Off Season Odyssey – Part 13: The Word, Mates and Country Legends

 

The Word, Mates and Country Legends.

 

“When you get to the beach turn left, we’re 8.3 kms along,” Pete’s text says.

After 450km of desert, the road makes its way onto another type of sand, and I roll along the low tide mark in second, passing hoons and families, and brilliant, still, glassy water. There isn’t a ripple, not a breath of air, just a never-ending sunset out over a horizon so smooth it fades into the world above. Kilometre after kilometre, ute after ute, tent after tent, I cruise by the working class on holiday, no distractions, plug-ins or amenities. No fees, rules, lights, whistles or bells. Just tinnies, just fishing rods, beer and kids who know how to amuse themselves.

No stupid signs saying: WARNING – THE WORLD.

Fish make the odd appearance close to shore, three tiny plovers keep pace with the ute for a while, only to be replaced by dolphins, sliding into and out of the water, not leaving a ripple.

Every group of hoons I pass whistles or barks at my untethered dog, then laughs dumb and loud. The glorious shit-heads. Every family man gives a disgruntled small wave. Kids play after bedtime. The distance between each camp increases the further I go, until, finally, there’s Pete and his family, away from the crowd, nobody either side.

“It’s 45 degrees in Bordertown. Too hot on the farm. We may as well stay here an extra day,” he smiles.

I meet his partner, Jo. She is a sheep shearer who’s seen every inch of this country, and has that no frills, no bullshit shearer’s way. I like her straight away.

It’s more dark than day, but Pete and I break out the footy, handballing and lobbing small kicks and talking on the edge of the never-ending, falling horizon.

“Beats working,” I say. “What sort of job do you have lined up for me, anyway?”

“I dunno. We’ll deal with that when we get back to the sheep station,” he tells me.

Peter Featherston is a genuine country football legend, and as massive as he ever was. 6ft5, strong. A big presence. He drives trucks, and makes the eight hour round trip to see his twin daughters in Mildura when he can, but is getting itchy for some land. He talks farming as natural as some people do Australian Idol, or AFL football. Rotary blades, pivots, cattle feed, water retention techniques. A language I half understand falls out of his mouth, as if all those words fit, because they do.

One day he’ll have the money, buy a block, give up the trucks, work it hard.

The bush isn’t well. The world is leaning away from farming. But Pete is a country football champion because he does it his way. A champion bloke, first and always.

“Remember the time I finally got to line up against you?” I say.

“Yeah,” he gives a big, dopey grin.

“I wanted ya!”

“You’d wanted me for years.”

“I tried every trick. Leaped early, dug my knee into your hip to both shove you off the ball and get leverage, pushed up, stretched to full height, swiped as hard as I could… and reached just below your wrist!”

Pete laughs. Fond memories. For one of us.

We talk shit. The sun just keeps on setting. But we’re there for it, and our eyes adjust. The night is rarely ever pitch black. There are always greys. There are always stars, or clouds, or the moon, or something.

 

I often wonder about the blokes bashing about in the bush leagues. The legends, who could and should have made the Big Time. What their real story was?

What they might have been?

The word with Pete was he was well on the way before he lost half his foot in a work accident.

 

I hate ‘the word’.

 

Bush footy is chockers with it. Fuck ‘the word’, I simply ask him.

“Nah,” he smiles. “That’s full of shit. I cut me foot off when I was twenty.”

“Thought so,” I say.

“Happened in the off season. Didn’t miss a game.”

So, what went wrong, I ask? Why didn’t he make it?

 

Peter Featherston grew up in Beeac, a flat, dry farming district outside of Colac. No shelter, no scenery. His Dad was a handy Twos footballer. The sort of bloke you build a club around.

Not a team, a club. That’s important. It instils values.

Pete made the Falcons, easy. Made All-Aussie Under 18s, won a flag, but his heart wasn’t in it.

“Why the hell not?” I protest. I would have killed for what he had. Thousands would have.

He gives that dopey grin, that great grin. I can see it in the dark. I can hear it.

“It was alright if you were a college boy! I was still too young to drive, yet I’d have to find my own way from Colac to Geelong. I’d get there, covered in grease, oil and dirt from my apprenticeship, knackered, and there’d be all those Geelong Grammar boys strolling in, still in their poncy jackets.”

He got asked to come back the following year, but returned to his old club, Irrawara-Beeac.

“AFL would have been nice, but I had my aprentership, and I’ve enjoyed my footy. Got to play with some great mates. Nothing beats bush footy and good people! That’s what it’s about, isn’t it?”

For some, it seems, it’s everything.

I ask him how he would have gone if he’d taken the offer to train with Geelong Seniors?

“I dunno. Who cares? I was probably not quite tall enough to ruck at that level, and too slow for a key position.”

And that’s why I’m here, 1,000 kms away from where I was meant to be heading. Two extra days and three states of driving. Despite all the bush footy hype, the bloke is honest. Has no tags on himself.

Everything about Peter is straight down the line. Everything. He is a huge, respectful, farm boy turned truck driver. A corker of a person.

 

Peter is a man you build teams around. He won flags at Irrawara-Beeac, and when he moved, for love, to Apollo Bay, another flag and League Best & Fairests.

My best memory of playing against him was when he followed his hit-out on half-back, gathering the ball, shrugging off players left and right as he ran away from us, towards his half-forward line. He was so damn strong, unstoppable.

Most of my best memories of great players involve seeing the back of their jumpers.

Pete did well when he moved to Mildura, following his kids, but, soon enough, as always, returned to play at Beeac, and won one more flag.

He could have made a fortune off football, but never did. A fortune! Could have seen the world with it. But stayed loyal as best he could, even when he didn’t live there.

‘Why did you keep going back?” I ask.

“The people were great,” he says. “The Thursday night cards that went until 3am. Small stuff like that.”

We did that at Otway. I point out a lot of clubs have good people. That there’s nothing in Beeac.

“It’s my home,” he tells me.

I can’t argue with that. Why would you?

 

And here we are in Kingston, on a thin strip of coast with no flies or mozzies, because the land behind it has no water. An hour from his new home, with Jo, off a long, narrow road somewhere out back of Bordertown.

Doing it easy.

After a year of playing on the hard grounds around the border region, Pete tells me he is sick of bone grafts and hand surgery, that he’s done, retired.

“I don’t believe you,” I tell him.

Dolphins re-appear and are gone again. The odd fish breaks the glass surface. The water is never this smooth, he says. But it is.

Everything’s gravy.

 

More stories from the Almanac writers

 

The Footy Almanac 2013

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Comments

  1. Skip of Skipton says:

    I was over on the Limestone Coast last weekend, Matt. At Beachport. It’s great over there. Fantastic beaches with hardly anyone on them. Top pub too. We were at Southend last Sunday because it was a bit blowy at Beachport; a seal was swimming 50 yards out infront of us. It surfaced on the beach with a fish in its gob. You don’t get that on the crowded Victorian beaches. We called into the east beach at Port Fairy on our way home and could hardly find a spot to lay out the towels. Cheers.

  2. Matt Zurbo says:

    Skip, yeah, there are still corners of Vico to hide in, but I’m not telling!!! Ja! The blohentries run about a week after the fact. Shame we didn’t meet.

  3. Peter Baulderstone says:

    Great piece, Matt. One of your best. Great character. Made me think of the Australia that was. Or just still is.
    People who are ‘straight as a die’. No pretence or artifice. I loved the ‘too short to ruck; too slow for set positions’ self-assessment.
    I get the sense that in the cities we all want to be or do something else (me included). In the country there are still a few people content that they are something.

  4. Peter featherston says:

    Hey Turbo, another great story mate. I could not of ever written a better piece about myself, awesome photo also.
    We all think we would like to be something/someone else till we realize how good we actually have it, im pretty damn hsppy being me :-))

  5. *Irrewarra

  6. Matt Zurbo says:

    Sorry, Mike. I can’t spell. That one slipped through.

  7. Alovesupreme says:

    Another fine piece which gives my nostalgia a tickle. When I was a growing up in the district, Beeac played in the Tiger colours in the Polwarth League, while Irrewarra wore the Bombers red sash in the Colac & District. A fine centre half-back, Peter Walker, stepped straight from Beeac seniors onto the Geelong senior list (approaching his 18th birthday, according to the Encyclopedia of VFL/AFL Players) and played in the Cats 1963 premiership.

    It’s now apparent how much the migration of the young to the cities for school and work has impacted on the ability of these hamlets to sustain a football and netball team.

  8. Matt Zurbo says:

    Supreme!! I’ve missed your comments! Yeah, times have a-changed!

  9. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Yes Times have changed and not for the better in this case as People move away from
    Farming it has the run off effect of closing down football and netball clubs causing a huge part of the fabric of these downs to disappear the effects can be catastrophic Suicide in the country is a huge problem whatever can be done to keep sporting clubs alive MUST happen
    Enjoyable Peice on obviously a country football legend you portrayed the battles with
    Peter perfectly . As always Thanks Matt

  10. Matt Pearce says:

    Hey Matt. I just stumbled on this piece and I’ve gotta say that you’ve nailed it so accurately that it’s like we’re sitting around having a chat with you both while you relive the past. Pete was an absolute star back in the day and probably doesn’t give himself enough credit for his skills and he was never dirty or played unfairly. Really enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

  11. Glenda Ellis says:

    Really enjoyed the read, Matt – though some was a bit outside my frame of reference. Good to know that some country places still exist and haven’t been taken over by the fly-in-fly out crews. And good to know that a lot of people still like to live on the farms… Please, someone, stop the mining madness?

  12. Simon Hill says:

    Great read Matt, will be missed by all of the CDFL and many more. Hilly.

  13. Matt Zurbo says:

    HIlly, Matty, thanks for the good words. Both of you legends.

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