The bye is a wonderful time for catching up with other people’s teams. A warden against complete parochialism. It’s a chance to walk in other supporters’ shoes. An empathy check.
During the weekend the Swans didn’t play, I was looking forward to talking up the battle of the Scots with my North loving barista. But he’d gone AWOL. It’s not the same waiting at the machine for the Swans loving brewer, indulging in a hagiographical repeat of your own teams’ last win. I counselled my Hawthorn friends through their re-introduction to losing. I took the weekend to congratulate my Tiger friends on Jack’s day out. I wrapped a gift for a customer in the gallery, up in Sydney from Melbourne for an anniversary weekend. A Collingwood supporter – but I still did a nice job – he’d sacrificed his first child, a fifteen month old son, to his father-in-law and soccer. Now that’s taking it too far. If I’d know he was going to be a boy I wouldn’t have done it.
Last Thursday, footy was back. And last Thursday I accompanied the Cygnet’s fourth grade class to the Botanical Gardens and the Hyde Park Barracks – the kids are studying settlement. I am a serial excursion parent helper. Some things in life seem particularly susceptible to a kind of amnesia. My nostalgia for that blissful feeling of escaping into the adult world, hand in hand with a school mate and not a parent – wildlife released from captivity for the day – repeatedly overrides my knowledge that for the grown-ups, most primary excursions are in reality 90% shepherding of children into single or double file.
As the Cygnet and I left for school, I called out to the Cob to remember to tip. Swans all the way, I called. Are you sure? said the Cob. We play terribly after a bye.
The day was perfect, on/off sunny, crisp, the odd tiny sprinkle crossing the city like stardust. At the gardens, education officer Shirley parked us in front of the Cadi Jam Ora, the First Encounter Garden. On the left hand side was a garden planted to look as it would have some 230 years ago on Cadigal land – strong limbed gums watching over grass trees, scrub, bracken ferns, golden banksia poking their heads up in varying stages of maturity, all of it copious and overlapping and effortless.
On the right hand side, a simulation of the first farm, a patch of all the things the settlers had brought to plant – guavas, figs, citrus, coffee, bananas, grains and cane, brought in hope from Europe and South America, unable to hold in the sandy soils of the cove, unable to fruit without the cold snaps of a northern winter. The plants sit now in an overattended bed, separate from each other, unincorporated. I felt the sense of effort of the settlers, misguided but brave, the disillusionment that must have threatened to swamp them so often. But far more keenly I felt the richness of that garden thriving on the left, the way the sun was shining off the spikes of the long grass trees, the resin within its leaves, yakka, something hard and enduring that can bind for a long long time. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Whenever I stand face to face with the holistic patience of traditional aboriginal life and its careful relationship to the uniqueness of the land on which it expresses itself, I feel moved by the profundity of the lost opportunity for this country to have been something far far more extraordinary from the very moment of its cultural collision.
An hour or so later we stood against the beautiful sandstone wall which tracks the harbour from Mrs Macquarie’s chair around to the Opera House. Brendan, our Indigenous education officer, told the kids that the land we were sitting on had in fact been sea, that it was reclaimed land, filled in and walled off. This never used to be Sydney Cove, he said simply. You know what this place was called? he asked them. Warrang. Can you all say Warrang? And the kids chorused after him, to which he cracked a broad grin and said, Deadly. You can all speak Aboriginal now!
Hot showered and feet up the Cygnet and I watched Thursday footy from the couch that night, while the Cob took off for the live game. We had TV dinner of posh pies and homemade chips in paper cups.
The Swans arrived so fiercely, it felt almost alarming. They were tuned, accurate, skilful in a way I had not yet fully come to notice this year. Watching felt like that state when you wake in the night and trundle through a dark house, put the hallway light on at some point, unable to open your eyes at first and then as you do, finding yourself dazzled by everything that comes into slow focus, even though you know it in the daylight as relatively normal. The Swans’ skill set was shining so incredibly brightly.
The in-tight handballs were perfectly aimed darts, so fast Geelong were spinning for looking and then the ball was gone. To size and strength and uncanny movement from the big men. Bird showed just how well that number 14 jersey is now fitting him. It was one of those nights; the tackles stuck, the kicks found their targets; the right place was the right time. And they didn’t seem to be trying at all. I could taste tears when Goodes kicked his first goal and his own wide smile cracked open the Aboriginal flag. He wasn’t done yet. Malceski looked like the pre-knee 22 year old, sweeping up all night exquisitely from half back. Was it premeditated that he managed to round up 37 touches on the night of blackfella shine? 37 years too since Geelong posted a smaller half time score.
The exciting thing for Bloods fans was that it looked like they could and would sustain it all night long. There was never that moment in the game when I need to walk away, stack the dishwasher, resume the knitting, clean the taps. Like the layers in that bush, each player seemed to have a perfect place to be, a perfect role to play and a keen understanding of how to maintain the whole. And the result was something vivid and bright, a powerful thing to watch.
There was beautiful Indigenous juju all over this match – 3 for Goodesy, 4 for Lance and Jetta’s boot on the end of that last contested score. John Longmire may have cautiously mentioned the word utopia in his press conference. But he stressed that the match came close, not because of any one player’s numerical cues, but because of the complete team effort. It may be a tool often touted by football teams and their spokespeople –look after your role, play for each other and the result will look after itself. Evidently there is truly something in it and the resonance rang deep in Indigenous round. Shirley had pointed to the Cadigal garden that morning and asked the kids if they knew what sustainable living meant and the Cygnet had answered: it’s when you keep something going so that it will keep going for you.
I went to bed that night and lay in my suburban darkness. The contract on our house is almost exchanged. I wondered what would have grown over the almost 300 squared metres of land which will somehow ‘belong’ to us. Cook’s River country is Black She Oak country, Hairpin Banksia, Kangaroo Grass … I imagined composting the agapanthus and the clivia and the green goddess lilies that run the side path of the house, and in their place planting back in the Warrabirra, the Pokulbi, the Kurwan.