TELL 'em they're dreamin'. The movie The Castle gave us the celebrated words of an ordinary bloke defending the Australian dream, his own home, his castle, against the odds. Across the country, people dare to have a bigger and more improbable dream: to be the best in the world. We could just tell 'em they're dreaming. The world is a big place, with a talent pool of 7 billion people, only one in 300 of them Australian. One young Australian, Casey Stoner, has realised his dream and is retiring at 27, but not before the triumphant farewell of a sixth consecutive win at the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix on Sunday. For Stoner, it still seems like "a fairytale".
It is easy to scoff at sport. If sport were only about sport, it wouldn't matter at all. The basic activity of sport is a trivial pursuit, despite offering the huge rewards of fame and fortune. Paradoxically, for all the corruptions of modern sport, the ambitions it inspires and the qualities it requires retain an almost innocent simplicity: belief, hard work, courage, single-mindedness, plus raw ability, of course. These qualities have universal value, but they resonate through sport.
Casey Stoner was always a precocious talent. He went to England at 14 too young to enter road races legally in Australia and was a full-time GP racer by 2002. Stoner won his first world title in 2007, then battled through seasons marred by crashes, injuries and illness before winning a second title in 2011. In May, he announced his retirement. An ankle injury in a crash in August derailed his title defence, but Stoner goes out at the top of his game.
At his best, as on Sunday, Stoner is "on another planet, another level", says this year's champion, Jorge Lorenzo. Yet Stoner refused Honda's $15 million offer to keep racing, because family is his priority and he is tired of the grind of the racing circuit (but not of the thrill of being the fastest).
Stoner is not alone in being true to his original motivation. As The Age's Greg Baum wrote on Saturday, the best Australian batsman of his generation, Ricky Ponting, is living the dream of the boy who used to sneak into the Tasmanian changerooms to try on the players' kit and imagine playing for his state and country. Sport somehow allows us to aim high without risking the scorn that this might invite in other fields.
High achievements tend to flow from high aspirations, even if the career compass is wonky. As Baum wrote, the High Court's Justice Dyson Heydon reached the pinnacle of his profession, but admits he always imagined himself opening the batting for Australia. He was dreaming, of course, but sport lets us dream of what our better, bolder selves might do.