Football and trees.


Whenever I plant a tree of significance I get a photo of one of my kids next to it. It’s the best way to gauge its growth over the years; look at the tree, look at the child.

“Remember when I took that photo of you in front of the jacaranda?”

“Yeah Dad. Whatever.”

I took the photo in 2003. We’d not long moved into the house. A mate had grown a jacaranda from a seed and gave it to me. It went into the front yard.

“Come here” I said to my oldest who was eight years old at the time, “Stand next to the tree. I want to take a photo.”

It was a close call as to who was the tallest. The jacaranda prevailed – just. Obviously things have changed since 2003. Both are taller and more robust. The jacaranda is nudging the power lines but it doesn’t cost me a cent.

I was thinking of this stuff in my little study the other day. We have photos stuck to pin boards in the study. Photos of friends, family, and other lunatics. Photos of a group of us at the Melbourne Cup when Kiwi won (Or was it Gurner’s Lane?), photos water skiing, at baptisms, birthdays and balls; photos of graduations and Stawell camps and Christmas mornings, photos of mates at 2am at a party in Montmorency after we’d just gone back to back in the Indoor Cricket 4th division premiership, photos of kids on their first day at school. I love a good photo. How things change. And how subtly they change.

I was hanging a new framed poster. I’ve got all the posters up on the study wall; 2007, 2009 and 2011. There they are, the boys. All of them smiling, mouths open, youthful exuberance abounding. Their hooped jumpers signaling that they are from the same team. The Cats. The mighty Cats. Premiers. Three times over. Incredible.

The official posters are interesting to study. There are faces that go missing from one year to the next and new faces appear like they’ve been photo-shopped in. There’s Nathan Ablett in 2007, but he’s gone by 2009. The same with Stephen King who went to St Kilda, Josh Hunt who went to the surgeon and Matthew Stokes who pulled out on the eve of the 2009 match with ‘a groin’.

In 2009 a bloke called Harry Taylor got his mug in the photo, plucked from the WAFL like a yearling from the thoroughbred auctions, as did Mark Blake and Tom Hawkins and Travis Varcoe. New blokes, new faces, new medallions.

The photos hide the work that these blokes do to get in the team. Hours of running, skills, sweat, injury, doubts.  After the final siren when the game is over they clamber together like metal to magnets and get snapped into history. Their bodies change, their haircuts change, their smiles change, but the jumper doesn’t. The team is the same but different.

In 2011 things moved again. It was subtle but hugely significant. Where did the other heroes go? Max Rooke has gone from the 2009 team after his knees gave way, Tom Harley’s body could do it no longer so he decided to sell vitamins, Cameron Mooney fell victim to his own bash and crash style, Dasher Milburn came to resemble father time, Mark Blake went the way of the dinosaur, Shannon Byrnes’ smiling face disappeared into the VFL and failed to make the trip back out, and Gary Ablett headed for the sun.

Who replaced them? Who snuck back into the photo? Matty Stokes returned, Josh Hunt got his knee right, and new growth emerged; Mitch Duncan, Allen Christensen, James Podsiadly, and Trent West developed. And Tom Lonergan made the greatest comeback since the soufflé rose twice.

I remember watching a team of youths win the 2002 VFL premiership. They were wearing Geelong jumpers. They had names like Johnson, Ablett, Bartel, Kelly, Hunt, Chapman.

That game was their jacaranda tree photo. Things have changed, things will change; the team will grow fresh branches and get richer with new stories.  Some blokes will disappear and fresh faces will materialize but they’ll keep wearing the jumper and they’ll forever be on my wall.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. pamela sherpa says

    Wonderful Dips. The memories a photo can evoke are precious.

  2. David Downer says

    Good one Dips, poetic!

    Maybe some of this also answers a previous curiosity of yours as to why some of us (such as yours truly) have photos of horses on their wall!

    The memories they evoke from a certain race, the jockey, the saddlecloth, the silks, and the connection of those colours with a trainer or owner, and their own histories and tales to tell. Like your photos, that captured moment can instantly elicit memories and meandering yarns for hours.

    Might and Power by 7 and a half lengths in the ’97 Caulfield Cup is absolute pride of place on my wall! (in lieu of kids and any premiership memorabilia of course). Still triggers a reaction every time I look at it.

    I imagine you perhaps have the pleasant problem of running out of wall space these days!

  3. Lovely piece, Dips. Your ‘souffle rising twice’ made me think that Tom Hawkins does have a touch of the Andrew Peacock’s about him. He would cut a dash in a grey suit chasing whoever is the current version of Irma La Douce. We need pollies with dash and style. He could be a future successor to Oppy as MHR for Corio.

  4. DD – great point. I’ll reassess the horse picture thing.

  5. We’ve just planted a magnolia tree in the front garden. It’s bigger than Harley but they’re slow growing and he seems to grow before my eyes so he should catch it soon enough. I’ll get the camera out.

  6. Paul Daffey says


    Nice piece.

    Do you have a picture of your lucky jocks?

  7. Nice Dips. We can all hope for a bright future, but blessed are they who can look back on a bright past.

  8. Daff – as it turns out – NO! Not sure how they would come up!!

    I could frame them and sell them off for a charity.

    Cookie – I highly recommend the child photo with the small tree. Its a great measuring stick for both; child and tree. Give your magnolia plenty of cow pooh mixed in with good soil. It’ll get past Harley pretty quickly.

  9. You haven’t based it on that Bobby Goldsborough howler, ‘Honey’, Dip’s.

    “See the tree how big it’s grown, but friend it hasn’t been so long it wasn’t big……”

  10. Dips, the ‘serenity’ of experiencing 3 flags in 5 years really comes through. Good stuff, mate.

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