AFL Semi Final – Geelong v North Melbourne: The Man On The Moon

Life moves in mysterious ways. So does footy.


Last Thursday morning I met a bloke who has been to the moon. It’s not the sort of person you meet every day. His name is Charlie Duke (pronounced with a hard, John Wayne “D”). I was at a business breakfast with perhaps 150 other attendees. Charlie came to the lectern; a straight, orderly looking bloke with grey, tidy hair and wearing a big blue American College jacket. He had me immediately. His manner was generous and easy, like a man completely at peace. He spoke briefly about himself in a humorous, self-deprecating way, (even mocking his southern American accent) then after a few minutes said “I want to show you a video.”


A grainy, shaky NASA video of his Apollo 16 voyage came on the screen. It was extraordinary. The camera shots were taken from inside the capsule, and a hand held camera was used on the moon’s surface. When Apollo 16 almost shook itself to pieces at lift off I felt like I was there. And when Charlie Duke was bouncing across the moon’s surface and the dust was rising and falling around his ankles I marvelled at mankind’s ingenuity. Has there ever been a greater scientific experiment?


Charlie was a kid from a small town in South Carolina who joined the navy (there was no air force in those days), he fell in love with planes, became a jet pilot, volunteered to be a test pilot, got selected for the NASA program (as you do), did a master’s degree in aeronautics (as you do), then later a master’s degree in geology (“So I could tell what the hell rocks I was looking at when I got up there”), and finally he blasted off on the 16th April 1972 into space. At 36 years old he was the tenth man to step onto the moon.


“If anyone doubts we went there I can tell you we did. I was there.”


His descriptions of space were brilliant. “The earth sits suspended in blackness”, he said, “There’s nothing holding it up. I looked out of the capsule window and there it was; a beautiful, blue planet surrounded by eternity. A perfect place to build life.”


Charlie was giving away two signed copies of his book, Moonwalker. All the audience business cards were put in a vase and two were pulled out. Mine was one of them. I had the tremendous opportunity to shake the great man’s hand and have a brief chat.


What do you ask a bloke who’s been to the moon? His handshake was firm and confident. Pretty good for a bloke who is 79 years old. I told him what a pleasure it was to meet him and that his speech and presentation was incredible.


Thankee” he said, “It’s always a pleasure to be in Or-stralia. Always a pleasure to be in Mel-boorne.”


We only had a few minutes. I wanted speak to him for hours. I wanted ask about sleeping in space, about exercise, about eating up there. What did they talk about on the trip? I wanted to ask him about God and his idea of God (Charlie became a Christian believer only later in life). During his speech he explained that some astronauts felt a closeness to a God in space. A presence, if you like. I wanted to ask why? What does space do to the human consciousness? “I didn’t believe in God back then” Charlie said during his speech, “I thought I WAS God back then.”


It was an amazing morning. One I will remember for a long time.


I was thinking about Charlie on Friday night whilst watching the Cats and the Roos. It occurred to me that there are many people who know a lot about space. All the North Melbourne players, for example. They had oodles of it, especially in the first quarter. Dal Santo was in space ALL night. They zipped around the surface of the MCG like Charlie in his moon cart. Free as birds, skipping across the grass like kids on their way to the lolly shop. I was asking myself: is there another life out there? Does Geelong exist?


These are my scribbles across the evening:


Run by the Roos is exhausting to watch,

Thomas kicks 3 quickly,

24/6 – ouch.

Too easy 36/13,

Loose men everywhere!

No ruckman – killed,

Poor kicking,

Too loose!!

Giving up 1st possession,

Cats shot already – horrible. 42/13

Win the ball, win the game,

Cats settle and run – 43/31,

It’s a shoot out!



Start with errors again

Mackie falling,


Roos too clean,

Who is on all these blokes?!

Motlop gone,

Being dominated,


Just hanging on but playing dumb footy.



Out running us again,

Our kicking inside 50 is appalling,

Motlop lazy,


67/43 – inside 50 we’re awful,

Second to the ball, not sticking tackles,

Effort but no poise,

Just a pulse.



McCarthy adds spice, 81/63

Roos spread is awesome,

Bad error


Cats look desperate,


Not hard enough, not fit enough, but……?




Probably a bridge too far now,



Is there life?

Hawkins tears into the game. Thompson is a rag doll.

97/78 what? Surely not? (Send Sir Frank a text) – “its not over yet.”



98/85 – its on now!! Hawkins is ripping the Roos to pieces. Where was this earlier?

98/91. A goal in it. No way. NO way. Its mayhem in the Roos defence.

Goal disallowed!! Where’s their sense of theatre??


Bartel!!! – 98/92.

2.39 on the clock! I’m levitating. The whole world must be watching.

2.26 to go.

It’s in our 50 – chances aplenty. Cats press, Roos scrambling.

29 seconds left. Mackie bombs it inside 50. Goldstein takes a big grab!! That’s the ball game.

98/92 – season over. Not good enough.


I slump in my seat. Heart pounding. Footy has done it again. I was riding the bumps, smothering the kicks, taking the grabs. There is nothing quite like our game. Now I’m drained. What did that game mean? Was it Geelong’s last hurrah, or the first signs of a new era? The young blokes were good, the old ones struggled. The Cats played the whole season as if they were waiting for something; as if a big moment was coming for them to conquer. The big moment came and they failed.


I wonder what Charlie Duke would make of a game like that? Would he see meaning in it? Or does going to the moon obliterate meaning in the everyday? Therefore, is going to the moon a burden rather than gift? I’m not sure. But I know one thing, there is a Geelong out there. There is life down the highway. We’ll see it again in 2015.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. As if Charlie Duke’s place in history isn’t already carved in stone, he’s also the voice that says the immortal lines:

    “Roger Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot”.

    His chapter in Andrew Smith’s ‘Moonwalker” is outstanding; perfectly encapsulating the question “what does a hot-shot fighter jock who believes he’s bullet-proof do after he walks on the moon? How do you follow that up?”

    Geelong, meanwhile will need to find out a way to get more out of their new litter. Too many with too little a contribution on Friday night (and the week before). Too much left to the old guard when the whips were cracking.

  2. Dips

    Nice stuff. My son heard him speak at their end of term school assembly last Friday, and was captivated by him. Said he was really interesting as well as quite funny. Sounds like a very interesting and self effacing guy. Their school also held a breakfast with him (may have been the same one you were at?) and it sold out very quickly


  3. Steve – yes Charlie was in the Control Room when Neil Armstrong took one small step for man.

    Sean – I was at Trinity Grammar.

  4. Great article Dips. The reflections on Charlie are thought provoking.
    Your match notes are concise and to the point. Says it all.
    As for questions about sleeping in space. Why not ask Travis Varcoe?

  5. Excellent stuff, Dips.

  6. PB – don’t get me started on Varcoe! Sadly he wasn’t Robinson Crusoe. (But Robinson Crusoe wasn’t Robinson Crusoe either?)

    Good on you Smokie – the Roos were too good. Hope they run the Swans ragged next weekend.

  7. Pamela Sherpa says

    Dips I’m suprised you didn’t ask him if he’d seen a game of Aussie rules. Sounds like you enjoyed a fascinating and inspiring encounter.

  8. Of all things Dips, The Galaxy Song from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life came to me while reading your take on Geelong’s last gasp attempt to be something more than a contender.

    The depth of the Cats problems was exposed by the Hawks and then the Roos ran those same problems ragged. The Cats being the side they are, they managed to fight back but it was too little too late.

    You were lucky enough to see just how far we can fly, both in Mr Duke and in the Cats. I think we may also be observing the first step of the fall.


  9. Houston we have a problem

  10. Andrew Starkie says

    Great stuff Dips. Cats caught in traffic on Westgate, arrived too late. Go Roos!

  11. Interesting read Dips. That’s a curious point he has makes re astronauts and a sense of God ; a link between space and spirituality ?

  12. Good stuff. Nathan Burke said that North were not really impressive. God, I wish they were not more often! Winning a final is not impressive? True, only six points. maybe he is right. I wasn’t impressed with St Kilda when they won the 66 flag by only one point. Not very impressive. And Melbourne the 64 flag, just. They were lucky. Not really impressive to me. And Scott only one the US masters by one shot. I wasn’t impressed. And Jesus only came back from the dead once. Not impressed!
    North not impressive Nathan, mate, I’m a North fan and guess what, I was impressed!

  13. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I just loved this Dips. I just loved it.
    And I’m going to work my way through the next Swans game in point form. Abacus form.
    And I’m going to think about being on the suspended ball with nothing holding it up.
    Merci. I hope you find solace in other spaces.

  14. Luke Reynolds says

    I was undecided about the Moon landing(s). Were they faked? Why haven’t we continued to go back? This is reassurring. I want to believe man walked on the Moon.
    Great read Dips.

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Dips sounds like a brilliant time meeting a legend , the Cats have had no luck re talls what so ever . Vardy , Simpson , McIntosh 2 years in a row injured

  16. Terrific story re meeting Charlie Duke Dips. What an inspiring, thoughtful person he is.

    I went to the game and your summary is right on the money. Too much left to too few for the Cats, mainly Selwood and Hawkins. Liked Caddy’s game though. North thoroughly deserved the win.

    C Scott now has licence to fast-track more kids next year, and hopefully find a ruckman who can stay on the park. As ever I’m optimistic about the Cats chances in 2015.

    Cheers, Burkie

  17. Peter B – very funny about Varcoe…
    Dips, great read. It would’ve been awesome meeting him.
    Good to see you listened during his speech. So many people don’t.
    Dennis Lillee, in one of his books, said he regretted ignoring most of the speakers as sponsor functions throughout his career.
    There is so much to learn when someone talks…

  18. Luke – we have continued to go back. Repeatedly. Into orbit anyway. NASA is currently spending a great deal on getting to Mars. Charlie Duke reckons that could be a one way journey. He’s not volunteering.

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