Good Things Happen in Yarrawonga

Good things happen in Yarrawonga. None of them has any particular consequence, but they gather up and jumble together across the ten day holiday to leave a warm, fuzzy collection of memories upon which to feed. It should get me nicely through to Easter.

Its 7.30pm. The sun looks like a giant egg yolk as it dangles low in the pale sky at dusk. The red, yellow, and  pink clouds sitting on the horizon seem to be cooking it. Darkness is hinting at its imminent arrival as insects dance across the water’s surface, seemingly indulging in their own version of the six o’clock swill before the night closes their party. The breeze holds its breath. The dead trees that dwell in the lake are silhouetted against the darkening blue back drop. They look like giant grey arteries reaching skywards in search of an organ. In the stillness the heat clubs us about the head. It reaches deep into our lungs in search of moisture. The classic old elm trees do their best but the summer boils the shade and renders it useless. Even the tough native shrubs are genuflecting. It’s still 43 degrees. Lake Malwala is at peace.

“Yep!” calls a loud voice.

An engine snarls and the water gives birth to a skier. The ski boat cuts a deep wound through the glassy surface as the skier darts from left to right across the boat’s wake, sending water spraying across the evening canvass like a peacock’s feathers in full show. Cockies take flight from the lifeless water logged trees and screech in protest. They circle as if spectators to the skier’s ride.

We retire to the cabins and watch TV over a dinner of something and salad. Nadal has punched out a tough win against Nishikori. It doesn’t surprise me that Nishikori bothered him. We watched him beat Berdych at the AAMI Classic just last week. Federer is too smooth for the lumpy Tsonga. We look at highlights of Williams and Ivanovic. Williams is belligerent but plays dried up tennis. She slouches from the court as a beaming Ivanovic claps with one hand and a racquet. Our salads are hot before we can eat them. At 10.30pm we are in the pool, kids and all (we holiday with a group of about 18 others). The blokes are nursing Crown Lagers, whilst the young’uns desecrate the night’s calm. Trying to sleep would be an absurdity. The sign on the back wall reads,

“Pool Closes at 9pm”.

Jacki visits Skiland quite regularly. She’s Gail’s daughter. Gail runs the place on her own despite the fact that she’s the wrong side of 70. Tough old bird. Graham, her husband, died a few years back. I’ve never met a more relaxed bloke in my life. He could roll a cigarette with one hand whilst negotiating the ride-on mower. His gnarled skin stretched over a wiry frame rusted by decades of harsh sun and his ripened face lived under a rabbit skin hat held together by perspiration. He would often pull up a chair whilst we lounged on the lake’s edge and roll a cigarette like he was kissing a priceless stone. Five minutes could go past without a word. Then he might croak something like,

“Good water” as smoke was delivered silently into his chest. Lovely old bloke.

Jacki grew up in this water. She could ski before she was toilet trained. She and her brother both could. They even had a dog called Bruce who used to ski on an aqua board. When he wasn’t skiing old Bruce used to look at rocks. Strange dog was old Bruce. Unfortunately for Bruce he found a most interesting rock on the Murray Valley Highway. The truck delivering supplies to Parker’s Pies in Rutherglen didn’t see him. But whilst alive, Skiland is heaven for canines; acres of land, snakes to chase, water to dive into, Motel guests to befriend and food scraps to steal.

Some years back they also had a pet cockie who lived high up in the elm trees. His name was Dickie. Poor old Dickie couldn’t fly because he was inflicted by a disease that de-feathered him. He was the ugliest damn bird I’ve ever seen. He looked like a chicken carcass in a butcher’s window. But he was very shrewd. He scaled the trees using his beak like a climber’s pick to escape the foxes at night, and he learned how to talk so the guests would toss him food. If you walked under his tree he would peer at you with one eye; head tilted to the left or right, assessing his chances of a feed.

“Hello” he would squawk scratchily.

You needed to examine the branches thoroughly. Dickie never gave up his hiding place easily.  “Hello Dickie”, you would say.

“Hello” Dickie would reply.

These staccato conversations could last for minutes. When he got tired of you, or felt you were foodless, he’d break off a twig and toss it down. It was his way of saying “Get Lost”. Poor old Dickie slipped into the pool one hot night and drowned. If only he’d learned how to yell “Help!” They buried him under one of the elms where his ghost may be heard as you pass by.

“Get a few blokes and do a pyramid.” Gail suggested to Jacki, as we loafed under a willow. Gail loves sound and noise. She doesn’t regard sipping a frigid, life giving ale as “doing something”.

‘I need two men about the same size” said Jacki to the group. She looked at me and my mate. “You two will do” she said.

Darren, who is a Carlton 5’11” and 4/5ths, whispered to me, “You must be deceptively tall.” I’m a Montmorency 5’6” and 1/3rd.

We slipped on two skis because we needed stability. Darren and I skied either side of Jacki, whose rope was slightly longer than ours so she could climb up our backs. As we approached the point of the ski run where she was to commence her climb, she casually put the ski rope between her legs and began explaining to us what we needed to do, demonstrating her movements with her free hands. Darren and I simply clung on.

“What I want you to do…………….” she said. I missed the next bit because she turned away from me to face Darren. Her voice was drowned out by the boat’s roar. It was like skiing next to Marcel Marceau. The next thing I heard was “OK?” I nodded dumbly.

A few seconds later she had her left foot on my right thigh. It steadied. Thankfully she’s only the size of Garry “The Flea” Wilson. Then her foot disappeared. I had no idea where it went but it didn’t hurt. Moments later it was back – on my right shoulder. I looked across at Darren. His eyes were wider than a Murray Cod’s. Jacki was standing on our shoulders waving to the lazy audience as we held each other’s arm like a brace behind her back. It was sensational. With a quick flick she left our shoulders and plopped into the water like a pebble in a pond; barely a ripple. Lake Mulwala received her back like an old friend.

Back on dry land tennis scores are relayed to us with frosty beers. Federer was a Rolls Royce to Andy Murray’s Kingswood. The discussion under the tree that night: Has he got another Slam in him? The girls said yes. Romantics. A night later Warwrinka’s backhand swish is exquisite. He has my coin, as does Cibulkova in the Women’s. She gives hope to diminutives all over the world.

The sounds of tennis belong here. The landscape seems to absorb the ‘ponk’ of ball on racquet and puts this sound in its pocket. I can hear ‘ponk’ coming out of our room as I float in the pool, trying to momentarily keep the grim heater at bay. Another day, another 44 degrees. The pool water is trying to be cool. I look up into the sky. The sun is interrogating me. Its questions are intense.

That night a champion is crushed. Nadal makes Federer doubt. It was only for a moment but it was enough. The Fed has the court open. It beckons him to play one of his balletic backhands down the line. But he doesn’t. He goes across court; the safe option. Nadal pummels it and snarls. Father time has found an opening into Federer’s mind. Nadal sees it – the blink. He sends the Fed home early. When a champion falls we all do. Just a bit.

Under the tree we dissect it; the running of the Spanish Bull. It goes late into the night. By 2.38am the conversation has moved on to recounting funny lines out of The Life Of Brian. Blessed are the cheese makers.

I’m sitting on the bank. The sun is resting under its blanket and I’ve made a decision: I need a new Geelong Football Club stubby holder. My fishing line hangs hopelessly in the water. I’m alone. The ripples on the water are dark, like briquettes. Millions of early moon diamonds dance in the wilting light. They’re seductive; like the flicker of a camp fire flame.

The idea of fishing entices me, I’ve just never bothered to discover the practicalities. If a fish took the bait I’d have to read the instruction manual. But that won’t happen.

Someone is behind me. Small steps. They wait. I don’t turn around. I want to savour every second of the nothingness.

“Tomorrow is our last day Dad” she says.

The moment is crushed; micro-waved. I don’t blame her. Kids are always onto the next thing, never the moment.

I reeled the line in. Not ten seconds after it was retrieved, a fish the size of Moby Dick (a rough estimate) broke the surface. It had a broad smile on its face and it flipped a fin at me.

Good things happen in Yarrawonga.

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. Rochy Rocket says

    4000 people in the street in Yarra for the street parade of the district’s pride and joy, the Pigeons, before last year’s O & M GF against the despised Albury Tigers.
    Yarra with Fev at the spearhead won again.
    Linger longer in Yarrawonga Dips!

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Brilliant as always Dips loved how you took us all to Yarrawonga enjoyed the water skiing and about the cockie and laughed about your fishing .
    When a champion falls we all do just a bit ( fantastic and spot on )
    Thanks Dips

  3. Thanks Dips, you’ve made my morning. So evocative, so lyrical. I’ll be returning to one wonderful observation or another for the rest of the day. Cheers

  4. Mickey Randall says

    Dips- your languid prose matches perfectly the summery rhythms of your yarn. Lots of evocative images. Great stuff. Your fishing sounds as tragic as mine!

  5. The last fish I caught was off a pier on Bribie Island – circa 1978.

  6. John Butler says

    Seems like we share similar philosophies on fishing Dips.

    Beer, book, shade – essential. Fishing rod – optional.

    Great piece.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Loved this Dips. Gee your holidays always sound great. No fisherman myself either.

  8. I reckon there is a book in it Dips. “The fine art of doing bugger all.” Malarkey books best seller for next Christmas.

  9. PB if doing bugger all was a sport I could be one of the greats.

  10. Pamela Sherpa says

    As a child of th Murray I can relate to this well Dips . I was back home for a funeral recently in that 45 degree heat and we were discussing how we ever managed to live in it without any airconditioning , riding our bikes to school, playing tennis and not being able to sleep at night in the weatherboard house . The mosquitoes would eat us alive if we went outside. But as you’ve described , the bliss of the water, the birds, the sunsets and the surroundings is soul soothing.

  11. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Nice work Dips. In 1994 at Ulupna Island a bloke drinking ‘nude beers’ once said to me: “Always respect the Murray.” The amount of respect he had for himself is a different story.

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