A few hours in the forward line

Bad news slips out on good nights sometimes. This time, we’re around a backyard bonfire. I’ve been a few days off the grid, rolled into town with half a myrtle branch sticking out from the underside of my car, so I’ve heard nothing. A good bloke’s gone forever. “You knew him?” Not well, but well enough to feel like I’ve been backhanded when I think of him missing in our small town’s landscape.


I’m in western Tasmania. Hail comes thrashing down. The weather will come and go; the party will carry on. In the morning I’ll leave on wet and windy roads. I have no plan when I drive into the forest. Almost on auto-pilot, I take myself into Queenstown. Just for a coffee at Café Serenade and some hot chips from the worryingly-named Three Ks takeaway. On this day, Queenie is maudlin and grey. Mist clings to the low mountains around the old mining town; the brightly-repainted Federation-era pub and post office look like absurdist fantasies in this milieu.


“You knew him?” Not well, but we played a game here together, last year, on the infamous gravel graveyard. For a few hours our lives intersected, in the forward line of a ragtag team on the Queenstown Oval. I knew him as a muso, but he was a handy player that day. I’d like to think he had the same kind of thoughts as I did. Can this bushwalking guide kick a footy? Me, skinny as a plantation eucalypt, banging it on my left for my first touch of the game as I’m being dragged down. Yeah, nah, he actually goes alright…



By the end of it we both had skun knees and we were drenched to the bone. And we were knackered. We took that dressing-room posture: sitting on a bench, leaning on our knees, taking deep breaths, snorting out quiet laughter through our noses as we recounted some of the moments of the scrap.


This latest visit came on an identical sort of day. Only this time, the field was empty. It looked big. Water ran in channels across the surface, forming big puddles on the wings. This time I was in my hiking boots, stomping the gravel. It really is fucking gravel. There are big chunks of rock in the centre, smashed up conglomerate. It’s a bit sandier on the outside of the oval; there, tiny sprouts of vegetation try and pop up, looking like some sort of dune weed, marram grass.


Plenty of footballers, I dare say, have walked onto the Gravel in a state of grief. They’ve run out there with teammates missing. They’ve died in the mines, on the roads. Died at their own hands. “You knew him?”


It’s as though I’m suddenly remembering that life can be a damn sad place, and the sadness doesn’t deem it necessary to give you fair warning. I’ve been home for a month, back in Tassie, travelling old roads and reuniting with old mates; every corner of this island inflates me with pleasure and pride. But gee whiz, it’s still as easy to find sorrow as it is to pick up a punctured tyre on a west coast backroad, and the consequence can be about the same.


Since events can steer us into misery so quickly, since everything can veer maniacally towards death in a heartbeat, you have to enjoy every fleeting glance of beauty and every scrap of happiness. You have to notice that eagle lifting off the western hills wearing its furry britches, over the angles of conglomerate and quartz. You have to remember your day on the Gravel: the claret, the goosebumps, the camaraderie, the sand and rock, the desperate tufts of grass, the couple of hours you spent in the forward line with a bloody good man.

About Bert Spinks

I tell stories for a living. About footy, beer, Tassie history, the bush, and other things.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Hats off to anyone game enough to have played on the Queenstown gravel.

    Is that your regular club Bert, or was that a one-off?

    That’s a fine reflection Bert, thanks.

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Beautiful work Bert.
    Queenie ‘maudlin and grey’ ? It often was when I lived there in the mid 70s. But boy the clear, sunny days were to be cherished as I sat atop the Sandhill overlooking the town.
    Terrific reflection, mate.

  3. That’s a beautifully sparse piece Bert. I’m sitting here nodding at the sentiment and the prose. Thanks.

  4. Peter Fuller says

    What a delight to come across this lovely poignant tale. So many memorable and thought-provoking word pictures. Even though my most recent competitive match was more than forty years in the past, the line about “dressing-room posture” post-game resonated powerfully. Your references to bad news is a timely reminder to value what we have and to cherish the people who enhance our lives.
    Thank you.

  5. A wonderful reminiscence. Thanks.

  6. Beautiful writing, Bert. The drive to Queenstown and returning to the oval must have been quite emotional. Thank you for this touching piece.

  7. Magnificent, Bert.
    None of us ever know what’s awaiting.

    I walked that oval once in the winter of 1998.
    Already the valley seemed filled with ghosts.

    Beautiful sentiment and terrific writing.
    Go well.

  8. Aaron Tuthill says

    Thanks for sharing Bert. Reminds us that spending time with good blokes are moments worth savoring, we never know what is around the corner. Also reminds me that I haven’t watched a Cats game with you in years!

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