Ben Cousins: My Chance Encounter With The Batman Of Perth
When I think of Perth, West Australia, the “big country town” that I was lucky enough to grow up in, my mind gravitates towards one man. My parents, my sister, and a lot of my close friends still live within the metro area of the Swan River Colony. But for some reason, Ben Cousins always jumps to the front of the queue when I reminisce about my old stomping ground.
If you’re unfamiliar, Cousins used to play Australian Rules Football, the most popular professional sport in Australia. Raised in WA, the man is widely considered one of the best players of all time, and he was the captain of Perth’s biggest team, the West Coast Eagles.
For Gen Y sandgropers like myself Ben Cousins was a god amongst men. The epitome of the hometown hero, old mate Ben was cherished on the same level that Tom Brady is in New England and Lio Messi is in Barcelona.
A handsome bastard, Cousins was a marketer’s wet dream. But there was darkness aplenty beneath the surface.
The first major incident happened in 2006. Cousins was driving home from a wedding when he was stopped by a booze bus. Before the cops could breathalyze him, Cousins fled the scene and swam out to the middle of the Swan River. He trod water for a while and successfully managed to evade the search party. The next day he turned himself in, and was given a small fine.
I was hanging with some mates when news of the “Ben Cousins Biathlon” broke. We were all in disbelief. Someone suggested that drugs must’ve been involved. I wasn’t convinced — why would he risk absolutely everything?
This was the start of an avalanche of PR nightmares. First, Cousins started fraternizing with some of Perth’s well known underworld figures. And then, in March 2007, he was suspended by the Eagles for missing two training sessions. The club publicly admitted that he had a drug problem and Cousins was sent to a rehab clinic in the US. A few months later he was given clearance to play by the AFL, and his big comeback game was scheduled to happen in July.
I remember this winter well. My mates Mike and Ray were housesitting in Leederville and I’d spend most of my weekends chilling with them at their temporary abode. We were all broke uni students, so drinking at home was how we whittled away most of our free time. Sometimes we sniffed out a house party, or ventured out to a club in the city, and the spot in Leedy was conveniently located for all aforementioned activities.
Late one Saturday morning I woke up on their couch. My head was groggy — we’d all hit the goonbag pretty hard the night before. Mike and Ray were also feeling seedy, and we agreed that a trip to Hungry Jacks was in order. So we threw on our coats and piled into Mike’s car.
You don’t get a body like this drinking goon and eating Whoppers.
After successfully acquiring three large Whopper meals, Mike drove towards Lake Monger, a picturesque lake and park just to the north of Perth’s CBD. Popular with small wildlife and exercisers alike, it’s a great place to line your hungover stomach with grease and watch the world go by.
This particular Saturday was cold and wintery. There were a few clouds scattered about but nothing looked too ominous. Lake Monger was largely empty.
As Mike drove through the final set of traffic lights before the park, I saw a shirtless man sprinting up a hill in the distance.
“Haha, check it out, it’s Ben Cousins,” I joked as I pointed at the runner.
The next ten seconds were surreal. As we got closer, the shocking truth became apparent. The runner reached the top of the hill and we drifted past him. It was unmistakable. The shirtless man was indeed Mr. Benjamin Cousins.
The mere sight of him sent us into a frenzied panic. We decided to park up on the side of the road about thirty metres away.
Our vantage point was perfect. Cousins walked down the slope, hands on his head, sucking in lungfuls of fresh air. Then he did another gut-busting suicide run up the hill. The man moved like a gazelle and looked absolutely shredded.
It’s hard to accurately explain how bizarre and perverse this situation was. Because of all the scandals and the suspension, Cousins was like a Batman figure at the time. Seeing Ben Cousins running up a hill was equivalent to seeing Bruce Wayne doing pull-ups in his batsuit at the local gym. There was something unsettling and Lynch-ian about the whole thing. The man was clearly after some alone time, yet three grubby little Whopper-chomping voyeurs were sneakily watching his every move.
After five minutes of non-stop aerobic exercise, Cousins walked towards his 4WD, grabbed a mobile phone out of the vehicle and gave someone a call.
“Probably ordering drugs,” I said.
Cousins looked our way, as if he’d heard me. My salty mouth went dry. But I was just being paranoid. He finished his call, jumped in his car, and sped off.
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A month after we saw him at Lake Monger, Cousins smashed his comeback game out of the park with a best-on-ground performance. But that was just the beginning of the saga. Since then there’s been more suspensions, arrests, documentaries, restraining orders, convictions and periods of incarceration. Just last week Cousins was jailed again for breaching the terms of his bail. He’s broke and still brutally addicted to drugs.
When you grow up in the safe suburbs of a city like Perth, there’s a big part of you that craves excitement and danger. The problem is, when excitement and danger comes your way, it’s hard to know what to do with it.
Despite all his faults and misdemeanors, Ben Cousins will always be Perth royalty. But just like Bruce Wayne, he should’ve kept his alter ego hidden, because no matter where you go, the voyeurs are always watching.