MY LIFE AS A MIDDLE-AGED HATE FIGURE
Collingwood supporters. Almost from the moment their club was formed way back in February 1892, the black and white army has set the gold standard when it comes to being the object of Australian hatred. It’s a proud mantle, certainly hard-earned, rivalled perhaps only by incumbent Prime Ministers. But as the 21st Century hurtles at breakneck speed towards its third decade, these are coming under considerable pressure from a somewhat unlikely quarter – people just like me. That is, road cyclists.
Unlike Collingwood supporters, who in many ways are born into this natural cycle of hate, and seemingly have Teflon coursing through their veins, the concept of being a hate figure has taken plenty of getting used to for me. As a natural-born peacemaker, being a despised source of community derision wasn’t something I’d had much exposure to as a young man. That all changed about a decade ago when, aged in my mid-thirties, I started to ride a bike for fitness after drawing stumps on highly undistinguished cricket and basketball careers.
The changes were nothing short of remarkable. Almost immediately I began to shed weight faster than a jockey in a cranked up sauna. Within a couple of months I felt (and was) fitter than I’d been since high school. But as I quickly discovered this came at quite a cost. For, somehow, I’d simultaneously become a pariah of society as a member of one of contemporary Australia’s most reviled outgroups.
I’d been warned about this phenomenon from others, of course, but discounted it as little more than hyperbole. But to experience it first-hand on the roads of Sydney on an almost daily basis was rather disconcerting. I mean, I was just an ordinary Aussie bloke. I loved my kids. I loved a beer. I loved my footy and my cricket. I loved my car and my motorbike. I paid my taxes and rego.
Yet suddenly I was being treated as some kind of leprous outcast. Ten years on and my skin has thickened. I’ve come to expect the insults and most of the time it simply washes over me. But I cannot lie. Just like the continued popularity of The Footy Show, I don’t truly understand it.
Donate 10 minutes of your life to scroll down any social media thread mentioning bicycles, be the original author’s intent positive or negative, and prepare to be inundated by a mighty avalanche of bile. It’s never great. But the emotions are always amplified when the abuse involves a fatality, as it did last weekend when a 49-year old man was struck and killed by a truck near Canberra – while he was riding along a 2.5m wide shoulder, well off the roadway itself. The driver has since been charged by Police and we now await the courts to do their thing.
Whatever the final outcome, the hate-filled comments last weekend were truly disgusting and ignorant in the extreme – yet largely unmoderated by the news networks, as usual. FFS. Someone has died, a family has been forever destroyed, and there are people amongst us who think it’s somehow appropriate and/or funny to make light of it? ‘100 points!’, ‘good riddance you lycra fag’, ‘no rego, no sympathy’ were just some of the posts we saw, not to mention a cavalcade of laughing emojis. What the actual f*ck, Australia?
The worst thing is, this happens every time.
If we could somehow harness the energy expelled by these gutless keyboard warriors and trolls, I swear we wouldn’t need Elon Musk and his jumbo batteries to keep the lights on in South Australia. Here I was thinking we were just normal people trying to stay fit or get from A to B without being killed. But apparently we’re nothing more than rampantly freeloading, flagrantly law-breaking, Lycra-wearing cockroaches that need to be exterminated as a matter of urgency before we trigger the end of days for all humankind. In other words, even worse than Pies fans.