Carrara daze

Saturday night.

Gold Coast v Geelong. The Ablett match – for most. And yes, that is a key part of it.

But for me, something has been forgotten: this is also the Carrara match. Footy is back at Carrara. And as weird as it might sound, on Saturday night I was feeling a little nostalgic for the ground, and even for the Brisbane Bears.

Footy fans did it fairly tough in Queensland in the old days. There was always a sub-culture of local footy. In Brisbane I could go and watch the  QAFL, and I played a few games for Uni in the SQAFA (a tough spot for a long-haired, pinko, Commo, poofter, bastard as university students were viewed by good cannery and council workers, and policemen,  in those days) We got The Winners and Channel 7 started showing a live match on a Saturday afternoon – the miracle of modern technology taking us from a Brisbane studio with Ken Hose and Bruce Burgoyne, to Arden St, Princes Park and Victoria Park with Lou and Peter Landy.

Our family was keen. If we had August holidays at the Gold Coast we might go and see a Southport game, when they had Garry Dempsey and young Middlemiss. We never saw Bill Ryan play but we did go and visit him at his house which I think was behind a shop. We climbed the steps of the rickety Queenslander and knocked on the old screen door. Bill was reading the paper at the kitchen table, wearing a white singlet and a pair of workers’ shorts. He looked up, humphed, signed an autograph, and (underwhelmed) we continued on our way. Years later when I saw Arthur L. Minelli’s father reminded me of Bill Ryan.

While the Victorian sensibility suggested the VFL was being lost to the nation, those with footy madness beyond the Tweed loved that footy was coming to us.

I will never forget the first game at Carrara for many reasons. It was Round 4, 1987. A magnificent Queensland day. I stood in the perfect sunshine, on the half forward flank. Gathering around was a group of Fitzroy supporters, ratbag inner-city types. Workers. Strong mullets. Tatoos. B and H. Beer (pre-bourbon). Stove pipe jeans, and short-sleeved footy jumpers. Cocky Vics. Smart-lipped. And very funny. All hungover from a big night on the Coast. The nineteenth century wag was alive in them, and I could imagine them blue-ing with Pies fans outside the Brunswick St Oval in 1898.

One bloke arrived just before the game. “I told youse,” he yelled. “I told youse last night. They wouldn’t know what they were doin’ up here”.

He was pointing at the flat trailer of a semi, which was going to be used as the stage for the half-time entertainment. It was parked at the gate onto the ground where the mower and roller and other equipment came through. It was protruding just a little, so that from where we stood you couldn’t see a tiny section of the ground in the forward pocket – about the size of a card table.

“No, boys,” he continued. “They can’t organise footy up here. I can’t see the fuckin’ ground.”

This is the humour of Walgett and Woolloomooloo, of the pubs of South Melbourne.

And the chant began. “Shift the fuckin’ truck. Shift the fuckin’ truck.”

It went on and on until a security zombie, still in the days of the walkie-talkie, got on to Operations on the other side of the ground.

The chant still went on: “Shift the fuckin’ truck”.

Until at quarter time a bloke in blue overalls came over, put the keys in the ignition of the prime mover, shifted the vehicle about two metres forward (at the most), and all was fixed.

At which point, in unison, the Fitzroy boys yelled, “Bring back the fuckin’ truck.”

The Lions got flogged from memory.

I went to all of the matches, despite the fact that it was often a slow drive of a couple of hours back to Brisbane – pre-freeway, and fighting with the home-from-the-weekend traffic.

The Gold Coast was growing but it wasn’t quite as crazy as it is now. Carrara was then rural. On the winding Nerang River, between the town of Nerang and Broadie. In the days when the great pubs of the Coast – the Broadbeach and the Pacific at Southport – had couch grass floors on sandy bases. You didn’t need shoes. And they invented the beef and reef – a big rump with a couple of prawns on top. It could get pretty willing in these parts. But the local lock-up was nothing more than a cage in a courtyard and the coppers used to turn the hose on the inebriates during the night and let them go in the morning. Far fewer magistrates were required in Queensland.

You parked your car along the Broadbeach Road, near the helipad (especially constructed for Christopher and Pixie) or if it were a fine day, on the huge equestrian eventing paddock that doubled as a car park.

I saw some great sides and great players there. Collingwood even used to travel in those days and I remember the magnificent collection of humanity that came out of the hills of northern New South, wearing those Pies jumpers of the 60s and 70s, remembering long-ago lives of Collingwood Tech and the council flats, the Bendigo and the Leinster, and the Yarra Falls end of Vic Park. Daicos put on a show at Carrara once. So did Ablett, although Geelong could often find a way to lose.

When I sat on the western side I’d recognise the well-dressed visitors from the south. Big names of footy whom I’d seen on TV. And others. I recall seeing Smokey Dawson, whom I’d only ever heard on ABC radio. I was surprised he was such an impish man with a college-boy haircut which meant I knew he barracked for Hawthorn (or Melbourne). He was putting on a performance of witticisms, the Scotch College version (or was it Carey?) of the Fitzroy yobs of the outer. He was funny too.

It was a terrible mistake to put the Bears at Carrara though.

Brisbane had an established footy culture – a combination of locals and expats (like Kevin O’Keefe and Jezza and the taxi-driver Mick Nolan) – with sides like Windsor-Zillmere and Coorparoo, Morningside and Wests (coached by Ronnie Wearmouth for a while). And the Gabba was a site which held Queensland sports stories in its bosom – across all the codes, and athletics, and cricket of course.

The move to the Gabba left Carrara abandoned.

The coast grew around it. A corridor of born-again and charismatic churches and schools now runs from Nerang to the airport at Tugun. Along with wholesale furniture warehouses and places where the proprietors have bought too many Persian rugs and are conducting a clearance sale – forever. And don’t forget the golf courses with their driving ranges.

This is the home of the Gold Coast Suns. An artificial paradise with an artificial footy team. The whole jont feels so different to slick-footy Melbourne. It’s sleepy and Broadbeach play Labrador where footy matters for a while and Nathan Ablett might get a kick. But, hey. Really. What are we doing afterwards? And Monday morning, geez, how good is the weather. I’m half asleep.

So the Cats play the first match at the new stadium against G. Ablett, who I have always thought has more of the old man in him than people have recognised. That is strength and skill. General uncommon ability. And a certain self-absorbed approach to the game – without even realising it.

If Joel Selwood feels responsible for the orchestra, the Ablett’s are the virtuosos. Joel Selwood yearns symphanies. The Ablett’s yearn concertos.

I love both genres.

The contest is predictable. Enthusiasm outshines complacency. Until the smaller bodies tire, and the Cats get going. It’s not going to be a Carrara or AFL point-scoring record, 37.17 which the Cats hold from a match in the sunshine in 1992.

The fraternal nature of the game shows that footy has changed. Players have a different relationship with each other than in the days when the Colliers and the Coventrys walked the earth.

Like New Zealand sav blanc, which all comes from the one lake over there, players have known each other for years. Pathways have crossed many times – sometimes as teammates, sometimes as opponents.

On this night the hoops are eventually too strong.

Carrara looks flash (from the TV images) with scallopy, wavey, roofs on the stands a la the Gabba.

I look forward to going there some time.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. John Butler says

    Loved it JTH

    The Abletts are a fascinating bunch. For such differing reasons.

    This makes me want to go see a game up there.

  2. haiku bob says


    you got me all nostalgic about queensland footy.

    i was there for the 1982 pre-commonwealth games stoush between the hawks and the bombers played at the gabba (replete with racing track and pink goal posts).

    i was there when dale ‘chooka’ woodhall was a star before coming to collingwood. ‘chooka’ took my team (the aspley hornets under 14”s) for a training session once. i don’t recall being in the presence of greatness….

    i also remember when jezza came to coach sandgate – dragging them into the finals for the first time in years, only to be knocked out in the elimination final. i’ll never forget listening to jezza’s ‘inspirational’ speech at 3/4 time with his team 6-7 goals down – “you blokes got yourselves into this, now get yourselves out of it!”. they went down by 10+ goals. very disillusioning for a collingwood supporter.

    ken hose and bruce burgoyne. lol. i played footy against ken hose’s kid, simon (who later had a stint with the sydney swans). simon was an early maturer and well known for running the length of the field, mowing down pre-pubescent would-be tacklers like bowling pins and kicking goal after goal – except one glorious moment when haiku bob wrapped him up in a ball-in-all tackle in front of a roaring hornets social club.


  3. johnharms says

    Hose hose lowered
    Hose hoes tough road
    Our Bob’s up

  4. Scott mc intyre says

    Nth, I went down from weipa and saw the game. Hoping to pen a few lines in coming weeks to post my thoughts. Quite impressed with the set up to be honest.

  5. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    Good one Darky – your landscape work captures it beatuifully.

    Came down from Rocky to see Geeelong kick that record score against the Bears. Watched from the Coke box – a donga in Qld parlance – it was pretty easy to get a bait to a box at Carrara.

    Reckon the goal kicked by Billy Brownless to set the new record AFL score is now superseded by Karmichael Hunt’s super goal. This is the goal that might just really change the football landscape in NSW and Qld.

    Apparently it was shown on Channel Nine’s NRL Footy Show last Sunday and Gus Gould threatened to walk off the set if they kept talking about the AFL – MG said he’d follow… A few years ago Gus wrote in his column in a Sunday paper about how Bowral Auskick had taken over the prime park in town from junior rugby league because they had greater numbers. And even sadder for Gus – his son has a poster of the Swans up in his bed-room!

    Great to see footy back at Carrara!

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