A Free Weekend; Old Books and New Thoughts


Sunday night dinner by Kate Birrell (click to enlarge)

Quite a while ago, when I was doing Yr 12, I remember coming across a book by Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychotherapist.

It might have been in the Moonee Ponds library, the spot I retreated to escape the noise at home, and to pretend to myself that I was studying.

Or, I may have stumbled upon it at home, perched upon the skewiff bookshelf that inhabited the cool ante chamber near the back toilet. It stood upright next to the heavy Edwardian back door that admitted the chill southerly wind on most days of the week; not just through the space below the door, but through its gaping key hole too.

The bookshelf was home mainly to an array of kid’s picture books, a collection of red cloth-bound Enid Blytons from the 1950’s, handed down a generation, or two, and a scattering of 1970’s Australian literature; Donald Horne’s Lucky Country comes to mind, as does Ronald Conways’, The Land of the Long Weekend.

Another book I remember clearly on this bookshelf was titled Australian Pioneer Women by Eve Pownall. This text had a dust cover with an image of the 1904 Frederick McCubbin painting The Pioneer. It depicted a worn out looking settler’s wife, languishing sadly amidst the steely blues of the Mt Macedon bush.

(I’ve decided that the settlers wife must have been a Richmond fan, I have no doubt.)

Loosely mingled amongst this dishevelled collection were a few other books, more esoteric in their nature. Among them authors such as Eric Fromm and Viktor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning was the title of the Frankl book.

I’m not trying to impress you. My philosophical readings are sparse at best. They must have been relevant at the time, tying into the English theme for H.S.C. that year. I could also have been procrastinating over the ill-chosen subject of Chemistry, one that has never drawn me back in.

Either way, something from this era did resonate for me, as only yesterday when lounging on the sofa beside the fire, I thought of Frankl and the term he is credited with having coined, that of Sunday Neurosis.

My search engine’s definition reads as follows:

“Sunday neurosis; that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”

It seemed relevant to this weekend.

A combination of things for me meant there was no kids sport, no significant social events and, of course, no AFL footy, nor finals. The structures that are usually built into my weekend had gone, albeit temporarily.

It was an odd feeling. One craves free time, yet when it arrives, it can be confronting. The question is posed, what do I do? Or, the opposite, too many things to do and being paralysed by the choices and the subsequent indecision.

And so my weekend unfolded with leisure at hand.

Amongst other things, here are a couple of things I did:

  • I took off to the South Melbourne market on Saturday morning, unburdened by time constraints, Paintball birthday parties, tennis matches in Seaford, and devastating games of footy at the MCG. I had company in my husband and our youngest who is eleven now. We, the tiger trio, sat down for coffee served in glass coffee cups and a milkshake served in a stainless steel vessel; not the takeaway varieties that come in the paper and plastic combo that must be steadily building as a waste management problem for our community when you consider how many are disposed of each day. Normally, I have two takeaway three-quarter full strong lattes a day. That equates to 730 paper cups from me each year.
  • Our fresh food supplies for the weekend were replenished, meaning that we did not engage with a home delivery service on either Saturday or Sunday evening. There are no pizza boxes scattered across the bench, nor are there any half eaten tubs of Rogan Josh loitering inside the fridge.
  • I was able to amble through the market and peruse the second-hand book stall in the centre of the market. There, I came across a book titled How did Sport begin? Published in 1971 and by an author R.Brasch. It has that musty smell and creamy, tan colour to its pages. Someone has inscribed in blue biro, upon the front page with a note to the recipient……To two real sports, Pam and Alfred…..(I can’t decipher the rest). I left the market thinking about sport, why is sport, sport? I left the market wondering who Pam and Alfred were.
  • The women’s exhibition game of footy was televised on Saturday night. I sat down thinking I would watch a little bit of the game before going off to start my newly acquired, old book. I ended up watching the whole game. It was such a clean, open game of footy, that I had to watch until its celebratory end. It was a spectacle set against the backdrop of Western suburbia. If television ratings and twitter updates are a sign, it was surely a success.
  • With the open fire lit and a leg of lamb baking beneath a crusty marinade of garlic, rosemary and french mustard, I was reminded of that old tradition of the Sunday roast (minus the garlic and mustard marinade)… And so with all the kids at home for a change, the family celebrated father’s day, and an early Sunday night dinner, seated together at the cloth-covered table. It was complete with both conversation and argument, and in relatively equal measure of both.

In so far as football is concerned, the weekend was perfect in that it shone a spotlight upon the newly forming women’s league. How other fans felt about the bye, I can’t say. Nor can I comment on behalf of AFL finals players; will the break upset their rhythm? If so, I do understand.

As a footy fan, I think it was positive.

The free time and leisure opened up new possibilities and new thoughts, even a sequence of thoughts.

I get what Frankl was on about, that dissociative state one can feel when faced with emptiness or uncertainty. But stepping into that space and beyond that void can also be the opening for some new and creative wanderings….Perhaps a new and contemporary edition of Australian Pioneer Women with a more hopeful image on the cover….now there’s an idea and many possibilities….

Anyway, just thinking aloud.

How was your weekend without the usual round of football finals?


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  1. G’day Kate,
    Lovely weekend here, drifting.
    Dinner with mates.
    Neighbourhood kids calling in – and scripting, acting, filming and editing a movie (incredible).
    Neighbourhood adults calling in – cups of tea aplenty.
    General piss-farting on a grand scale.
    I’ve got Sunday Neurosis pretty much under control these days. Though there was a time when I felt I needed to be a “human doing” rather than a “human being.” Thankfully those days have passed.
    Love your painting.

  2. Nothing is more important in life than absence. It makes the presence appreciated and worth striving for.
    I reckon this will be one of the best finals series with many serious contenders and alternative narratives.
    Just getting the bodies rested (fans and players) and the juices flowing.
    As for my weekend – long walks – chasing golf balls and Shandy the Wonder Dog. Punctuated with coffees, lunch and chat. Does it get any better than this?
    Well played Gillon – and Kate.

  3. I think we have to learn to do nothing. It can be really hard, but its a thing I’m very happy to work on. And anything hard is usually rewarding.

  4. 3 days in melbourne away from the kids. nothing to do. so i did nothing. fantastic!

  5. I agree PB.
    I was in two minds to begin with – the effect of the week’s rest on form and bodies etc.
    But the finals are like a separate season.
    The break accentuates that.

    The real footy begins now.

  6. Thx Dave,
    Yes love the freedom of no commitments and general “piss farting” around..
    Not enough of it

    Peter B… Fancy that….me and Gillon in the same sentence

    Dips…you sound busy in the coming weeks, hopefully celebrating..then down time

    Peter W…X 3 minus kids hope u made the most of it.

    Have to say, I think the break has been refreshing,,, chatting to my 16yo daughter this morning,,initially she was dead against it, but now feels it was possibly a good thing. Only downside is for teams that may end up with several weeks of no play

  7. Lovely piece Kate. The art of doing nothing is to be encouraged.

    My weekend footy highlight was wandering down to Glenelg for the Slowdown and seeing Andrew McLeod moving about with still impressive fluency, even for a forty year old.

    I’m coming around to the bye.

  8. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Some call it ‘dudeism'(The freedom in doing nothing) Kate, inspired by the movie ‘The Big Lebowski’. Embrace the void!
    ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ is one of those books that has left an indelible mark on me. Frankl’s experiences and the audacity to find humour and meaning out of the horrors of Auschwitz was beyond anything I could comprehend. The quote: “Man is that being who invented the gas chambers, however he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” That stays with you.
    Thanks Kate

  9. Thanks Mickey,,I must get to Adelaide again one day..and to visit the oval.i In recent yesars I’ve only gotten as far as Goolwa.

    Phil, yes it’s a long while since I’ve looked at it, but it did strike a chord even back then.

    As far as irony and old books go, tonight I’m looking through the second hand book I picked up at the market, the one that left me wondering who Pam and Albert were (How did Sports Begin) only to discover there is an ex libris bookplate stuck on one of the front pages…with the identity of original books owner…one of whom escaped nazi Germany in 1938….very intriguing couple to say the least. Mystery solved.

  10. Interesting read and thought,Kate I worked and then helped at a quiz night sat night I admit I am not good at doing nothing.I don’t undederstanc why the brownlow,rising star and all aust were not done during the week and televised on channel 7.Dont like losing momentum personally

  11. Man’s Search for Meaning.
    Some interesting thoughts you have mused upon there, Kate.
    I must say – I went to the South Melbourne market recently for the first time in ages. What has happened? A trendier, more hipster place I have never seen.

  12. Kate Birrell says

    Yes Smokie, I’m on trend, hipster at heart

  13. Cathryn McDonald says

    Looks like Kate is on trend… for this site at least… and Rulebook and I are not.

    I felt a couple of things this bye weekend. The first was that, as a non-participating fan, the weekend of no footy drew a line under the season. I felt the kind of closure that usually comes with the end of the Grand Final day BBQ. The finals could be happening on another planet.

    The other theme of my bye weekend was a search for connection. My first Friday night in since March didn’t last long… we ended up at the pub. It was too quiet at home. Saturday was similar chasing the feeling… shopping for Best and Fairest dresses at Port Adelaide followed by a Port women’s team sausage sizzle with all the same people, talking about all the same things. Then a sports themed party at night where half the guests turned up in Port jumpers. Sunday volunteering continued the pattern… Port fans, common emotions, longings, regrets and dreams.

    Got to Sunday night and felt terribly bored.

    “Gil’s bye week neurosis; that kind of depression which afflicts Port fans who become even more aware of the lack of satisfaction from their season when the rush of footy pauses and the void within themselves becomes manifest.”

  14. Cathryn and Rulebook, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have to say my initial thoughts were skeptical, mainly for the reason of momentum as you say Malcom. Probably best judged when season is finally over…I think the biggest drawback is the grandfinal moving too far into Spring and October.

    Cathryn thanks for your insightful comments and for sharing a view into another aspect of the footy life. Having just spent a lot of time sorting dress for 16yo first formal, I know it can be an arduous task. Hope you were successful.

    Love your adaption on the quote too.

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