Almanac Life: An Innocent Man

One of the first dates pencilled in on my social calendar (with a non-erasable pencil) is the Boxing Day Test match at the MCG. Since the age of about 14, attending the cricket on Boxing Day has become an exercise almost as familiar to me as donning a pair of shorts. (It is worth noting that both of these activities draw varying degrees of exasperation from my wife). However, even the most ardent of cricket enthusiasts would be gilding the lily if they were to say that December 26 was the most exciting of days from a purely cricket perspective.


Regularly, the day’s highlights occur off the field, where an ever-evolving group gathers annually in the name of banter and a beer. The day generally meanders along a familiar route: watch the morning session, enjoy a few beers at lunch, and head back outside in the afternoon to see some more live action – or maybe stay inside to follow the remainder of the day’s proceedings on a screen. Precious are the memories of catching up with mates whom you may only see face-to-face yearly at this event. The day always has the potential to pan out in an unpredictable and unusual fashion, but thankfully for us, this has been the case on only one occasion.




Long before I became an MCC member and opted for the more salubrious surrounds of the Members’ enclosure, I cut my cricket-watching teeth on the splintery wooden benches of the outer, just down from the rowdy Bay 13. Never let it be said by the nay-sayers that watching cricket from this vantage point was anything less than an educational window into Australian society.


In 1985, India were the visitors to the `G. The Melbourne Test was a largely forgettable affair, notable for the debut of one Stephen Waugh and centuries to Greg Matthews and Allan Border. The official Boxing Day crowd figure of 18,146 aligns with my memory of the ground being sparsely populated, as Australia crawled their way to 8/210. As the day wore on, the crowd in the outer looked for other means to entertain themselves, despite the police presence being large, over-bearing, and slightly antsy.


This was the tail-end of the BYO-esky era, a time when bringing your own grog into the arena was as much a part of the Boxing Day ritual as sandwiches stuffed full of leftover turkey. We had plenty of ice left in our esky, so late in the day we began distributing it to anyone in the vicinity who wanted some. But just after my mate Opal tossed a few pieces to people in the rows in front of us, three police officers descended upon him, grabbed him, and frogmarched him up the steps. At first, we thought he had merely been ejected, but we received word that he had been arrested and charged with offences including ‘inciting a riot’. How we had the forethought to collect the names and addresses of the punters around us, I will never know.


A few months later, Tucky, Opal and I, and a couple of those punters, were crammed in the city office of a young solicitor named Bernie Balmer, who was briefing us on how he thought the court proceedings might transpire that morning. I was growing nervous, and the decrepit Magistrates’ Court on Russell St did not make me feel any better. I am sure Opal was tetchy, as he was a law student and having a criminal conviction recorded against his name was definitely not a part of his plans.


The beady-eyed old senior-sergeant who had apprehended Opal lied through his teeth, claiming that our mate was randomly throwing ice into the crowd, and was lucky not to have caused serious injury. Out in the hallway, Tucky may have coughed and uttered “Bullshit”. The testimonies of our fellow cricket-watchers, who had travelled down from the bush to give evidence and ensure that an injustice was not carried out, were particularly persuasive. Sensing that his case was becoming increasingly impossible to make, the young police prosecutor seemed to lose enthusiasm during the hearing, as he gradually lost faith in his initial implication that we had all been as drunk as monkeys. Thankfully, the magistrate saw sense and dismissed all the charges. But he made a point of chastising Tucky whom, while waiting outside to give evidence, had been poignantly singing Billy Joel’s An innocent man. The walls of that old courthouse sure did carry an echo.


The relief of a not-guilty verdict was celebrated long and hard at an Italian restaurant in Lygon Street. And as I wolfed down the spaghetti marinara and quaffed the house red, I considered the fine line between guilt and innocence; luck and misfortune; a memorable Boxing Day and a forgettable one.


I pondered, what had the 1985 Boxing Day been? Memorable, or forgettable? I decided that it had probably been both.




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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Smokie agreed definitely both ! Incredible only,18 thousand and yep overwhelming majority of police v good but there are some rotten eggs.At the 2018 Sanfl gf I was helping,Norwood out selling our,140th year book roaming amongst the crowd-Sanfl staff had been good then all of a sudden I copped the dragon
    Have you got a permit ? I said I’m working for,Nwd she is on a walkie talky Ive got him under surveillance as we walked back to the Norwood merchandise stand,I scared the crap out of Ange who tried to explain,Malcolm is helping out I was threatened with being evicted and arrested and then we lost easily my worst ever day at the footy

  2. Would the Tucky in the story be the famous Bernard by any chance ???

  3. roger lowrey says

    Well played Smokie.

    Bernie the attorney’s success with you three early in his career obviously sparked his subsequent career interest in defending the innocence of more notorious high profile clients often referred to in popular tabloids as “colourful identities”.

    Also good to see the fundamental goodness of rural folk keen to come to the defence of what they obviously regarded as high spirited young city scallywags having a bit of fun.


  4. Like Ned Kelly you were just misunderstood Smoke!

  5. Kevin Densley says

    Ah, yet another tale concerning the age-old theme of crime and punishment – or, in this instance, no crime and no punishment!

  6. Brilliant Smoke – with an ending better than anything out of Hollywood too!

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Love it Smokie. Watching many old replays in what has become a year of reminiscing, it’s been interesting to note how ordinary some of the 1980’s crowds were at both footy and cricket. 18,000 at Boxing Day in these times would surely see the Test shifted to Perth or Adelaide!

    I’m imagining Bernie Balmer as a Dennis Denuto type, maybe it’s just the alliteration in common.

  8. Bernie Balmer, used his services after getting into a bit of trouble in Fitzroy St on a Sunday Night in the 90’s.

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