Long Bombs To Snake (extract): Surfing and the middle-aged CPA

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This is the opening of Dips O’Donnell’s piece ‘Surfing and the middle-aged CPA’ from Long Bombs to Snake – Spring edition:


“Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”


It’s a very confronting thought: mortality.

I confronted it recently in the pounding surf. Though that sounds more dramatic than it actually was.

I’m a Montmorency boy. A Cat who grew up among Magpies. Montmorency was a very proud Catholic village nestled among the trees between mud-brick Eltham and cream-brick Greensborough, in Melbourne’s north-east. The peculiarities of the old VFL zoning system put it in Collingwood territory meaning we played footy in the black and white jumper, even though my heart had been captured by the blue and white hoops of Geelong.

When I was a kid Montmorency was about billy-carts and asphalt grazes; it was footy all winter and cricket all summer; it was Mr Del Din’s heroic bonfires on cracker night that lit up the district so thousands of kids could explode the bull ants’ nests with penny bangers and watch them storm out of their dirt mounds with ears ringing and nippers at the ready; it was about bike crashes and fights with the State School kids. We threw ripe plums at the baker’s van as he made his daily deliveries then jumped on the back of it to take a joy ride around the block, we watched the old street sweeper talking to his horse with a quiet “gee up” or a louder “whooaa” as he patiently shovelled leaves and mud into his cart; we took to the Tarzan swing that hung precariously from a tree over Peck’s Dam and if we fell in we swam furiously to the bank for fear of the car bodies and other bodies that supposedly lurked beneath the surface; we dashed out of the house to school on freezing winter mornings and heard the greyhound walker sing out “O’Donnell where’s ya trou-sers!” through the mist (weird); we caught tadpoles in the puddles that mysteriously appeared in the shale ground after a Spring downpour; we climbed up and fell out of trees, we held world heavyweight title fights amongst ourselves on the back veranda (complete with the grand entrance draped in our green checked dressing gowns), and football matches with socks in the bedroom. This was my cosy world.

Secondary school took me to Whitefriars College in Donvale requiring a daily trek across the Yarra River and through the forbidden territories of Templestowe and Doncaster. These suburbs were like Greensborough on steroids. The paddocks and orchards were carved up, and new money built houses where design had more value than function. All the dunnies were inside the house, some had swimming pools, and one monstrosity on Williamson’s Road was built in the shape of a medieval castle (albeit clad in white faux brick).

Whitefriars was a ripping place. The Carmelites who ran the college took something of Jesuit approach to education (minus the pretence), rather than the Christian Brothers Darwinian views on child-nurturing. I played football and bled with my mates as we crashed through or crashed out. There is hardly a better way to get to know another bloke. We munched on the half-time oranges with bloody knees and braved the coach’s verbal sprays. And if we were victorious, we celebrated. If we were defeated, we still had stories to tell. These friendships have endured as waistlines and mortgages grew, and as life dragged us in different directions. There has always seemed to be a reason to gather for a few bitterly cold frothies somewhere. A good many of us still catch up regularly. At one lunch someone (probably Woody) stood up and said, “What a Bonza Bunch of Bastards you are!” The name stuck. A Bonza Bunch of Bastards lunch is not for the faint-hearted, especially when they’re ‘on’.


This is an extract from ‘Surfing and the middle-aged CPA’ which is one of the many features in our new sports writing magazine Long Bombs to Snake: Stories from Australian Sport. For more information and to order copies CLICK HERE.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    How good were cracker nights Old Mucker?


  2. Cracker nights were completely ridiculous when you think back. Here’s the scenario – lets light a huge fire, invite every kid in the neighbourhood, give them hands full of crackers, and let them run loose. What could possibly go wrong? But it was brilliant.

  3. DBalassone says

    Great work Dips. I pass that medieval castle on Williamson’s Rd each day. I heard it was built by the owner of Patra Orange Juice.

  4. Trucker Slim says

    Great stuff Dips, in a second you have me reliving my childhood (climbing trees and falling out of them), including years spent at a catholic primary and a couple of years at a Marist Brothers college.


  5. PaulQuilty05 says

    What a great story. I grew up in Montmorency and played footy with 2 older O’Donnells. And somehow surfed! Lucky for us we had summer holidays at Ocean Grove. Boxing Day to Australia Day at the beach. For the rest of the year, marooned in Monty. Must’ve been quite a challenge, first taking to the waves when turning 50.

    Mr Del Din’s bonfires. A mircale of non-windy Novembers that the whole suburb wasn’t on fire.

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