An Australian will bet on any thing that moves or looks as though it might. When there is no better way to risk a shilling, he will bet which of the flies on a pub ceiling will first light in his glass of beer. By staid and proper standards, all Australians are mad, and among the maddest of them this year are Frank (at right in the picture) and John Livingston, two bachelor brothers of the small, pastoral town of Mount Gambier. Right now these Australian brothers are betting $150,000 to nothing that England can win a series of sailboat races to be held next September off the coast of North America. They are doing it by footing a good part of the bill for a potential challenger which, under the rules of America's Cup racing, must be designed, built and manned by nationals of the challenging nation—in this case Great Britain. About the only thing the Livingstons themselves will be allowed to do with Kurrewa V after she is launched in Scotland's Holy Loch later this month is watch her sail.
If Kurrewa should be picked over Anthony Boyden's Sovereign to race against an American defender and should then defeat that defender, thus proving the first challenger ever to win the cup, the glory will go to England; to the Royal Thames Yacht Club, which issued the challenge; to David Boyd, the Scotsman who designed her; to Owen Aisher, the Englishman who directed her campaigning; and to the British yachtsmen who served as her crew. Why, then, are these two men from the other side of the world plunking down so much when they have so little chance of gaining even a round of applause for their trouble?
In explaining why Australians do anything it is important, first off, to bear in mind that theirs is a far and different land, where the sun leans to the north and the south wind blows cold. In Australia, swans are black; fish climb trees; kangaroos and wallabies bound around with offspring in their pockets; and clownish kookaburra birds fill the mornings and the evenings with idiotic laughter. Should men be ordinary when their country is not?
The Livingston brothers, like the awesome land around them, are not bound by precise laws or awed by 20th century boojums and taboos. Like most Australians, they are irrepressible and unstoppable, as restless as a fleck of spit on a hot griddle, going from here to there, it often seems, simply for the sake of moving.
March 16, 1964
Frank Livingston is 63 years old. His brother, John, is 62. Yet neither of them considers himself quite old enough to think of marrying and settling down. Three weeks ago, in the middle of an Australian summer day, under a brazen sun, with the temperature 102° and the wind nil, Frank and John Livingston went hunting for an old groundwater hole in a parched sheep pasture. Lifting a piece of corrugated roofing off the waterhole, they uncovered a fox. The fox took off, with John Livingston after it. Being some 60 years younger than its pursuer, and no doubt feeling the heat, the fox never had a chance. John Livingston caught it in 30 yards, gave it a swat, and sent it on its cringing way. Watching the chase, Frank Livingston remarked, "It does me good to see John moving around again after his heart attack."
The brothers were born to wealth and have become still wealthier by bouncing from one place to the next and from one fanciful gamble to another. Their connections, financial and social, are worldwide. Down under (and also up this-away) they are members of many social organizations, notably the Royal Yacht Squadron, a British club so exclusive it did not admit Sir Thomas Lipton to membership until the year of his death at 81. The Livingstons are acquainted, of course, with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and consider among their close friends Sir E.M. Conolly Abel Smith, K.C.V.O., C.B., and many other of Britain's fine sailors. They are good friends of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, and of John Kettelwell, the prominent angora goat rancher of South Africa. Among their many American friends they include Boatbuilder Bill Luders of Stamford, Conn., Reporter Joe Sheehan of The New York Times and Lawyer Howard Wright of Pasadena, Calif. and the Transpacific Yacht Club. They like North American Indians, Papuans, Orientals, Continentals and Bushmen. They have never met an Eskimo or a Tierra del Fuegan, but hope to.
The Livingstons consider the Right Honorable Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, a pal, and among their less prominent intimates there is a wild variety of Melbourne sophisticates, Sydney bustlers and Queensland cowpokes. The brothers have a particularly high regard for Bob Loudon, the Queenslander who manages their Yarraden cattle ranch (or "cattle station," as Australians call it). Loudon is a reincarnation of the leather-hided cowboys who once rode the spreads around Laramie—a good cattleman and a practitioner of the art of throwing a bull Australian style.
In Queensland you do not, as the phrase goes, "take the bull by the horns" to throw him. Instead, you chase the bull on horseback, and when he tires, you grab his tail, taking one turn with it around your hand for a surer grip. As your horse's forehooves come down at the end of a stride, you swing your offside leg over, slide down the horse's flank, planting your feet solidly on the ground. Feeling his progress checked, the bull will turn to charge you, and in trying to get his horns where his tail is, he will topple over. Since this action usually takes place on range where big eucalyptus trees grow 10 or 15 yards apart, there is a certain element of risk. The Livingstons like that.
Another of the Livingstons' Queensland friends is Walter Lawrence, whose cattle station once abutted theirs around Mount Mulgrave, although, quite frankly, of late Walter has proved to be something of a disappointment. A few years back, while still in his prime—a mere 70 years old or so—Walter quit ranching and took up living in cities the year round. In the old days whenever Walter radioed out from the bush for a plane to come get him, the word would spread through the town of Cairns that Walter was coming. When he got to Cairns. Walter would travel from pub to pub, announcing drinks for everybody and enjoying himself tremendously. At such times the nights in Cairns were long and gay. When Walter's daughter was married at his cattle station, as John Livingston remembers, "everybody in Queensland was invited but most of them didn't have a month to spare."
The Livingstons grew up in the profitable but erratic business of sheep raising. They know how to dip sheep, how to shear them and how to care for them in sickness and in health. They know how to contend with rabbits and the other blights of the land. From birth they have known the long summers of the range, where the blue sky hangs overhead week on week and the sun bears down until its dry heat reaches deep into the skin. They also know what it is like to be constantly moist, for their two major cattle holdings—each roughly the size of the King Ranch in Texas—are situated in the tropical north corner of Queensland, where the only way to dry a shirt during the wet season is to hang it on a line and let the rain beat the moisture out.
Since they rarely stay long in one place and are often in three or four different places in any week, the Livingstons do their best to adapt to all changes, climatic or social. They speak the Queen's English or the Queenslander's, as the situation requires. They are at ease in dinner jackets and equally at ease in a rancher's rags. They try to carry the right clothes with them for every occasion, but seldom succeed. Often they do not tarry long enough in one place to use a hotel's jiffy pressing service, or even long enough for a drip-dry shirt to finish dripping. At the end of a fast week, the Livingstons sometimes look as if they had ridden the last 200 miles in a wallaby's pouch.
When Frank Livingston was 8 and his brother 7, they signed a contract, "A Partnership in Marbles," duly witnessed by their sister Emily. It is the only contract they have ever had, and while they still work as a team, neither brother has lost his identity. Both Livingstons are of medium build, both carry a slight paunch that bespeaks their age. Frank, the older, is 5 feet 7; his brother, about 5 feet 10. Frank drinks tea like an Englishman—about one imperial gallon a day. John drinks two gallons. Frank also takes beer and whisky, while John uses neither. "He does worse than drink," insists Frank, with the disdain a modest tippler has for a totally dry man. "He buys drinks for everybody else to liven the party up so he will enjoy it more. He is a menace."
John Livingston openly confesses an affection for the good old days, when smoking was forbidden and a dinner jacket was required in the dining room of Melbourne's Hotel Menzies. But in actual practice his brother Frank is usually the more reserved. Frank has a softer voice and often merely smiles broadly at times when his brother's laughter is knocking pictures off the walls. John Livingston usually is the first of the two to see doom or disaster, but again, in actual fact, Frank is generally the more cautious. Frank Livingston would never, for example, try butting his head through a stone wall without first putting on his hat. As often happens in such a team, Frank, the cautious one, occasionally ends up taking the hard knocks. When the brothers are sailing on an ocean beset by a whole gale, it is Frank who is lashed to the wheel while John mans the pumps below. It was Frank who, during a flat calm 300 miles off Oahu, dived overboard to refresh himself and dislocated his shoulder by landing on a shipmate who was at that instant emerging to escape a 10-foot shark. (They took Frank to Pagopago, where he remembers having a wonderful time attended by U.S. doctors and nurses.) Some years ago their cousin Hubert Kessal decided that a dark hole in the ground at their sister Emily's sheep station should be investigated. It was Frank, of course, who was lowered in a bosun's chair. Everything went according to plan except that the rope immediately parted. On the chance that he might be alive, they lowered a second rope and hauled him up again. Eighty feet below he had luckily" landed feet first in water.
"It is strange how those Livingstons carry on. They were both quite normal in school," Mayor Hugh Marks of the Livingstons' home town of Mount Gambier once remarked. Overhearing this, Prime Minister Menzies explained, "Their insanity is hereditary. Their father was a Member of Parliament."
Both Livingstons have a constant curiosity, and it is John's theory that you never really know about anything unless you give it a try. What he learns is sometimes not worth knowing, but this has never stopped him. Fifteen years ago the Livingstons had a pet kookaburra bird that laughed raucously whenever John Livingston practiced playing the bagpipes. In every other way the kookaburra seemed normal, except that it was constantly hungry. This is the kind of problem that John Livingston cannot help exploring. "I got a kerosene tin full of worms," he recalls. "Enough worms to fill any bird. He ate them all. Fast as I'd throw him a worm, he'd digest it, pass it right through, leaving a pile of potash behind him. My word, that bird could eat. Poor thing finally swallowed a gramophone needle and died."
In addition to the orthodox details of stock raising in which he is constantly involved, John Livingston has become a modest authority on a number of subjects that most people do not encounter in a lifetime. To take a sampling, he knows a good bit about the operation of World War II German gyroscopic sextants, the care of bees, the rehabilitation of old waterwheels and a plant called Russian comfrey.
Russian comfrey looks like a cross between a tobacco plant and a hothouse geranium, and John Livingston was informed that it was fine pasturage. After planting 10 acres of it, he found his sheep could take it or leave it alone. He subsequently discovered that a research foundation dedicated to the proliferation of Russian comfrey had only one-third of an acre planted in England. The only other planting that John Livingston could find was half an acre tended by an 86-year-old English lady named Greer, who seemed to be wrapped in the past (in her living room not long ago John saw parts of a tractor lying on yellowed newspaper headlining Allied landings in Italy). John Livingston now feels that his 10 acres may be the largest planting of Russian comfrey in the world.
As for beekeeping, John learned about that when he tried to improve the clover on his Heatherleigh Hills sheep station with 150 beehives. "We had no trouble at all with the bees," he now recalls, "until one of them stung Norman Gurr, our manager at Heatherleigh Hills. While Norman was going about his own business—rather personal business—the bee stung him in a very tender part of the body, and Norman never had much interest in bees after that."
Old waterwheels, relics of the gold rush days, are a particular love of John Livingston's, largely because a maternal ancestor made a bundle of money using one to mill flour for the 100,000 miners who rushed into the Australian gold diggings in the 1850s. John now owns what is perhaps the world's finest collection of waterwheels—if anything so widespread can be called a collection. At this point the wheels are still scattered all over southeast Australia; two of John's small waterwheels are still in the care of the landholders from whom he bought them. He has one beauty, 14 feet in diameter, in storage in Melbourne. He may have another 10-footer buried under an extravagant mass of blackberry brambles in the valley hamlet of Pore Punkah. He paid about $100 for the 10-footer, but has never penetrated the brambles deep enough to see it.
John has another wheel, a 24-footer, in splendid condition, still on the original site where it was used to drive an ore crusher 3,000 feet up a mountain. There is no road or path maintained up the mountain, and it will be many years before there is any decent way for tourists to visit the relic. However, there is already a steady passage of commercial airliners over the mountain. It is John's plan to rig a generator to the wheel and plug in spotlights. Thus airline passengers will be able to look down at night on the spectacle of an old waterwheel slowly turning, lighting itself up.
Waterwheel collecting is, of course, one of those curious loves that men have, an unusually curious one in John Livingston's case, since he and his brother Frank will probably realize a quarter-million-dollar profit because of it. John Livingston's quest for information about the 24-foot wheel on the mountain led him to a seasoned prospector, Kenneth Harris, who, as so often happens in his trade, had run out of money and was about to lose his option on a tract near the old Red Robin mine in the Australian Alps. The Livingston brothers put up the cash in exchange for equal shares. The government mining experts came up and inspected the initial diggings. Harris had apparently struck into a mighty quartz reef, assaying about two ounces of gold to the crushed ton. Unless the vein pinches out peculiarly or faults off in some very strange way, the total yield should be between $300,000 and $600,000. In Australia, all gold earnings are 100% tax-free.
To at least one U.S. yachtsman who saw them at Newport during the cup matches in 1958, the curious Livingstons resembled "Kipling's creatures at the edge of the forest." But their innocent air is deceptive. They know how to fill their stomachs and their pockets. They often bounce around like Silly Putty, but even while bouncing they are as wary as dingos and as canny as pack rats.
Since Frank and John Livingston have a knack for managing money and for acquiring more of it, they naturally can afford America's Cup racing. This does not mean that they will keep trying to buy the cup, spending more and more, like that cup-struck old landlubber, Lipton. The Livingstons are sailors for the same reason that they are stockmen, hole-in-the-ground explorers and waterwheel collectors—the sea is there before them and it would be a shame to waste it. The principal landholding they inherited from their father lies near the Victoria-South Australia state line, fronting on the southern ocean that reaches to Antarctica. As boys, Frank and John Livingston played around inside the reef in a single-sail, centerboard imitation of a boat. Subsequently, they did some round-the-buoy racing and graduated completely to ocean racing after World War II. Not counting their now uncountable miles of weekend sailing and little races of 200 miles or less, the Livingstons have sailed more than 25,000 miles in ocean competition and have cruised about 35,000 miles more getting to starting lines or returning home. In their ketch, Kurrewa III, and their 51-year-old cutter, Kurrewa IV, they have won line honors in the 630-mile Sydney-to-Hobart race four times in 10 tries.
Frank Livingston is a totally able seaman; John is 90% willing and able, only his stomach dissenting. "When I first sailed more than 40 years ago, I was sick, sick, sick," John Livingston now bellows irritably, recalling the misery of a major love. "Today I still get sick, sick, sick. Only relief I ever found was by trying to make myself even sicker. Few years ago I got myself so sick that I ruptured my gullet."
In 1939 the Livingstons had set out to sail to England when World War II suddenly cut loose. They paused long enough to do their bit in the army and reach the conclusion that the trouble with the war effort was too many chiefs, as it were, and not enough diggers and bushmen. When the world finally returned to the abnormality of peacetime, the Livingstons took up ocean racing in a big way, and in no time at all they were looking for competition away from home. The 2,225-mile Los Angeles-to-Honolulu race seemed to be the right sort of venture, and in 1949 they went for it. The prevailing winds being what they are, they had to sail 11,000 miles to reach the starting line, going 5,000 miles of it on one starboard tack before coming about 400 miles under the Aleutians. Except for near collision with water-soaked logs floating out of the Columbia River ("those logs," Frank Livingston insists, "could knock the duff out of any hull"), the trip was routine for the six seasoned members of the crew. But for the seventh—the Livingstons' sister Emily—it was a ball. Emily had never spent a night at sea and, since she was nearly 50 years old at the time, she felt it was then or never. Through the whole voyage she wore 30 silver bracelets on one arm, her theory being that when the others stopped hearing the jangle they would know she had been swept overboard. As she prepared meals for the men (the clock around), she sometimes found the food lockers at her feet and sometimes overhead. For 71 days and nights she was either cold and tired or wet and tired, and, being Australian, she enjoyed herself tremendously.
In the run to Honolulu, the Livingstons finished 16th out of 24 on elapsed time. It was an easy, drifty affair, not at all like the usual heavy-weather racing back home. Like most Australians, the Livingstons pile on sail in an ocean race until the rigging sometimes gives up in despair. Their finest victory, in 1948, came in the 1,300-mile Auckland-to-Sydney race, when they set a new time record despite eight hours spent wallowing bare-masted in a cyclone. As the nasty southern quadrant of the cyclone passed them, they were twice knocked down, the spreaders going into the water each time. (The anemometer on Lord Howe Island recorded 90-mile-an-hour winds, gusting to 110.) "On one roll-over," John Livingston reports, "the lockers flew open like bomb bay doors. Everything all over. We were at the pump, each man for 20 minutes, going with all we had, my word. Bits and pieces of this and that stopping up the pump. I reached down with my hand one time to clear it and found my false teeth were clogging it—so sick I must have thrown them out of my mouth without knowing it. Popped them right back in—safest place for your teeth in a blow." John's lingering regret is that brother Frank was lashed to the wheel during the worst hours and missed much of the excitement below.
Of the Livingstons' numerous yachting affiliations, the most important in this America's Cup year has no registered title and is best known (to the few who have even heard of it) as the Dead Secret Yacht Club. For the past five years, with about $60,000 of Livingston money and with both Livingstons actively participating, this club has been sailing little 7½-foot boats, each hull a one-ninth scale model of a 12-meter racer. The club has designed starting gates so that two hulls can be set off evenly in comparative hull tests. Rudders and sail trim are radio-controlled. Small radio-operated cameras, matchbox size, can be installed to photograph the sails and to photograph telltales and smoke puffs to indicate where the wind is pulling and where it is dragging. Much of the testing has been done on a small lake in the New Forest of England, where anybody can watch, but "somehow we have not attracted much attention," Frank Livingston says. "Most people write us off as a little mad and leave it at that."
The Livingstons came upon this unusual boating venture, as they have many like it, while wandering around giving their sociability and curiosity full play. According to the most recent interpretations of the America's Cup rules, no challenging country can use the American testing tank at Stevens Institute in New Jersey, and there is no tank elsewhere with personnel of equal experience. The Livingstons took to the radio-controlled boating because they saw in it perhaps a way to offset the disadvantage. It would be most dramatic to say that convincing revelations in hull design had already been found and incorporated in Kurrewa V. But in actual fact the Dead Secret Yacht Club is operating too slowly and deliberately for that. The only discovery that may come to light this year is in sail design, but since, by the rules, Kurrewa's sails must be of English cloth, any advantage in design will probably be offset by the advantage a U.S. boat has in using the superior American Dacron cloth made by Ted Hood (SI, Feb. 10). "The most we can say now is that we have hopes this year, some year," John Livingston insists, ""and I will further say that in any case Frank and John Livingston will have fun."
Like the dark hole in the ground at their sister's sheep station, this dabbling in America's Cup racing may lead the Livingston brothers nowhere. Possibly, like the old waterwheel on the mountain, it will only cast light upon itself. Or perhaps, like the same old water-wheel, it will lead to quite a prize. As John Livingston says, you never really know about anything until you give it a try.