By Dr Wes Boudville
I arrived at Caltech in September 1983 for the PhD program in physics. On
27 September, the physics department had a reception for the new grad
students in the Rathskellar downstairs bar of the faculty club. Feynman was
there, with several other professors, to greet us. For most, including
myself, it was the first time to meet him.
I chatted briefly with him. He asked my name and where I was from. He was
just making polite talk of course. I told him I was from Perth, Australia.
He congratulated me and my town on winning the America’s Cup. I was amazed.
He thought the American team were bad sports. (An opinion shared by many
There is a cultural difference between Australia and the US. In the US,
sailing is associated with the upper class. In Australia it has no such
connotation. Many identify with sailing. That year, the America’s Cup
challenger was a yacht from the Royal Perth Yacht Club. The race was held in
the US. Best of 7. The first 6 races were tied. The 7th was the decider. It
was held the day before the physics reception. In Australia, the race was
broadcast live in the middle of the night. Millions stayed up to watch.
Prime Minister Hawke showed up at the Yacht Club. One of my undergrad
physics friends later told me he shook hands with Hawke.
Australia won. But in the US, it had scant mention. Buried in the sports
pages of the papers.
I knew that Feynman had other interests than physics, like in music and
painting. En passant, he actually read the sports pages. I would not have
expected him to have even heard of Perth, let alone of the previous day’s
importance (to Australia). He wasn’t trying to impress me with what he knew.
Just chatting. But he did.