by Barry Dickins

I dreamt the other night of Swan Lake in mud.

The first ballet I ever saw, actually. It was beautiful to say the least and quite luckily for me it went on all the night long in my bedroom, with one particular ruckman performing a pas-de-deux in the teeth of goal.

Dreams are real, it’s life that isn’t unless you get a pass-out at the ground and come back in again. I know when I die I will only hear one thing. The siren at The MCG after Fitzroy come back from the dead and beat The Pies by a point after eleven minutes of time-on.

I miss seeing Fitzroy play and hope that Ross Oakley roasts in hell as we speak for what he’s done to the poor old Royboys.

So what they were no good? So what we owed millions of bucks?

The point is for lovers of them like me they are sacred, like treacle.

Anyway back to my balletic dream. I saw Bernie Quinlan and Micky Conlan tearing along the quagmire back-line, magnificent together as the dwindling dark took over, as darkness always does in time of epiphany. The thick oozy black mud behind the Victoria Park posts never looked more inviting. Players dived into it like seals and pirouetted out of it like parrots. Umpires got lost in mud and supporters cast their dentures into it for something to do.

In the last seconds of the final quarter at Pie Park I heard again the catastrophic sighing of The Collingwood Social Club, that fatalistic moaning like a dirge sung in a mullock heap, sung right through time itself, this awful and mournful crying because a Royboy had been given a free.

That colossal sighing-sound reverberates in my ears right now as my spirit and my immortal soul both get in for nothing. Both are life-members of a thing called Beauty.
It was splendid in the far-out mud that was manufactured out of honest hailstones blended with the run-off from Stout Night at Fosters Brewing in brotherly Abbotsford.
The holy pong of industrial yeast and working-class tears.

When my father and me went to the Collingwood Football Ground fifty-odd years ago to see them play Fitzroy, you needed a magnifying lens to see the brick-faced sons of convicts who sold tickets to get in; they were more like agitated stick insects completely secreted in the concrete and old brick wall. My dad promptly and elegantly coughed up the right dough to gain admittance and the brick-faced little men swore beneath their foetid breath and the turnstile went round.

When you went in you beheld Hell. The sight of alcoholic pie boys aged sixty was strange to me; and the fact that their horrid pies proved stone-cold on the munch.
Old pie boys had savage sauce-fights and sprayed the crowd with pools of blowfly-adoring tomato sauce which had fleas and thripps embedded in its grotesque surface.

There were old peanut men who duped the fans week after week by furnishing them with stale nuts. They chanted rudely and most loudly ‘Get your fresh peanuts!’ But naturally the nuts were old when they got picked during The Boer War. I used to honestly feel a strong stab of pity for the toothless pensioners I witnessed trying to break those rivet-hard devilish peanuts not even a jack-hammer might penetrate.

Dad would effortlessly wind us down through the Pie Boy scum to some place friendly near the boundary, and there things would make some kind of sense. There would possibly be a Christian there, or a Zulu.

Dad would smoke like the other fathers did. Millions of  fathers smelling of Brylcreem and Colgate toothpaste and drizzled-on fawn overcoats. It was always raining and then it was unpredictably hot so men fetched their umbrellas with them and sprung them up for their wives who screamed the quaint word ‘Hopeless!’ at every umpire’s decision. Some women screamed so loudly the men vomited.

Some men natty and others slovenly and some boys clutching a footy improvised out of a packet of flour such as ‘O So Lite!’ which they used to kick or attempt to boot a drop-punt with at half-time when the proletariat ran on.

From my position so unworldly and eager and trusting the whole sea of mud promised more than romance; it absolutely guaranteed love. The joy to witness Ray Gabelich slide very quickly in and out of an atrocious lake of muck and come out laughing and still clutching the slippery Sherrin and then give it a whiz over to Desie Tuddenham.

Although I was loyal to my team of Fitzroy I marvelled at the true and outstanding men of the mud-heap-Collingwood!

Of a wet and thunderous sodden Saturday they couldn’t put on any lights fifty-two years ago, there weren’t any to put on. It grew much darker and blacker in vilest intensity with coagulated punch-ups going oddly unnoticed due to the annoying and most profound darkness that at least cost nothing. The dark has always been on the house I think you’ll find. Dark and mud sponsored the game of life back then before the new artificial grass authorities put the kybosh on free thinking.

I still love the footy and look forward to certain games that my young son and I can see live or on the box of course; he follows The Tigers so I sort of do as well, having witnessed Fitzroy got rid of back in dear old 1996 when people without pity voted to destroy them forever. I have never been able to believe in any kind of reincarnation and don’t believe in ghosts, only deceased pie boys and ghouls of nut men that still cry out all over Melbourne ‘Get your fresh peanuts!’ and ‘Clean ‘em up!’

It  is half-time and all Pie Boys look alike. Like mud in all its glorious pong-ness!
Slithery and dithery and awkward and suddenly all over a mint-new Pie Boy’s dry-cleaned bottom!

How dreadful mud appears right over your snow-white shorts!

The crowd to point and laugh at that and you as a player just come down from the country, playing your heart out for the Mighty Pies!

Butch Gale is right in front of me and resting his mighty hands on his hips and a smarty in the crowd, right in the front row, where me and dad are watching, he calls out rudely and cravenly ‘By Gee Butcher, the white hairs are beginning to show on you, aren’t they?’ But nobody laughs. It is a fool thing to call out and he must be punished.

Butch Gale elegantly gets his legs over the picket fence and says ‘Excuse me, sir’, and ‘Excuse me Madam’, and is so dainty and patient and polite the surreal way he crosses over to the terrified offender and says with his hands on his hips ‘What did you say to me just then you peanut?’ And the man literally falls apart and darts away somewhere to be out of the Butcher’s intent gaze. Butch just stays there as a sort of god and the crowd smile gently and a lady gives him a solitary clap.

As he steps back into the game again, satisfied that justice has been served, I ask my father whether that sort of thing actually happens much. A footballer stepping over the fence into the crowd and to talk directly to one of them who was a bit rude or something, and he scratches his head and replies ‘No, you do not see that kind of thing happen very much’. I thank him and he lends me the binoculars to see Len Thompson.

Kids my age are selling ‘Footy Record’ and I have a sudden stab of envy for their liberty. Dad is pouring himself a thermos of piping hot tea and adding a drop of milk that mum tipped into a thoroughly rinsed-out Enos jar then hit the top back on.
He buys me a hot Four ‘n Twenty  pie that cost him one shilling and sixpence and he does not give the pie boy a tip; but extends his palm to extract the four pennies that have sauce on them. He wipes it off with his neat and folded handkerchief.

He was a real toff, dad, and he never fell in mud, not once. At least in peace-time Australia he didn’t. There was more than enough mud in New Guinea and ‘the islands’, as he referred to various theatres of war when he enjoyed fighting our country’s enemy-the Yellow Peril. ‘Yeah, I really enjoyed that’, he smiled once at our tea-table.

He never suffered nightmares or revisited the smoky jungles of the past. He completed six years of it including volunteering for peace-keeping-duties all through 1946, where he helped guard Japanese POW’s. ‘There were so many of them they could have beaten us with sticks and stones’

Then he wryly added ‘They just didn’t think of it’
He is seated on a brick right near the boundary fence in perfect balance; it is only a rough old Clifton Idea Brick but to him it is nothing but ecstasy.
I am chatting to a boy my age who sells pies and he tears off a bit of paper and prints a telephone number on it for me to get that kind of job like he’s doing.

‘You get a bit tired of carting the hot pie box around your neck all day’, he grins and kicks a beer bottle as though its’ a football to me, which I sort of mark.
‘Dad do you mind if I too sell pies at the footy?’ I ask him as he lightly adds up how many kicks Thorold Merritt has collected, with the faint tick of a HB pencil.

I want to and need to believe there was an insanely tall ruckman for The Pies back then; he was Wes Fellowes and he had a tenacious tackling style as well as tenacious Rocker hair cut. He was so desperate for possession of the ball he positively grimaced if he didn’t have it.

The main recollection of that mud game is aroma which to me is the soul of football as I know it.

The piquancy of ruptured buttocks coming from the rub-down-table is never far from me. The stinging-nettle pong of Deep Heat athletic cream that is worn by Sales Reps on their way to work. The make-you-gulp stink of vast underground channels of weed beer. The terrible concussion sensation I used to find in the brewery of men’s eyes. Why did they drink so much beer at Pie Park, I wondered as a little boy in company of my eager father.

The other biting smells are of Cedel Ladies Hair Spray gluing their hats on in the wind; and the smell of a storm brewing upon Hobsons Bay that bit you in the heart as you stammered the word ‘Royboy’.

Although a long trot from Saint Kilda you could smell squalls through the volcanic jam that got pumped back through sugary helium doughnuts swallowed ten at a time by cold working-class mums with no teeth, a dreadful jacket and hanging out for the next child-endowment payment.

Fitzroy has Kevin ‘Gummy Shark’ Murray running around in front of his mud-encrusted teammates and although gangly and mangly and no teeth in him and cheap tatts put on his arms personally by Dickie Reynolds in Flinders Lane, he gets the ball and loses it, then boots a splayfooted kick over to Wally Clark who flicks it over to my hero ‘Butch’ Gale, who dobs it for a major, as goals were called half a century ago in mud or not mud.

But mud is best and mud is holy and the muddy crowd cheer ever on the coagulated Collingwood players who look like-I don’t know what they look like-but you see the determination better in muddiness and grotesque men resemble gods when caked in it. Even umpires look good in it and that’s saying something, to be sure.

Because I was reared in a very loving home of mum and dad who showed affection and good humour all the day and well into the night, I never saw hate until I saw it in mud at Pie Park; sculptured out of the horror of unemployment by the vagaries of winter-weather and once players were in it they stayed mud. The Lord Of Football looked down from Heaven and saw that mud was good. Football was mud in heaven.

A few years ago I was trying pretty hard to cross Nicholson Street Carlton and saw Ray Gabelich drive by in a most rusty chip and dim sim truck at a tremendous rate of kilometres indeed. I recognised him straight away from the look of his white old rocker haircut and gut on him. The dreadfully amateurish sign writing achieved on my side of that truck that catered crisps to pubs said ‘Ray’s Snacks. Remember The Run??

This surely is the persistence of potato chips or the persistence of rocker haircuts or the immortality of unroadworthy vans.

But the funny thing about such a sight was the mud all over it as it tore and rattled along to deliver another gut-ache to the poor who only have junk food to believe in. God is stingy and wouldn’t lend the poor a single chip.

My father is dutifully filling in his almost saturated copy of ‘Footy Record’ among the nice people in transparent goodness and old ladies who force their husbands to contribute a florin in the swear-box on the kitchen table if they blaspheme or barrack for Carlton.

He is grinning at me and he reaches into his ‘kick’ and says ‘Here’s two bob for a hot Four ‘N Twenty, old bean!’

I love it when he calls me old bean. And he is my old bean too.

Two peas in a pod long before pod cast.

He declines to come at a ‘dog’s eye’ as he calls them, but contentedly munches very politely one of mum’s gorgeous big thick white bread salad sandwiches, with sliced tomatoes out of our backyard. He picks a fresh slug off the lettuce and says to me ‘I should have given him a spray’


The match concludes exactly as it began in mud and the sodden mob goes home. The horn is still deafening me five decades later and the sighs from The Social Club hum nicely in my old ears with ear-hairs on that twitch in memory and wind and ancientness.

Hundreds of morons fighting in Johnston Street, but not fairly, not that I ever saw.

Two men are engaged in the act of holding a Fitzroy supporter underneath the Kew bus.

No one minds. ‘It’s only life’, someone mumbles and Dad and me ascend the vomitous ramp of Victoria Park railway station to be deafened by losing Royboys who rent in Preston because they can’t afford Carlton. Who can anyway? And besides everyone hates them.

Dad reads Professor Murdoch’s philosophical column published in ‘The Herald’ and I just sit next to him who brought me life.


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  1. John Harms says

    Barry, great to have your words at Your writing has been a joy forever. Love the freedom in the face of the bastards, and the fist shaken to the heavens.

  2. Paul Daffey says

    That’s a very fertile mind.

    I agree re- the absence of mud. AFL footy lacks a dimension without it.

    Impressive use of the word ‘pong’.

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Barry, this a stunning piece of literature. You took my senses for a hell of a ride. I miss Fitzroy and its characters, their songs of faith in the face of futility and their eagerness to embrace the mud and endure the pong.

  4. Barry

    Great to meet you at the last almanac lunch.
    And priveliged to be able to read these words.
    You are able to bring back to life a Melbourne
    which no longer exists.


  5. Barry – wonderful. As it happens I had a lunch and several beers at the Napier Hotel last Thursday. Amongst the motley crew of attendees was one Butch (junior) Gale. When Butch left the pub, after having had his fill, we gathered in a group in the shadow of the Fitzroy Town Hall and belted out

    “We are the boys from old Fitzroy,
    we wear the colours maroon and blue
    We will always fight for victory
    We will always see it through………………..

    Butch left with a huge grin on his face.

    The rest of us went back inside and had a beer with Murray Weideman who was sitting at the bar like any other old timer might – it was priceless.

  6. Adam Muyt says

    Still writing as you talk – beautiful Barry. Go Roys!

  7. Matthew Hardy says

    There are no existing adjectives with which to appropriately describe this piece Barry.

    Your unsurpassed dexterity with our Australian vernacular truly reminds me of the heart-stopping thrill I gained from watching Jimmy Krakouer handball over both his own shoulder and fifteen other players, to his brother Phil, from forty foot away, both at full pace, without so much as a word or a glance. And I don’t barrack for North.

    Forgive me if my paraphrasing does you an injustice but I’m sure I recall you once describing Kevin Murray as having ‘hands like shovels and a head to match’. A line which to me is like scripture.

    Your writing contains constant jaw-dropping sentences which for the rest of us are as rare as a mutual climax, but you dish ’em out like Greg Williams did handballs.

    This one made me laugh, sigh and cry…

    ‘Two men are engaged in the act of holding a Fitzroy supporter underneath the Kew bus’

    Thank you


  8. Michele Davis says

    Barry thanks for that piece of genius on the old Roy Boys, and scary days at Victoria Park . You crack me up as always, we once went to see you in a one hander play, our 6 made the total audience 8. Was suitably fitting really for a tragic such as yourself. John Harms, love your work !

  9. Andrew Gaylard says

    I can’t think of a better venue for the writing of B. Dickins than this site. I feel like I’ve been reading and loving Barry’s prose poems for most of my life, and my pleasure would be truly complete if technology would permit a little of his spattered-inky artwork here along with his words.

  10. Barry, I’ve just started reading ‘you’ll only go in for your mates’ the other day, found it in an op shop. Am loving it. So glad to see you writing here too.

    When my brother and I played footy with stuffed socks in the bedroom as kids, we’d throw a doona on the floor to act as mud. Footy certainly is the poorer for the lack of Merri Creek mud and far poorer for the lack of the Roys

  11. Dunno what I read. So I read it 3 times so I could uncomprehend it properly. As a Croweater come latter day Sandgroper – the people and places meant nothing and everything to me.
    Real and imagined. Past and present. Thought, felt, smelled and sensed. All in the same crazy jumbled order that we all (I hope) experience life. Much thanks for capturing a smell and a time on a page.
    Took me back to my early days at Thebarton Oval. Home made pasties on trays outside the ground after the game. Still hot from the oven under hessian bags.
    And fear. Fear of adults. Who are all these crazy people and what will they do next? Stop antagonising them Grandma with your brolly and your sharp condescenscion. Stop abusing them Grandad. They must have families too. And above all fear of losing. Not again. Please God – not again. They are my heroes. How can you be so uncaring of my heroes and my dreams? Every dog has his day. When is mine – ours???

  12. Jeff Dowsing says

    There used to be a yearly collection of Australia’s best sports writing compiled by Garrie Hutchinson. If it’s still going this is chapter 1, 2012.

    I only caught the early 80’s tail end of the outer at Vic Park as described here, but as a <10 year old it was still quite the wide-eyed experience.

    In various ways 1990 was the last hurrah for Vic Park as it was. All that was left of the 'good old days' was the toilets where you had to pee through cobwebs onto the mossy urinal in the dark.

    As for Fitzroy, I think I miss them even more now we have soulless economically driven concoctions such as GWS.

  13. Mark Doyle says

    Excellent prose writing of a bygone era. I loved your weekly column ‘Royboys’ in the Melbourne Times many years ago. Your generation of prose writers could paint a great picture in words. It is unfortnate that contemporary prose writng does have such rich and colourful language.

  14. DBalassone says

    Great stuff. I love how Wes Fellowes got a guernsey.

  15. I’ve been trying to describe footy mud to my sons, lifelong innocents of the stuff. Now I don’t have to any more …

  16. Rick Kane says

    Thanks Barry, I’m still chuckling and sighing and shaking me head about your simple tale of a kid’s day out with “him who brought me life”.


  17. Leon Davey says

    Made me wish I was 30 years older, and had a Dad who cared for footy.

  18. Bob Pulford says

    Thank you Barry for bringing back those wonderful Fitzroy memories.As a child I went to see the Roy’s at Vic.Park.i.I think you may have forgotten to mention the punch ups thar occurred regularly behind the goals? I can almost smell and taste those lovely four and twenty pies.
    I have great memories of Butch Gale strutting Batman Street North Fitzroy where I lived.He used to do a door to door type selling and payment collection.
    It was really amazing to see Butch in person circulating in our streets.
    I also have great memories of going to see the Roy’s train on a Tuesday and Thursday night.
    Us kids were able to go on the ground and have a kick with the Roy Boys.Kennie Ross kicked a footy from close range one night and it smacked me pretty hard on the side of my head.I just loved the concern that he showed for me.
    Thank you Barry what great memories we hold,not even Ross Oakley could take them from us.

  19. The Roys, (the real Fitzroy Football Club) still play on the Brunswick Oval in the Ammos, and you often see old Fitzroy footballers barracking for the club.

  20. Haje Halabi says

    a compelling piece beautifully written. yes the bells will toll for you one day with the roy boys singing in the background, til then keep writing evocative beautiful pieces like this….

  21. In the long ago, as the naive editor of a publication long forgotten (and deservedly so), I rejected a piece written by Barry Dickens.

    He came into the office to challenge the decision.

    I was youngish and arrogant. So was he.

    It was years before I came to see how stupid I had been and to grasp the truth and beauty and poetry of the man’s prose. And this piece is one of his finest moments.

    Barry Dickens, you make me cry.

    Forgive me. Please?

  22. Jim Young says


    You never got fourpence change for something that cost one and six. Unless you got decimalised a bit early in Fitzroy.

    Jimmo (I.M. our old mate Wacker)

  23. Neil Belford says

    That is on par with Flann O’Brian – brilliant piece Barry.

  24. Andrew Fithall says

    I caught up with Barry early this afternoon. Unfortunately he hasn’t seen any of this feedback. I said he had to make sure he got on the site and read the comments. He was chuffed to hear that people were saying very positive things about what he has written.

    The occasion this afternoon was the Willy Lit Fest where Barry was one third of a debating team discussing the term bogan. For his eight minutes, Barry was completely off-topic, but very amusing and entertaining.

  25. Skip of Skipton says

    This writer is a top-notch shit stirrer. Kudos.

  26. Alovesupreme says

    The Melbourne Times Religion page of the late 1980s was a thing of wonder. Good to hear from Jim Young and his signature reference to the marvellous Wacker, but Dickins’ columns defied description. I recall a very funny conversation on radio between Dickins and the pre-commercial Donoghue & Stevenson, just after the attempt to force a merger between Fitzroy and Footscray. BD had written a column castigating those responsible in what the lawyers considered was intemperate language. The then editor of TMT gave him free rein, on the basis of what Barry described as the flattery of abuse, which meant that the victims wouldn’t bother to sue. However, Donoghue and Stevenson (in reality Dennis Donohue, barrister, and Ross Campbell, solicitor) begged him to omit one paragraph from his recitation of his column, for fear of the legal consequences.

    Mud is a glorious reminder of those days when we could see BD in full literary flight each week of the football season.

  27. Phil Dimitriadis says

    CUB’s (Cashed Up Bogans) rule the mindscape at the moment AF. Once proud anti establishment, now they are the mouthpiece of conservative Australia. How did that happen?

  28. Phil,
    To top it all off, the king of the C-U-B’s was giving his “expert” footy
    analysis on Ch7 last night. He should stick to tennis, I say.

  29. I love it when he calls me old bean. And he is my old bean too. Two peas in a pod long before pod cast.


  30. Daryl Sharpen says

    JTH good to see this is still top of the charts. Classic piece. Like PeterB it means nothing and everything to me. Could this stay up there until something tops it; not unlike January (Pilot circa 1975)?

  31. John Harms says

    D Sharpen, it can stay there until you own the Hobart Cup winner. Or until he writes another one.

  32. Great holistic look at a bit of history. Used to go as a kid to the old Brunswick Street ground with my dad. The smoking and drinking are smells and images I still have. And always in the rooms before and after the game, and players (espcially the greats like Murray) willing to come and say hello. Glad I experienced it and will always stay with me.

  33. Barry stirs up so many memories connected with life, footy, Victoria Park mud, ballet, TMT’s Religion pages, mud pies and the premiere of Barry’s play on the takeover of the Royboys by a Japanese Transnational Corporation – which I attended with the one-and- only Wacker.
    I once umpired a game at Yallourn where the locals had been water-skiing on the ground earlier in the week.It was still underwater and every step required concerted effort – the calves still remember that event! Vivid recollections from Vic Park and surrounds come back to me. One afternoon my wife aka “The Mad Magpie” and I stood in the outer behind a number of Collingwood supporters who had obviously come to the game after a very prolonged session and were continuing to slake their considerable thirsts.I was astonished that they could see the game let alone read the play with understanding as well as they did. Later at Len Thompson’s pub – The John Barleycorn – a number of locals were gathered in thiei PJs and Dressing Gowns doing their post-mortem on the game whilst having a nightcap! I also recall Graeme Allan and the Lions murdering the Magpies in a mudless opening round in the late 1970s.
    One day at a formal meeting at The University of Melbourne a Committee member interjected “As Dick’ns once said blah, blah, blah …”. I asked in response if he was referring to Charles or Barry! My name has been MUD with him ever since.

    Bob Speechley
    from Barcelona

  34. Neil Anderson says

    I used to think I was fairly observant watching the footy-crowds back in the ‘Butch Gale’ / ‘ Teddy Whitten ‘ days and being able to write about it years later. After reading this article from the more famous of the Dicken’s writers, I obviously had my eyes closed most of the time.
    Loved the calm removal off the slug off the lettuce and chastising because he should have sprayed.
    All in all a great lesson in writing for Almanac 101 students.

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