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Victory produces surge of national pride in Australia

In the United States, the 1983 America's Cup may have been no more than a moderately big sports event. But in Australia, it made up the biggest ''good news'' story in years.

The celebrating began the moment Australia II defeated Liberty in the seventh and deciding contest, ending a 132-year US grip on the trophy. Almost immediately, the nation became festooned with green and gold streamers and balloons in what commentators called the greatest surge of national pride in recent memory.

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''The eagle has been plucked,'' read one headline as the New Year's Eve atmosphere continued through the day.

The biggest celebrations were in Perth, a city of 900,000 that is the headquarters of the Australia II syndicate led by millionaire businessman Alan Bond. The state capital of Western Australia, Perth has been described as the most remote city of its size in the world. The victory is seen there as a hometown success rather than a national event.

Even at remote inland settlements, however, the partying was no less enthusiastic than along the coastal rim, where most Australians live. (But, then, there is a yachting tradition of sorts. Every year in the interior of the northern territory there's a ''yacht race'' in bottomless boats. The ''sailors'' stand in their boats to run barefooted across the hot sand, with each crew carrying its boat at waist level.)

Newcomers from Vietnam, Lebanon, and other nations also were caught up in the euphoria in this increasingly multicultural nation.

For the crew and helpers, the victory climaxed four months of intense effort during which they had made do with the relatively meager allowance of little more than $11 a day.

Some of them had put jobs in Australia at risk as employers complained about their long absences and single-minded commitment to what some saw as a minority sport. But by Tuesday no one, it seemed, was complaining any more.

Because of the time difference, Monday's race in Newport, R.I. was seen here during the early hours of Tuesday morning - and the effect was apparent right away. Traffic authorities reported a 50 percent drop in commuter traffic in major cities as breakfast parties continued into the day.

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Those who did make it to work faced a round of office parties, and, to safeguard the jobs of those who didn't punch in, Prime Minister Bob Hawke declared it would be a mean boss indeed who fired absent workers.

As New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon declared in a cable to his Australian counterpart: The win turned the ''land down under'' into ''the land up over.''

The implications aren't lost on tourism planners. Western Australia announced it will begin a major drive to woo American tourists, believing that awareness of Australia has been greatly boosted by the race.

Australia's celebrations will be in two parts. There's the current wave of partying, after which the country will gird itself for the Australia II's homecoming. The crew and their cup will tour major cities. After a string of state capital welcomes, they'll head for a giant civic welcome in Perth.

Some Australians see implications in the victory far beyond the winning of the cup. A mood of increased nationalism, or at least of growing national pride, may help spur the campaign of those who argue in favor of Australia becoming a republic over its present status as an independent constitutional monarchy with allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II. The prime minister supports republicanism, but does not believe in rushing ahead of public opinion.

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