I was driving through the back streets of Hobart yesterday, past the North Hobart footy oval. Maybe the most stunning, inviting ground in the world. Small and high, like an old brick tower, centered by the deepest green playing field. An open-doored coliseum – bring your kit bags and elbows, let’s eat the lions.
It is used for everything. A community privilege, shared with many sports and ages.
As I passed there was a mother bringing her boy to play in a school match. He was already out of the car, on the footpath, pretend-running in an arch, as if turning for goal, holding the ball with the grin of imagination and champions. There was no two ways about it – he was kicking the winner in his mind.
His grip was all wrong, the worst, I doubt he could play, but so what? His mum, still getting out of the driver’s seat, was watching him, big, smile pointed at his back. Glad her boy was happy. Proud.
My God, I thought. Do they realise how lucky they are? Do any of us?
This year I’ve seen things like this constantly, across the country, whenever my bush work allows. A painting of Jezza out marking Richmond in a pub, a view from a West Brunswick grandstand, as a Sunday social game was played under sweeping lightening storms.
A girl talking about footy to woo a boy.
Things as simple as a moment in passing, a kid in love with life and a leather ball. Our everyday. Our culture. That has not been swiped by soccer, as good a game as it is, or replaced by something loud and American, like our movies, food and language constantly are.
Something that is a part of us, as sure and simple as being alive.
I see it in footy cards in children’s hands, in billboards at the airport, in colours worn at parties, and decorations put on pies. In end-to-end kicks between shows at music festivals, and teenagers who can’t help but bounce the ball, even when trapped on traffic islands.
When I stalked and hung out with Malcolm Blight in Far North Queensland last year, I had one of the best chats, with one of the most genuine blokes I’ve met in my life. When I asked him, of all the amazing sports in the world, what makes Aussie Rules so special, he leaned into my personal space like secrets and the most rock solid of facts and said:
“Because it’s ours.”
Those five bouncing steps, that grin, were things of gold.