Hangies and Rugby

Hangies and Rugby.

 

A few days of farm work and, somehow, cutting back from the coast and its relentless winds, I‘ve found myself in the back of a city, over a river and all the lights that frame it, drinking at a hangi with a group of Islanders. Most of them are from PNG and Samoa, in Tasmania for different reasons. There’s no light in the back yard, just the glow of the fire.

Ron is with me, and Ron’s girlfriend. He’s in and out of jail a bit, been charged twice for hitting cops, but has always greeted me fine.

“What’s the West Coast like?” he asks.

“Brilliant,” I say. “Was lost there for a week. It was like someone had watered the moon.”

“Well, fuck it. I guess that’s alright,” he concedes.

Ron and I worked together on the plantations, up on the Western Tier, banging trees into dust and rock, pruning third lift in the highlands, pushing through the snow. He kept threatening to come and play Ressies with my team, but never got there.

He’s hard and I like him, because, for all his bullshit, the bloke is real.

He bails up some of the Samoans, telling them, bragging, for the tenth time: “I paid eleven-thousand dollars for those…” before leering at his girlfriend’s tits.

She thrusts them out, proud as punch. The Islanders don’t know what to make of it.

I talk to a man from a village just outside Borneo. Or, for all I know, a town. He’s about 50, as tall as me, and seems to have a slab, built from time and life, attached to his chest and belly. Everything else about him looks strong.

His English is almost as bad as mine, so we try for Australian.

“Did you play sport, mate?” I ask.

“Yes, rugby” he says. “Union,” he adds. “A beautiful game.”

“What position?” I ask.

“Second row.”

“I play Australian Football,” I tell him.

A small Samoan laughs.

“My friend, when I first see that crazy game, with rugby and netball and soccer and everything just…” he laughs more. “All of it in Aussie football!”

They tell me one half of PNG plays Aussie Rules, the other side Union.

Then we’re talking injuries, and a handful of them badger me about using a witch doctor to fix my busted elbow.

“He will straighten it for you with herbs and leaves,” they tell me.

Then, it’s just me and the big man again. We talk a bit about Union. He loves its tactics, its honesty.

Its simplicity.

 

You invade the other mob’s territory enough, you win.

 

He represented his country, which, no matter the level, no matter the sport, no matter how few games, is superb. Always. He has played in the World Cup, in England, and lists the teams Papua, as he calls PNG, has beaten: Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, a few others. The teams they haven’t. Australia, New Zealand. And speaks of the Samoans, most of all, with awe.

“They are so big. We have skills, we are fast, but we push and push and push, and,” he lifts his head and looks around, “they have driven our pack back 50 meters.”

 

Ron’s being an obnoxious drunk by the fire.

“Don’t make me call you a black bastard,” he is growling, full volume, at an ex-PNG policeman, who keeps walking away from Ron’s stories to replace my empties.

“That bastard can get his own beers! I can get my own damn fucking beer!”

It bristles some of the mob, and passes right through others. Most of them seem to know Ron, in his way, is angry because he hates seeing anyone serve.

“Samoa…” the man I’m talking to repeats, with envy.

 

But it’s him I’m envious of. Having toured the world, yet, more so, the Islands. Knowing, through Rugby, the cultures around him, their differences, while sharing a common, physical language.

I ask him what it was like representing his country at home? His face develops the fiercest pride. His bald head falls away from me. His typical PNG moe, the small crowd, starting to get drunk and sloppy, everything falls. All I can see, in the dark hangi glow, is a mighty smile, and the most brilliant sparkle in his eyes.

He doesn’t have the words for it. Not at all.

I leave it out there.

“The noise of that crowd…” he finally says. “The noise…”

 

It’s not fair. I’m insanely jealous.

 

Comments

  1. Mate. We are putting a hangi down next weekend in the desert!

  2. Matt Zurbo says:

    Man, can’t

  3. Matt Zurbo says:

    BELIEVE I’m not over there!
    How’s the footy comp? Send photos of the hangi!

  4. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great stuff Zurbs. Great stuff

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