It’s Saturday morning. Melbourne is at its best; brisk and bright, covered by a blue skin with a depth that knows no end. Liam and I are dismantling the rabbit hutch and enclosure. Liam doesn’t want another rabbit. It’s not cool for a 15 year old. I get that. The frosty winter has been one too many for poor old Basil the bunny. We found him a few days back lying on his side, stretched out like he was in full stride, perhaps trying to flee when death came looking.
“Where did you bury him?” Liam asked me.
“Over there” I say, “under the jacaranda.”
It seemed the appropriate place to rest Basil, alongside countless goldfish who’ve gone to meet their maker. He loved nothing more than to nibble on the fresh early summer jacaranda shoots that we would break off and toss into his enclosure. In Melbourne the jacarandas defoliate in late Winter/early Spring as if inhaling a gigantic breath before the extraordinary flower burst that follows. Our jacaranda is taking that breath.
People are walking past our house on their way to the park opposite. The sun has brought them out, the aromas of a new season approaching. Refreshment, renewal. I love the sounds and conversations.
“Don’t cross the road until I get there” yells a mum to bushy haired children on bikes who are hurtling down the hill.
“……so I like, rang him up!”
“You rang him up?”
“Yep. And like, you’ll never guess what his excuse was……………………..”
Two young girls discussing a recalcitrant.
“Good day for it” says a bloke over the fence, thinking I’m gardening.
“Are you going to the footy tonight, Grandma?” asks a blond haired junior in his Hawthorn jumper. His footy is tucked under his arm.
“No”, says Grandma pushing a pram. “I’m going to sit at home and watch it.”
Phil and I have a chat over the side fence. Phil is a neighbour and Cats supporter. An old style Cats supporter; stained by the agonies of the 70s and 80s, brutalised by lost Grand Finals. Their recent success hasn’t completely vanquished his demons.
“Going tonight?” he asks.
“We can beat Hawthorn.” I say.
“Ahhhh dunno”, says Phil gently shaking his head. ” We haven’t been playing well.”
“But we keep winning.” I offer up.
It seems right that Geelong is playing Hawthorn as winter prepares to leave. The finals are in the next room, so close we can almost smell the pies. This game doesn’t mean too much in the greater scheme of the season, but it means an awful lot to this enduring rivalry. They will box each other tonight, probing for the weakness, searching for a way through. The scoreboard will tick over, but the real game will be in the contests; the shoulders smashing together, the pigskin on boot from 50 out, the dash into open space. They will look for advantage that can be applied tomorrow as well as today. Jab, jab, jab, duck, jab, jab. And when the siren sounds to end each quarter the coaches will wipe the blood from the players’ faces and ask, “So what have they got?”
And so it went. The game opened with tight, in-close work. Heads clashed but no damage was done. Suddenly the Cats landed a few crisp jabs with speed and skill and poise. Then Roughead landed two of his own. In the second stanza the Cats turned manic. Jab, jab, jab. They got inside the Hawks defence and split them open. Surely this is the best team in the competition? The Hawks were on the ropes covering up. Gunston landed one but Hawkins, Bartel, Thurlow, and Duncan cut the Hawks above the eyes. They were bleeding. But they hadn’t hit the canvas. To half time it had been a clean fight albeit a tough one; Famechon V Harada. After half time it would become a rumble; Ali V Frazier.
The Hawks regrouped. Refocused. And they pressed hard early in the third quarter. They squeezed Geelong into a corner and unleashed a frightful pounding. Jabs gave way to upper cuts and left hooks. Geelong’s collective head was being turned left and right as the blows landed. They were helpless; clueless. Blood spilt. In one quarter the Hawks landed six delightfully timed fists to the jaw. They hit the front. Dazed, flummoxed, disorganised and rattled, the Cats were saved by the bell.
In the last quarter it continued. Geelong supporters turned away as teeth and saliva and blood covered the ring. Someone stop the fight! The Hawks were relentless and vicious; marauding over Geelong like a victorious Ali standing over a fallen Frazier. Shiels and Ceglan landed the knockouts. Roughie and Hale turned the game from entertainment to a ghoulish spectacle. The Hawks kicked ten in a row. No one survives ten in a row.
The game ended. To their credit the Cats were still on their feet but had to be lead back to the corner; eyes swollen, nose flat, mouth distorted.
“We can win this.” They were slurring. “We can win this” as they staggered in mindless circles throwing punches at an opponent who was no longer there. It was sad to watch.
Geelong: 3.2 8.3 9.3 11.5.71
Hawthorn: 2.2 3.2 9.7 14.10.94
Hawthorn : Hale 3, Roughead 3, Langford 2, Breust, Ceglar, Gunston, Shiels, Sewell, Lewis.
Geelong: Hawkins 3, Murdoch 2, Thurlow, Taylor, Motlop, Bartel, Selwood, Duncan.
Hawthorn: Langford, Ceglar, Lewis, Roughead, Hale, Mitchell.
Geelong: Duncan, Stokes, Caddy, Guthrie, Enright.
Umpires: Rosebury, Stevic, McInerney
Our Votes: Langford, Lewis, Ceglar