i) The Pilgrimage
An overcrowded morning train
is nearing Richmond station,
the fabled Melbourne Cricket Ground,
the common destination,
where kids are playing kick-to-kick,
and cars are filling space,
and stalls are selling scarves and things,
they’ll even paint your face,
and little boys in lemon smocks
are dressed like feudal lords,
in harmony they shout the word:
“Rec-ords! Rec-ords! Rec-ords!”
The larrikins are barrackin’,
the nans and pops are crowing,
while barbecues are sizzling,
and cold champagne is flowing,
and then inside the famous ground,
where stands are filling up,
and everybody’s wondering
who will lift the cup.
And six gigantic towers
surround the jam-packed stands,
transmitting power from heaven’s throne
to faith-abiding fans.
The Catholic has the Vatican,
the Jew, the synagogue,
the Buddhist has his temple,
the blind man has a dog,
every culture looks towards
a supernatural force,
Australians have their footy fields…
oval shaped of course.
While conquered nations play the games
their captors make them play,
“Let us play our own game!”
the defiant Aussies say.
ii) The Bounce
The cheer squads raise the banners,
the players line the race,
the seagulls screech farewell then
disappear without a trace,
and then a mighty rushing wind
drowns out the marching choirs,
as teams emerge, supporters stand
and speak in tongues of fire.
Balloons are loosed to ocean skies,
theme songs sung aloud,
flags are waving, scarves are twirling,
fanatics standing proud.
Will stands collapse? Will earth cave in
and swallow players whole?
Such mayhem on the hallowed turf
must surely take its toll.
All is now in readiness
upon this field of green,
the ground, though minutes prior a mess,
is now entirely clean,
the umpy strides to centre square,
the players take position,
supporters roar like maniacs,
(oblivious of their condition),
and players feel surrounded by
a million hungry lions,
and in the sky the yellow sun
sizzles like an iron.
The umpy holds the ball aloft,
the siren finally sounds,
the noise achieves crescendo,
the heart of a nation pounds,
a sound reverberating like
the coliseum’s roar
when the hapless Christian chanced upon
the hungry lion’s jaw.
iii) The Battle
What an exhibition!
The crowd cannot keep still
but shift and sway with each display
of power, grace and skill,
such silky skills enthral the crowd;
they dazzle with the ball,
and like a grand Shakespearean play,
there is a part for all:
the seasoned star, the skinny kid,
the tall, the short, the dreamer,
the birdman flying through the air
to take a breathless screamer,
the loose man streaming down the wing,
the thrilling one-on-ones,
the goal sneak scouting by the packs
to gather up the crumbs.
This game embodies all the skills––
kicking, handball, marking,
leaping like an acrobat,
tackling, swooping, sharking.
A game for all conditions,
be it quagmire, grass or sand,
from orchards of the Apple Isle
to cliffs of Arnhem Land.
iv) The Prize
The siren sounds, the ground is filled
with scenes of jubilation,
supporters, players, coaches, gods
are joined in celebration.
The skipper lifts the golden calf
to echoes of the choir,
and once again that zealot crowd
speak in tongues of fire.
September’s sun has slipped behind
a brooding mass of cloud,
but players drink the cup of joy
and dance among the crowd.
v) Song of the Seagull
Twilight-time, the MCG,
seagulls now are flying free,
as old men clean the littered stands,
the seagulls spy the fertile land,
the hordes have left in trams and trains,
only corporate men remain,
and while they sip their cold champagne
the seagulls sing in joyful strains:
“When you leave the footy ground,
we fly in from coastal towns,
what you have lost, we have found,
listen to our screeching sound!
now don’t complain, or ask us why;
this land is ours ’cos we can fly,
possessing not a shred of skill
we feast until we’ve had our fill,
then once again we’re homeward bound,
returning where the breakers pound.”