A Change From the North

They come like small soldiers over the horizon, one by one, indiscernible at first. Signs. An article about the benefits of off season altitude training, Arizona or the Himalayas. It doesn’t amount to anything. Sometime later, the next time you turn to look ahead, there are more of them. They are armed. The plea from the club urging you for the thirteenth time this summer to conscript your children to the cause. It’s getting a little more urgent. Something about a pack of Giants coming to do battle, a cup, something of national importance. But you tell yourself it’s only the mirage of a dream; it’s too early to wake yet.

Then, on Monday afternoon, an unsuspecting February afternoon, the Cygnet comes home, kits up, pumps up the footy without a word and streaks out into the back garden. All at once, that mirage has a form. And I know it from memory. It’s come over the crest and into my back yard. ‘But it’s the first week of February,’ I mutter to myself. As I reach the back door the Cygnet has just finished marking out goalposts with two large garden stones and is lining up for a banana from under the frangipani! How many pictures do Getty Images have on file that feature footy players and frangipanis? He snaps and tears up the grass, both fingers pointed sky high.


Perhaps it’s the unusually cool weather in Sydney, or the early Chinese New Year. Perhaps it’s the end of real cricket and the start of pyjama tonking. Perhaps it’s simply the need the new school year brings to fill the hours from 3pm.
Dad gets home on that Monday afternoon. It’s still light. Summertime. A sweaty, red faced Cygnet thunders into the house on his mouldings and pleads to the right parent, ‘We need to put the goal posts up!’
‘The goal– ?’ Dad hasn’t had time to put his bag down. He looks at me blankly.
‘The goal posts,’ shrieks the Cygnet as he pulls damp garden stakes from beside the bins.

Perhaps it’s an overriding sense of urgency brought on by the introduction of an eighteenth team – got to get stuck in early or we’ll never get it all done – or simply the adrenalin of a two team town in the making.

Dad obediently takes hammer and gloves to the garden and I watch amazed through the folded arms of the hills hoist as the stakes go in, wood for goals, reconstituted green plastic for behinds. It’s the sixth of February. I return to the kitchen bench, to fillets of pink salmon, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden. As I chop and assemble, an unreal sound scape hangs on the evening breeze.

‘Goodes takes it, Goodes has it. There’s nothing Bartel can do.’
‘Bartel is on Goodes?’ I wonder.
‘Goodes runs, he snaps. This move’s got everything there is to do in footy.’
The first quarter sounds on Dad’s mobile phone. They’ve got til six o’clock. There’s water on the back step.
‘Now Bartel has the bounce.
‘Bartel is rucking?’ I wonder.
‘Bartel with the ball now, he turns, he’s got nowhere to go, he handballs– oh lovely intercept by Goodes. Goodes runs, Goodes shoots!’ The roar of two meets the goal.
‘Goodes from the centre now. He runs the length of the field, he bounces, he bounces again, a third bounce …’
‘Gee, his bouncing has improved,’ I remark.
‘He’s coming, Bartel can’t stop him alone. It looks a certain– but wait!’ comes the cry.

I run to the back steps. Another cat is on the outside wing, belting down the concrete alongside the Colorbond fence. Our Christmas kitten likes footy too it seems and she’s as good as her name would suggest. She chases the ball all the way into the lavender. We think she’ll stay on the wing. Like all cats, she likes to be the one standing at the end of the scuffle.


At six they come in. It’s Goodes by a good 30+ points. He scoffs a huge plate of fish and veg and hits the sack by 8 – definitely a bonus of the footy season.


That same Monday night, I sat down to my evening’s communion with self. All it takes sometimes is one thing, one trigger. One person announces the cause and suddenly everybody’s on board. An email came in that night: Toyota AFL Dream Team is back for 2012 and it’s bigger and better than ever! The domino had been flicked. Half an hour later: Meet the Swans and Kick Start the Auskick Season! Two days later and I’m suddenly aware that it’s the Swans’ thirtieth anniversary in Sydney this year. I’m suddenly aware that it’s the first ever Sydney derby on March 24th. Had you already realised it’s a standalone Round 1 match? Before long, there will be footy boots permanently on the back verandah. There will be three Sherrins on the lawn and one on the neighbour’s and a row of red and white synthetics on the line. And the weekends will be tent poled by someone else’s fixture.


About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. G’day Mathilde, that is a seriously good piece of writing. I love the frangipani reference, among many others. How things have changed. It really was linseed oil away, footy out, back in my day. And Sydney! Yes, the derby to open the season!

    Thanks for the piece.

    We are doing a Junior Almanac page on the site, so we would love to hear from The Cygnet, and about The Cygnet during the season.

  2. Just got to read this article this morning. I’m having an Almanac hour.

    Really enjoyed it. Bartel on Goodes – now that’s an interesting matchup.

  3. Skip of Skipton says

    It seems we have six weeks to come up with an alternative to ‘Derby’ for this match, as the Perth teams own that trademark, even if they call it ‘Derr-by’ like Yanks.

    Anything superior to ‘Q Clash’ would suffice really. Is there a word that captures the traditional Surfie/Westie antagonism? I’m thinking Puberty Blues and something like ‘Stoush’.

  4. Skip. I thought “Puberty Stoush”. Then I went with old dogs vs young pups theme and thought “Krufts Cup”.

    Mathilde. I can’t help thinking the cranky old types on the Almanac would like the shorter forms of cricket if it was called “Pajama Tonk”.

  5. I reckon “The Big Easy” might work.

  6. They should nick the “Fibros and the Silvertails” from rugby league and enjoy all the controversy it would bring – more free publicity than recruiting an expensive rugby convert I am sure. Sheeds reckons that they are going to win the flag this year anyway so maybe they don’t need the external hype.

  7. And then, as if we needed anything else, the Cygnet and I walked into the bakery this morning and bought our croissants alongside … Leo Barry and his skinny lattes. That mark!

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