Familiarity, New Courts and Gravel

Familiarity brings comfort, even if that comfort is sometimes rudely interrupted by gravel rash.

I’ve played netball at the McDermott Avenue courts in Mooroolbark (way out in Melbourne’s east) for the past 13 years. In that time, I’ve finished primary school, graduated from high school and scraped through my undergraduate degree. I’ve played inter-school netball, after-school netball, in-school netball (the best kind; missing a whole day of classes to play tournaments at the State Netball and Hockey Centre), mixed netball with cousins on a Sunday night, and mixed netball with strangers-turned-friends during lunchtimes at uni. Regardless of the netball I’ve played during the week, every Saturday from mid-March to mid-December I’ve been pounding the asphalt in Mooroolbark.

I’ve jarred fingers, potentially fractured a thumb (probably should have got that x-rayed), torn ligaments and utterly destroyed cartilage. I’ve bruised bone, spent months on crutches and somehow managed to bizarrely split a tendon lengthways in my lower leg. I’ve had gravel rash and blood noses, and more scratches from supposedly short nails than I can count. I even managed to get a concussion while watching a game when my head got caught between a ball flying in from another court and a concrete shelter wall.

I know every inch of the ten courts. I know the locations of the tar-filled cracks that melt when it gets above 25 degrees. I know which court corners run downhill, and exactly when to give up on chasing the ball when it’s running down said hills. I can judge exactly at what angle to run at so not to crash into fences that are uncomfortably close to the edges of the courts. I know which end of each court is best to umpire (99% of the time it’s the end with less room for over-enthusiastic and under-informed parents), and the combination of clubs that will result in flying elbows at centre passes.

But this year will be different. After a rumoured 20 years of discussion, the Lillydale (for some reason it’s spelt with two Ls) and Yarra Valley Netball Association are moving to brand new courts at Pinks Reserve in Kilsyth. While the carpark will be as diabolical as always (a turnover of a new game every 40 minutes will do that), the courts themselves will be 100% better. There’s more of them and a new surface for a start, and room for umpires to move round the corners without running the risk of losing an eye from a spectator’s umbrella. The office and umpires’ room are double the size of the old ones. Most importantly for a complex that hosts more than 220 teams every Saturday, there are more than four female toilets.

So come mid-March, it will be weird taking a new route to netball after 13 years. All the clubs will be there, stretching from Seville and Yarra Glen to Wonga Park and Croydon Hills. Carmel will be in the canteen presiding over the steamed dim sims and making nachos, Carol and Gibbo will be sitting at the umpires’ sign-in window and sending lost parents looking for scoresheets to the office, where the committee will be tinkering with the grading fixture. I’ll be playing against girls I’ve opposed since I was nine, and umpiring clubs whom I could recite alphabetically with my eyes closed. All the familiar elements will be there, but in a strange environment. But I’m sure over time I’ll come to know Pinks Reserve as well as I knew the Mooroolbark courts. And I’m sure that when that time comes, once again there’ll be jolts disrupting my sense of familiarity – but I’m just glad that it won’t involve picking gravel out of the palms of my hands.

About Sarah Black

I'm a freelance sports journalist, primarily covering AFLW for AFL Media, but I have a passion for all sports. (Except rugby. Someone needs to explain the point of that game to me.) Having never grown past 5 foot tall, I've given up my dream of being the first professional dual netball/football player and I'm doing the next best thing - writing about it.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Great piece Sarah.

    This could have been written by my daughter, who is a similar age to you.

    We’ve spent the last thirteen years as a netball family, but the courts at Caulfield, Kingston and Sandringham left the asphalt days behind quite a while ago.

    This is the first year of no netball in our household since 2001, as coaching, playing, scoring, spectating and committeeing (?) is over for us and our three girls.

    Each association has its own quirks, but those familiar elements you talk about are universal (the cranky lady giving out the scoresheets, the officious umpires supervisor, the regular announcements on the PA about no skateboards, canteen duty, barbecue duty, the coffee cart, rep tournaments on freezing July Sundays, bringing the goalpost pads in after the last game)

    We would gladly do it all over again, but will also enjoy having our Saturdays back to ourselves.

    Good luck to all at Pinks Reserve.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Gravel rash- oh the memories. What a wonderful game netball is. I grew up in country Victoria and played on grass , gravel and asphalt before indoor stadiums and fancy surfaces were invented. I can relate to your excitement of transition to the new courts. Enjoy.

  3. Joanne Hawkins says

    Fantastic piece Sarah. I will be happy to explain the finer points of Rugby with you next time we’re standing together courtside.

    I said to my daughter, who you coached her first ever season of netball and whom you mentored when she began her umpiring ‘career,’ as I picked her up from the old complex after rep training last week…hey…I just realised! You are never going to play another game on those courts again…ever. You’ve left you last piece of hand/knee/elbow skin in that gravel! (Well unless she has a mishap at training this week!)

    We came to the conclusion that it was both awesome and a little sad all at the same time. Thanks Mooroolbark. It’s been interesting!

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