Stodgington Hotel

We’re thrilled that a friend of the Almanac – whose quiet encouragement from up the bush has been a shot in the arm all these years – is making his Almanac debut today. Bruce is a good mate of Matt Zurbo. And he knows about independent publishing, having his own label as well as writing for other houses. He edited Australian Short Stories for the better part of two decades. Bruce is a Bunurong, Yuin and Tasmanian man. He was born in Richmond and is forever a Tigers’ man.  He’s written numerous award-winning books and is involved in language and history projects.

After reading Bruce’s account of Friday night in this story, I encourage you to have a look at his various profiles one of which can be found HERE.

 

 

Stodgington Hotel

by Bruce Pascoe

 

My life wasn’t flashing before my eyes. It was more like train carriages uncoupled and cascading over each other like an overtired toddlers’ blocks. I’d had enough.

 

You’re guessing it’s been a long day. Right. Hours of slogging through the frigid marshes of the western district in the rain. This is how mammoth became extinct.

 

Hugely important work and a fascinating history amongst the Tyrrendarra fish traps but even so my tusks had withdrawn into the body. When I talked it all sounded like, Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

 

And there was a personal drama in there as well so that Nnnnnnnnnnnnn was never going to cut it.

 

So I have had enough and once released from the obligations of the day my mind goes, Friday night, Tigers versus Cats at the G. This is how a lot of male (and female) brains work in Victoria. Which explains why there is neither tram nor train to Tullamarine and why we chose a different rail gauge to NSW. They don’t play real football so we don’t need OUR train to go there!

 

Anyway, man needs a beer and a hotel with a big screen. I’m on the way back to East Gippsland, country where it is always warm and the parrots pick up their own shit. First likely pub is the Stodgington. It sprawls over several shires, you need a passport to enter some bars. If you could find the entrance but I’m from Mallacoota and couldn’t.

 

Kind people cross borders to show me how to negotiate the fortress. I walk through a few countries and then find a smallish bar with food, beer and a big screen and one spare table with a view of the screen. Oblique view but better than the bleak view of the western district mud that smelt like udders and shitty tails.

 

Order the steak sanga and a schooner of draught. Cats up by a goal within seconds. I’ve barracked for Richmond all my life, I’ve rarely been to a game where they’ve won. Last two years have been psychologically challenging. We’re just not emotionally prepared for success. I’d prepped myself for this game by dousing myself in mud and water and smelt like a last ice age mammoth. But nobody at the Stodgington noticed, having just arrived from the ice age previous to mine.

 

Tigers edge ahead. Riewoldt is brilliant, Higgins is Higgins, Rance in pants, Nank the Bank, Astbury can be the Treasurer because he doesn’t let anyone have a loan of the ball.

 

The steak sanga is brilliant. Chips that crunch and are full of a potato like product, mammoth steak, a salad to make the Greeks forget Macedonia.

 

The beer is superb.

 

Richmond are clearly better. I look around at my companions. Madam next to me barracks for Tiges, slaps her knees every time Rioli goes for the ball, swoons at Dusty’s tatts and I notice she’s got some of her own. Although that comment is in no way meant to cast aspersions on the industry.

 

Her companions know to leave her alone at her own table to swear terrible things about Hawkins’ sexuality. The words Private School seem to issue from somewhere in her yellow and black scarf every time he goes near the ball.

 

He’s become a very good, tough player. I’m a great judge of a footballer; I wrote him off in his first season. He helps Cats come back. Castagna makes sure they don’t. Lambert, the sheepish lion, does the rest. (You’re not going to understand that reference as all the people who remember the 45rpm are dead by ten years. Except me, preserved in western district slough.)

 

I notice the representative of the state schools of Victoria’s companions come and go. It’s a loose federation. At half time one stands in front of me and speaks directly at me for some minutes. His hands move away from his side in expansive gestures, his face is animated like a shop window that’s just had a brick thrown through it. No watches left.

 

He’s not unfriendly, it’s just that I didn’t understand a word. I played football with Bear Coutts, Otway sheep farmer, for 17 years. Bear rode his horse to training. One day when it didn’t whoa or whatever horses are supposed to do, Bear punched it in the face and knocked it out.

 

I loved watching opposition players who, when running in trajectories that would take them within a few metres of Bear, would trip over shadows in the grass, or do a perfectly good hammy and veer away in agony. I loved playing with Bear, just slipped in behind him where opposition dwelt not.

 

Anyway Bear had a big black beard and no sound issued from it that didn’t sound like … well, Nnnnnnnnn. It’s a western district thing. One day at Irrewillipe I took a mark and Bear was going Nnnnnnnnnn. I thought I must have sharked his ball. I looked around and he was smiling his approval. It was like looking into the maw of hell.

 

Anyway the Tigers get a decent grip on the game thanks to two Dusty goals either side of half time. I relax, I mean really relax. I’m in to the third delicious schooner and that thing is happening just below my eyes. There is a beautiful numbness there. I’m anaesthesising myself to mud and twenty five winless years beginning with Des Rowe. (Same era as Lambert the sheepish lion, try not to be distracted by it.)

 

Once at the MCG when the Tigers were in trouble, well it wasn’t once it was twenty two times a year for a quarter of a century, I yelled out, Bring on Paddy Guinane. Three people laughed. The rest texted 000.

 

Anway, again, I relaxed into the fourth schooner and my eyes were snuggly like kittens in front of the fire, and I dreamily glanced at my companions and realised that this loose group, formed, deformed, (careful Bruce), reformed and had been doing so right through the night.

 

I’d noticed, in between Rance brilliance and Grigg patting players on the back, those who had actually gone and got the ball, I noticed that one or two of my companions would leave their moccasin cluster and go to the toilet. This would seem to tickle the bladders of patrons from different countries within Stodgington and they would need to go too.

 

My moccy mates would leave the jillawa as casual as a pair of Country Road slacks, well that should be Rivers, you could tell they were Rivers, they didn’t fit either limb or waist and the cuffs really wanted to be beneath the Adidas so they could be trodden into the … well, mud.

 

Anyway, and if you’re counting the number of times I use the word anyway you’re obviously a Grammarian and need to watch out for your organs,  the toiloiterers  come out but sometimes not all guests from neighbouring countries would. I noticed my mates would sometimes pocket pristine glad bags containing bluey pink gibletty things. They weren’t selling drugs at all, well, not just selling drugs, they were harvesting body parts.

 

Edwards spun out of a pack, now there’s a great pair of kidneys, and did his miracles. People are beginning to say what a creative player he is, but he’s been doing it for a decade without people noticing.

 

Hawkins gets a goal and my lady companion grips the laminex and throttles it like anyone would a baby brolga and utters something about state school funding. The Cats come back. And back and back.

 

We last out the game and win by three points. I ring my son who has been at the G. His voice sounds like he’s been holding the skull of Yorick for too long. I stopped him barracking for West Coast when he was seven. It’s a family thing, Jack, we’ve always been Tigers. West Coast promptly won two flags and several shipping containers from Bolivia. Jack and I had a frosty relationship over many winters.

 

Last year has almost made up for it. Please Dusty, Cotch, Rance, three more years so that the father son rule can be restored. More flags than the Weagles. Please.

 

I have another schooner. Two because the barmaid advises me it’s last drinks. It’s years since I was allowed to stay up late enough to hear those beautiful words.

 

I know you know I drove the old Subaru to Stodgington so you’re worried about the Towards Zero campaign, but I’m way ahead of you all.

 

I brought the caravan.

 

It’s a pop top and in a tight corner, like the euphoria of a Richmond win over Geelong Grammar, and seven schooners, you can slide into it without actually popping the top.

 

I had a piss on a Kmart shrub. Some kind of dreadful Aspergia or something. The label said it had been discounted twice. Stodgington had bought it when it was a Red Dot Special. You have to piss on things like that.

 

You might think badly of me but at least I didn’t shit on it and leave the paper there as extra fertiliser. Some patrons hadn’t even used paper, just hitched their pants a bit higher and wriggled about for a moment.

 

Anyway, back to the van. It’d be claustrophobic unless you remember that we’d just beaten Grammar and I’d consumed seven schooners and had the kind of steak sandwich that empties paddocks.

 

Slept like an angel. Or Bear Coutt’s horse.

 

Then I woke. To a clink. I sat up, well not up exactly, but less down, and a big African guy went past swinging keys. Keys. Made no sense but I was more worried about his leg. He was security and I’d seen him drifting about the pub, carefully not disrupting the organ trade, and I noticed he had a limp. Either the sole of his shoe had come adrift and he was trying to disguise it, or he had a crook hip. I’d had both so I knew.

 

I lay up and saw him walk past my unpopped pop top with his keys. Clink. Oh. I wriggled around so I could peer back at the car park exit and there a chain was swinging. Oh. Locked up again. A Richmond thing.

 

I slid out of the van and inspected the gate, tried to assess the possibility of a Subaru dragging a van over it. Uphill. No.

 

I go back to the Aspergia and give it a really good drink, it begins to sag drunkenly. I leave it to dream of organic fertilisers, retrieve my passport and go to the only part of the hotel still working. It’s all total silence and zombie eyed concentration apart from the bing bing bing and whoop whoop whoop, digaladoo, digaladoo, most of it coming from the sloe eyed Egyptian princess behung fetchingly in golden nuggets. Anthony never had a chance.

 

My African friend was guarding the door and he looked at me. He’d seen a lot worse than me at the Stodgington. ‘The van?’ he said. He seemed to be psychic. I nodded. He retrieved his keys from a pocket where Tasmania and several of the Furneaux group could fit comfortably.

 

I followed his lugubrious limp back up the stairs to the car park and tried to get a good look at the sole of his right shoe. When you have a sole flapping the trick is to not lift your foot too far off the ground or there’s the danger of folding the sole in half and treading on it thus compounding an already difficult problem.

 

People from King Island and Fawkner deal with such exigencies all the time. We have coping strategies. My African mate wordlessly undid the padlock on the chain, which unnervingly, was in the shape of Tasmania. He stood sentinel-like as he watched me retreat to my car and van. I was worried about him. He had Fawknerish issues but had clearly not come from Fawkner. Some of those African countries must have terrible footwear problems. Or crook hips. Or Bear Coutts’ horse’s difficulties.

 

Anyway that’s what it’s like when Richmond wins.

 

Comments

  1. What a ride, made me pine (just a bit) for my childhood home of Gippsland!

    Hope it’s the first of many stories we get to share here, Bruce.

  2. Ahh, Bruce. Lovely to hear your voice. If that little bloke Ablett could kick we would’ve got you. He’ll never amount to anything.
    On a more positive note; had a few cans with Charlie Meredith (you now him, I think.) while watching The Dolphins pants Apollo Bay last weekend. Surf was no good so our backline was playing.
    Hope you and Lyn are well.
    Cheers, Anson.

  3. Stainless says:

    Hear hear! Fantastic read.

    I reckon the Tigers would have won by more if they’d got “a decent grip on the game thanks to two Dusty goals either side of half time”. Pretty sure that was the week before. Must have been that third or seventh schooner talking!

  4. After reading Bruce Pascoe’s various profiles I wonder how did he find time to watch football? What an amazing person. As a Collingwood supporter of some eighty years he has helped me to realise how much joy we give to so many people when we lose a game. I will try to feel good whenever the Pies get beaten because of the joy it gives so many others. Because I try does not mean I will succeed.
    Stab Punt Jim

  5. E.regnans says:

    Ahh, Bruce.

    “I relaxed into the fourth schooner and my eyes were snuggly like kittens in front of the fire, and I dreamily glanced at my companions and realised that this loose group, formed, deformed, (careful Bruce), reformed and had been doing so right through the night…”

    Brilliant. Love it.
    Go pies.

  6. Welcome Bruce. I loved your amble through the pub, the night, the footy, the caravan.

    In a story with such richness, such imagery, this is my favourite line- “I had a piss on a Kmart shrub.”

    Thanks very much. I look forward to more.

  7. A wild and woolly journey. The cosiness of your pub is a stark contrast to damp and wet night that enveloped those of us the G

  8. Anyway, that was pretty darn good Bruce. Some ripper lines. And what a story (except the Richmond winning bit). Made me feel like drinking seven schooners and watching a replay of the game.

    Crazy finish to the game. Ablett would kick that goal 11 times out of 10.

  9. “West Coast promptly won two flags and several shipping containers from Bolivia”. Gold. Sounds like some of our premiership players are trying to resell some in Stodgington.
    This was like reading Barry Dickins. But without needing a translator.

  10. Yvette Wroby says:

    Lovely sharing a yarn with you Bruce. Hope to read more.

  11. Colin Ritchie says:

    Hi Bruce, Col from Colac Books here. Cracking yarn! There is something about settling into a good pub, watching and talking footy, creates community no matter which side you are on, and you brought that feeling home so well. Keep them coming Bruce!

  12. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Now this is the Bruce I want to hear talking about footy!
    A zillion images to be re-read and re-digested.
    Merci, from the State with the wrong guage.

  13. Anyway Bruce, I reckon I need to watch a game in the back bar of the Stodgington.

  14. John Butler says:

    Bruce, not much here to contradict the notion of Tiger supports being ratbags. :)

    I think you’ve come to the right place.

    Loved this.

    Cheers

  15. I wish I’d said that…

    Go Cats

  16. Rick Kane says:

    Hi Bruce

    You have the chance to write about one of the great games of the year and you find a pearler of a story even better than the game. That’s cool. One that crisscrosses a state and states and socio-economic states and the state your in and a mammoth steak. So much to take in. Piss funny too. Trust we will have the good fortune of you stopping in at FA for another yarn or two.

    Many terrific lines and images but this one I really liked: “Edwards spun out of a pack, now there’s a great pair of kidneys, and did his miracles”.

    Cheers

  17. Joe De Petro says:

    Brilliant, Bruce. You seem to become more cogent as the schooner count rises.

  18. Rod Oaten says:

    Like your books Bruce, I want more.

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