History is a (not always pretty) Beautiful Thing.


Rory Harrington was a part of a Juniors team I coached eleven years ago. He was always going to be a dairy farmer like his dad, and his dad’s dad before that. School was just killing time.

While the other kids dicked around during study periods, he would bury himself in the records closet, looking up the old Otway Districts footy scores. Seeing who won, who lost, spotting the names of former players. The spud farmers, the harvesters and milk truck drivers that made up his world.


Otway Districts wear Melbourne colours, but you can’t help bad luck. I don’t even know why. Maybe the bloke in charge, the president, or sponsor, was a Melbourne supporter when they became Otway.

Before that they were Beech Forest, Carlisle River and Gellibrand. Maybe one of those was blue and red? A few locals would remember. Brad Trotter, the fern harvester, was playing when the mergers happened. So was the the dairy farmer, Dicky Dawes. They’d know.


Beech Forest wore green and yellow. They were up on the ridge, in the fog and snow, and were hard and honest and half crazy, and shrunk when the logging was done.

From their old oval, that sits not far from where there was once a railway, that is just down from where there was once

a school,

a milk bar,

a post office and petrol station,

a cop shop,

but aren’t anymore, you can still see the world.


Back in the day, there was a whole ridge league. When logging was all there was.

A steam railway ran its length, with stops such as Wyelangta, Weeaproinah, Ferguson, Lavers Hill, Crows. Each station was the end of a track that fell deep into the cold, wet, fern-and-leech-filled gullies and valleys, where, buried in shadow and damp, there would be a mill, from which clydesdales would pull timber along wooden rails. Where bridges were high and shonky and people died.

Each stop had shops and a one teacher school and bank and church, a few had cemeteries. Now all gone. Everything was made of wood. None of it remains. Go past Weeaproinah and you’ll see a dairy farm. Paddocks, nothing more. Crows and Wyelangta not even that.

Each mill was a town, and each town had it’s own football club.

The Joannah Valley, which leads to a wide, rip-filled surf beach, where supplies would come in and timber be shipped out on rare still days, had two clubs.

Ferguson wasn’t just a small, rising intersection between the lowlands and the ridge back then. It had a two story hotel. A team that was proud.

A few of the mill owners thought football was everything. They would only employ men who could play, which led to fights on the field, and won games.


The Lavers Hill oval had huge divots in it, where they pulled the stumps of 300ft Mountain Ash trees out. The oval was on a thin, sloping ridge. Everybody watched on their horses, so they could ride into the middle of the ground to see the play on the other side. Boys would be paid to fetch the ball out of the blackberries when it rolled into either gully, out of bounds.

The Beech Forest fog would come in so thick, runners would be needed to tell the umpire if someone had scored.

“Who kicked it?” the call would go out.

“I did!” six or seven voices would reply.

Many a man went down in that fog.

When it snowed, a half time shot of Stones and empty spud sack under the jumper kept players warm.

Down at Joannah, if it rained lots, the valley and oval would flood. Further along, at Princetown, the sea winds would come in so hard a full back’s kick-in often went back over his head. It was not that unusual to see a team kick 25 goals in a quarter, then nothing, then another 25.


Many players, thanks to their jobs, were missing fingers, or a limb. They were hard men. They had to be, to work and live up there in wood and tin, over a full day’s horse ride from the nearest cattle town.

The memories of a few third and forth generation workers are all that remains of some clubs. People now spread thin amongst the re-growth, plantations and empty weekender houses that were once farms.

The Otways were over-logged, back in the day, and are healing fine. Most of what townies call old growth now, simply isn’t, and hasn’t been for 150 years. The population of those ranges is a fraction of what it once was. Tourists use roads that were once wooden timber lines.

Things change.


But the Otway Footy Club still remains.


An honest club, that folded fifteen years ago, then was dragged back to life by the few people left who still live on the backroads and work the land. A club on a small oval, surrounded by eucalyps, in a one pub, one shop town. That is doing well again, a center of its community once more. It pulls its players from a smattering of people on the ridge, and over it, in all directions, harvesters, tree planters, relief milkers, and workers from the dairy factory. A club without the population or resorces of rural cities like Colac, against who’s teams it competes, or the tourist dollars of Lorne and Apollo Bay.

But still working class. Still tough and proud. Still alive.


The merged sum of all that is and was. Of inaccessable coasts and a massive, cold mountain range, with its ridges and gullies, and lowland hills and rolling inland farming plains.


Sometimes, up on the ridge, I stop when driving by the rust-and-mould covered Wyelangta sign. Just to watch the fog blowing through the grass in the dairy paddocks, nobody else, not a house, for miles. And try to imagine a community, a railway line, a town. A football team. The games they played.

To see its ghosts in the mists and know the world moves on and all is fine.

You can’t eat scenery. If you’re ever passing through the ranges, doing the tourist thing, stop in on a game. Try to say g’day to Rory Harrington. 3rd generation dairy farmer and Reserves ruckman. He is the Otways.

People make a land.



  1. “Everybody watched on their horses, so they could ride into the middle of the ground to see the play on the other side. ”

    You’re shitting me!? Is that true?!

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Before my time, but I found two diff records stating it. The oval was on a thin ridge. I have seen the ridge. this is true. Both boundaries fell away. Most people got to the games by jumping the wood trains, or horse.

    Gellibrand’s oval, for years, had a sunken wing. You could barely see the players in it. When scores were close in the last and Otway were up, the coach used to instruct his players to “Kick it to the hole”.

  3. Andrew Starkie says

    Matt, something more dies when a country footy team folds. A community comes alive again when the club re-emerges.

  4. Matt Zurbo says


    Tom Haffey tells a great, sad story of meeting an old salt farmer who said he head met his neightbouring farmer maybe five times since their football club folded ten years ago, where as they used to chat by the club bar every weekend.

    Otway functions are to die for. Often wild and crazy, never dull, good people. Some of whom don’t go to the footy much, but like the social aspect. .

  5. Pamela Sherpa says

    People make a land – truer words have never been spoken . Your description of the Otways , people and times past is stunning Matt. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

  6. Thanks Matt. Last 6 paras sent a shiver up my spine. Beautifully expressed.
    30 years ago had a counter lunch at the Beech Forest Hotel on our annual golf/cricket/races pilgrimage from Adelaide to Melbourne along the coast and then back via the Murray River. First with my Dad, and then with a mate. Is the pub still there? I remember I went there just because of the romance of the town’s name. Beautiful country like the big trees around Pemberton in the SW of WA. Thanks for the reminder. Cheers.

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Thans, Pamela, Peter! Yes, and no. The pub you went to, Peter, burnt down, but was rebuilt. The Beechy Pub, named after the Myrtle Beech trees in the area, is still slugging on, with one of my best mates, Gee behind the bar.

  8. “hard and honest and half crazy” – probably the best ever description of Brad Trotter, Dicky Dawes and the rest of the clubmen (you know who they are)…

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