AFL Grand Final: Daydream Island

Our kids are eleven and fourteen, so my partner and I realise time is running out to have contented kids on a family holiday, so we throw caution and common sense to the wind and travel up the coast of Queensland. First we visit an old friend in Manly, Brisbane. She works in wildlife and tells us of going to the 4,000 people rally protesting the dredging of the coast along the Great Barrier reef, so Gina Rhinestone’s tankers can make money faster. None of the papers covered it. One news channel covered it briefly 2 days later. It feels like the gates are closing shut on truth in this, given a helping hand by our willing media. Our friend is so depressed and at a loss, she confesses to being nervous that she would be too boring for us. I assure her that she is, but we’re great at covering our true feelings.

The laundry basin in a flat we stayed at in Woodgate blew a washer, so we asked a neighbour for help. He told us the location of the only hardware store and added the owner of the flat was tight, and hoped she’d go back to bloody Melbourne where she came from. In my country, people take offence because you live on the other side of random lines drawn on an island; prejudice seems to be at the core of our identity.

We stay at a farm in Dayboro to visit a farmer whom my wife edited his books. A hard old bloke in his mid sixties, this rough hewn farmer was part of a family owned timber mill. He got a brain tumour a few years back that was removed, but suddenly found the need to express himself artistically. To express art do we have to remove the poison of our mundane lives? Metal sculptures of goats and horses put together from springs and miscellaneous farm machinery off cuts scatter his farm. He takes us up to a lookout for a breath taking view of the Glass House Mountains which rise like giant bush covered fingertips from the flat earth. A gold Rolls Royce Silver Shadow rolls up and out pour two large Islander couples. They pose in front of the spectacular vista and cack when the guy with the camera tells them to pull their guts in for the photo. Later after a true country dinner of homemade meat pie, mashed spuds and country hospitality. The farmer pushes his 30 year old son to tell the joke involving an Aboriginal, a flat tyre and a brick. I smile politely. The farmer asks his son if he knows any other jokes. My 14 year old boy pipes up with straight-faced naive politeness, “Yeah, and any that aren’t racist?”

Later in the week we see whales lifting their bodies out of the water a kilometre away on the Barrier Reef and the Chinese tourists on our boat give them a round of applause. It’s like watching Brian Taylor and Plugger do a ballet; their power leaving us in awe. I’m not from a beach background, even being from Perth, as the local pool in black footy shorts was how we cooled in summer; so the sea has always seemed merciless and powerful to me. I swim with the kids, but my feet never leave the ground, however I venture to snorkel the Barrier Reef, seeing turtles, neon coloured sea life and a fish the size and width of a flat screen television. The natural wonders floor me, but still the fear of Spielbergian seaweed and massive dredging prey on my mind.

Grand Final day I find myself in the town of  Seventeen Seventy; the place where captain Cook first landed in Australia. I imagine this must be one of the few places in the world named after a year, but I live in a world where football teams are named after days of the week.  1770, when the first boat people landed in Australia. The Aborigines didn’t put Captain Cook and his crew into a detention centre, in fact they probably offered them some grub; witchetty that is. Seventeen Seventy is a place steeped in history ; it’s Grand Final day and I’m in a place where Aussie rules footy is less significant than the wind speed in the area that may prevent snorkelling  on the Reef, but it’s all about history today. Would the Dockers create their history or the Hawks add to theirs?

The beach house design has the toilet and shower in the middle of the loungeroom/bedroom area; we’re a close family in a very literal sense. The Mrs hits the beach, the kids set up a video on the laptop and I settle to watch the game. People stand for the national anthem and I pine for the seventies when it was easy to tell the Australians in the crowd, because most of us didn’t stand for our national song. Nationalism and blind patriotism used to be the domain of the Yanks and we’d shake our heads in wonder at their love of country above all else, especially common sense, but their culture has flooded ours and we beat our breasts to the beat of the same drum these days.

The Hawks are on song themselves, but the Dockers are doing a “Greg Norman.” A great game of footy for the neutral observer (which is what the majority of us are counting on for the last game of the season) means I want to see two teams at the top or their game, but today only one is. I’m distracted by the glee on the opposition supporters faces at the mistakes of the one of the teams.  I wonder if prejudice runs so deep in our country we’ll take umbrage at another suburb. And yet maybe that is what this game is for? Is this where prejudice starts or is it where it belongs? On a very trivial and superficial level? A prejudice so silly it’s fun? The Dockers start playing by the third quarter and Bruce exalts “Does it get any better than this?” Yes it does Bruce. The Hawks win the game as the Dockers almost provide interest in the third quarter, but it’s all over. History has been made but I have hardly been involved. The highlight comes at half time when I make use of the nearby toilet. As I return to the couch my 14 year old son says, “Nice strong flow dad. You’re prostate should be fine.”

Later I read of the possible fifty boat people (their words), children amongst them drowning, and the most alarming bit of information is that distress calls from refugee boats go through the border security department for approval now. The sea is merciless and runs by a different law to the land. When someone is in trouble on the open ocean, everyone rushes to help, except in my country that must now wait for Government approval.

Our last stop is Magnetic Island. I sit on a porch with a beer, recovering from copping a toe in the eyeball from my boy in a round of pool hijinks. I wave to the Clown family from the back unit as they pass by, so named because my daughter saw so many people exit from the tiny flat she thought they looked like clowns alighting a clown car.  It’s been a time of insinserendipity all around me. I study my country across the beautiful merciless ocean and see a land of wonder and disgrace. I think of the ocean taking those lives and wonder if my country will ever care again? What would it take for people to empathise with these homeless ocean fodder? And I begin to daydream…

As all eyes in the West concentrated on the football at the MCG, the small island of Rottnest invaded Fremantle, devastating the port and cafe strip, hundreds fleeing on whatever boats they could find. John Bertrand carried 123 people on the Australia II, torn from its museum mountings and put to sea. The ragged flotilla rounded the southern coast of Australia and dropped anchor at Port Phillip Bay. The boats were refused entry until approval had been given by the AFL. Denied entry because they fell outside of the trading period, the ragged flotilla was granted sanctuary by New Zealand. A savage storm decimated the fleet on its perilous crossing, the Australia II sinking, drowning 52 men, women and children. The Australian rescue services were delayed, because the AFL was uncontactable as the senior administration was out of the country on a fact-finding tour. Sea rescue services were also hampered in spotting the survivors in the ocean. The Australia Government media release said it had nothing to do with the colour of their jumpers.

Comments

  1. Great piece Matt. I loved the last paragraph in particular. When is it scheduled for so I can be there to take pictures?

  2. Excrevation – digging your own hole to be covered in your own shit in. We wallow.

  3. I really hope that this was a tongue in cheek report, because if it wasn’t the previous comment that said “Excrevation” should read “excrement. Never as an almanac reader and contributor have I been so disgusted. And especially as an ex soldier I feel you have just downgraded me to nothing. Enjoy your life.
    Cheers.

  4. Wonderful piece Matt. It well captures the confusion and barely containable anger we feel towards our politicians’ uncompromisingly inhumane policies and the fourth estate’s complicit acceptance of these wrongdoings. The humour is a blessed relief, offsetting the stark and troubling times you portray.

    Cheers

  5. Thanks for your comments Peter, Gus and Rick, much appreciated. Wow Mick, excrement? My seemingly innate ability to offend never fails to surprise me. Cheers

  6. Matty. I didn’t agree with a lot of the more political/practical implications of your article. So I can understand where Mick was coming from. I did enjoy the humour and humanity in your piece.
    Why I don’t agree with the practicalities of your argument is not a matter for this forum, as it gets us into an endless is/isn’t dichotomy that only reflects our different perspectives – not who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
    I applaud you for stating your case with wit and passion. But I think it is good for all Almanackers to maintain their philosophical position, but not argue their political case. To do otherwise invites endless disputation and rancour. I think you observed those boundaries Matt.

  7. Thanks Peter, but have to disagree on a few points. Mark has used this bullyboy tactic in other forums and is the only Almanacker I know who signs off listing his old job. I had great trepidation in presenting this piece and my fears have proved correct. As you well know, as a writer you look for interesting ways to present what is essentially the same thing each time; a match report. The piece is relevant as Mark has proved because even on a football site, some people will hide behind nationalism to stop discussion. Writing is my art and no one messes with my art. I will write an article in any way I see fit or you can dock my pay. Not that I set out to piss off anyone with firearms training, but the pen is mightier….
    Matt Quartermaine
    Former Boans menswear shop assistant

  8. Fair enough Matt. As I said several times in both my comments, I enjoyed the wit and humanity of your piece at a lot of levels. Didn’t always agree with the political/practical implications, but that doesn’t make me right and you wrong – or the other way round.
    My ‘editorialising’ was not aimed at you, but making a general point for all of us contributors that there is a ‘line’. However ill defined, and we all need to be mindful of it. I don’t think you crossed it, but when we venture close to the line we invite brickbats and bouquets. You got more flowers than flamethrowers.
    My position is Voltaire’s – “I disagree with you passionately. But I defend to the death your right to say it.”

  9. Loved it, Matt, and agree with Rick’s comments.

    Mick, I respect your right to refer to this piece as ‘excrement’ but I’d be grateful if you could explain why it is so and how you feel it has downgraded you to nothing.

  10. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    This is a gripping piece of writing Matt. I’d also like to know why Mick felt downgraded. There are paradoxes and contradictions in every culture, every person and you’ve articulated the shadowier ones in this wonderful article. Sport will bring stuff we don’t want to face to the surface…eventually. The issue of what constitutes a national identity and what doesn’t needs to be discussed, especially on this site.

  11. Damian Callinan says:

    Brilliant work Quarters. Best review of the Grand Final [and the political climate it was played in] I’ve read

    Damian Callinan
    Warehouse Textbook Packer – Campion Books

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