Off Season Odyssey. Pt.42.
Missing Round One was far less hard than I thought it would be. It’s time to go, or never leave. I fly back to Cairns in a five seater aircraft, pick up my dog and ute in Port Douglas. The mechanic’s done no further work on it. Not really.
“I’ve jigged a front end alignment as best I could. There’s a fair chance you might make it back to Tassie,” his note says.
The up-side is it cost less than I thought.
I have one last drink with the Port boys, then head off around 4am.
A family stop in Townsville, to do with heartache and loneliness, and good people who need but have no love, and it’s pitch black again by the time the coast cuts away and the ute falls inland.
The last truck stop for 200kms is still. It sits a few hundred meters down from a dusty, pothole-filled intersection, smack bang in the middle of nowhere. One road heads west, the other south. Both bend and rattle and carry the hard luck and everyday of truckies’ lives. Between them, these back-roads branch, if you have the supplies, spare tires, water, tools, to just about anywhere in the world.
It’s insanely quiet, though. Not a truck, not a sound. The floodwaters are on the wane, but the sign facing south says at least three towns are still adrift.
It’s tempting, standing here, to head west, where the flooding isn’t so bad. Where the journey might not end.
To just go.
When I listen I can hear the barracking of hard Pilbara teams. The higher pitch of the all-Aboriginal teams and their supporters, in the Kimberly. I’m told one mob travelled nearly 600kms to play another, only to find the river between them and the oval was swollen. The whole team swam across croc-infested waters, played, won, waited out the floods and drove home again. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that? These new, amazing, too often hard, old world, old school places?
From here, in the dark, I can feel the heat of the Outback. Of Darwin and Uluru and Broome. From here the road is a hungry thing, calling, even when it’s made of nothing but sand.
I step onto it, just to feel its undertow.
If I listen, I can hear the whisper of small talk. The sweet bullshit players spout, all lazy, in the clubrooms after training on Tuesday nights. I can hear the fights, the pubs. The roots, the good women met, the strength of netball. The snotty kids who bounce around until their Dad’s game is done.
I can feel the dust rising where there should be grass.
I can see that there’s so much I don’t know. People make a land, but a land also shapes its people. The culture, the way of doing things, would, in the heat, be so different. Even the chatter not the same.
I could say I played alongside the next Jurrah, or Reiwoldt. The next Jeff Farmer, who I’m told, ended up hacking away out North-West somewhere, overweight, picking fights. I’d hook-in and trade stories with the footy nomads. The professionals with a backpack and pair of old footy boots, that people on the Eastern seaboard will never hear of, not from birth to death.
I give it thought. Good thought.
Stand on that westward road, that leads to termite hills and mangroves. To places where there are no easy answers and few easy lives.
But I have a young mate to pick up on the N.S.W Central Coast, and deliver home, to the mountains in Victoria’s South West, after which I’ll have one more day to make Melbourne and the boat across to Tassie. That gives me four days. If I drive for 14-16 hours each one, the ship will get me back to Devonport by 7am Saturday morning, and I’ll be playing, lost somewhere in Tassie’s North East, in my community, by 11.30am.
Home, my footy club, is still an adventure to me.
It’s routines, it’s small-town politics. The way our players blue each other on the otherwise dead pub on a Saturday night. 70 year old Don taking the under 12s, calling “Play on…”, even after the posts have been packed away, because he can’t hear the siren. The talk of firewood and chainsaws and good and bad dates. The Ben Hudsons after the game. Our Sunday sessions, that involve endless back-roads and logging tracks that spit us out down at the coast. Or inland. Or to a pub in the city that sponsors us. The way we, players, wives, girlfriends, each away game, stir its three barflies and dust and fill it with noise and life.
The way, hell or high water, Mad Dog will goal umpire by crouching and stabbing two fingers forward like skewers.
Watching young Ballsa, Box, Gee, Wog, Norm, Bib, not six months age between them, be the last to leave the rooms, as a group, on a Thursday night. A gang without even realising they’re a gang. Mates for life.
All of it, good and bad, my tribe. The stuff that counts.
There’s half a chance the waters are already down, and the work crews, simply, this far out, are waiting until dawn to open the roads. I don’t want to waste a night backtracking, so push the ute around the flood barriers. The front end creaks and feels all wrong. It’s a big gamble, but so what?
In the first hour or two I know I’ve made the right call. So far the water, at the dips and crossings, hasn’t been more than a foot deep. There are no trucks, there’s no traffic. I turn off the high-beams and drive by starlight down the middle of the road. Home is still the length of a continent away.
For 2,000kms the desert is mine.