In answer to your question, a story…


I never played junior footy. I was 15, skinny, and went straight to the tatts and knuckles league of a suburb that is now gone.

The oval is still there, but it is now a smooth, green thing. The creek at the city end is no-longer toxic. It’s slashed and has paths. Reserves players can no-longer thump the ball on-the-full into its weeds, blackberries and dumped garbage if they are a few points up with minutes to play.

The timber yard is gone, and the workers with it. The tip at the other end who’s dogs mauled stray footies, is now a pretty walk.

The players are gone. The truck drivers, the crims, the cabinet makers. Stan, with no front teeth, Greg Snedden, covered in home-made tatts, big fat Wayne.

That way of life is gone. Two-up in the change rooms on payday. A whole week’s wage blown in an hour. The fights. The bad things that happened under the overpass. The good things. The community. The wives and girlfriends who lined me up with my first root.

Travis Hill was a gun, the Dowey brothers could play, but we were all hacks. The best two reserves players got to sit on the bench in the Ones. I played 31 games in my first year.

I got knocked out in my second game. They couldn’t find a stretcher, so carried me off on a toilet door.
“Don’t worry,” Stan ribbed me later. “It was the men’s.”

School footy became a joke. Cartoons. I blued every week. All these boys getting in my face as if they were tough. I knew tough. I was scared of tough. Junior footy, to the dumb kid I was, suddenly didn’t have Life attached.

That first year set patterns for the rest of my life. About what matters and what doesn’t. It taught me how to not be scared. To not give a fuck about status. About loyalty. When to be hard and when to let it slide. About how to help a mate.

It set my skills back decades, but that footy club taught me what footy is about.

Now the club’s gone. The league’s gone. I wonder if the truckies still have a team? Or the Hells Angels? If the Aborigines still represent their community? If the ex-prisoners still have a ground? Every other oval I have visited from that comp is now dust.

What happens to these people? Do we get pushed further and further out into the suburbs, or swept right under the rug?

Where do I go to find the place I grew up?


  1. Powerful stuff, Matt. Love it.

  2. John Butler says

    Fantastic Matt.

  3. Jason Feldman says


    You must write something re: your experiences at the Jackas, along way removed from the tatts and knuckles league where you cut your teeth..

  4. matt zurbo says


    I have 28 years of senior footy and stories to match. suburban tatts, Amateurs, coast, interstae, mountains, farming plains, most of them in the bush. Don’t worry, Jackas will get a good running. Especially the mightiest football figure I have encountered at any level, of any sport, including AFL, my whole life: Sid Myers.

  5. Matt – I don’t know where the place of your childhood has gone.

    I’m driving up to Yarrawonga tonight. I’ll drive out on the Hume Highway and somewhere near Wallan I’ll see a big wall being erected along the highway’s edge. It looks like something you’d see on the outskirts of Jerusalem near the occupied territories. Behind this wall are new houses being built; houses which are cheek to jowl sitting in a desolate paddock out in the middle of nowhere in particular. Soul-less, characterless, emotionless place. A sad place. People will live there because these are the new suburbs. People need a roof. I don’t blame them. But the next generation will have their childhood here.

  6. Tim Ivins says

    That’s the teenage environment I wish I had grown up in. Incredible Matt.

  7. Be careful Matt,

    in Libya where the devine leader says every one loves him and there are no complaints they knock on the doors of people like you who seek live in the past and you can disappear into the economic ether.

    You are lucky you live in the great democracy of the AFL.

    Have a look at some of the shots in Daff’s book. Boundary umpires retrieving footies from bone yards etc.

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