A Blue day in the outback

By Callum O’Connor

Deny sleep long enough and it will ignore you when you need it.
I’m aboard a bus that has been faithfully lurching and wheezing its way up from Melbourne for 30 hours since 7 am on Wednesday morning with the thirty of us who are on the 2012 Eltham College /school Central Australia Trip aboard. Brief stopovers in Bordertown, Beauford and the Land of Utes (also known as Adelaide) have been our breaks between marathon sessions of Uno, Scorpa, Cheat, Blackjack and Go Fish. The first day was all fun and games. Admittedly, the scenery beyond the Deep South of Adelaide is not the beautiful canyon-and-billabong panoramas that are in Northern Territory ads: its endless scraggly scrubland that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years and doesn’t give a shit about how it looks.
The night is not so good. After The Anchorman has finished and Darcy Russel’s speakers (which have been pumping ‘Born To Be Alive’ and a  Swedish pop star named Gunther) are off, my mate Mikey and I decide to pull an all-nighter.
How do I describe Mikey? Mikey is fun. Mikey laughs a lot. Mikey lives life: Coldplay in November, gap year through Europe in 2014. Mikey also has a sensational taste in music. So, to help us get through the night, we listen to Radiohead’s electronic masterpiece ‘Kid A’. And that’s where the problems start.
‘Kid A’ is not a happy album. Sure, it’s beautiful, but the underlying fear and isolation can really take control. And that is exactly what happens to me: I don’t hear the artful collage and production, only Thom Yorke, the perfect jigsaw of problems, and his paranoid, edgy view of what the end of the world will sound like through the apocalyptic creature-jazz of ‘The National Anthem’ and the  terrified fear and irony of ‘Everything In Its Right Place’.

Mikey, however, is left with the melting-raindrop strings of ‘How To Disappear Completely’, the cunning cynicism of ‘Idioteque’ and the soft, gentle lulls of ‘Kid A’. The album ends, and he is content enough to go to sleep while I, having pushed sleep away for so long….am now wide awake, with nothing to distract me from Thom and his miserable bloody genius. Just the reflection of my waxing face in the dark windows to keep me company.
Nearly a full day later and we have pulled into Heavitree Gap, the best camping ground in Alice Springs, at the foot of the East McDonnells Ranges. I’ve managed three hours of sleep, but am determined to sit up with Mikey, a hawker, and Jack, a bluebagger, to hear the match.
First off, there are few greater male-bonding sessions than finding and trying to set up a radio in the outback so you can hear the footy. We are hunters, tracking down radios in the campsite, inside caravans and wherever, until the bus drivers point out that they have a transistor in the trailer.  So, we all huddle around the only iPhone/camera free powerpoint in the bunker.
Jack, I should point out, wants Ratten gone. So to that end, he is keen for Buddy to kick his 500th and then keep going. He dismisses the injuries that have befallen Carlton, pointing out that West Coast have been able to keep winning games despite having half their team out.
The game turns out as expected. The Hawks have all the answers, the Blues have none. Mikey grows increasingly excited as the Hawthorn machine continues to eliminate, with cold ruthlessness, another variable in their check list of premiership possibilities. Indeed, the only person who is more excited than Mikey is Jack, who grows increasingly excited as the Carlton machine continues to eliminate, with genuinely perplexing efficiency, every trace of our memories of their first four matches. Remember them? Depth, run, skill, the lot. Now, there is nothing.
The margin blows out to a margin that they are both happy with. Then Buddy does a hammy a couple short of the 500 and the interest blows out of the game with a rude raspberry. When Jamison does a shoulder, Jack can actually afford some misery that would normally be appropriate.
“Do you realise what our backline’s going to be next week? Thornton-McLean-Yarran-Davies. It’s a good thing Ratten’s on the way out.”
I could accuse him of not being a true supporter, but when Matt and Bec, two other Carlton fans, walk into our corner and open with “Are we down by enough?”, I realise that Carlton supporters are not like us Richmond supporters, who don’t have enough sanity left to believe in ‘one step forward, two steps back’.
At three quarter time, it seems that Jack’s prayers have been answered: Billy Brownless tells us of Carlton president Stephen Kernahan ranting against Ratten’s selection and game plans, saying that there are several players who shouldn’t be on the ground and that Plan B is non-existent.
Jack, who has been lambasting Ratten’s tactics all bus trip long, explodes out of his chair with compliant indignance.
“You see! That’s what I’ve been saying! You guys just laughed at me, but you see, I’m right…”
Jack tails off as he realises that Mikey is softly smiling at him as patronisingly as he can while I hardly control my laughter at the pair of them.
Lucas, the final, coolest Carlton supporter in the group, wanders in and inquires how the Blues are going, at which point Jack opens the throttle again. He’s halfway through when he realises that Lucas is giving him the same look Mikey was, at which point he gives up and leaves the bunker.
On this trip we would climb Uluru, walk Kings Canyon, ride camels and look up at unbelievably clear starry skies.
And not listen to Radiohead. At all.

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