The chainsaw packed up well before dusk, but I was already up the other side of Mt Sloak, so locked in the hubs and pushed the ute through the regrowth of an old, steep loggers’ track, looking for Sunday’s jag, thinking too much, until, before I knew it, the sun had fucked off.

I had been thinking about playing well last week, mostly. Was still living off it. The feel of a good, solid mark. There’s no other sound like the punch of it hitting your hands. The little “oh”, or “Be fucked…” that excapes the mouths of players around you when one sticks in a pack. The suck of air, the clunk, leather.

I never hear the crowd. People take the piss, or piss in your pocket. Players, myself included, babble all sorts of shit. But that “oh” can’t be faked.

I thought about women. The one I’m seeing, the ones who left. Who loved the idea of the bush, but not the bush or bush people. That found boredom in it and us and hated the brilliant, cold rain.

That hated the footy clubs that glue it all together. The place where we meet, and talk about things like our jobs, that spread us out under the canopies, across remote roads and power-lines. That involve dairy farms and forestry, and fencing and weed control. That make the men that form the team we are, and opposition teams we play and wives and girlfriends who hold it all together and play netball and do their own things. Teams defined by their landscapes. The cruisy coastal trippers and thugs, the hard farming clubs in wide, lonely valleys, surrounded by snowy peaks. The small towns full of fast, young kids. The hopeless teams in the rolling hills, that haven’t been strong since the mill shut. Landscapes that are spead to all horizons. That come together on match days. The people I wave to on winding roads, and meet in back paddocks and strange places, and know through footy.

It’s all connected. All of it.

People make a land. Scenery on its own is skin-deep.

The track took me along the spur of a small gully, before cutting up the ridge of another mountain, coming out above everything. By now the moon was out, not quite full. It looked good, like it didn’t give a shit about the punch that had dented its head. My hammie, now I’d stopped working, was hurting again, the back seizing up. I was in discomfort a fair slab of the time, but it was no big thing. A small price.

Stressing about injuries just makes them worse.

Down from where I was, about 40 minutes away, Dingo, Fred, Mad Dog and maybe Vern, would be watching the footy at the mostly empty Tavern. Everything about it small town and trying to sell. Every piece of it as over the place as the owner, no buyers in sight.

I wondered how many of them would be getting rotten. So much depended on momentum and randoms, in that sneeky, forgotten place, away from coaches, who were always townies. Some Friday nights the juke box would seize us, would make us drunk and invincible, because they were Fridays and we had footy the next day. They turned into missions, with utes and coast, or rifles and drunken spotlights, or bogs and tow-ropes. Some fizzled, some never started, the place shutting without us, before 9, the juke box dusty-quiet.

I rarely wrote myself off and judged nobody who did, not ever. Staying sober before a game is a skill, like courage is a skill, or a long kick, or speed or a love of life. Some have it, some don’t. We are what we are. Sometimes I wished I could get pissed that bad on a Friday, to not just have the one night a week to be free from hard work and stress. But I loved the game too much.

Still, if it was on I’d often be there, with my team-mates.

Even if the coach snuck out, we’d get word. There were logging tracks everywhere, we always had diesel to spare. If you took travellers, and drove far enough, there was always more than one pub. It was as easy as motion of winding gravel and distance. Knowing the backroads. The whole North East Tassie was there to melt into, at speed, making noise.

Tonight, though, I couldn’t be stuffed. The moon was going nowhere just right. It lit up the cold mist, making the mountains float. Even the clouds weren’t moving. Not an inch. Work was a good excuse to be there, wearing it like a coat. The night was so still if I yelled it would fill gullies in all directions, carry down, through valleys for miles.

I made a note to think of tonight when my head was down, buried in the elbows, knees, grunts and slaps of a pack tomorrow. It is all connected. All of it. I was obsessed with my woman. I hope she saw that.

Tomorrow, the opposition couldn’t touch me. I was going to bash hard into packs.

I took in the view below, then made my way back to fix the saw and load the wood I’d cut.


  1. Alovesupreme says

    This is up to your regular excellent standard, reminiscient of some of Bruce Pascoe’s finest. It’s a beautiful evocation of my rural childhood, where I learned footy lore (essentially as a watcher, I was too young to play much before my family shifted to the big smoke). I was particularly taken by your reference to “teams defined by their landscapes” and the teams which “haven’t been strong since the mill shut”.
    I remember one formidable opponent, who fielded a first choice twenty comprising the copper, the school-teacher, the son of the general store proprietor and 17 mill-workers. They were virtually unbeatable on their home ground. The village is now experiencing a modest revival as a kind of Nimbin-lite, but I’d guess that the football team doesn’t have many timber-workers, these days.

  2. matt zurbo says

    thanks dupeme! brucy pasco was a fine seconds footballer for apollo bay, and handy spinner. i rented a shack at grey river off him once.

  3. matt zurbo says



    there was once a league that spanned the Lavers Hill/Beech Forest ridge in the Otway ranges, the furthest teams being the two Joannah clubs where the timber was shipped out. each mill was a town, with shacks and small timber school, cemetary and rail stop. some of the more obsessed mills would only employ people who could play footy.
    the league, like the mills, is now gone. nothing but paddocks, and winches buried in the regrowth and mud.
    when i coached otway districts under 17s to a flag, a club that encompasses where two whole leagues stood, yet still doesn’t have half the population of the town clubs, 17 of my 21 players were dairy farmer’s sons.
    that was ten years ago. only six of those boys, now men, remain on the land.

  4. Alovesupreme says

    I remember that comp with four teams, Lavers Hill, Beechy, Johanna, and if I remember correctly,Gellibrand. I was from the other side of Colac, and we played junior footy against Otway Rovers (?), and I certainly remember away games at Forrest and Carlisle River.
    Grand days! You are a continual inspiration to a memory bank, which is chocka, but with a hell of a lot of its contents in disordered archives.

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