A grand final and a solemn march

The warm weather of the past few days has disappeared and thunder and lightning are rolling and cracking over Coburg. We’re in the lounge room with the heater on, watching morning TV. Linda is feeding Eloise.

An uncle of Jill Meagher, the young woman abducted from Sydney Road, Brunswick, ten minutes from here, is speaking on behalf of the family from his own lounge in Ireland. He speaks gently and disarmingly about his family’s grief while his wife and daughters sob quietly beside him.

He reminds me of an old farmer I met many years ago hiking in Galway. As I crested the rise, he left his flock, crossed the narrow road and introduced himself. He wore a white shirt, working trousers and suspenders and told me about the arthritis affecting his neck and shoulders and of course, relatives living in Australia. Shooorelly, yoo mus’ know vem.

After chewing my ear for ten minutes, he bid farewell and returned to his flock which had scattered across the road. What I recall most vividly was how he trusted me, a complete stranger, instantly. He didn’t possess an ounce of wariness or self-consciousness.

Next, Jill Meagher’s husband, Tom, is speaking from the front steps of the court house where he has gone to see for himself the man charged with her death. He’s in shock; dishevelled. He’s an everyman: work colleague, drinking mate, sports fan. His brother-in-law looks like a fiddler in an Irish pub band.

Footage is shown from the night before. In the back of a police car, the alleged killer hides his head between his legs. I notice his wedding ring and later learn he has four kids. Another family ruined.

On the radio, Jon Faine plays Paul Kelly’s Meet me in the Middle of the Air.

For a society usually numb to the constant tragedy we are exposed to by the media, we have been affected by this incident. Is it because the victim is young and attractive? Or maybe because she’s foreign and we’re obsessed with how we are perceived internationally? Or, the crime’s randomness? It’s public location? It’s desperate nature? All of the above?

I’ve come to accept not everything in life can be explained. I find this liberating in a weird way. We’re not meant to understand life, just accept what comes our way. How’s the saying go? The more I learn, the less I know.

Eloise is deep in concentration. She pulls off, gives me her cheeky grin and makes farting noises by blowing air through her closed lips. This is her latest trick.

Later, in the cavernous and nearly empty St Bernard’s, Father Leo’s sermon is drowned out by low flying television helicopters. A silver-haired Italian lady looks at the ceiling and shakes her head.

Linda goes shopping so I spend the afternoon on baby duties. I haven’t missed a grand final parade in years but priorities change and I’m happy changing nappies and cleaning up vomit.

That evening at the traditional GF eve Weddings, Parties, Anything gig, middle-aged husbands and fathers on leave passes, bounce, wobble, laugh and sing along with the prospect of tomorrow on the couch in front of the footy nursing hangovers and twisted ankles.

The Weddos are to pub music what the Almanac is to sports writing. They create a warm, fuzzy feeling I wish I could bottle, take home and crack the lid when needed. I’ve felt flat all day but the Weddos have given me a lift.

Saturday 29 September

It’s late morning on the South Morang Line and I’m carrying out my Saturday morning ritual: Flanagan, Baum, Coodabeens. The carriage is half filled with excited flocks of Hawks and Swans, sitting happily together. The good will most footy fans demonstrate towards each other is something I love about our game. Footy fans keep it in perspective.

The ‘G car park is alive with barbecues, beers and pre-game cheer. At the 3AW marquee, Matthew Lloyd is doing what he loves best – talk about himself.

I take my seat front row, top deck, just right of centre wing where I’m joined by Litza and Shans, another Warrnambool mate. Litza grabs a coffee to fortify against the cold wind while Shans prefers hair of the dog.

On the ground, sponsors are claiming their pound of flesh. It is terrible. Cheapening. Like a tired beachside carnival at the end of a wet Summer. The ground announcers, two idiots with microphones, should be charged with noise pollution. Only the sprint, retiring players’ motorcade and Paul Kelly resemble a genuine grand final build-up.

We’ve all gone for Sydney. I think they’ll win. John Longmire has brought outside run to their high contest, defensive style. Sydney can score quickly and heavily and they’re playing better right now. Sydney plays finals footy every week.

I’m not convinced by Hawthorn. Their defence is shaky and onballers a bit slow. But bloody tough, like Sydney’s. The preliminary final worried me. Adelaide cut them open too easily and they took a half to get going. Having said that, Hawthorn has the game winners in Buddy and Rioli. And if it goes to the wire, they could be the difference.

The game starts and I’m interested in watching the warriors: Sewell, Mitchell and Hodge for Hawthorn; Bolton, O’Keefe, Roberts-Thompson and Shaw for Sydney. It’s cold, wet and blustery – these blokes will be crucial.

Sewell is one of my favourites. He scrapes across the ground, shovelling the ball out, throwing it on his foot. They say modern footy produces robots: tall, lean, swift, skillful. Sewell is something out of the ’50s. He was superbly tough either side of half-time against the Cats in ’08 and should’ve won the medal. Hodge got kicks late and they gave it to him. Like Sewell, Hodge and Mitchell go in and get it.

Today, they play like they always do. Sewell is probably best on ground and could’ve won the game for Hawthorn in the end. Hodge commits his body but is unfit and on and off with a cut to his eye. His influence is not as great. Mitchell gets his standard 30 touches and is important.

Bolton epitomises the Swans: proud, dogged, reliable. He has bought into the Swans culture like no other. He played the ’05 final series with a broken jaw but told no one and gave no ground. The Swans have built an era around Jude and O’Keefe who has fifteen tackles and wins the medal. LRT fills holes all over the ground. But he’s more than that, he is effective. His courage is matched by skill. Shaw was sacrificed at Collingwood for his more talented brother and Didak. He has blossomed away from the Collingwood glare and today writes his own history.

There’s Malceski who kicks Sydney’s first and last goals; and McVeigh who kicks a clutch goal against the trend late in the third; Hannebery’s courageous mark.

I watch Jetta closely. In a team of hard heads he provides something different. He wouldn’t have lasted under Roos – too flashy. But he provides the outside run that has made Sydney better.

Small, a little shy, a lot cheeky, Jetta is like Omar, a Grade 6 boy I taught early in my career who, like a lot of his classmates, was born in a refugee camp. He and his mate loved the Blues and Kouta, in particular. They enjoyed giving me a hard time as well. This was 2002, and the boys wanted to know why The King left Arden St. Well boys, he, um, aah, didn’t appreciate what he had, um, aah. Um. Books out.

In the first quarter, Jetta lights up the game with a run up the outer wing. As the match progresses, he catches Hawthorn on the break, the crowd rising each time he gets the ball. In the last quarter he doesn’t go hard enough at a contest but later commits his body, forcing play forward to Hannebery who goals.

Hawthorn produces two brilliant bursts for the game. Buddy, Rioli, Sewell, Mitchell are involved. It’s not enough. Sydney is relentless for four quarters.

Sunday 30 September

The Peace March starts its slow, silent journey down Sydney Road. There are families, couples, grandparents, skateboarders. Some carry flowers, others wear footy scarves and Irish rugby jumpers. A few shed tears. We pass fruit and veg markets, halal bakeries, Indian video stores, the Salvos and trendy cafes. Onlookers stare; some join in.

A marcher is asked to put away an anti-Tony Abbott sign. This is neither the time nor place for anger. Today is a peaceful, yet definite statement.

From the top of the hill the march stretches like a river through a gorge all the way to Brunswick Road. Authorities have not anticipated the size of the crowd and Sydney Road remains open with northbound traffic and trams creeping by.

We pause at the Hope Street corner and then fifty metres further along outside the boutique where Jill Meagher was last seen on cctv. Both locations have become shrines.

When Eloise decides she’s had enough, we turn the pram around and push back up the hill as the sun appears for the first time for the weekend. As we pull into the drive, kids are having kick-to-kick in the street and Eloise is making farting noises. Things are ok.

Comments

  1. Andrew,

    I will probably be pilloried for my view but in the randomly opportunistic predator’s case I would never ever be able to find an excuse or any minute grain of forgiveness.

    I know that area and have a 29 year old daughter who has, untill recently, lived in and around it. Even from my distance I have been deeply touched by the matter.

    As a parent that is not what I would expect for any of my, or other people’s, children. Am I wrong for taking that attitude?

    Sorry, but ‘Solient Green’ is the answer.

  2. Wonderful piece. Thanks Andrew. You astutely capture the significant elements of the GF.
    Phantom – I agree with your loathing, but these things can only be identified in retrospect. One minute a mischief; the next a monster. How many teeter on the edge but never jump the gap to monstrous?
    Never to be released is my only response. Otherwise we all descend to his level. Revenge has no practical deterrent effect. It sates our righteous (and rightful) passion, but in the end only diminishes us.

  3. Andrew Starkie says:

    Ta Peter. I couldn’t ignore the context in which the gf was played this year. It’s the ultimate debatable topic, isn’t it. Yep, i don’t think he’ll see the light of day again if found guilty. Hope you got the point I was making in the end that footy and family are cornerstones in life that keep us on track and give faith..

  4. In light of the Jill Meagher tragedy it woud be remiss of me not to mention the Annual White Ribbon Day march on Friday 23/11. A day when men stand together publically to say a big NO to voilence against all women. Talk it up amongst your mates, and your sporting groups, organise an activity @ work; we are . Remember White Ribbon Day November 23/11.

    Glen!

  5. Lord Bogan says:

    Beautifully written Starkie. The Weddos give me a lift too when needed. At my wedding in Greece, I played Roaring Days and the relos joined in to form a circle and dance a three step. They didn’t understand the words, but quickly engaged with the rhythm and spirit of the song.

  6. Andrew Starkie says:

    That’s what the Weddos do, Philo – make people feel good. I read a quote once: ‘if the Weddos sold meat pies at their gigs, they’d be better than footy’. Praise doesn’t get higher than that.

  7. Paul Spinks says:

    Andrew …well done for tying two such contrasting events and making it work. The reasons you offer for the public reaction are all accurate. I’m of the view it’s also an emotion that’s been building for some time and Jill Meagher’s death is a catalyst. Something positive can come out of the tragedy if we don’t forget what moved people to march, though.

  8. Mark Doyle says:

    The Jill Meagher murder should be a reminder that we in Australia do not treat women equally and with respect. Australia is a society which is dominated by a masculine philosophy and is anti-feminist and a significant number of men are mysoginist. This murder also reminds me of the murder of Phil Cleary’s sister and his campaign to eliminate violence against women. There is also a significant issue of domestic violence against women and children in this country.
    Notwithstanding that the bloke who has been charged with Jill Meagher’s murder may serve a very long jail sentence if convicted, I believe that a mature society should be able to forgive if people acknowledge their misdemeanour and happily serve their penalty and are rehabilitated.
    I also believe that the underlying reason for the anti-feminist culture in Australia is the lack of knowledge and understanding of moral philosophy and ethical behavior. The dominant philosophy in Australia is masculine secular materialism and individual male needs prevailing over female, family and community needs.
    I wonder how many men in Australia have read and understood classical feminist literature such as the Jane Austen novels, Simone De Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ and Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’.

  9. Mark,
    Check the alleged perp’s record. The problem with forgiveness is it can put a ghoul on the street at midnight, which is a way of playing dice with innocent lives. Pride and Prejudice wasn’t going to help here. Some people are bad beyond Elizabeth Bennett’s powers of redemption. And misogyny is the insult de jour, but really, how many people do you know that hate women? I know none. Don’t pin this heinous crime on men. I might be flattering my acquaintances, but I guess if any man I know was present it wouldn’t have happened.

  10. Paul Spinks says:

    This is more than just an issue about gender, in my opinion anyway. I feel the concern is more about how Melbourne/Australia has been changing in relation to violence and personal safety generally. There are many reasons, but the march was a good way to start sending a different message.

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