twelve months, any thoughts about emulating the success of Pliocene Park became a no-go area for the Park Authority. Then, when the dust had settled and the civil suit was well behind them, the Authority was approached by a consortium with a proposal that promised to completely blow Pliocene Park’s mammoths out of the water. Despite everything that had gone before, the Authority decided to hear them out… The result would be a debacle that would make the Great Lithgow Panther Fiasco seem like just another day at the office.

Posted by Warren at July 18, 2007 10:04 PM
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