A thoroughly Australian few days

by John Harms

I have always had a sense of being Australian. Not in a flag-waving, Aussie-Aussie-Aussie sense. It’s more a feeling of being connected to the place I come from. The land. The people. The way of life. A job if you can find one. A beer and a bet.

My first overseas trip confirmed it. While I loved travelling and (later, briefly) living overseas, I knew Australia was home.

While away I could see how derivative elements of our culture were. It took just hours after lobbing in London to spot that. But also how we have our own culture, sometimes hard to identify and define, and find words for.

I have just had a thoroughly Australian few days.

On Wednesday I flew from Canberra to Melbourne, across the Snowy Mountains which look so good at the moment, over the Murray and the Hume Dam and the city of Albury. Over the King Valley, green from the spring, the sunshine reflecting off the dams below. And into Melbourne.

From there I drove to Ballarat and further west to Hamilton. Past footy grounds and netball courts and war memorials. Through places like Skipton. Through countryside with wheat crops as think as glamorous hair in a shampoo ad.

I drove towards the sunset, the wispy cirrus high in the lavender sky, flicked out like a trout-fisherman’s cast from somewhere deep in the south-west. Towards Hamilton the evening air was filled with the smell of harvest; of specs of hay and dust and the first hint of a light, light dew descending.

I drove past schools and railway lines and homes and golf courses. The stuff of Australian life.

At Hamilton I stayed with my brother Mick who at nearly 40 still plays in the Hamilton C grade along with a few teacher mates. He has a house with a good yard of lawn and eucalypts and fruit trees. Plenty of space for cricket and kick-to-kick and to chip a few 9-irons around.

We had a few beers as the near-full moon rose in the sky, and talked about Richo and Richmond. They have a painting of Richo on the lounge room wall – that famous one by Jim Pavlidis which was the cover of The Footy Almanac 2008.

The next morning they got on with life, and I drove through Casterton, the home of Max Rooke, and across the border to Naracoorte to visit another brother and his family. They have a country-sized yard with space to kick the footy and cricket nets down under the Heysen gums. And they were heading up to Adelaide to the Test and so young Samuel could train with one of the development squads. The boys play cricket and footy for Kybybolite which is where Jack Trengrove, this year’s No 2 AFL draft pick is from.

They have a pool and a basketball ring and they hoon around on push-bikes and duck up to the local golf course for nine holes in the still summer evenings of noisy cockatoos.

I drove to Adelaide for the launch of The Footy Almanac 2009 which was held at the Adelaide Lutheran footy club on Goodward Road, right on the edge of town where the Anzac Highway turns down to Glenelg. The Footy Almanac shows how much we love sport in this country. It’s written by over a hundred ordinary, everyday folk who know and love the game and can string sentences together sufficiently to be coherent and sometimes amusing. Footy is in us (and of us).

Paul Kelly sang a few songs, and if he didn’t bring the house down then Che Cockatoo-Collins did, with a funny and heartfelt speech, made while his young kids ran to him and clung on to his leg, and his wife Delvene looked on proudly.

A bloke called Stolly was the MC. A past president and life member, he played many games for the club with my brother – and two with me. Among the gathering were many lovers of sport: J. Neville Turner, who gets the bus to every Test match in Australia, and hasn’t missed a soccer World Cup for as long as I can remember; Ali Carle, who was a mean rugby player herself, and now a month off having her first child with Doc Clarke; Rick Harley, the father of Tom; Bongo, from The Rock who once bowled Adelaide Lutheran to a memorable victory in the Adelaide Churches comp, which, being in Adelaide is one of the better churches comps going around.

It was a night made especially memorable by Paul Kelly’s rendition of Leaps and Bounds to a small and intimate audience of people who understood the moment.

But there was more. And so we went off to a Greek Restaurant which is a very Australian thing to do. And then to the pub at West Terrace to hear Paul Kelly and his band, who were in top form, playing to an appreciative audience of greying hair (and I even saw a bloke with a wig). Pete Luscombe, the drummer, was having a great time. He played a lot of footy and for a few years coached the Rockdogs against Megahertz (radio mob) in the famous Community Cup footy matches at the Junction Oval. I played in one – full back for Megahertz. I met my opponent, Tim Rogers, for the first time when he took a screamer sitting on my shoulders.

Paul Kelly has the gift of words and music. In his songs there is an indigenous wail and an Irish lament and an Australian way, and the sense that joy and sorrow sit closely. He should barrack for Geelong. He barracks for the Crows and footy.

And so to the Test, which started on a perfect Adelaide morning, with everyone talking about the ground and the re-development. And starting early on the beers.

I was wandering around out the back – the tents are now on the eastern side and you sit there under the trees enjoying the sun and the company and watching on a big screen. There’s Bernie Tuck, fine amateur footballer from the 60s, and Fitzy from Alice Springs. All talking sport. As the West Indies slowly accumulated runs.

The sun shone and the beers went down. And it was a bit like that scene in Cabaret only it was unlikely anyone would stand up and sing Tomorrow Belongs to Me.

In fact it was cricket and company which was important as stories of former glories were told, and everyone was expert.

This is what we do in Australia.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. JTH – I love that drive up the Western Highway. Did you do a quick right hand turn not far past Ararat and drop into Bests to purchase one of their magnificent Shiraz releases?

  2. Peter Flynn says

    My mum’s partner (Johnnyboy) drives his truck to and fro on the Western Highway to Adelaide.
    Has done so for about 30 years.
    His favourite player growing up was George Goninon.

    Saw PK at Great Western earlier this year. Brilliant.

  3. gee JTH, You should have told me it was open mic at the Melb launch!
    im sure everyone would have loved to hear me sing ‘Aint no mountain high enough’
    lmaooo :)
    i have to say i can sort of relate to what you mean. i spent grandfinal week in Sydney,(including the Cats vs Pies semi which i didnt watch)
    i love the cousins to pieces but honestly i couldnt wait to get back home to Melbourne where i belong. :)

  4. JTH. An accurate portrayal. The Adelaide Test is not just a match its a five day social experience> If only Carlton Draught were the sponsor.

  5. P Flynn

    Very surprised we didn’t hear a lot more about Johnnyboy in your Almanac GF report. Seems like a rich vein to be mined there.

    And Dips

    I will look out for Bests.

    JTH

  6. Fitzy

    Is that you? All the way from the Territory?

  7. Peter Flynn says

    JTH,

    In hindsight mention of Johnnyboy should have been made.

    He was on the Western Highway when the toe-poke was delivered.

    Johnnyboy has been a stabilising influence since arriving on the scene in the early 80’s.

    Before then, life was pretty tumultuous.

  8. P Flynn

    I love the idea of a bloke exerting influence while tucking into pie and chips at the Keith Bakery, or listining to the Top 40 on 3HA. And adding foundation to the Flynn household.

    JTH

  9. Peter Flynn says

    Depending on the time of day, Johnnyboy goes for the bacon and eggs or the mixed grill at Bordertown.

    He used to love listening to Bazz and Pilko on 5AA.

  10. John, enjoyed the article and the Adelaide almanac launch. Skipton is a horse I have a lot of time for, my dad (only 13 at the time in 1941), had his dad put a couple of shillings on him with an SP when he won the cup. The question “who won the Melbourne cup in 1941” also came up in a quizz at the Belair hotel a few months ago, I was a bloody legend when I knew the answer!
    The almanac launch with Paul and Che was very enjoyable, and I think for the third year running, I drank too much.

    cheers John and merry christmas to you and yours.

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