Off Season Odyssey – Part 26: Bread and Sports

Somehow, while heading towards work on the Gold Coast, the ute stops at a pub.

   Well, I never!

How could it not? The town is high in the mountains, full of trees and old school buildings, which make it look much smaller, more forgotten than it is, in good ways. The pub’s the St.Kilda Hotel, which seals it.


There’s a group of Old Mates at a tall table near the bar. I ask a football question, they give and answer, and I’m invited into their circle. I swear, it’s that damn easy.

“Geez, the beer tastes good,” I tell them.

“Get a room, then. Keep drinking. Brisbane’s too far, you won’t make it tonight,” they tell me.

“Yeah, I got ripped-off in Sydney, and rained out in Byron Bay. Money’s all gone.”

“All?” they say.

“I’m drinking dinner. Thanks, but I got no choice but to keep moving.”

They laugh and talk, and one in particular nudges the others into throwing out names of farmers, mostly back near Byron. Job offers to a stranger on a mountain highway.

Damn, it’s tempting! But there’s no going backwards.

“Here. On me,” he insists, placing a beer down.

Jim is the Deputy Mayor. And everything is not as it seems. It never is. You can’t drive through a town, maybe take a few photos, and know it. Work, pub stops, footy ovals, they’re vital. This trip was never about scenery.


The place’s biggest trade is students. By the truckload, by the thousands. They come to the campuses here from all over the country, overseas, you name it.

Jim is a corker bloke, and loves the place he lives. You can hear it when he talks. A Mayor who hangs out with the tradies should be what this country’s about.

He tells me of the Indigenous rep game he is trying to get played here. And a world standard cycling event on the back of the fact Cadel Evens grew up in these parts. And maybe a Union international. He talks about sport as a building device, of communities, as from bringing money into town. Of vibrancy. Of punching above their weight and keeping the place alive.

He can sell. I believe in him. I can’t believe he’s only Deputy.


“Yeah, we have an Aussie Rules team in town,” he says. “It was coached by the Philosophy Professor.”

“You’re not serious, are you?” I say.

“Oh, yes,” he tells me. “The bloke was from Melbourne. He could play good footy.”

I try to picture the huddles.

“Boys! We’re twenty goals down! Now, Socrates once said….”


“Does a football think? Does it feel? Or is its random bounce a metaphor for…”


“Existentially, we’re keeping up with them…”


“Ralphy! If you piss at the back of the ¾ time huddle and nobody sees it, did you piss at all?”

The comedy roll would be gold! They should make a movie about him! Starring that bloke from Kenny!

Or maybe he’s sick of thinking? Maybe here’s the only chance in his life to dribble and snort, to pop veins and yell “CHARGE!”

“Good stuff,” I say.

“It’s a shame he’s not here,” Jim tells me.

Bloody oath it is.

“I’ll give you his contact details in case you do stay over.”


I talk to Larry, Curly and Mo about anything and everything. Soon enough Jim comes back with another beer. I explain I’m not a local voter. He shrugs like old jokes, and puts it in front of me.

“Old Dog? Old Dog, is it?” he says, lassoing another middle-aged local I don’t catch the name of. “He’s a renowned Historian.”

“You serious?” I say again.

I feel like I’m sipping froffies with the Puppet Master.

“Absolutely, I am,” the little man tells me.

I ask him about sport, back in the day. The real day. Rome and stuff.




Why not? I’m sick of us talking about our footballers and rugby players like

“They’re a team of commandos.”

“He’s a real soldier.”

“When the two teams do battle.”

“Tonight, when Hawthorn goes to war against Essendon.”

“They’re using shock and awe tactics.”

Worst is warrior. Always, “What a warrior!”

I remember one media scribbler declaring Nick Riewoldt was one because he played with a head cold.


“Yes?” the man says.

“What does history offer?” I ask him.

“In ancient times it was all about bread and sport. Politician got elected based on the number of games they put on. Unpopular Emperors used them to sure up their power.”

And that was that?

“Usually. Food, sport – people were happy.”

“Was it all gladiators?” I ask.

“No, there was running, boxing. They even flooded the coliseum for various water disciplines. But nothing was as popular as blood sports.”

“They must have gone through their gladiators,” I say.

“Oh, no. Not really. Gladiators were elite athletes. Like today’s footballers. If everybody died each time they jousted, there’d be no-one left to entertain the masses. There was a lot of pardoning.”

He tells me, mostly, it was thieves and beggars that copped it.

I give a small laugh and a sigh.

“So nothing’s changed in 5,000 years?”

“No,” the little man says, happy enough. “Not really.”


Jim has drifted to the bar to see if either of us won the meat raffle. I think he’s a better than the Emperors of then. That he believes in what he’s doing, and why. Uni towns have money. He can use sport and things other than sport to push each other upwards.

I watch him talking to his mates. They come and go and weave into and out of each other’s space and varied occupations. Some are obviously rugby players, others Aussie rules. Some go fishing.

Suddenly, the St.Kilda Hotel, highlands N.S.W, reminds me of one of those bars you find tucked into the back of the big footy ovals, buried in the bowels of huge, concrete stadiums.

I leave them to it.


Sometimes I watch Julia at the footy, and Kevin and Little Johnny. The funniest was Paul Keating. All of them, pretending they give a shit about the game, looking awkward, wearing shiny new scarves still wrapped in plastic. Fooling no-one.

They have to be driven to get where they are, as far as they have.


I couldn’t imagine one of them yelling: “Have a go, ya mug!” Not like they meant it!

If we could make a time machine, the first thing on the agenda would be to go back and give Robby Muir some calm down pills before he played. Next would be, before we cast our ballots, to see how many Prime Ministers kissed babies, jogged, or still went to the footy once they were out of office.

If even one said, honestly: “I’m living my own blood sport. I have no time for footy.” I’d vote for them.

Instead, we get Tony barracking for, what was that team his minder told him?

Today’s politicians are laughable like that. But it works, and, according to little mate, has for all time.

They still do as they did in Rome. For bread simply read tax cuts.


It was good to meet one who’s different.


Vote for this man!


  1. Love your work Matt, the gags about the Philospoher/Coach are priceless.
    Respectfully suggest you keep moving north especially to Darwin which continues its footy finals this coming weekend. Fev’s team Waratahs went out to the defending Premiers Wanderers by 90 odd points depite the wayward one slotting nine goals!
    Not only will you see the best of the unique Top End footy style but you’ll get plenty of job offers- the economy-LPG driven- is booming and workers are in short supply.

  2. Matt – we need to put together an Almanac footy team when you return. Not sure how we would do this logistically but hopefully a ove of footy will prevail.

  3. Cleaner! Thanks heaps. Can’t give away too much, but the postings are running about three weeks behind the doings. Am a wee bit further north now. Darwin would be amazing!!! I have a few contact there, thropugh footy, which is what the Odyssey is about. Proving you can travel the length of the country only staying with or getting work through people you have played alongside. If not this year, next. T’is a dream o’ mine.

    Damn Straight we do Dips! Would love to have an Amanacers vs the Press at some obscure time when footy is NOT on the telly and they are all covering it.

    Or whatever.


  4. I’m guessing Armadale?

    If you are knee deep in water and further North near Noosa, I won’t offer a job, but my brother in law is a physio, I’ll shout you a session to loosen up the limbs!

    Go Waratahs (but only the Darwin bunch, not this masquerading nsw rugby knobs). Played against, and with some of them with the Bali Geckos. One of the best footy memories ever. After playing a game against them having a few beers with the guernseys still on, there were no two consecutive players from the same team. One of them, one of us. Awesome.

  5. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    Australian football in New England will celebrate its 50th year this season.

    When the students turned up for the first practise in 1962 they found that the Sports Union staff had marked the field in a rectangle… Nobody knew anything about the game.

    For most of the history of the game there was a four team compeition made up of the residential college teams as Matt points out, most students live on-campus – it is a university town.

    One of the teams, the Saints based on St Alberts-Drummond-Duval colleges, used to drink at the St Kilda Hotel.

    The first of the celebratory events for the 50th year will be the guernsey presentation in a few weeks.
    The Vice-Chancellor – a footy fan, like a previous VC, Sir Zelman Cowan, who was club patron, will do the honours.

    The Old Boys known as the Wanderers, have chipped in for the guernsys for the Nomads, as the current team is known. The letters, ‘UNEANFC’ will feature on the back like the Swans SMFC.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Enjoyable read as always , Matt and a deputy mayor who actually gets it and is doing the best thing for the town clone him ! Nice to meet you Matt bastard re missing the flight Hope all works out ! Will help as much as I can re your book all the best !

  7. Mal, back at ya, mate. Few more of you and the book would be in the bag!!

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