Almanac Travel: Out-of-Bounds


Humans have been building walls and tearing them down again for millennia. We seem to be in a ‘building phase’ at present.


I recently visited Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Built around 122AD, one gets the sense that this impressive feat of ancient engineering was built more out of frustration than anything else. However, it clearly served as an impressive display of power and control. Roman culture was unique, in that the conquered were made Roman citizens and hence came under the protection of Rome and its military might. Running East/West across England, Hadrian’s Wall represented a line in the sand, not only against the marauding Picts from the north, but to provide comfort to the Roman subjects to the south. It stood resolute for some 300 years until, facing threats from all quarters, the stretched empire retreated to Rome to defend its heartland. The wall is now all but gone, disappearing into the landscape as it was gradually reclaimed by ancient locals as a convenient source of building materials. The beautiful and peaceful rolling hills seem at odds with what must have been a source of constant violence and conflict.


Another fascinating wall we visited was during a ‘Black Cab’ tour of the Belfast conflict zones in Northern Ireland. The Black Cabs were the original ride sharing service, designed to allow the local Catholic community to safely get around the city and go about their daily activities. Originally starting life as a ubiquitous London Cab, they were not only a practical choice of vehicle, but undoubtedly doubled as a political statement against the English at the time.  Basically, the Black Cabs were not Taxis licensed by any government, but simply local men who drove up and down the street looking for passengers. The first person to hail them would determine destination, and a clever system of signs and signals would alert anyone else heading in the same direction to flag them down and jump on. It proved a safe, economical and highly efficient system of public transport during the many years of conflict.


However, what I found most fascinating about our tour was the account of our driver Paddy (honestly, that was his name), about what has happened since the conflict ended. Paddy explained that, as Belfast slowly integrated and got to know their former sworn enemies, they realised that their differences weren’t so great after all, and they could even become friends. Working and playing together helped break down antagonism and build important links and connections. I was heartened with Paddy’s response to my question as to ‘whether the conflict could reignite over Brexit tensions’. His view was that, whilst there will inevitably be a few troublemakers, the vast majority of the Belfast community have no desire to revert to the bad old days.  The walls may still be physically in place, but the wall of myopic hatred that truly divided the city seems well on the way to being dismantled.


Walls occupied much of my thinking during my trip, passing plenty of castles and fortresses as we savoured our golfing tour of Scotland. Scottish golf courses are framed by some magnificent pitched rock walls and fences, to decorously delineate the golfer’s horror that is out-of-bounds. Yet these walls are by no means ‘Hadrian-esque’ and designed to keep the unruly out! In many cases, the walls serve to keep livestock within the bounds of the course, which help defray the costs of course maintenance – how very Scottish.


I love the way that the local community has equal right-of-way to jump-the-fence and wander or even walk their dog along these magnificent seaside links. This seems like a more sustainable model to me, where the local golf course is an important social and community asset– a true ‘common’. Oh, I forgot to mention that golf is Scotland’s national sport and has been played there for many hundreds of years. Ireland and Scotland share a great passion for golf and whisky, and we consumed plenty of both along the way, including a stopover at The Open. It was brilliant, and my appreciation for both soared to new heights.


Of course, those rare moments of physical mastery are intoxicating, but my real passion for sport stems from a belief that sport is one of the best ways to bridge diversity, break down barriers and build connections within our community; where we can embrace the many joys of playing together amidst physical and mental challenges.  It is one of those rare pursuits that does not in itself threaten anyone’s ideology, other than some banter about who deserves to win the grand final perhaps.


Unfortunately, there is always someone with an agenda to push who threatens to rain on the game.  We need to guard against this and ensure that sport remains a demolisher of walls and fences, and not inadvertently become part of the construction process.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Peter Robertson

Born and bred in Eumundi and Nambour, in strong company indeed. After studying Maths and Physics at uni in Brisbane, I pursued a business career that I sometimes worry is best described as 'Jack of all trades - master of none'. Having safely made it to my mid 50's, I am still yet to have a real job - but I expect to grow up someday. My love of sport has never waned and I regularly play tennis, golf and surf. Other pursuits include fly fishing and trekking. I have been serving on a few private and NFP boards in sports and other areas to keep me out of mischief.


  1. roger lowrey says


    Interested to hear all this.

    We shall be touring Ireland for the first time, including the north, in late September/ early October . I realise things are infinitely better than previously so I hope all is well. That said, my deeply ingrained Sisters of Mercy (sic) Catholic DNA seems already to be telling me to get the hell out of there and back south ASAP.

    Perhaps I should just follow my kids’ usual advice and, like, chill out. .


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