I took my bye bye a week before the Swans. Left Sydney behind and flew three hours up the east coast to a pocket of paradise north of Cairns. Yirrganydji country. Rainforest country. As far away as you can be and imagine from the southern states.

Home was a bungalow in the treetops, looking out on the Poplar gums and the Coral Sea. Barely a sniff of footy up that way. I nearly roused the Cygnet on the first night, twin share and reading the Wet Tropics hardback under the covers; mention of Courtenay Dempsey and Jarrad Harbrow on the page of notable locals. And my ears pricked up half way out to the continental shelf and outer reef, when one of the snorkeling instructors started describing a game from Melbourne that an unsuspecting European should definitely try to get to. ‘Who do you barrack for?’ I risked, as she passed me size 3 flippers. ‘I’m a Hawthorn girl. And you?’

The lack of footy went mostly unnoticed in such environs. We spent our bye lifting sand with our toes, combing the endless beaches for staghorn corals and urchins, making cities of driftwood and shells. The Cygnet refined his body surfing for hours in 24 degree seas, while I lay entranced by the sun dancing off the horizon. When do you get to sit long time and watch such a thing? We passed our bye breathing the green of pristine forests, bobbing among the gardens of the Moorish Idols, reef sharks and the starfish and remembering what it feels like to be warm.

The core of the trip was a significant birthday for my mum. We’d spent most of Saturday eating and drinking and finished the day in my bungalow with a low key evening of wine and cheese, presents and words. The Frenchman was keen to get back to his room for the Rugby in Auckland. I had my eye on the Swans in Melbourne. We hadn’t touched the tele all week. Would we even get the telecast up here? Hurrah. Picture, but muted so the merriment could go on. Each glance put us further out ahead; no need for constant attention.

By 8, my sister and her toddler had departed. By 9, the Frenchman couldn’t wait any longer. Half time in Melbourne. The Cygnet fell asleep happy, while my German brother-in-law and I chatted on, one eye on the screen. I tried to teach him about marks and kicks and Lewis Jetta. But in earnest we talked of life and Europe, of kids and country and what it means to find ourselves related. He left at three quarter time. ?

The Cygnet was folded into his sheets, his sun kissed face arranged in satisfied bliss. Alone at last, cross legged on the end of my bed, I raised the volume … on a completely different ball game.

The Bombers were everywhere, devouring the goalposts and the momentum. But … it had been such a good day, such a good week, such a good lead! I pleaded to God knows who – to the age old trees and reef – to keep the balance our way. The geckos devoured the moths above the mini bar, while I rode the bumps in strangled silence, the Cygnet continuing his dreamy sleep beside me. How would I tell him in the morning? With three minutes to go and the lead at ten points, I brushed my gums until they bled. And as the ball came long into the Essendon forward line, I willed 10 seconds to fly by as 2. Long, lifted ball, due to land on the fifty and … no! … a man there! Mark. Siren. Sheer relief and then … mark?! But before I could descend, the umpire called it quits. And alone in space squatted the notable local man, Courtenay Dempsey. Thank you far north Queensland.


Our bye segued into their bye. But back down in rain-soaked Sydney, treading the days on the familiar grid of our city life, the lack of footy is not so easy to bear. We’ve filled the past week with all sorts of subconscious, unintentional, B grade footy mysticism. Like sorting the sugar packets at our local café into the numbers of our favourite Swans. (Did you even realise they number sugar packets?) Or discovering mediocre-quality chocolate footy eggs and fashioning a kind of altar out of them in the dining room.

And just yesterday afternoon, I found myself refreshing and resorting the laundry peg bucket, ridding it of faded miscellaneous and topping the white pegs up with … red ones. The Cygnet stood aghast in his school uniform and footy boots, soccer ball in hand. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked in rightful earnestness.

Thank God the season resumes tonight!

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. John Harms says

    Love it. Love the Seinfeldian (back-in-Sydney) toying with the sugar. And ‘his sun kissed face arranged in satisfied bliss’.

    Thanks for the piece MdeH.

  2. Beautiful piece, Mathilde.
    One of the many joys of the Almanac is discovering the connections and unfolding back story of fellow Knackers over time. I was overjoyed a few pieces ago to get that MDH is your real name and not a non de plume like Phantom or Lord Bogan. Imagine – we have European royalty in our midst.
    Now I get that the Cygnet is your offspring (der, we are a bit slow here in the West). The pictures and paintings at the top of the Home Pages are a joy to me. Peter Argent’s sharp snaps and Yvette’s cubist masterpieces were my favourites. But the photo of the Cygnet on a hilltop meadow framed by gum trees and transfixed on the footy in mid air – is now my #1.
    You are a lucky lady and we are lucky to share your passions and adventures with you.
    On a footy note, last night was a ripper and your boys certainly give everything. Like my Eagles their skill level sometimes goes missing but never the effort. Round 16 at Subi will be a belter. The Indian Ocean beckons if you are at a loose end.
    I nearly choked on my Weeties when I heard that a Foxtel ‘expert’ (has been drip under pressure) said the comp was between Collingwood and Hawthorn. I reckon there are at least a half dozen live chances, depending on how the cards fall with the finals draw and injury.
    JTH – a classy comment on a morning when “The Way We Were” must be on high rotation in the Harms household.

  3. Richard Naco says


    I too love your wondrous tales. And though my tribe now calls your’s Lesser Eastern Sydney, we do hold a very deep and abiding respect for your lot for flying the lone flag in our AFL wilderness here for so long. It was a sign of how far I’ve personally moved on that Friday’s result struck me emotionally as more a win for Sydney footy than a loss for my still cherished Hoops.

    So, basking as I am in the pre-dawn twilight, as our Giant burning light shines ever brighter before inevitably arising in the west – the Greater West – nothing would please me and mine more than to see the Swans once more secure the ultimate triumph this year for New South Wales.

    When we do ascend, we would hope that any titles not conquered by our young Giants are won by the red birds. And that our meetings on the field, such as this coming Saturday’s, become the stuff of AFL legends.

  4. Matt Zurbo says

    What beautiful writing!!

  5. Dips O'Donnell says

    Mathilde – fabulous read.

    A holiday in a sun drenched place can cure most evils but it can’t guarantee your football team wins!

  6. There is some evidence that a trip north is beneficial for the soul.

  7. Mulcaster says

    Living as I do in North Queensland your writing brings a smug smile of self satisfaction to me.But that is only because it is June. From May until late September God anchors his boat somewhere near Hinchinbrook Island and cruises around. I love it when the temperature gets down to 10 degrees (sometime just before dawn) and the youg girls pull on their “come hither”boots. The sou easter drops off and the seas flatten. Pefect azure skies and and just enough chill to warrant a thin pull over (for the locals only). All the southern folk and euro backbackers dress differently, act differently too. (swiming and loving the warm water while the locals are wearing uggh boots). The sun is warming but not like the blast furnace which returns in November.
    I am sure Henry Lawson wrote “Faces in the Street” in July.
    Come back any time.

Leave a Comment