My favourite drop-kick. Part two

Who were you, Philip Hodgins, and how many poems about drop-kicks did you write?

Was it just the one, the one that begins The noblest Kick that ever left a boot, or were there others?

And what prompted the poem, Philip? Was a particular drop-kick on a particular day the catalyst for your poem? Was it Richmond’s Fred Swift kicking out from full-back? Or his team-mate Billy Barrott goaling on the run? Was it Essendon’s Barry Davis setting up an attack from half-back?

Or did a bloke from the bush send the Sherrin a country mile? Maybe it was one of your own drop-kicks.

Who did you play for, Philip Hodgins, if anyone? Who did you barrack for? What colours did you believe in?

Reading your ten-page booklet, A Kick of the Footy, (published as a ‘promotional pamphlet’ in 1990 by Angus & Robertson), I guess you barracked for football itself. Old-time football. The torpedo, the stab pass, the drop-kick. Even the place-kick. The type of footy that in your childhood was fading away.

Who were you, Philip Hodgins? The six-line bio at the front of A Kick of the Footy tells me you were born in my year, 1959, and in my month, January. You grew up on a dairy farm in Katandra West, in northern Victoria. You’d had three books of poetry published by 1990, a pretty fair effort for one just on 30 years old.

The slightly longer bio at the front of the 1999 edition of your sixth book, 1994’s Dispossessed, tells me your reputation had travelled far and wide, with poems in The Paris Review, the New Yorker and the Times Literary Supplement.

The bio also tells me you died in 1995, just 36 years old, leaving behind a widow and two daughters.

I’ve only read two of your works: A Kick of the Footy and Dispossessed, a 100 page verse novella that is a moving account of a family about to be evicted from their farm.

It’s time I read and learnt more.

The web tells me you were one of the finest poets of your generation. Nine books all up. Ten if you count the footy poems. The books are probably all out of print. Poetry’s about as popular, about as mainstream, as drop-kicks these days.

You won several poetry awards and after you died an award was named in your honour. The first recipient was my teenage inspiration, Bruce Dawe.

The web tells me your work and papers and correspondence can be found at the University of New South Wales Defence Force Academy Library in Canberra.

You corresponded with quite a few poets of course, including Peter Rose, the brother of Robert Rose, the author of Rose Boys, the surviving son of Collingwood legend Bob Rose.

Did the two of you talk footy much at all? Or was the game just a footnote in your writing careers?

The web shows me you once had a full beard and a decent head of hair. I guess you lost all of that when the leukaemia came to town in November 1983.

Cancer gave you no shortage of material. Rural dislocation was another major theme of your work. Death and dissolution. Memory and language. The cycles of life. Serious stuff. Important stuff. Good stuff.

Even footy fits in there too. Dispossessed has a few brief references to the game, in amongst the story of farmer Len and pregnant Liz and their daughter Amanda, and Len’s dour dad Max, in amongst the cat killing rabbits, and the cow giving birth, and Len shooting a wallaby for some dog food, and the bank notices piling up and up and up.

Writing a few poems about footy would have been light relief, I imagine.

But you knew, Philip, that the demise of the drop-kick was part of a larger picture:

A Kick like this, with all of life at stake

could never be expected to survive

in what became a game for money men.

 

They forced it out because it took too long

(therefore returns could never be as quick)

and even more importantly because

you can’t invest in something so unsure.

They didn’t care about the spectacle,

the past, or what elliptic scope there was.

 

Who were you, Philip Hodgins? Were you a player or an observer? Or both? Who taught you how to kick? And who taught you how to write?

I’m imagining you before the beard, when you were a boy, calling out your own games in those Katandra West paddocks, dodging and weaving the cow-pats and the rabbit-holes. Maybe calling out in a rhythm that eventually made its way into your pen and onto the page.

I’m imagining you sending drop-kicks across the paddock grass, on your way to the milking shed. Maybe you were late sometimes because the ball skewed off your boot until you’d perfected the skill, the art, the poetry in motion of the drop-kick.

And I’m imagining you sending a few of those perfect drop-kicks straight through the middle, straight between the big, wide-open barn doors. The noblest Kick that ever left a boot.

Two Hodgins books

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back’s not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards – the older the better.

Comments

  1. Great stuff – can you still get a copy of A Kick of The Footy do you know?

  2. Recommend Dispossessed – I taught it years ago.
    Philip Hodgins was a Geelong College boy I believe. Tragic illness and early death. A great talent.

  3. You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy of A Kick Of The Footy these days, but you never know. I bought my ten page ‘sampler’ copy off the web, from a second-hand bookshop in Sydney just a few years ago. Another option is to visit the State Library.

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Wonderful stuff Vin. Would love to get copies of both texts. I fell in love with the drop kick after watching the last quarter of the 1967 GF on the old Ch7 marathon. Fred Swift, Roy West, Wayne Closter, Billy Goggin and John Ronaldson brought an art to life that day. Connecting with a drop kick is a fleetingly ZEN experience. Thanks for sharing this Vin.

  5. Ian Syson says:

    This might help vin. http://www.actpla.act.gov.au/tools_resources/maps_land_survey/place_names/place_search?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHAlM0ElMkYlMkYyMDMuOS4yNDkuMyUyRlBsYWNlTmFtZXMlMkZQbGFjZURldGFpbHMuYXNweCUzRm9iamVjdElEJTNENjYwMjgmYWxsPTE%3D

    He was rated by Murray and other leading poets. Don’t think he was much of a player. I showed that poem to a class of sports students at vu in late 90s. They weren’t impressed.

  6. Could a reprint be a project for the Almanac?

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