Peter Temple and the Royboys of Doom

Like many here, I was saddened to learn of the death of Peter Temple, author and Royboy lover, last week. A big lose for Oz lit.

 

I was fortunate to interview Peter back in August 2003 for what eventually became my Roys history, Maroon & Blue. Peter was so warm and generous with his time and he got me out of a real pickle early in the writing of the book.

 

Not being a trained historian or journalist, I had naively thought I could interview people and use their exact words to tell an oral history story. As a journalist and writer, Peter had me recognise the fundamental imperative of crafting people’s spoken words into a readable, written form. ‘Adam, you must – must – edit.’ He told me to just be honest about capturing people’s intent and purpose, at keeping their voices.

 

I was free. I did alright I guess: Peter listed Maroon & Blue in his Age ‘Must Reads’ of 2006.

 

Anyway, here’s a few extracts from my interview with Peter, bits that focus on how he, a South African, fell for footy and the Roys, the Jack Irish Royboy theme, and how he ended up barracking for the Saints after the Roys folded.

 

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We arrived in Melbourne in 1982. I came to start a magazine and our offices were in Johnson Street, just around the corner from the post office, with a balcony facing Johnson Street. And I often worked on Saturday afternoons because there was always a tremendous scramble to get the thing out.

 

One of my earliest memories of football – and Melbourne for that matter – is going onto the balcony on Saturday afternoons in winter and hearing the crowds from Princes Park or Vic Park. It seems odd now, but in those days it was common to have Carlton playing at Princes Park while Collingwood would be at Vic Park and there’d be a game at the ‘G, all at the same time on a Saturday afternoon. But I don’t know about the MCG crowd, they were probably too far away to hear.

 

You’ve got to remember, it was really quiet on weekends in parts of Melbourne then, everything really did seem to come to a standstill. And along Brunswick Street and Johnson Street, once the traffic died down after lunch, there wasn’t much going on. I think there were only the two cafes along Brunswick Street in the early eighties, Bakers and the Black Cat. So this lack of noise around you, all this quiet, meant you could hear these amazing sounds coming down the road from a kilometre or two away.

 

I’d hear these football crowds. And the Collingwood one in particular, you could hear it clearly, and you could tell roughly what was happening just by the sound of the crowd. If there was a Collingwood mark taken, you would literally hear the air being sucked out and then there’d be this absolute silence as the Collingwood player went for goal. Total silence. Then there’d be an incredible explosion of sound if they got the goal. And I thought, ‘This is amazing!’

 

I soon became intrigued with the fact that football in Melbourne was, and still is to a degree, the lingua franca, it transcended class, transcended gender, you could talk about football to anyone. It’s the common language and if you have nothing else to talk about, you can at least talk about football. And then almost everybody I met barracked for Fitzroy, after all, how could you not if you lived in Fitzroy. So I picked up the tribalism very quickly. The idea that you could have a team where you didn’t live didn’t seem right. So I started going to the odd Roys game with friends who barracked for them.

 

It was a fortuitous time to discover football, it was actually quite wonderful, they were still a strong, viable team. And Quinlan kicking his tons,105 in ‘83,116 in ‘84. ‘84 is my strongest memory. I remember Round 9, bottom of the ladder and they still got into the finals. It was absolutely unbelievable. And in all the Fitzroy pubs people were talking about the Roys. I used to drink up at the Standard…

 

Anyway I became entranced by the game. I’d never seen a game where you could put such physically different people onto the same field and their individual brilliance could still shine.

 

I’d never seen much soccer, rugby was everything in South Africa. Rugby’s a game where you might have one or two brilliant individuals in a team, but really it’s just all muscle and weight. It’s an English Public School game, invented as a test of strength and endurance. Character building, that sort of nonsense. Aussie Rules is quite different. There’s something instinctive and playful about it.

 

It’s a miraculous game where you can have the slightly built and the huge competing on the same field, and they can both be brilliant in completely different ways.

 

Daicos, for example. Physically unimpressive but he could be brilliant, astonishing. He just knew where the sticks were and he’d find them. Some Aboriginal players seem to me to play like that, with a wonderful feeling for space and where players are. In a way, they’re not conscious of the rules of the game. They’ve moved beyond rules.

 

That’s the wonderful thing. Players like Long have terrific peripheral vision, all great players seem to have it. They can always find someone, they can snatch the ball out of the air without looking at it.

 

I’d never seen anything like this football. And I remain as entranced by it as ever.

 

It’s fascinating to find so much footy weaved into your writing. How important is it you to capture that part of Melbourne culture in your writing?

 

I wanted to do that. When I decided to write a book set in Melbourne, it seemed to me that the most distinctive part of the culture was football. I started writing the first Jack Irish book when the club’s future was pretty bleak and I suddenly thought, ‘This is unthinkable!’ that the club could just vanish like this when it had been so much a part of people’s lives for so long. So in a sense I wanted to immortalise it. And I figured the device would be Jack Irish’s father, who would have played for the Roys, and there would be these old buggers in the pub, whose collective memories would be of about 210 years of football in Melbourne, and through that you could slip in what football and the Roys meant in people’s lives.

 

The aspect of football that I wanted to capture in the books was that the game and the culture are not about winning. Football is about belonging to something, it’s about having something that you can have hopes and aspirations for. And even if nothing works out, you still hold those things. And I think football really means that to so many people. It was immaterial that Fitzroy didn’t have on-field success. Yes, of course, you wanted that, passionately, but if it didn’t come, it didn’t really matter, it’d come next year. It’s like horse racing, there’s always another race (PT chuckles).

 

Peter couldn’t follow Brisbane, couldn’t accept going for an interstate team. So he adopted St. Kilda. Here’s how that came about.

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Sainters and I suppose it’s largely because of their tragic history (PT laughs). An appalling history, a very consistent, terrible, terrible history.

 

I met a lot of Saints supporters when the books first came out, people involved in television and movies and scripts because I wrote an original movie script – which incidentally, had nothing to do with the Roys – about a small town football team. We’re still trying to get it up after about six or seven years. And it brought me into contact with a lot of Saints supporters, because the film-making community is stacked with them. All the drama queens are in there.

 

So in the course of lunches and meetings in pubs talking about films and football and scripts I met many tragic Saint Kilda supporters. And I felt drawn to them because they were strongly reminiscent of…well, they were just a more hopeless version of your Royboy. I mean, the Roys’ history is so superior to the Saints’, you immediately knew these supporters were genuine losers (PT laughing). You’re at the bottom of the barrel here. So I thought, what the hell, if you’re going to start following football again there’s something special about this club…they are completely unspoilt by success, they can only go up!

 

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When it became a big money game, something was lost in the soul of the game. That’s the price that’s been paid. Fitzroy was sacrificed in the name of the national game.

 

I think most people in Melbourne over a certain age regret the passing of the game they grew up with. Most people would say, ‘Why did it have to be so?’ ‘What did we gain?’ And what has the fan gained? What has the supporter gained? Is the game better now? It’s different, that’s certain. But is it better because it’s played indoors, on tiny grounds in which it’s one tap, one kick and you’ve got a goal? In which you now almost never see the wonderful spectacle of players playing the greatest outdoor game in the world, playing with this impossibly shaped ball, on fields as muddy as the battlefields of Flanders.

 

Like standing in the outer, exposed to the elements, the whole experience of going to the footy before 1995 was very different to today. It’s been described by one person I know as a form of crowd control now. And the fact that now everything’s been reduced to basically what happens on the field rather than the whole football experience….

 

Well it is, isn’t it? It’s really interesting, in a sense it’s like the difference between going to the movies today compared to the experience of watching a Shakespearean play in Elizabethan England, with an audience of young and old, male and female, drunk and sober, the great unwashed, small pockets of the gentry here and there, people shouting things at the actors, just being there quite as much the point as paying attention to what was taking place on the stage.

 

And now football’s being reduced to just another form of entertainment, like the movies or television, it’s becoming a part of the entertainment industry. Those things such as booking seats to go to the football, the interminable queuing, the regimentation of the whole thing, the outrageous profits made on food, on merchandise, all those things speak of a completely different experience to what going to the football was like even just a decade ago.

 

I still cling to the Coodabeens, I’ve followed the Coodabeens from radio station to radio station, because they represent that era very strongly…

 

The kids growing up watching the game now will emerge with a set of memories of a different atmosphere, but nevertheless, an atmosphere all its own. And it’s quite wrong to say that those memories won’t be just as precious to them or that they won’t speak of them with the same nostalgia or affection. In the end, the game’s probably big enough to survive all the crap that surrounds it these days. It should always be an outdoor game, a people’s game. It’s a wonderful game, the most inclusive game on earth.

 

You go to watch soccer in England or in anywhere in Europe – I lived in Germany for a while – and you find yourself standing in huge crowds of adolescent and post -adolescent males, where the testosterone levels are so high that you can smell it when you go for a pee – that, and the drugs being peed out. You go to a game of soccer and you find this homogeneous, one-sex, one-age group crowd, for many of whom the game itself is secondary. It’s like motor racing, you go to watch the crashes. At the soccer, they’re there to look for a fight.

 

You go to a game of football in Melbourne in autumn or the darkest bits of winter and you think, ‘This is something quite different’. The crowd is made up of all ages, men, women, boys, girls, the young and the old. And there’s nowhere else in the world where you will see a game played by men watched by so many women, loved by so many women. Why is that? It’s not only because it’s such a beautiful game, it’s also because the game creates social bonding. Men and women both genuinely love and talk football.

 

And because of the type of spectacle it is, what it offers. It offers so much diversity.

 

On the one hand, it features players whose job is to physically intimidate and, on the other, there are players like Robbie Flower and James Hird, Simon Black and Robert Harvey, who are both hard as nails and silky, graceful, sliding away from physical contact, untouchable.

 

It’s a game that combines so many things, superb eye-hand coordination, mastery of difficult skills, and requires great courage to play well. It’s also game where the small can defeat the large, where the good small player is as every bit as good as the good large player, just in different ways.

 

Tony Liberatore and Paul Salmon…

 

Libba and Salmon. That they could play on the same field! I mean where does he come up to, the Fish’s hip-bone?! One of the great sights is to see winning teams leave the field and see the physical disparity between players hugging one other. Some of them look as though they’ve come over from the under-12s to join the seniors. But they’re in the same side!

 

There’s nothing like it in the world. Take soccer players, they’re almost all uniform of size, uniform of build. Soccer’s all about short sprints, so you find they’re mostly powerful in the thighs, lean in the calves, generally lean in the torso. But Australian Rules Football…you can be too fat, too short, too slow…

 

You can be a beautiful mark and kick out on the full every time but you’ll still get a game somewhere…

 

But somewhere, you’ll still get a game. Marvellous.

 

 

About Adam Muyt

Born into rugby league, found aussie rules, fell for soccer, flirts a little with union. Author of 'Maroon & Blue - recollections and tales of the Fitzroy Football Club' (Vulgar Press, 2006). Presently working on a history of postwar Dutch migrants and soccer.

Comments

  1. E.regnans says:

    Yes; marvellous.
    Thank you, Adam. Thank you. Marvellous.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Can we permanently pin this as the first article on the Almanac?

    It says it all.

    Thanks Adam

  3. John Butler says:

    Brilliant, Adam.

  4. A mighty fine piece. In a week where we’ve had some exceptional pieces.

  5. Wonderful. As in “full of wonder”. Many, many thanks Adam for preserving this jewel.
    Temple had the gifted visitors eye and ear for what was unique and precious in our local culture. Things that were lost on the natives, until they had traded them away for trinkets.
    And you answered my question about who did he barrack for? It had to be the Saints after the Roys. The two most loveable losers in the league.
    When did the industrialisation of the game start? Easy to lay the blame off the field with the national competition and that is part of it. But I remember coaches like Malthouse and Sheedy starting to go on off-season sabbaticals in the 80’s, and study elements of professional soccer, gridiron and basketball. The move from a players game to a coaches game made it much more homogenous and structured.
    “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?”

  6. A marvellous read, Adam. Thanks.

  7. And cheers from here too, Adam. Priceless stuff. Wonderful description of the Flower’s and Hird’s of the game … and “I mean, the Roys’ history is so superior to the Saints’, you immediately knew these supporters were genuine losers.” :-)!

  8. Pamela Sherpa says:

    What a wonderful article to read Adam. A real treasure.

  9. Great article Adam.

    Football mirrors our society & has evolved.

    I remember watching the great Polly Farmer & being shocked by the racist abuse he copped.
    Remember Nicky Winmar & his brave stand at Victoria Park.
    Once he dislocated his shoulder at VFL Park & his club St Kilda provided little or no help.
    A blight on them.

    Footy clubs were often run by Toby Tosspots who were more wrapped up in themselves than the players & supporters.
    YES the good old days.

    Let’s not forget the thuggery. JIm O’Dea, Neil Balme, Leigh Mathews & Alistair Clarkson to name a few.

    Then we can talk about the facilities or lack off.
    In the good old days it was predominantly standing room.
    Going to the dunny was a health hazard.

    The AFL have probably become more mercenary & use their Monopoly powers like China does.
    Now they have this Goyder fellow from Wesfarmers.
    Has he ever smiled?
    Before Goyder was Fitzpatrick whose only ever been interested in himself.
    The AFL is ridden with figjams & Toby tosspots.
    They couldn’t give a damn about grassroots footy nor the cost of Auskick.
    Their charter is all about themselves, their overseas jaunts & junkets & decimating grass roots footy.
    Woe betide anyone critical.

  10. Laurie Laffan says:

    A great summation of what it means to love Australian football. I barracked for Fitzroy and played in St Kilda colours for many years at Ainslie. Must admit I followed the Lions to Brisbane, otherwise I would still be waiting, waiting. I saw the Lions win the 2001 GF against my second team ,Essendon.I lived in Moonee Ponds til I was 7 and went to school at St Monicas til I was 12 then to Canberra. The morning after Karen and I were walking from Carlton to the Lions gathering at the Fitzroy oval when we got the offer of a lift down Brunswick St to the Fitzroy oval in a EH wagon from a family who barracked for the Lions. The driver saw my Fitzroy beanie and scarf which I bought at the last Fitzroy game against Richmond at the MCG and yelled out “want a lift?”He had Lions streamers and foxtail flowing so we accepted.He put the kids in the far back and us in the back seat. After the gathering and celebration we were walking back to Carlton when we struck up a conversation with the Scott family doctor who delivered the Scott twins. Say no more!!
    After the win whilst dining on Lygon at Dimmatinas for about the third evening in a row ,we met Maurie Hearn, the Captain of Fitzroy’s 1944 premiership team. I have him on video somewhere.Must find it. After he finished at Fitzroy he then played at Port Fairy and purchased my Great Grandfather’s Tennyson Hotel. Say no more!! Footy is a fantastic journey.

  11. Laurie Laffan says:

    PS I have read most of Peter Temple’s books . All a very good read.

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Terrific piece Adam. Maroon and Blue is still a great read 12 years on. The launch at the Fitzroy bowls club feels like only a couple of years ago. Cheers

  13. Peter Fuller says:

    Thank you so much Adam for providing this gem. It reveals all that we love about the game, but it also demonstrates why PT was such a fine writer, his powers of observation and his ability to convey the fruits of that to his readers. Thanks also Phil for reminding us of the launch of Adam’s book; it’s a wonderful trophy as well, now enhanced by Adam’s providing us with some sense of the labour involved in bringing it to production.

  14. Adam Muyt says:

    Thanks all for your observations and kind comments.

    It was a fantastic interview – so may jewels in it, and I’ve only reproduced part of it here. Over the next 12 months I’m working on getting all the interviews I did for Maroon & Blue (over ninety) organised and then deposited into the State Library of Victoria where I hope they prove to be a useful resource for future football historians.

  15. bring back the torp says:

    This article is one of the gems of the FA.

    Thank you

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