Familiarity brings comfort, even if that comfort is sometimes rudely interrupted by gravel rash.
I’ve played netball at the McDermott Avenue courts in Mooroolbark (way out in Melbourne’s east) for the past 13 years. In that time, I’ve finished primary school, graduated from high school and scraped through my undergraduate degree. I’ve played inter-school netball, after-school netball, in-school netball (the best kind; missing a whole day of classes to play tournaments at the State Netball and Hockey Centre), mixed netball with cousins on a Sunday night, and mixed netball with strangers-turned-friends during lunchtimes at uni. Regardless of the netball I’ve played during the week, every Saturday from mid-March to mid-December I’ve been pounding the asphalt in Mooroolbark.
I’ve jarred fingers, potentially fractured a thumb (probably should have got that x-rayed), torn ligaments and utterly destroyed cartilage. I’ve bruised bone, spent months on crutches and somehow managed to bizarrely split a tendon lengthways in my lower leg. I’ve had gravel rash and blood noses, and more scratches from supposedly short nails than I can count. I even managed to get a concussion while watching a game when my head got caught between a ball flying in from another court and a concrete shelter wall.
I know every inch of the ten courts. I know the locations of the tar-filled cracks that melt when it gets above 25 degrees. I know which court corners run downhill, and exactly when to give up on chasing the ball when it’s running down said hills. I can judge exactly at what angle to run at so not to crash into fences that are uncomfortably close to the edges of the courts. I know which end of each court is best to umpire (99% of the time it’s the end with less room for over-enthusiastic and under-informed parents), and the combination of clubs that will result in flying elbows at centre passes.
But this year will be different. After a rumoured 20 years of discussion, the Lillydale (for some reason it’s spelt with two Ls) and Yarra Valley Netball Association are moving to brand new courts at Pinks Reserve in Kilsyth. While the carpark will be as diabolical as always (a turnover of a new game every 40 minutes will do that), the courts themselves will be 100% better. There’s more of them and a new surface for a start, and room for umpires to move round the corners without running the risk of losing an eye from a spectator’s umbrella. The office and umpires’ room are double the size of the old ones. Most importantly for a complex that hosts more than 220 teams every Saturday, there are more than four female toilets.
So come mid-March, it will be weird taking a new route to netball after 13 years. All the clubs will be there, stretching from Seville and Yarra Glen to Wonga Park and Croydon Hills. Carmel will be in the canteen presiding over the steamed dim sims and making nachos, Carol and Gibbo will be sitting at the umpires’ sign-in window and sending lost parents looking for scoresheets to the office, where the committee will be tinkering with the grading fixture. I’ll be playing against girls I’ve opposed since I was nine, and umpiring clubs whom I could recite alphabetically with my eyes closed. All the familiar elements will be there, but in a strange environment. But I’m sure over time I’ll come to know Pinks Reserve as well as I knew the Mooroolbark courts. And I’m sure that when that time comes, once again there’ll be jolts disrupting my sense of familiarity – but I’m just glad that it won’t involve picking gravel out of the palms of my hands.