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Being and the thinking Cygne

As the Swans mounted a charge in the second quarter in Brisbane last Sunday evening, I entered the ancient history department of Sydney’s Macquarie University to witness the hand-over of a collection of prints, engravings, etchings and photographs of the Roman forum spanning some 500 years. Life works in mysterious ways.

The invitation had come through the Cygnet’s trapeze teacher whose mother is the collector, curator and donor. It was her 60th birthday. It was Julius Caesar’s birthday too. He would have been 2115. We drank red and ate cheese, surveyed the remarkable collection and evaluated the many faces of a joyous crowd we didn’t know.

The academics spoke in turn. Of Rome, foundation of civilisation, of the forum as it was, a lived space, a space of plants growing wild and the busy efforts of daily life, a space eventually emptied and deadened by archaeologists attempting to uncover and explain. They spoke of their love of history as inquiry, of the knowledge it gives and the further inquiry that knowledge must precipitate. The founder of the department spoke of the beginning of the Museum of Ancient Culture’s collection, the purchase in the early 1970s of a copper wire—a medical tool apparently. It was set up in a spare room in the then almost rural campus of Macquarie Uni and an unused faculty secretary was despatched to guard the precious inaugural acquisition. As they talked—and they talked!—I leant into Patrick and the Cygnet and whispered Gee, I find it reassuring that there are subcultures of people who know deeply about things I know nothing about. That there are people looking after these things.




Last week we went to see my parents. We hadn’t seen them in months, not since adventures in Iceland and Europe. Vicissitudes intervene. Water had flowed back here. Dad had had a back operation. Mum had played nurse long time. Daily life in the country progressed with autumn’s winds and winter’s orchard fruits. School holidays opened a window and we drove down on a bitter night, arriving in the dark under a dish of stars.

Dad always buys croissants for breakfast when we visit. There they were on Tuesday morning. I handed him a bag of coffee beans. I’ve brought you some good coffee from Leichhardt, Dad.

But non, he said with an apologetic expression stretched over those expressive cheeks, Aym not dreenking coffee any more. Aym dreenking tea.

I assumed it was medical contraindication that had driven him to this.

Non. Aye jurst deedn’t warnt coffee anymore. I preefer tea now.

I didn’t say anything more, reassured by the cheese plate that appeared at lunch, the French Beaujolais served with it. Until evening fell and with it that feeling again that something really wasn’t right.

Mathildie, do you warnt a geen and tonic? A leetle geen and tonic? A little aperitif to accompany the pre-dinner tele the olds often enjoy. Dad watches the global report on SBS before feeding time. But instead the Antiques Roadshow ignited on screen, a manor garden and a polite queue of Manchester locals waiting for their consultation with a cast of clown-like Britons in tight, bright suits chuffed at the appearance of a music box or a pocket watch or a chest of naval documents. Dad seemed to know each category specialist by name. Ah, zat’s (insert name. I can’t for the life of me remember). He iz wornderful, he said as he handed me my drink.

I cornered Mum by the stove. What’s happened to Dad? He’s become English.

Oh she added, seemingly unfussed, and he’s been talking recently of all the interesting places there are to visit there. We might like to go on a trip through Britain. I felt my French blood drain from my face and gulped the drink in one.

When we all settled in for the first ball of the first Ashes test that night, I was half expecting the ex-Frenchman to say that he was barracking for the Poms.

Patrick, the Cygnet and I headed up Woodhill mountain to Drawing Room Rocks the next morning. We started in a pea soup fog. Couldn’t see the road, couldn’t see the escarpment, the trees, the clouds, the valley. Just walking into a beautiful mystery until the sun parted the red gums and accompanied us all the way to the top, all the sturdiness of age-old sandstone underfoot and the company of lyrebirds singing us up the mountain. We stood at the top and looked out out over a crystal-clear Shoalhaven. I couldn’t help expressing what was on my mind: All the underpinnings of my Frenchness, my very foundation, they’re crumbling into ruins.




We drove home from Macquarie Uni via an excellent Grandma’s Tofu in Eastwood and a distant view of the Olympic Stadium. Hmm, Hawthorn on the mind. We’d checked the victory in Brisbane. Simply said and done, that one.

We watched the recording back home. Lots of unremarkable movement from our side. Lots of everyday efforts, jobs half done, enough but not much. A few nice rebounds from Rampe, some good presence from Kurt, millions of in-close touches from Kennedy and Dan and Buddy’s pocket roller.

Some ailments need diagnoses. Some are more mysterious and just need time to right themselves. It’s often hard to know the difference but we usually have a hunch. This one seems to need time, at least until we see how serious it is.

But I’ve been wondering lately whether some of the vitality of the Bloods ethos has been deadened by sanctioning it so deeply, whether it’s become a bit punitive rather than generative, whether the players may be feeling the grind of it rather than the joy of it. I’ve been wondering whether the club’s installation of that ethos as the foundation stone of all recent success has made the players’ attachment to it more like a mantra than a process of inquiry. Knowing your nationality, being told that you are a Blood, it’s no guarantee for how you’re going to behave.

At the moment the Swans’ game feels a little like the hallowed piece of wire locked away, the life stripped from it. Perhaps it needs the secretary to unlock the case and leave the room for a while.




If Rome had Lucretius and Cicero, I have the Moomins, those white hippo-nosed Scandinavian philosophers. I live my life by their creed. Yesterday they posted their daily Instagram, a black and white sketch of Moomintroll and Too-Ticky sitting opposite each other around a fire. The quote is from Moominland Midwinter. Too-Ticky says: All things are so very uncertain. And that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.

Yesterday was Bastille Day. My father did not ring. I rang him, but got the machine. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s exploring his inner Brit. It may make him appreciate his Frenchness again. Maybe he was out drinking real bubbles with some of his Francophile friends. I don’t know.

We have Hawthorn this week. I know I am going to see men seriously working through the mysteries of winning. I’m so glad they are looking after the game. Because I couldn’t set up behind or in front of play. I couldn’t back back with the flight in the pocket. Or burst and run for hours. I couldn’t judge the perfect landing point of a dynamic trajectory or initiate the kick that would carry it. And who knows? These experts—they might just be my boys I’m talking about. That possibility, it’s so reassuring.


About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. E.regnans says

    Ahh MdeH (whoever you are, whoever you become, or whoever you always were), long may your explorations of thought & philosophy continue.

    Such writing of identity & footy.

    Who are you?
    Who are we?
    Who are any of little old us?
    I somehow feel that reading your story improves me as a person.
    We take what we can.

  2. Wonderful Mathilde. I especially liked the secretary leaving the room image.

    The interplay between history, place and people. I love reading this stuff.


  3. Mathilde – brilliant analysis of what’s missing with the Swans at the minute. It is the first time I’ve ever read such a complete description of what “it” is.

    The world is an amazing and scary place. In our corner of the world a Frenchman becomes English. In another corner lunatics set about destroying Palmyra. What does all that mean?

  4. Tres bon Mathilde. You always find a way to beguile and look at the world anew.
    I think your father and I may be living parallel lives. I started out an Anglophile – cricket, Monty Python, The Goons, Match of the Day, Nye Bevan and the Fabians. But the UK is too much of the same old, same old for me these days. Now we am off to France, Italy and Croatia for 7 weeks – partly for holidays and partly to reconnaissance our retirement.
    A few months in our winter in a small village anywhere along the Mediterranean will do me fine. As long as I have my Kindle for books and IPad with the AFL Live Pass.
    A short black and little pastis in the afternoons. I plan to end up a Francophile/Adriaticophile.
    I will wave to your father as we pass going in opposite directions.

  5. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Thanks fellas.
    Been to Palmyra, Dips, in 2000 … during a window of great peace in the region. We walked the ruins at a 45 degree dusk, watched the sun set and the full moon rise simultaneously from either edge of the fort, found a beautiful man with a natural spring in his garden, which he invited us to swim in, while he gathered his home grown olives and dates for us to eat. One of the truly beautiful places, that one. And the work of a Queen to boot. Too sad …
    PB … I’m with you! A Blonde (beer!) on the terrace in the early southern evening. Dad can have his gin on the grass!

  6. A really thoughtful and interesting read, Mathilde.
    In life, all these threads, some tightening, some loosening. But all different.

  7. John Butler says

    A lovely travelogue of identity Mathilde.

    Merci beaucoup.

  8. Mathilde – Queen Zenobia. Intriguing character. Apparently more beautiful than Cleopatra. And more chaste as well!!

    I hope I get the chance to see Palmyra, but it doesn’t look good.

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