Paul Kelly, Footy and the Almanac

Paul Kelly is God – got it.  Or at least the Australian version of God.  For me.  My Australian God.  Of course I have American gods – Dylan and Springsteen.  And a Brazilian God – Paolo Coelho.

Enough already.  So I am a polytheist, and these are the people who remind me about what is good, and important and real in the world.  They know it because they have lived it.  When Paul Kelly sang “I lost my shirt, I pawned my rings, I’ve done all the dumb things” – I knew that we had walked in the same shoes.

When he “melted wax to fix my wings,     I thought I just had to sing” he told me to put all that shit behind me and find a creative outlet.  Work, write, love and play.  In time that led me to the Almanac.

So when I saw Paul Kelly’s picture on the Age website on Monday, in a long gabardine coat and a felt hat, I knew that the Community Cup was a sacred event.  Call it grassroots; call it community; call it a good excuse for a pissup and raising a few bob for a cause.

I call it a homage to our childhood.  That ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’  It is the ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.  Like Proust’s hero sipping a tea soaked Madeline biscuit and being transported in time.  All of a sudden I was in a world of Foster Williams, Jack Oatey, ‘Yabby’ Jeans, John Kennedy Snr and black and white photos of ‘Checker’ Hughes.

Life is a circular process.  We start out a smiling, puking, screaming innocent – slave to our instincts but without artifice.  Then we learn to please others; fit in; gain approval and with luck succeed.  First with our parents, then our peers, then our teachers, our bosses and our spouses.  Then sometime in our forties or fifties we start to wonder “where do I come in, and who am I anyway”?

And so the process of exploration, self discovery, vulnerability and sharing.  With luck in a community of similarly minded seekers.  Maybe it’s in a church hall or a sporting club – or maybe it’s through the Almanac.

Any form of categorization risks over-generalising and can be discounted at the margins.  But reflecting on the Almanac debate about the Community Cup I started to think that there were two broad types of footy.

One is about excellence and commitment and success and the modern world.  It is the AFL, and the WAFL and the SANFL and the other premier leagues full of strivers and achievers.  It mirrors the complex modern world we live in.  The world of innovation and success (think grand finalists, BHP and the Asian economic miracle).  The world of complexity and business plans (think ‘forward presses’, ‘zoning off’, carbon trading and broadband networks).  The world of commerce and trade (think rising dollar, falling shares and the pre-season draft).  Above all it is striving in all its forms – both success and failure (think Gates, Obama, Gaddafi, Sheedy, Malthouse and Eade).

Elite footy gives me some tentative insights that I can hang onto, in a complex world that I scarcely understand.

The rest of footy is what’s really important, when we’re not striving or pretending to be clever.  Its grassroots, community, country, colts (before they get too preoccupied with the draft, stardom and a generous paypacket) footy.  Sure there are differences at the margins between all these forms of ‘grassroots’, but they only serve to underline the similarities.

This is footy played for mateship, for memory – for meaning as much as success.  Sure we would all rather win than lose.  But that’s not the point.

For the regular weekend warriors it’s about hanging onto the linkages of mateship and childhood.  For the occasional warrior turning out at a social event, and for the thousands watching them from stands, cars and picnic rugs – it is remembering what childhood felt like.

And it feels great.  The opposite of childish.  Like somehow the important things you left behind when you attempted to grow up.

Footy as something beyond winning and losing.  About connections and friendship and striving.  Something you play, and reflect on, or in the case of Almanackers – write about.

“We shall never cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”

(TS Elliot – Four Quartets)

 

“Now shadows they grow longer and there’s so much more yet to be told,

But we’re not getting any younger, so let the part tell the whole,

Now the players all wear colours, the circus is in town,

I can no longer go down there, down to that sacred ground”

(Paul Kelly – Bradman)

 

“Don’t think – Don’t hope -.Do”

(John Kennedy Snr– ¾ time speech – 1975 Grand Final)

 

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    I like that cycle of life Peter.

    Childhood- more orifice than artifice

    Young adulthood- increasing artifice in pursuit of orifice

    Middle age- continuing preoccupation with orifice, but for different reasons.

  2. johnharms says

    Thanks Peter. Very thought-provoking. You are warming to the task beautifully. T. S. E. is a beauty. I quoted him in the introductory essay in the 2009 Almanac. (which I am about to send to you)

  3. DBalassone says

    Paul Kelly is a beauty. That line “and guess who starred in every rhyme?” from “Lover Never Runs on Time” gets me every time. One of the great road songs.

    Also a sucker for “I’ll Be Your Lover now”, “The Oldest Story in the Book” and “Song of the Old Rake”.

  4. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Beautiful work Peter B. Can relate to your sense of perspective about footy and how the lyrics and music of Paul Kelly can touch many people at different levels.

  5. Richard Naco says

    Paul Kelly would have been far more appreciated and any amount more relevant for _our_ Grand Final than any American faded star.

    I really look forward to the day when our major functions can embrace the visions & artistry produced in this wide brown land & thrust them into national and international prominence instead of forever accentuating our cultural cringe as if apologising for not being up to par with the rest of the planet.

  6. Richard Naco says

    Paul Kelly would have been far more appreciated and any amount more relevant for _our_ Grand Final than any American faded star.

    I really look forward to the day when our major functions can embrace the visions & artistry produced in this wide brown land & thrust them into national and international prominence instead of forever accentuating our cultural cringe as if apologising for not being up to par with the rest of the planet.

  7. Great suggestion, Richard. We could get Paul to turn out in his long gaberdine coat and felt hat. He could also be on standby for Woosha or Mick if something happened to them on the day (condolences to the Editor Johns!!)

  8. Mark Doyle says

    Well written, Peter! We in australia have a great legacy of people such as Paul Kelly to articulate our feelings about the meaning of life. There are many others, living and dead, indigeneous and non-indigeneous, men and women, celebrities and non-celebrities. I heard a great and inspiring doco. yestereday on the radio about the poet Nancy Keating. I also look forward to Michael Leunig’s Saturday philosophical cartoon every Saturday for perspective and reflection.

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