- In the American state of Pennsylvania, a leak develops in the cooling system of the no 2 reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power complex. The leak means that there is not enough water to cool the pile at the centre of the reactor: the result is a partial meltdown. As technicians attempt to control both the leak and the build-up of a highly radioactive bubble of gas within the reactor evacuations begin around the complex. U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose naval career focused in the main on the uses of nuclear power, announces he will be visiting the site.
What makes the crisis even more compelling is that three weeks earlier the film The China Syndrome, which told the story of a similar meltdown at a nuclear plant in California, had gone on general release.
- After a long winter of industrial strife and economic turmoil, Britain’s Labour Government faces a motion of no-confidence in the House of Commons. Prime Minister James Callaghan has been the leader of a minority administration from the opening day of his term in office; he sits now and locks eyes with the leader of the Conservative Opposition Margaret Thatcher. The votes on the motion are finally tallied and Speaker of the House George Thomas rises to his feet to deliver the result: “The Ayes to the right, 311; the Noes to the left 310!”
Thomas’ voice is immediately drowned out by cries of delight and choruses of The Red Flag. Amidst the waving of Order Papers and derisive chanting, Callaghan informs the House: “now that the House...has declared itself, we shall take our case to the country”. The date for the election is set for May 3rd.
- The day after the scene of chaos within the House of Commons the Conservative Party is blindsided by a shattering blow. Airey Neave, the party’s spokesman on Northern Ireland and a close personal and political friend of Margaret Thatcher, is assassinated by a car bomb in the House of Commons car park. The Irish National Liberation Army later claims responsibility for the atrocity. Neave’s death places a pall over the opening days of the election campaign.
- Another milestone is reached in the continuing saga of the Iranian Revolution with 98 per cent of the newly formed National Assembly voting to officially overthrow the hated Shah. As a response to the continuing uncertainty in the region the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC votes to raise the price it charges for crude by 9.1 per cent from April 1st. Newspaper reports suggest that fuel prices in Australia will rise by at least 3c a litre with all the attendant effects on the nation’s economy.
-As Egyptian President Anwar Sadat returns home after signing a peace treaty with Israel, his fellow members of the Arab League explode in righteous anger. They vote to expel Egypt from the League and several members break off diplomatic relations. P.L.O leader Yasser Arafat bluntly calls for economic boycotts of Egypt and the United States in retaliation for their heretical dealings with Israel.
-The usually ebullient promoter and manager Harry M. Miller is under extreme pressure following the collapse of his Computicket operation. Police in N.S.W. have laid nine further charges in relation to his role in the affair. Outside court, Miller claims that he is a “political scapegoat” but refuses to point the finger at his alleged enemies.
-With tentative feelers towards a peace agreement to bind the wounds in the world of cricket being made, Australia’s ACB and WSC teams continue with Test matches against Pakistan and the West Indies respectively. The establishment XI wins their match against Pakistan but the ill-tempered series ends on a low note with several controversial dismissals tarnishing the final day.
Those incidents are nothing compared to what happens in Georgetown, where the WSC Australians have been caught up in a riot after continued delays to the start of their fourth SuperTest against the West Indies. The match eventually peters out in a draw. In a related incident captain Ian Chappell defuses a possible international incident by apologising to a WSC official whom he had punched.
-New Zealand jockey Linda Jones creates history by becoming the first female to compete against men at a registered meeting in Australia when she takes the mount aboard Northfleet in the Manion Cup at Rosehill in Sydney. Against all the predictions of experts who saw women as mannequins best kept to their side of the yellow line through the Members’ area, Jones guides Northfleet to a creditable third-place finish.
-“Tragedy”, “I Will Survive” and “Le Freak” were the songs getting people on the dance floors.
While the NBL was still undergoing its growing pains, across the Pacific the NBA was in some trouble. About to enter the final week of its regular season the NBA was a league unsure of its direction. There were no stand-out teams (the defending champion Washington Bullets would lead the league with 54 wins), there had been several incidences of players becoming addicted to illegal drugs and advertisers were steering clear of a sport that was considered too ‘black’ for a mainstream audience. When games were broadcast nationally via the CBS network, they were regularly pre-empted by coverage of the final round of that week’s PGA Tour tournament.
But deliverance was soon to be at hand. College basketball was about to enter a boom period, coming off what was the most watched National Championship game in history between Indiana State and the eventual champions Michigan State. The face of that Spartans team had been its point guard, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. Now Johnson was on his way to the pro ranks and the excitement was building as to which team would select the franchise-calibre star. In Boston, they didn’t have to wait: Indiana State’s Larry Bird had been drafted by legendary coach/GM Red Auerbach the previous year and Celtics fans were all set for a revival of the glory days for their team.
But enough of foreign subjects for it's now time to focus upon the local scene...
Saturday 31st March 1979
NBL Game One: Bankstown Bruins @City of Sydney Astronauts
Final score: Astronauts 90-Bruins 76
The round opened with the first-ever Sydney derby, held at Alexandria Stadium. The Astronauts had defeated the Hawks in Sydney the previous week while the Bruins had split a road-trip to Adelaide. For much of the match the home side were comfortably in command. Then midway through the second half referees Pat Tilden and Ken Clifford drew the ire of the home crowd by fouling out Sydney’s David Leslie and Peter Buchanan. Fortunately, the loss of these two players did not affect the result. Leslie led the Astronauts with 16 points while Jeff Ellenson was the top-scorer for the Bruins with 22 points.
NBL Game Two: Glenelg Tigers@ St. Kilda Pumas
Final score: Pumas 86-Tigers 54
The Pumas made it three wins on the trot by comfortably accounting for the lowly Tigers at Albert Park Stadium. Veteran Tony Barnett led St. Kilda’s scoresheet with 20 points with Larry Sengstock adding 16. Glenelg’s one-two punch of Rick Hodges and Steve Sparrow were the only two players to get into double figures with 18 and 10 points respectively. The Tigers had now lost four straight games and were the heavy favourites to end the season with the NBL’s first wooden spoon.
NBL Game Three: Brisbane Bullets @Canberra Cannons
Final score: Cannons 86-Bullets 80
The highest quality match of the weekend saw the Cannons come from nine points down at half-time to eke out the victory at the Showground Stadium. Brisbane’s Cal Bruton added to his growing reputation as a scoring machine by torching his opponents for 20 points in the first half. At the break Canberra import Herb McEachin said that he would take Bruton on defensively; his effort in holding Cal to ten points decisively swung the game the home team’s way. For a team that had been predicted to run last by the experts the Cannons were playing some mighty fine basketball.
NBL Game Four: West Adelaide Bearcats @Illawarra Hawks
Final score: Bearcats 91-Hawks 72
This game was the Bearcats’ first visit to the original ‘Snakepit’ since 1972 in the halcyon days of the South Eastern Conference. Their captain-coach Ken Richardson had unpleasant memories of his last visit there: wearing St. Kilda’s uniform he had been a key player in a wild brawl that according to later reports almost turned into a full-blown riot. West Adelaide’s decision to draw up a large contract (for the time) to entice Richardson over was paying dividends as he scored 30 points and led his charges to a thumping victory.
Sunday 1st April 1979
NBL Game Five: Glenelg Tigers @Nunawading Spectres
Final score: Spectres 77-Tigers 53
In an attempt to break the machine-like operation of Nunawading’s offence, Glenelg decided to employ a 2-2-1 zone defensive structure. It didn’t work as Bill Palmer was an unstoppable force at both ends of the floor. He finished the game with 21 points and many rebounds. Future world champion Gary Fox provided plenty of support while racking up 18 points for the home side. After several years of near misses in the VBA, Spectres fans were starting to believe that this was the year when they would be bringing home some silverware to the Burwood Stadium.
NBL Game Six: Brisbane Bullets @City of Sydney Astronauts
Final score: Astronauts 107-Bullets 95
A special treat for fans of basketball in the Harbour City: they had two games to choose from on a Sunday afternoon. To paraphrase the newspaper slogan of the day, the action was at Alexandria as the Astronauts and the Bullets forgot about defence and simply conducted their own private shooting clinic. In what was to that point the highest aggregate score in an NBL game the real star was once again Calvin Bruton who could not be stopped on his march towards 42 points. Sadly for Bruton, only two of his teammates scored in double-figures: Sydney had seven (led by David Leslie with 20).
NBL Game Seven: West Adelaide Bearcats @Bankstown Bruins
Final score: Bearcats 92-Bruins 70
Across town at the Condell Park Stadium, West Adelaide made it two out of two on their first road trip to New South Wales with another crushing victory. On this occasion Dale Eineder led the Bearcats with 17 points, Richardson had 15 and Peter (incorrectly labelled Reg) Ali had 12. Richard Dunphy was the top-scorer for the Bruins with 15 points. The loss condemned Bankstown to the NBL cellar while West Adelaide cruised up alongside the Spectres to take a share of the League lead...
Top Two: Bottom Eight:
West Adelaide 7 and 1 Canberra 7 and 2
Nunawading 7 and 1 St. Kilda 5 and 3
Newcastle 4 and 3
City of Sydney 4 and 5
Illawarra 2 and 6
Brisbane 2 and 6
Bankstown 1 and 7
Glenelg 1 and 7
Next week in Back in the Day, it will be a week of firsts: the first time for the NBL in national prime time, the first time for a Tiger who would become a prime time player and the first time in almost 80 years that a city known chiefly for its ghosts comes to global attention. That’s all to come in next week’s ‘Back in the Day’.
P.S. Goodbye, farewell and amen to Ray Hunt and Roger Shiels: two fine servants of the game who have earned all the plaudits directed their way.