Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games- Rd 13 cont.

ROUND 13 (continued)

Hawthorn versus Essendon

June 18th., M.C.G.

The week disappears faster than the smile on Mrs Averling’s face when I tell her she can’t have the swimming pool hotter than 34 degrees.  I keep the lid on my immediate thought, which is, then go and have a bath, darling.

At Wednesday’s morning tea in the lower terrace gazebo I put in a request for two days off, despite the fact that management is in the doldrums over Dustin Fletcher being suspended yet again.  Management puts personal tribulation to one side and agrees, and passes me the last scone on the plate.  “Drive carefully,” he says, when I tell him I’m going to check that things are okay at Tallerack. “And thanks for what you did with Mario and Francesca.”

“Francesco.  Fair dinkum, Thomas, I don’t know how you’ll cope without me.”  (Mrs Averling’s magic hands and Jonesy’s premium reds will each have a role to play.)

Later in the day, I buy and install a new battery in the Navara ute, fill a car fridge with food, stow my overnight bag under the tarp and as I’m washing the number plates – a promise I made to the highway patrol months ago – I become aware of a spectator.  Miss Rebecca is looking me over.

“Where you goin’?”

“Pay a visit to my farm.  Why?”

She sighs.  “Nothin’.”

I fling the last of the water over the rear plate.  “That’ll do.  I’m off.”  I gather the bucket and rags I’ve been using, and when I’ve deposited them in the storeroom, Rebecca’s where I left her, arms folded, gloomy face a whiter shade of pale.

“How long for?”

“I dunno.  Couple of days.  Maybe the weekend as well.”

“Can I come?”

Shit a brick.

“Look, I haven’t been back for . . . since just before I started my apprenticeship here.  And well . . . I might get emotional.  So I may not be the best company.  You know, moody, morose.  Male stuff.”

She straightens up.  “It mightn’t be a bad idea to have someone to talk to.”

Starve the lizards.  Rebecca the Riot as a soul-mate.

I shrug, resignedly, which is what shrugs are for.  “Go on, hurry up.  You’ll need plenty of warm clothes.”  She hurries off, and I call after her:  “And a decent pair of boots, or shoes . . . or something . . . ”

There’s not a lot of conversation between The Riot and myself as we shrug off the city and reach the freedom of the highway.  I sit on 100, so traffic flows by us and transports loom in the rear vision, sniff our backsides and slide past, rocking us in their slipstream and filling the cabin with diesel stench.  I’ve got Jackson Browne on the CD player, who gives way to Chris Smithers’ blues as we approach the turn-off.

I sneak a glance at her dozing self after I’ve moved to the right lane.  Her head is propped between the door column and the seat.  There’s more colour to her face now, and the harsher lines have softened.  Her lips seem fuller, glistening with a tinge of lipstick.

We turn off and do the dog-leg around Bill Farrall’s long-dead service station, killed by the free-way, with its rusting petrol bowsers and car-wrecks strewn among clumps of rushes, and hit the gravel.  This is where it gets personal.

Rebecca is upright now, tightening her belt, all-eyes, perched up like she wants to get the most out of the tour package.  I give her the benefit of a  commentary: “This place here . . . on your left . . . it’s owned by a wealthy German bloke, a breeder of thoroughbred horses . . . look at the stables, will you . . . and there’s a house like a castle through the trees . . . see it? . . . and this next place belongs to a retired airline pilot with the above-ground cellar – he grows his own grapes – then further up here on the right, down the gully . .  wait, there it is, they were busted for growing Mary Jane back in through the bush there.  Someone must have dobbed them in.”

But I run out of steam pretty quick, and we fall into silence because we’re in the foothills of the ranges and there’s hairpins, corrugations, potholes,  washes and, being late afternoon, always the likelihood of a ‘roo or wallaby  darting across the road.  I’m tense, and I’m driving the road like I’ve just shaken hands with a mate I once had a blue with.  We’re learning to be friends again.

Five hundred metres from our track, I nose the Navara into the side cut.  “Sorry.  I need just to sit here for a minute,” I say, and cut the motor.


“We’re nearly there.”

Rebecca sits with her arms folded for a minute then gets out and wanders ahead, beyond a clump of bush to where the road runs through cleared, open ground.  A flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos suddenly tumble above her, wheeling like idiots and letting rip with their razor-sharp, hysterical screeches.  They dip low, like they’re objecting to her being there, trying to spook her, and she cringes.  It’s only for a few seconds, and they’re off.  She cautiously straightens, and watches while the flock settles fifty metres away, dabs of brilliant white dotted along the dry limbs of a skeleton gum.

She hurries back to the vehicle.  “Very fucking funny.”  Her voice has a panicky shrillness.

“I’m not laughing.  Let’s go.”

We swing into Tallerack’s track.  “You’ve sorted yourself out?” she asks.  “You can face it?”

I can’t tell from her tone whether she’s taking the piss or not, but she solves the problem by giving my arm a quick squeeze.  We draw up in front of the house.  “Well, this is it.”

I unhook the tarp, and start hauling out the gear.  Meanwhile, Rebecca has fired up a cigarette, and is taking shallow, rapid puffs.  “You have to talk, idiot,” she says.

It shouldn’t, I know, but this annoys me, and I let her know it.  “Later.  Meanwhile, moody, morose – remember?”  I grab the car fridge and the nearest bag, which turns out to be Rebecca’s, and dump them with a resounding thump on the verandah.  I move to the door and wrench the handle until it dawns on me that I need the key.  It’s in a toolbox in the machinery shed.

My big scenes never work.

. . . / / / . . .

When the beeping alarm penetrates my sleep, I snap it off, sharpish.  Let the Socceroos and Serbia fight it out without me and The Riot being part of the global audience.  No-one will notice.  Besides, I’ve had a restless night.

After we’d eaten our steak and three veg and had rum and cokes as a nightcap, Rebecca insisted on sleeping in the guest room – despite it being as cold as charity and a day’s march away – in preference to me throwing down a single mattress next to mine.

Whatever gets her through the night, I guess.

I skimmed the surface of sleep for ages.  Fantastic adventures lobbed into  my dream-world: I remember a spectacular dance routine with Labrini in an olive grove with the rest of the troupe circling us, clapping time; I remember Mrs Averling diving into the Huntleigh Mews swimming pool which turned into a sheet of ice the moment she hit the surface; I remember playing centre-forward for the Socceroos against Serbia, Tim Cahill giving me a beautiful through ball, which I latch onto, a perfectly-timed run, but I blast my shot high and wide.  The ball keeps going and going, out into space, until it becomes part of the solar system.  Meanwhile, a new ball rolls onto the pitch, which Serbia pass around brilliantly and score.  I must have had this dream-adventure many times, because Serbia led 42-0 at one stage.

I came to, exhausted and perspiring, with a ghost standing at the foot of my mattress.

“What!  What do you want!”  I sat bolt upright, momentarily panicked.

“I’m cold,” Rebecca said, hugging herself.  “And there’s terrible noises on the roof.”

“What did I tell you?  Possums and koalas.”  I calm myself.  “You scared the bejesus out of me, you know that.”


“You look like the ghost of Banquo.  Or his daughter.”

By the time I had set up another mattress, put more wood on the fire, and had a leak, I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, plus I had Rebecca lying a metre away, giving me the evil eye because I wouldn’t let her share my mattress.  (I chose to ignore an uncomplimentary reference to my Greek friend, Latrine as she called her.  Tommy’s not the only one into malicious mispronunciation.)  Eventually I get back to sleep, and as soon as I do, I’m beeped awake.

“Oih!” I say, flinging my pillow at Rebecca’s head, and making the supreme sacrifice of crawling out from under my doona.  “Game on.”

I know I am not in a good frame of mind, and being half-asleep is only part of it.  My sporting psyche is still scarred from Fabio Grosso’s dive in the 2006 game against Italy, which we would have won easily from the penalty shoot-out, and probably gone on to win the World Cup.  For a while I boycotted all Italian products – which didn’t amount to any that I could actually identify, but it was certainly in my mind to do so should an opportunity arise.  (There aren’t all that many Italian-made sheep-farming products on the market.)  Four years later, the farce continues.  Tim Cahill gets a red card for a pussy challenge on a German player – who even tells the ref it’s not a send-off situation – and the Germans get another two goals after this, which basically wrecks out 2010 chances.  (Thanks ref.  Enjoy your guilty conscience.)    Finally, Mr Kewell gets a red card FROM AN ITALIAN REFEREE (Roberto Rosetti, more Italian than pizza) for not getting his arm out of the way from a blast of a shot from Ghanaian Johnny Mensah.

I remember all these names from the Socceroos’ Hall of Shame.  They’re tattooed on my brain-space.

Me and The Riot set ourselves up for the match.  (I’ve dug out one of Linda’s dressing-gowns for her, five sizes too big.  She’s swimming in it.)  We drag the couch closer to the fire, manoeuvre the television to the right angle and, brew some milo and wait for the next bizarre refereeing decision to kill off Australia’s chances of making the Final Sixteen.

“I’m so glad I am not passionate about soccer, like I am about Aussie Rules” I tell Rebecca, who’s sitting lotus-style, her milo cup disappearing under the sleeves of the gown.  “You know, there are that many weird decisions made by referees, especially against Australians, and the decisions are so . . . so . . . crucial.  They make or break a team’s chances, they determine the outcome.  Like, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.  Cahill’s tackle was yellow-card worthy, at worst.  I’ve seen heaps of worse tackles just get a free kick . . . ”

“Can we have the sound up, Mr Rabbit?”

“Why are you always so interested in what I have to say?”

“I am.  But the game’s about to start, and I know less about soccer than you do, and I need the commentary.”

I use the remote.  “What about the vuvuzelas buzzing in your ears?”

“Just ignore them, Grumpy Bum.”

But I want to bring my argument to its devastating conclusion, even if I have an uninterested audience.  (It’s my house and she’s sitting on my couch, so I will.)  “Just one more point, Rebecca.  The umpire awarded Hawthorn’s Beau Muston and absolutely undeserved free kick right on half-time last Friday night, absolutely undeserved, but while it was a disgrace, it didn’t change the course of the game.  He got an undeserved goal from it, but it got lost in the rest of the game, all the scoring and . . . all the other undeserved free kicks Hawthorn got.”

“Will you shut up now, Rabbit-o.”

Serbia could easily have scored three times in the first half-hour, which doesn’t improve my frame of mind.  They’re getting more good balls in, often from the right.  There’s a blonde bloke who’s running up and down along the top of the screen who looks to be cutting us up badly.

“What’s the blonde bloke’s name?” I ask, but Rebecca can’t pronounce it.

We’re chasing tail again, and the red-shirts starve us of possession.  How I hate this beautiful game.  It’s nil-all at half-time, and the SBS commentators reckon it’s an okay position for Australia to be in.

Not that they have much choice.  I just wish they’d attack more.  Go for it.

The second half starts with yellow cards to Neill and Wiltshire.  Here we go, we’ll be down to ten men soon.  The refs have had a chat at half-time, and decided that’s the way to go.  (Australia should be pretty good at playing with 10.  They get enough practice at it.)  At 52.57 on the clock a shot from Serbia flies over the crossbar.  It’s only a matter of time before Mark Schwarzer is hauling the pill out of the back of the net.  My guts are knotted.  I’m brutally monosyllabic with Rebecca.

The blonde bloke is still a handful.  Who’s on him?

A yellow card to a Serbian midfielder.  Seeing is believing.

Hang on, something’s happening.  We’ve thrown caution to the wind, and we are in full attack mode.  Two substitutions: Scott Chipperfield, which is good because I like the sound of his name – in another era he would have been an explorer –  and Brett Holman who scored against Ghana, so he gets my vote, too.  We’re passing the pill around snappily.  There’s an urgency over there in Nelspruit, and about time too, Pim.

There’s an urgency here in Tallerack, too.  Two urgencies, in fact.

Hello, the blonde bloke is being substituted.  Yes, I thought that would happen.  He’s tired.

Emerson gets a yellow card.  Here we go . . . actually no, thanks to the commentators explaining that to me, I can see that one was deserved.

We go forward again, long ball in, Moore’s up for the header, so’s Timmy Cahill . .  GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Text-book header from the boy.  Punch that flag, Timmy.

I get up and punch my own imaginary Tallerack flag, really give it a hammering, then I fling a cushion at Rebecca for a direct hit in the bread basket.  She laughs, and flings it back, missing me by about a metre.  (It nearly goes in the fire.)

“Another milo please, waiter,” I yell, roughing her rat’s nest of hair.  “Plus toast and marmalade.”

“Piss off.”

There’s a corner to Serbia, and I stave off another gut-bomb of anxiety, but we clear it with a huge amount of willpower on my part.  (I’m giving it everything I’ve got.)  Here we come forward again, Mr Holman . . . too far out . . . don’t shoot, you’re too far . . . oh, what a waste of an opportunity . . . wait for support . . . ohmygawd HE’S DRILLED IT!!!


I’ve got a bit confused with the figures, but I think we need to win 7-0 to get to the Final Sixteen, so when they get one back I’m pretty relaxed, and . . . oh, god, not another Serbian goal coming up . . . no, it’s off-side, any mug could see that.  Well done, linesman.  Keep up the good work.  That’s it.  The Uruguayan ref has his arms aloft, thanking Santa Maria that it’s over.  The end of the penny-section for the land down under, and not one red card to their credit.  (The ref will be reprimanded for that.)

We’re out of Africa, but pride in the nation has been restored and The Riot has leapt off the couch, stumbled on the train of her dressing-gown, and is threatening to cook breakfast.

It’ll probably be burnt toast, not enough marmalade and dressing-gown threads, but I don’t care.  Pride has been restored.

. . . / / / . . .

I spend most of the morning across the road shooting the breeze with the Carters, hammering out where we stand with each other.  They’ve supervised the lambing on Tallerack, they’re keeping the place ship-shape and they’ve got some of their own cattle agisted.  I’ll be back on deck in September.  Everything’s hunky-dory.

When I get back, Rebecca is still in the gown of the year and glued to the television.  “Hey, Rabbit-o, we’ve got a new prime minister.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  I’ve been out of the news-loop for a couple of days, save for AFL and World Cup news, and this coup has been an overnight sensation.  Rebecca’s pretty happy with Ms Gillard taking over, but I am uneasy about it, given Kevin07 is the elected boss and he should  see out his term.  However, I’m also relieved because the little nerd has been barking at the moon for some time.

Anyway, I’ve got more important things to do, than concern myself with federal politics.  I order The Riot away from the tele and into outdoor gear.

I take her over to the Carters where she helps bottle-feed some lambs and calves.  (She comes to a quick understanding of scours when a calf opens the chute and craps over her lower leg.)  Then she helps me with some jobs, like re-straining wires on the fence around the house, feeding out pellets to the sheep and cleaning up a fallen tree behind the shearing shed.  She pitches in, throwing herself into the jobs where she can.  (I draw a line at letting her loose with the chain saw.)

Next we fire up the motorbike and ride down to Jack’s Corner, a stand of natural bush me and Linda fenced off at the western end of the property.  We scramble down the gully through towering stringybark and messmate, and potter around the creek at the bottom.  I’ve seen a platypus here once or twice, but there’s nothing doing today.

Back at the ranch, Rebecca is keen to ride the motorbike on her own.  I take her out to the back paddock – treeless – point out the basics, set her off in first gear with me striding along beside her.  She changes into second, wobbles like an idiot but stays upright, and I have to jog to keep up.  She’s running out of clear ground and I’m running out of puff, so it’s looking like a collision with the rushes.

“Turn around!” I yell.

She maintains her line.


Maybe I should have spent more time on turning.  The bike lurches into the biggest clump of rushes on the farm, rolls over and stalls.  Rebecca does much the same, tumbling clear of the bike into one of the seepage courses that wander down from the spring at the top of the paddock.  She gets wet and muddy, but it’s only down her left side.

“Fuck it,” she yells, then bursts out laughing.

She wants to keep going.  This time I ride pillion and bark instructions in her ear.  We go round and round in circles in the paddock for ten minutes, then we do figure eights, while she gets the hang of steering.  Then she gets a bit of speed up and heads for the gate.

After that, I sit on the verandah and watch her.  Goodness knows how many times she rides down to the road and back, and she’s still doing it, having a ball, and I’m relaxing, happy she’s enjoying herself.  She’s got her confidence up now, and is looking like she’s been on a bike since she was a kid.  I know where she is by the noise of the motor – it recedes as it meanders down the track into a short period of silence when it turns at the road – and then I catch its putt-putt-putt and follow it back to the house, up past the hay-shed, a little spurt of acceleration over the culvert, around the sweep of a bend and I can judge almost to the second when it will come into sight.

I must have drifted off, briefly lost my connection with the here and now.  The bike noise brought me some of the way back to the real world, because I jump up and peer through the few sticks of timber to where it will appear.  Without warning, I am waiting for Linda to arrive back from the Carters, and I start flapping my arm around and feeling all excited, until it dawns on me where I am, and it’s Rebecca I’m waving to, and the sobs spasm through me, racking my guts and chest till it hurts.

. . . / / / . . .

Saturday disappears like the wombat down its hole at Jack’s corner.

After tea and before the St.Kilda – Geelong game, I suggest we do a bit of spotlighting around the house.  Rebecca shrugs, says she doesn’t know what spotlighting is, so I get Dad’s shotgun from the locker in the garage.  It’s a single-barrel blunderbuss that looks like it could have done service in the Boer War.  I show her how it breaks, how it loads, the safety catch and I get her to tuck it hard into her shoulder and sight it.

That pretty much drains me of my knowledge of shotguns.

“Let’s see what’s around,” I say.

We head out towards the shearing shed, Rebecca with a massive torch in both hands, the beam jerking wildly around, often like a searchlight.  I tell her rabbits live on the ground, and could she direct the light there.

“Okay, smartarse, I was looking for the koalas and possums that keep me awake.”

“We’re not allowed to shoot them.”

We walk down the track towards the road.  The torchlight doesn’t stretch far, but we do catch a glimpse of a fox, the glint of light reflecting from its eyes before it melts away into the darkness.  When we turn back, Rebecca nails a rabbit with her light next to the hay shed.

“Aren’t you going to shoot it?” she whispers.



“Because it’s sitting in front of the tank.”

I eventually get a shot in at the back of the shearers’ quarters, and enough pellets stop the unluckiest rabbit in the world.  Rebecca has lurched away from the roar of the gun, covering her ears and dropping the torch which bounces onto the grass.  We fossick for it, and I shine it on the twitching, wounded rabbit.  I wring its neck, and throw it into the darkness.

“That was it.  We won’t get another shot in.”

Back on the verandah, I ask her if she wants a shot.

“No way.  You cruel bastard.”

We settle in front of the television, while the rain settles in outside.  Rebecca says Geelong will win by 9 points, I predict 23 points.  When I hear that it’s been raining for four hours at the “G” I ask to change mine to 13 points, but the adjudicator won’t accept a late revision.

Instead, I’m told to open another bottle of red.

We’re dog-tired, full of cassoulet, broccoli and shiraz and can’t quite get serious about the game.  (It deserves to be taken seriously.  It is one playing two on the ladder: it doesn’t get more serious than that, does it?)  We babble on about “stoppage footy”, “first possession footy”, who’s brought their ‘A’ game – Gary Ablett looks like he has, he kicks the first goal – who the ‘role players’ are, who’s keeping their opponents accountable, who’s doing the ‘lower entries’ into the forward 50, who’s got the ‘class execution’.

“We’re growing as a group, Mr Rabbit.  Wouldn’t you say?”

“You and me?  I’d say so, Riot.  Yep.”

“We’re folding back really well,” and she pushes me with her foot deeper into my corner of the couch.

St.Kilda win the quarter handsomely, locking the ball into its forward line, but end up a point down.  That’s football.  Another request to revise my prediction in favour of The Saints is refused.

“If St.Kilda is going to win, Rebecca, their small forwards are going to have to do better than they did in last season’s grand final.  Remember?  Stephen Milne and Adam Schneider kept missing gettable shots.  They kicked five behinds and missed a heap more . . . ”

“You’ve got verbal diarrhoea again, Mr Rabbit.”

The second quarter gets going, and the natural order is restored as Geelong take control.  Rebecca and me have a field day exchanging jargon like “play makers”, “pre-eminent midfield taggers”, “contested footy”, “choked in the back half”, kicking “laterally” and so on.

“Feel like structuring up to create a one-on-one, Rabbit-o?”

“No, thanks.”

“A bit fond of Miss Latrine, are we?”

“Her name’s L-a-b as in lab-oratory, rini, as in r-i-n-i.  Say, Labrini.  She was born in Flemington 39 years ago.”

“Wow, hot footy.  Don’t get snitchy.”

Selwood dominates stoppages, banging the ball forward time and time again.  Ablett kicks a sensational goal from the boundary at about the half-way mark to put the Cats 13 points clear and the writing is on the wall.  I announce that I’m going to hit the hay when Geelong kick their next goal.

At half-time, they’re 16 points up, a strong lead in these wet conditions.  We’ve run out of footy jargon, so fun time is over, and I’m not opening another bottle.  I stretch out on the couch, balancing my glass on my stomach, and close my eyes.  The fire and the wine have warmed me to the cockles of my heart.  Rebecca is on the verandah – I catch a whiff of her cigarette.  I’m thinking I might break my vow and join her but . . . I don’t.

I am wrenched out of my doze by a huge cannon-roar.  I instantly think: earthquake, and cover my head with my hands, waiting for the ceiling to collapse and glass splinters to fly.  Nothing.

I wait for a few seconds, heart pumping, head roaring.  I lift myself into a sitting position.  I have pissed myself – I am water-logged in the groin area.  I turn towards a movement at the door: Rebecca, ashen-faced, still holding the blunderbuss, cradling it in her arms like it’s a baby.

I’m on my feet.  “You fucking stupid idiotic bitch!!”

“I’m sorry.  I . . . I . . . ” she whimpers, then starts sobbing.

“Okay, okay.”  I move quickly across the room, take the gun from her and wrap an arm around her shoulders.  “You scared the crap out of me.  You should never use firearms when you’ve been drinking, or when it’s dark or . . . or . . . I just don’t understand them, even though I’ve lived in the country . . . sit down, come on.”

I put the gun back outside, and we flop back on the couch.

I say, “I thought I’d pissed myself, but it was the wine,” which sends us into a fit of giggling.

I look at her, shake my head and say, “Idiot.”


Now we both agree, we’ll get the mattresses out when Geelong kick their next goal, and listen to the radio commentary from under our doonas.  But they never get around to it, and we’re still lolling on the couch at the end of the game.  Geelong manage three points in two-and-a-half quarters of football, and The Saints win by 4 goals.

“Their small forwards,” I say, like a know-all.  “Schneider got 4, Steven 3 and Milne 2.”

“You told me so,” she says.

We pull the couch back, and get our beds organised.  When we’re settled, I ask Rebecca what she hit.


“What were you aiming for?”

“The tree.”

“It’s about a mile wide.”

“I’ll bet the birds pissed themselves, too.”

Then later, when I’m on the edge of sleep, I remember something I should have said earlier.  “I’m glad you came, Riot.”

She must be asleep, because I don’t think she answers.

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