The day’s been perfect. Lost and perfect.
I have money in pocket, hard work behind me. There’s only five clouds in the sky. Each one worn by a mountain range, making their own weather. The town is perfect, to look at, anyway. To drive through. To drink at. Walking into the pub, surrounded by all these peaks, the place reminds me of a boy walking among axemen.
The bar, too, is big, feels like an all-or-nothing place. Full of life, or lonely. This dusk it’s empty. Only the staff. Only me, trying to drink enough to pay all three of them. There’s no music or telly, nobody talking. Just awkward silence, everything waiting to close with the moon rise.
The barman is the town’s Rugby captain. Good on him. He looks young and solid, like he doesn’t mind a blue, or playing. Whichever comes first, which ever comes at him. As long as he’s involved.
“I don’t like the fiddly stuff in AFL,” he says.
I get sick of that, always. It’s not AFL, it’s Aussie Rules. The difference is huge. Everything. If Demetriou ever came out to the backwaters and drank on dead, windy Tuesdays, every time he heard that, AFL, he’d get a stiffy.
“Fiddly?” I ask.
“The niggly stuff they get away with. If someone gets in your face, you should be able to hit them. Then they wouldn’t get in your face, or poke their elbows in.”
I’m not disagreeing with anything.
We talk about Aussie Rules, then Union. Then League. A simple, no-frills game. You go hard.
I tell him I’ve seen his ground. It looks like concrete.
“It is. All of them are,” he says. “That’s bush Rugby.”
As a loyal young bloke who could leave for money, he pisses and moans about those who chase the dollar. About them leaving for Uni, or work, and parents that treat the club like Day-Care, and nobody helping on the committee. About how the same people who don’t help are the first to throw shit at how things are done.
It sounds like echoes. Like I must.
‘It’s the same everywhere, every code. You’re talking about the bush,” I tell him, but he doesn’t hear me.
There are places that are still strong, where to be country is to be invincible, Invincible! But they’re fewer, and this isn’t one of them.
“We’ve still finished second two years running,” he adds. “Two Grand Finals.”
Against big teams, from way bigger towns, that they hate for their cockiness and their coin. Bigger towns they dislike because they’ll never have to struggle.
This little town.
The one that can’t even afford ring-ins. That has just two tired billboards on its boundary. Good on it. Second? Hell yeah! Topple the big things.
My take is simple. Union requires rules, thorough game plans, structure. In its own tough way, lots of little, official things. It’s compact, crushed, hard, inward looking.
League is it’s Aussie cousin. No bullshit. Straighter lines. A bit meaner. But still inward. Still a bulldog.
Aussie Rules is about running down a wing, leaping high, being that bit freer, like lambs after shearing. No better. Not one bit better. Just younger.
I’m sick of being the only person in the pub. Of keeping him at work, the place open. When the sun’s done with the lot of us, I tell him thanks, I’m gunna bail, rough it in the bush tonight. Whatever direction the car is facing.
‘Yeah, good on ya, mate,” he says, and we shake on it.
On the way, I head up to the rugby ground, again, just behind the cemetery. The pub and town shut behind me. I notice, there are no netball courts, just like I noticed the pub had no women.
When I kick, in the dark, the ball lands and I can’t see it. Just hear the “Thump” it makes on landing. Then the smaller “thump…”, by which stage I’m onto it.
I love that sound, always.
The mountains rise through the dark, bigger than land should be, as if a child’s drawn them.
The ground is rock hard, in winter I bet it’s mud. The land is beautiful.