Like so many other place names in Australia, the tale of Coolaroo begins with a bet. In this case, a bet between two rather cynical social scientists, Ross McFadyen and Aloysius Kane, both of whom were members of the first graduating class at La Trobe University in 1969 and residents of the Broadmeadows area.

Their exposure to the thoughts of great thinkers such as Marx, Lenin, L. Ron Hubbard and Freddie Lake while at La Trobe had imbued them both with a pronounced cynicism about the intelligence of their neighbours. But where McFadyen was inclined to empathise and even seek to ameliorate the problem, Kane was less forgiving. In 1972, he bet McFadyen that he could create a competition that would lead grown men to go willingly to their deaths for the reward of a slab of beer. McFadyen took that bet (and also Kane’s other bet that the ALP would lose the 1972 federal election).

Kane lost no time in organising a series of competitions, one after another, trying to find the right combination. Originally, he was restricted to three attempts, but McFadyen, in a fit of generosity after winning the other bet, extended the number of attempts to 24. As it turned out, Kane would only need 17.

Initially, his ideas were too overtly dangerous, revolving around obviously suicidal feats such as playing chicken with the 747s landing at nearby Tullamarine airport. But Kane became more subtle over time. The competition that finally won the bet came in 1977, when contestants were required to take photographs of kangaroos they had dressed to look like humans. Like most animals, kangaroos did not enjoy this treatment. Unlike most other animals in Australia, kangaroos lacked the domesticated temperament to endure it – and did not lack for means of letting their displeasure be known. The inaugural (and only) Broadmeadows Cooler Roo Competition was held on the first Saturday in October, timed to be one week after the end of footy season. Unfortunately, the Grand Final replay took place that day, after the unexpected draw the week before, and so the six fatalities inflicted by furious kangaroos that day went largely unnoticed by the media.

Family and friends of the slain men later lynched Kane, and the area is still named for the fatal competition even today to remind them of their losses and warn them against following the plausible too blindly.

Suburbs near Coolaroo: