A sporting pilgrimage

Parilla is a ‘blink and you miss it’ town smack in the middle of the South Australian Mallee. There is nothing there really. Most of its buildings are perched on one side of a one hundred metre stretch of road that comes from Adelaide and eventually leads to Sydney. There’s a tiny pub that’s run more as a hobby than a business these days, and the one general store shut years ago. Opposite the buildings sits the obligatory grain silos clustered next to the railway line.

There is a cricket club on the outskirts of town. An old mural of a Corella wearing a red and white football guernsey adorns the side of the clubrooms, no doubt painted in celebration many years ago. Now it is more of a sad commemoration of another defunct country football club and prosperous times past. On the other side of the train track (known as ‘The Pinnaroo Line’), perched alone and surrounded by a healthy looking barley crop (this year anyway), is a little bowls club.

This little bowls club still runs, and it’s annual fundraising event has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for the men in my family. We started attending the Parilla ‘Rump & Red Day’ about 4 years ago on the invite of a cousin through marriage, for want of a better term. That’s how things work in these parts, everyone is related to everyone else in some way or another. Much of the time it is in blood or through marriage, and the rest simply by the shared hardship of farming the semi-arid Mallee sand. Said cousin passed away aged only in his mid-twenties recently, and this has given the annual journey more significance.

My father spent many of his teenage years in the district, his father the Lutheran minister in Pinnaroo for many years, and despite living the scattered childhood of a pastor’s son he considers the Mallee his home. I can understand that, I’ve never lived there but it’s the type of place that everyone wants to call it home.

It’s the people more than anything else. They are simple, honest country folk. They work hard, but when the tools are down they love a beer or three and a good belly laugh. They are extremely generous too, and though you might be a perfect stranger to them they treat you like you’re a long lost friend.

With all of us based in Adelaide or the surrounding hills, it’s a reasonable journey. The car pooling logistics are worked out and then we’re on our way at a time that’s far too early for a Sunday morning. A stop must be done at Tailem Bend, grabbing a Farmers Union Iced Coffee and something resembling breakfast from a service station with million dollar cliff top views. Another hour or so through half a dozen ‘blink and you miss it’ towns and we finally arrive at the one we’re after.

We walk into the club, cutting a path through the old locals all weather beaten and clad in white. We cop a bit of flack as we head into the clubrooms to fix up the rego money and collect the competition card – my younger brother is overseas for work and in his absence I’ve managed to secure the services of my wife’s cousin, a very accomplished bowler in these parts. This draws some good natured banter and as the conditions of play are read out we’re flagged as the team to watch with our gun new recruit.

The first round of XXXX’s comes from the bar and we’re into our first game against a bunch of old cockies from Lameroo, the township famous for being the birthplace of Julie Anthony. The skipper is a Maynard, no doubt a relation to the town’s other famous resident Rodney. A wirey back pocket with a whispy red moustache, he was a crowd favourite for the Adelaide Crows in the early days. He went round for a long time in the local league after his retirement from AFL and won a truck load of Mail Medals. We start very rusty, and despite a strong finish the old fellas take the win. We’re out of contention already but we don’t care, it just free’s up the afternoon for more fun.

The smell of roasting beef is wafting across the greens as we walk off and it’s time to partake in some country hospitality. The ladies work hard in the kitchen plating up as the men file past. We collect our meals under the watchful eye of a young and faded Queen Elizabeth, slathering the generous servings of meat, honeyed carrots and beans in far too much rich gravy. The sponsor’s Barossa red flows freely, provided by someone’s son who owns a winery down that way. It all goes down well, as do the shared stories, memories and laughter. The club President tries to wrap things up and is howled down jokingly as he requests that everyone be back out of the greens in five minutes.

We head back out and the Mallee sun is starting to beat down, it’s only early October but it always has a sting up this way, particularly for us office types. It combines with the cold beer and free red and forces the friendly banter across the green to go up a notch. We line up against another weather beaten Lameroo mob, my opposition skipper is a short fella with an old farmer’s limp and a squeaky voice which he has lubricated well during the lunch break. As we cross during the first end his teammates shoot me their country smiles, barely a full set of teeth between them. It’s a long way to the dentist I guess. My first step on the mat is unsteady, the beer and red having their effect. This could be an interesting afternoon’s play.

The XXXX still flows and somehow we get the win, the game punctuated by squeaky voice tearing the arse out of his shorts while retrieving a bowl from the ditch. We trade beers after the game as he hunts around for some safety pins, all the while copping plenty from those milling around the bar.

We commence our last match and I shake hands with my direct opponent, a local hulk of a man with a bushy moustache and a gut that looks like it keeps the local watering holes in business single handedly. They’ve won their first two games so we don’t expect much, but things go well and we get the win easily.

We retire to the club rooms once more and the country hospitality is laid out for us once again. Sandwiches with fillings you only see in bowls clubs, like carrot and cheese and corned beef and mustard. Mini Pies and Pasties come out from the kitchen and a generous plate of homemade slices and cream puffs awaits us to finish. There will be no need for a tea stop on the drive home. The winners are read out and surprisingly we sneak in for third on count back, receiving a bottle of the sponsor’s red each for our efforts.

Goodbyes are said and we hit the road for home. As the setting sun paints the Mallee sky shades of red, we reminisce about the day. It’s been a good one again. We’ll be back again next year.

About Ben Footner

I'm tragic Crows fan, avid lawn bowler, public librarian and father of 2 little kiddies. Sometimes I also find time amongst all that to squeeze out the occasional article for the Almanac.


  1. Peter Schumacher says

    I was born in Tailem Bend and I have many but now distant memories of my early life there, (My father was the Lutheran pastor then; he received a “call” to Birdwood when I was aged nine. BTW if your grandfather’s name was Ron, I actually met him at Robert Howie’s place I don’t know when.

    My memory of the Mallee is a bit different, long church services, weddings, baptisms but I too can recall the incredible generosity of people who were dirt poor, trying to eke out a living in country that was barely arable and where more often than not there was always a constant wait and prayer for the next rain.

    People knew how to make morning teas afternoon teas, gargantuan mid day meals featuring roast lamb usually, you name it, there wasn’t too much knowledge of what constituted a “healthy” diet

    I remember (vaguely) watching Tailem Bend play the Ramblers from Murray Bridge, one of two teams provided by that town, the other being the Imperials. It was the first footy match that I ever watched. How I wish now that my memory was more acute on these things.

    Dad got a dachshund from a breeder at Karoonda, this was our first family pet.

    At Jabuk the Lutheran Church was a tin structure held up at one side by two or three lengths of railway line or at least I think that’s what it was.

    At Halidon, the hall used had streamers across the ceiling which no one ever got around to removing, so that the place seemed to me to be in perpetual happiness or celebration.

    I had a happy childhood at “Tailem”

  2. Ben Footner says

    My grandfather was Ron Footner, it’s a small world! He passed away about 15 years ago now, and is buried at Mannum. He knew how to preach those long sermons you refer to! Robert Howie is my Dad’s uncle, I have fond memories of riding in his vintage cars as a child. I don’t know if he still has them, I remember the magnificent red Mustang he used to have.

  3. Great stuff, Ben and Peter. I was a Yorke Peninsula boy so the memories are similar, but we were more Anglican and Methodist in the better soil areas. Catholics were very rare – SA is proddy stock. I think Bob Hawke was the son of a Methodist Minister – born in Bordertown.
    Whether cricket, bowls, tennis or golf – my main learning was always be wary of the wiry little bloke in the grey felt hat. They are always rat cunning and have a deadly slice backhand/5 iron chip/straight break offie or cut shot. They outsmart you before they outplay you.
    Bit worried about the XXXX reference. No Southwark Bitter or West End Draught in the Mallee?? What’s the world coming to.

  4. Ben Footner says

    Good call on the wiry little bloke Peter B! Don’t worry mate, there was still plenty of West End being consumed on Sunday. XXXX just leads the new ‘midstrength’ brigade these days.

  5. Ben now I know why i play and enjoy bowls and tournaments so much. Great read (good to see you keep up the “Creek” tradition of a beer (s) before the game

  6. Great article Ben. Brought back memories of childhood visits to my relatives in Rainbow in Victoria’s Mallee. How anyone farms in the Mallee regions is beyond me…

  7. Lawrie Colliver says

    Great story. As a Yorke Peninsula lad, we’d had some memorable “Night Owls” bowls nights on Thursday’s after footy training with the once mighty Arthurton Tigers.
    Made getting up for work Friday a bit tough!!

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