Almanac Life: Looking back in lockdown

It’s funny that when looking forward is fraught, due to being in lockdown during a pandemic, we tend to look back. Nostalgia is really the notion of going home, not simply remembering past days. When we are being nostalgic, we are returning to our place of comfort where the hearth is warm and the light is clear. That’s why we go there.


I had breakfast with a few mates from primary school a few weeks back. As we sat there munching on our bacon and eggs, it occurred to me that I’d known these blokes for over 50 years. I never thought I’d be old enough to know someone for 50 years. They haven’t changed much. Though Dominic (temporarily) has pink hair. He did it for a bet. Pretty sure he didn’t have pink hair in 1969.





Greg sent me this photo of us from about 1974 or 1975. I’m sitting front left. We were on our way to or from a football match wearing the fabulous green and black guernsey. The guernsey of St Francis Xavier in Montmorency. That was a very special guernsey for me because it was the first footy jumper I wore into battle against a real opposition. We played on a real football ground that was oval shaped and had grass on it and proper goal posts at either end. We played against kids with their own team colours on and their own pride at stake and both teams really wanted to win. There was a real umpire, dressed in white except for his long black socks, and he blew the whistle and held the footy up to start the game. I can still feel the excitement all these years later.  Donning the jumper was a coming of age. And Mr Patto, our legendary coach and master teacher, explained to us what wearing it meant.


“You’re representing your school and yourself,” he would say, urging us to play the game in the right spirit.


Dominic (back left) was probably the spiritual leader. Tough as nails but very skilled. ‘Mitch’, as he was called, knew how to run in a straight line. If an opposition player bisected that line, then it was at his own peril. Mitch played plenty of seasons with Montmorency and Lower Plenty seniors in later years. A legend of the Monty footy club, 1984 Seniors best and fairest there and three-times best and fairest at Lower Plenty, second in the DVFL (Diamond Valley Football League as it was back then) best and fairest one year. Had a stellar career. We both played in Montmorency’s 1979 Under 16 premiership team. I still treasure that season. As the old timers used to say, Mitch “could go a bit” so I always felt safe playing alongside him. He had a plethora of older brothers and sisters to teach him how to survive.


Greg (bottom right) was a clever player. Elusive is the word that comes to mind. But he would be the first to say that cricket was more his caper. Outstanding left arm bowler and very capable batsman. Played a game of District Firsts cricket, which not many get to do, and plenty in the District Seconds with the Footscray Cricket Club. Had nerves of steel and the cunning of a slow bowler. Became an accountant. Funny about that.





Andrew (top right) was the glamour centre half-forward. I’ve lost touch with him since primary school days but believe he lurks in Fitzroy somewhere. We hope to track him down so we can reconstruct the original photo. Andrew always played with clean boots and the long white ankle straps (worn outside the socks) then went halfway up the shin. He looked and played like a thoroughbred, leaping balletically for grabs on the wide-open expanses of Petrie Park (which was actually the size of a postage stamp). All the mums loved him. I think he was the official captain?


It’s one of the upsides of lockdown; the chance to reflect. What a time that was, the early `70s. Cricket in the backyard or out on the road, footy with all the neighbours in the street, cracker nights, milk and bread delivered to the door because it had been pasteurised or baked about a kilometre away, ripe, juicy plums plucked off the trees and eaten on the way home from school until the pain in the gut became unbearable. We were still too young to fully understand the treachery of puberty but not so young that we couldn’t enjoy smashing all the political “Vote 1” signs off the gum trees that lined the streets. We regarded them as visual pollution. Old codgers would charge up their driveways yelling, “Hey what are you kids up to?!!”. We’d scamper off home to catch the start of Tarzan on the TV.


The other week I was at my mother’s place cleaning out her shed with my five brothers. It was full of broken chairs, bits of chicken wire (that the old man was going to use one day), sticks, planks of wood, jars of screws and nails and bent cupboard hinges, a busted kitchen stool, a chest of drawers that looked like something out of Steptoe and Son, and empty briquette bags that had been lying in a dark corner since the gas hot water was installed in about 1975. One of my brothers was deep into the shed ripping the place apart. He picked up a piece of sheet metal and turned it over wondering what on earth it was, only to discover an absolute gem. It was the original sign our grandfather had used when he first hung out his shingle as an accountant in 1950. Three generations later the thing he started still persists. I work it every day.





I wonder what his expectations were back then? The notion of the all-consuming, persona-defining  career mapped out in infinite detail in a business plan resplendent with colourful pie charts and projection graphs would have been utterly incomprehensible. Life back then seemed to be so much more on the fly. In fact, I remember my old man saying, “I didn’t have a career, I had a survival.”  Insightful I reckon.


When old Jack went off to start his accounting business, the rest of his family was left to run the newsagency they had in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. They all took the plunge together into a new venture with a destination unknown. The stuff of life.


A lot has happened since Mitch and Greg and Andrew and I perched ourselves in front of that camera with our footy jumpers on. Just four kids from the dirt roads of Montmorency. I really can’t stand the notion of “what would I tell my younger self?” (it just feels like self-indulgent dirge to me), but if I did have the chance to say something, I’d hopefully shut my mouth.


The fun, the terror, the sadness, the warmth, the danger, the food, the wine, the conversations, the love, the departures, the wins, the losses, the pain, the travel, the sights, the sport, the friendships: all this was ahead of us. All these things weave together and make the fabric that we wrap around ourselves. We need them.


Why would you dull the magic and tell a little kid what’s coming?




Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Andrew reminds me of a young Tex Perkins.

    That sign is priceless Dips and so is this piece. Thanks

  2. Good stuff, Dips. ‘Nostalgia’ gets a bad press, I feel. For me, it’s more about that aspect of ‘home’ and the values and principles we get from our origins. And Swish is correct – the sign is a classic of its era.

  3. Thanks Lads.

    How good is the old phone number on that sign?

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Fabulous, Dips! I love the recollected details and the deft poetic touches here and there throughout the piece.

  5. Cheers Kevin. Funny what comes back to you when reflecting and what doesn’t. It’s usually the small, often silly, detail.

  6. Well played, old mate.
    Some fabulous memories and thought-provoking ideas.

    “Why would you dull the magic and tell a little kid what’s coming?” How true!!

  7. Hi Dips
    A few weeks ago during a severe episode of insomnia a Radio National program I was listening to explored the concept of nostalgia as a natural swerve in times of isolation and anxiety, Maybe we need embrace nostalgia as an instinctive/subliminal cuddle in “these times”?

  8. Cheers Dips. So many good memories.

  9. G’day Tess. I think that’s a very good point. The subliminal cuddle.

  10. Hi Dips, as I read this to my hubby just now, he said you and your brothers were in our shed!
    Thanks for the memories and ohotos

  11. Hi Thea.

    The garden shed can be a treasure trove. We even laughed when we found the old broken kitchen stool because the old man had cut the legs on a few at the wrong length meaning some of the stools leaned like that tower in Pisa.

  12. Daryl Schramm says

    A lovely read. Can relate to the memories except for the five brothers bit. Just one slightly younger sister for me. These old signs are a story in themselves.

  13. E.regnans says

    Thanks Dips.
    That photo and story could have been out-takes from the movie “Stand by Me.”

    I too remember the butterflies that clattered in my chest as it was first covered with my primary school footy jumper.
    The gold and blue vertical stripes of mighty Heidelberg Primary School.
    Where corridors of the original old red brick building were hung with McCubbin, Roberts, Streeton.
    Blue back panel, gold numbers.
    One of those fluffy wool collars in gold.
    All through the winters of Grade 4, 5 & 6, every Friday afternoon we were smashed .

  14. Terrific stuff. Thanks Dips. Song lyrics to live by.
    “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me; other times I can barely see; lately it occurs to me; what a long strange trip its been” (Grateful Dead)
    “Regrets I’ve had a few; but then again too few to mention” (Sinatra)
    “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now” (Dylan)
    “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans” (Lennon)

  15. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful Dips. Love the black & green jumpers.

    Your grandfathers sign is magnificent. Got somewhere at home or at your business to display it?

  16. roger lowrey says

    Great work Dips.

    Similar memories. I remember wearing number 15 on my first school footy jumper in primary school at St Francis Xavier, Ballarat East. Royal blue with a gold band – one of Colin Alderson’s subsequent colours.

    By the time I made it to Under 16s I was thrilled to “graduate” to a real VFL footy jumper, also with the number 15 as it happened. Winchelsea were the Blues and wore the Carlton strip.

    And now it all comes out. You were one of those annoying little twerps who used to remove or disfigure my election campaign posters. But I need not worry. Karma will take her own majestic course one day when you least expect her.


  17. This reminded of the comments discussion of the piece about the closing ceremony at the Rio Olympics – which featured the Portuguese word saudade which is like nostalgia or nostalgie in the Latin languages.

  18. Rulebook says

    Great stuff,Dips yes a lot of reflection going on at the moment ! Awesome sign love the phone number

  19. Roger I apologise if I pulled any of your signs down or the signs of your beloved ALP.

    Wait a minute – no I don’t!!

    But to be honest we were like Dirty Harry – we hated everyone. All signs were potential targets. Probably because they represented the adults world.

    But if you think we were bad consider the modern child. They pull down entire monuments!!

  20. Nicole Kelly says

    Such a beautiful reflection. Thank you. You’re right about not saying anything to your younger self. But I like to think you could tell yourself then and now the same thing – just enjoy it all.

  21. Super story Dips and all part of life’s great adventure!

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