The Otway Ranges, cover a wide range of terrain. Remote beaches peppered with shipwreck anchors, the perpetually foggy ridge, rainforest gullies, the Gellibrand valley with our small footy club, various inland districts. All laced together by a steam engine railway that hasn’t existed for 60 years.


Back in the days of hand-sawn trees and hard lives, the ridge alone had an entire football league. Each mill a school, a bank, a club. Everything made of wood, all of it now gone. Memories whispering across muddy paddocks.


As the logging died, all the clubs merged with Beech Forrest, Lavers Hill, Carlyle, Gellibrand. Then, over the years, as machinery replaced farm families, the logging became plantations and the railway went, everything shrunk, those footy teams simply becoming the one team. Otway Districts. A club, a history, defined by its environment. By work.


My club, my home.


The place we’ve decided to return to for a while.


As with most genuinely bush clubs, we’re a sign of the times. No money to buy top-up players from Geelong. We try hard, play hard, but struggle in every grade.


Yet, with various pubs and schools in the region shutting and rich people buying our farms, we have no centre, other than the footy club.


My wife’s from Venezuela, yet comes to the oval each weekend, as I coach the Under 18s and run around in the Magoos, and bench coach for the Ones. Season 39 and counting. As a player, a lot of me’s no longer there, but I give every minute of every game my all. Somehow, the fire still burns.


On Thursday nights, when, post training, the community gathers, my wife comes, too. If only for our child. Cielo gargles with delight at the mere thought of it! A girl living in various wildernesses, suddenly surrounded by other kids, people, noise. Cut free from Mum and Dad, she goes feral, has a ball!


My wife dresses her in red, so she can be seen close or far, in human traffic, or on the oval. And, when we do lose sight of her, there are 100 pairs of eyes that have not.


“She’s just outside, Old Dog.”


“She went that way.”


“She’s down at the netball with Denise.”


“Over there with Jack’s kids.”


“She’s with my kids.”


Safe. Having fun. Being spoilt by the older girls.


The team I coach should have that much collective vision. Should link so well.


I would wonder, at times, about how much my wife gets it? Aussie rules – not the AFL. What it’s about?


Then, on a mid-season Wednesday, she met me at the farm after I’d had a backbreaking day harvesting, bones heavy and sore.


“Mi Amor…!” she beamed. “Today, there were football people everywhere! At Beech Forest, when I took Cielo to the playground, there was Jaqui, who sells the raffle tickets. And Jim, who helps in the kitchen.”


Ferguson is the name of a t-intersection on the ridge’s hip, full of dairy paddocks and a lonely bric-a-brac shed. There ran into Cielo’s kinda teacher, Tracy, who’s two youngest girls play netball.


On the way home, 15kms further along the ridge, when she went to the Lavers Hill shop/post office, they met one of the committee, and the parents of one of the Unders I coach. And down at the otherwise deserted Johanna Beach, with its thundering surf, one of the kids Cielo plays with at the clubrooms.


“Football people.” Not players. Not coaches. Not marks and goals. In a region, during winter, you can go days without seeing anyone.


It seemed to make my wife happy. It made me insanely proud.


Of where I live, of our community. Of my club.


And reminded me what I’m playing for.





More by Matt Zurbo HERE.



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  1. Warren Tapner says

    This really resonated with me, Matt.
    Probably because yesterday was my 73rd birthday, and memory endures.
    Thank you.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Warren, thank you. You’ve made my night. Happy Birthday!

  3. Daryl Schramm says

    This is about more than just footy. It’s about . . . . community? Reading this fine piece and excerps from the Tassie West recently posted here bought back very recent memories for me of experiences of meeting and observing life around two different footy communities on two different match days within the same league on the Eyre Peninsula. Love and appreciate your contributions sir.

  4. Tom Cannon. says

    Well done old Dog. If you short brother.. l wonder whether the footy Gods would smile one more time! ;)

  5. Yvette Wroby says

    Moving and true as always Matt. Love your work and your life. Be well

  6. Matt Zurbo says

    One more game with Tommy Cannon? How good would that be!?

  7. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Matt. I enjoyed this thoughtful and perceptive piece about a beautiful part of the world – I know, I live just on the edge of it.

  8. Malby Dangles says

    Love your work, Matty!

  9. Great story Matt
    Love your writing

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