Off Season Odyssey – Part 21: A Story-Teller’s Story Can Be A Beautiful Thing

 

A Story-Teller’s Story Can Be A Beautiful Thing.

 

Brucey Pascoe and I are sharing the pig skin. His hip’s stuffed, so he shows me his new kicking style. Flat-footed 20 metre bananas from the outside of his boot.

He finally retired last year at about 63years old. He’s all white hair and big beard these days, but was that when I met him, in Apollo Bay, 18 years ago. Even then he played a fair Two’s game, umpiring when his body wasn’t up to it. Staying involved.

Even if his first love was cricket. Then and always.

And his partner, Lynn.

And kids.

And the Aboriginal culture and communities he is a vital part of.

And his writing.

 

Bruce is a passionate man.

 

Not loud, never loud. Just a do-er, a believer. The best kind.

I’m doing a week of tree-lopping work for him and Lynn down in Gipsy Point, near Malacoota, a spectacular part of the world tucked in behind Gipsland’s mountains. Wide, glassy rivers filled with leaping fish and tree-covered islands, before running into inlets that back onto wild surf beaches framed by bays, dens and coves.

The tourists come and go in the one comic-book hub. When they leave the place is perfect. Timeless. It reminds me of Victoria’s West Coast twenty years ago. You go to find the plumber to ask him why he’s three days late on a job, and somebody points to his boat, out on a lake. They’re all like that. Because they can be. Because they should be, damn it! As if they’re doing it for all of us.

There’s just no rush.

It makes work a breeze. You build up a sweat and everybody wants a piece of you. Name your price.

Late at night, I swim just off his jetty. The water’s full of phosphorous. Each paddle, each drop, creates a brilliant lime green explosion across the water’s smooth, black surface. Thin, spreading bands of light. The fish glow as they dart beneath me at incredible speeds. Tiny insects land and lift from the water’s surface, creating starry pin-prick bangs everywhere. There’s no-one for miles.

 

I didn’t play much footy with Bruce, but coached his son, Jack. The kid was a bit pasty, a bit floppy, but has grown up and hardened up and has a red hot dip. Loves it.

And Bruce loves Jack with everything he’s got. It’s a beautiful thing.

“He’s back playing at the Bay,” he tells me. “Seniors these days. They’re struggling, but he’s doing his bit.”

I ask him if he got to play alongside his son in the Twos, when Jack was still a kid.

“Oh, yeah. Of course. Heaps. We never got that goal though. Pascoe to Pascoe! By the time he was good enough to dob them, the ball was no-longer coming to me on the wing.”

He turns it into a laugh, but it would have meant a lot, I’m sure. These things count. Are everything to passionate men.

Bruce tells me stories because I ask him to. Great stories. Writing’s just a by-product of them, I reckon. He is every bit a Yarn Man.

“When I was young in Melbourne, jeez, our team had some players! A lot of ex-VFL blokes. I would struggle to get a game, so decided, one pre-season, to shove it up them and have a run with Richmond. It was early in the year, recruits everywhere. No-one really knew anyone, so I just geared up and ran out. Barrott did a 70meter drop kick from the centre to me, like a bullet. Head height the whole way. It bashed straight through my hands. That was when I thought: ‘I’m out of my league here.’ The ruckman, Neville Crow was bending down to do up his shoe-laces, and I reached across and took one over him!”

“Did it end in tears?” I ask.

“Nah. I finished the session and never went back.”

From there Bruce landed a tenure teaching in Malacoota. He was in his footy prime.

“I got there, and I couldn’t believe it! No footy! Just soccer!”

There was a team, over the mountains, 90 minutes away, but Bruce is a loyal bloke. Wants to be knee deep in the place he lives. In its people and culture. There just wasn’t enough of a population there for an Aussie Rules club. The World Game only took eleven blokes and a ref.

‘So it was soccer for four years! Hated the game,” he says. “I’ve got no regrets, though. I met some great, rough fishermen, some good farmers. Great crew!”

And he tells me a story for each bloke, one sentence long, because, for a storyteller, that’s all it takes to nail it. He reels off characters, yarns. His craft is him, he is his craft.

“For the next six years I did no sport, other than cricket, of course. Then we met you some time after that, down at Cape Otway.”

Hell, it dawns on me, just like that, Bruce and Lynn gave me my start. Published my first ever short story. About footy, of course. He was the only writer I’d ever met. I had always assumed they’re all stuffed shirts.

 

We go in to watch the cricket. He hangs, literally, on every ball. Sits on the edge of his seat, comments on the good deliveries. Moans, groans at the close ones, leaps to his feet!

Lynn’s not into sport. Tall and graceful to match her smarts, she was a dancer in her day. Bruce slaps his hands at a wicket.

“You beauty!”

She rolls her eyes at me, with a smirk. I think she loves the way he loves it. She loves him.

It’s a beautiful thing.

I look at a photo on the wall of him laughing like a clown, shiny cricket shield in hands. The Malacoota mob have just won something. His figures, at 60-plus years old, read brilliantly. 4 wickets for 6 runs, or close to that. Lynn grinning in the background is what makes the shot.

‘I don’t know what I was laughing at. Everything. It was the most perfect day,” he says.

 

Right now Bruce Pascoe is in the middle of organising an annual game between the Blackfellas from the district, past and present, and another mob. A cultural reunion of some sort, built around sport. We talk about that, then this year’s Malacoota team.

“We lost yesterday. It is really bothering me. The boys don’t realise how close they are. How good they could be.”

I take a look at the shield victory photo. I see kids, and I mean kids, odd-bods, old Bruce. The local team from a very small town. Too many no-balls and wides. He just sees a contest. Cricket. His walls are peppered with it.

Him bowling, him grinning, him patting a 14 year old on the back as they walk off. Him and his mates. Images of wins and losses and doing and stats.

 

Of stories.

 

Time and again, of stories, of course.

My favourite photo is of the Apollo Bay 1st Eleven. They all have fake white beards on and are called Pascoe.

Ben Pascoe, Virg Pascoe, Phil Pascoe, Matty Pascoe., Toby Pascoe, so on. Bruce, even. I know every one of those blokes. Rough nuts to free spirits. If not for cricket they would barely know each other. Or Bruce.

That photo, too, holds more than a game. Is a story of his years there. Love, from them to him.

 

A beautiful thing.

 

Comments

  1. John Harms says:

    Thanks Matt and G’day Bruce (I hope you are reading this), Great to read a little more of you on our pages, thanks to Matt.

    Terrific to see your words being read all over the place. Also, instead of the default position of watching sport on TV, last Sunday I turned the TV on and there in front of my eyes, was your big beard. I listened and that was it: no chance of watching anything else. You were being interviewed on the documentary about Coranderrk and William Barak. What a story. I need to read more.

    Let us know if you are over this way. I’d love to have a beer and a yarn.

    I will never forget that warm and encouraging letter you sent me all those years ago.

  2. Jack Pascoe says:

    Because your description of the old man watching the cricket made me laugh hard, I will let the Pasty and Floppy comment slide.
    Good to read your words Turbo, see you when you’re back in the Otways, I’m short a few tree ferns.

  3. Skip of Skipton says:

    Keep ’em coming, Matt. Have you got a sign on your ute that says “will work for petrol money”?
    That’s inspired me to start organising my next camping trip. Sapphire coast area.

    P.S. Sean Dempster is a Mallacoota product. Probably the only one in AFL/VFL history.

  4. Matt Zurbo says:

    Jack! Yeah, thanks mate! Odyssey has taken me to Blackwater right now. Uzza sends his absolute best. Me too. Be fantastic to have that beer! Can’t wait to trade a few bush tips.

    Skip, man, thought about it! Especially when the bank balance got to 0.45c, but the challenge is to only use the footy connections a lifetime of playing has provided. Dempster can play.

  5. pamela sherpa says:

    Bruce sounds like a great character. Great pic. It’s a nice isolated part of coastline down there isn’t it ? Fair way away from Sydney and Melbourne. I admire you being able to write up all these encounters Matt ,especially after you’ve been to the pub and going off to work as well. It’s also great that you have so many footy friends that you still connect with- the wonderful thing about sport.

  6. Bruce and Lynne published my first stories as well. I wrote them on the boss’s time and posted them from the Smith Street Post Office in Collingwood and remember what a damn thrill it was when they were accepted.
    Where’s the equivalent of Australian Short Stories now? Where does a young writer send stuff?
    Pleased to hear they’re still laughing.
    Cheers, B&L.
    Anson.

  7. Damo Balassone says:

    Great to hear that the Storyteller’s story is a good one, Matt. I can’t remember the name, but I always loved his tale re the sheep slaughters in a little country town. A beauty.

  8. One more thought on Bruce and Lynne. Always a good idea when you’re a stranger at a party or pub to head for a couple in which the female is way more attractive than the male. (As in their case.) Then not only do you get to talk to a good-looking sheila, but you can bet the bloke is funny as hell. Because funny-as-hell is the most sure-fire way of punching above your weight.

    Though this advice is void when dealing with the rich, of course. I mean, Bernie Ecclestone ain’t no Bill Hicks.

  9. Pascoe and Zurbo, Zurboe and Pasco: what a combination, what a lark. What a laugh, what a beard.

    Flicking through some copies of Australian Short Stories I come across Beverley Farmer, Neil Murray, John Elder, Barry Dickins, Alan Attwood, Matthew Condon, Steven Carroll, Olga Masters, Elizabeth Jolley, Frank Hardy, Thomas Kenneally, Glenda Adams…not a bad line-up.

    Bruce Pascoe published two of my short stories way back. ‘Gave me, and many, many others, a start.

    Thanks Bruce, and thanks Matt.

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