Almanac Travel: Perspective



Something strange happened this year, I missed most of September. Missing September in Melbourne, for a football fan, is like picking up a novel and starting on page 139. The characters are all developed, the narrative has been set, the story is rich in its detail, but I’m grasping for context. For me the front cover still doesn’t have a crease in it. This book has barely been opened, but the media is abuzz with the story. I fall into it.


Collingwood is playing the West Coast Eagles in the Grand Final. What happened to Richmond? How bad was the capitulation by Geelong (the last message I got while leaving the country was a WhatsApp message – “Don’t bother looking at the scoreboard.”)? Did the Giants fire a shot? And the Hawks? Apparently, they went out in straight sets. Is Clarko still a genius?


My first foray into these finals was attending the Almanac Grand Final Eve lunch. The place was jumping like it always does. The eccentric haphazardness of this wonderful afternoon is a joy. People are discussing the possibilities for the game. Will Collingwood’s pressure be the telling factor? Can West Coast’s big logs pull in enough grabs in the forward 50? Pies supporters are jumpy and excited. West Coast supporters seem a tad more relaxed. Or maybe it’s politeness because they are (mostly) visitors in town? My absence means I’ve missed the entire back story so I feel strangely removed, like a bloke who’s just woken up from a coma, only to find that its illegal to drink beer. How did we get here?


My travels had taken me to central and eastern Africa. I experienced the natural world up close. It is utterly breathtaking; awesome in the true sense of the word. The mountain gorillas of Rwanda (what a remarkable country this is), the lion prides on the hunt in the Mara, a lonely black rhino grazing on the savanna (I’m told there may only be 60 left in the wild), a bull elephant storming towards our vehicle which forced a hasty and heart pounding retreat. Mother nature never ceases to inspire me. We paddled out into the Zambezi River and across the fast-flowing waters that channel into Victoria Falls and sat in a relatively quiet pool right ON the edge of the cascading waters. They call it the Devil’s Pool. It was extraordinary. The power. The thunderous noise. It was like sitting front row at an AC/DC concert. Massive gushes of white water plunged over the rocks and made the 108 metre drop to the ravine below, only a matter of a metre or so from where we wallowed. In the wet season these Falls create their own micro climate. The mist from the torrents of water ascends into the sky and returns as rain. Before taking this plunge to the Devil’s Pool we all had to sign a document that read “I acknowledge that this activity could result in my death but am willing to take that risk………..”. Everyone happily marked the document. To feel alive is to be close to death.






But, as is normally the case, the most compelling story of any country is the human one. The people of Rwanda have a remarkable tale of destruction and grace. A mere 24 years ago (1994) this country descended into madness. In a few months 1.2 million people had been butchered. A wander through the Genocide Museum was gripping. But I’ve read all this before. It was like Third Reich all over again; a noxious power, elitism gone mad, justification for discrimination turns into justification for killing, people are labelled, ostracised, starved, slaughtered and tossed into the river. I couldn’t go into the Children’s Hall, it was too disturbing. Babies banished for the sin of being. But now the people are healing. What they have achieved (thus far) should be getting the attention of the whole world.




I hope you can understand why footy was hardly in my consciousness.


I had zero interest in how the Cats VFL side folded like a house of cards. Or how the AFL team wimped another stern test. This is meagre stuff. Unimportant.


A woman walks across no-man’s-land that separates Zimbabwe and Zambia. Border officials approach her. They grab roughly at the canvas bag that she has heaped across her shoulders. The contents are dumped on the ground for all to see. Rags. Used clothes. She is harried back across the border into Zambia. There is yelling, pushing, shoving. They deal with her as they might hound a rabid dog out of the town square. There is no dignity.


She is distraught. Slumped on the ground, an empty canvas sack at her feet. They threw that at her as she was shoved from the vicinity. At least she gets to keep that. Head in hands, tears rolling, her troubles are hers. She wears no shoes. Her clothes have travelled far too many miles.


I ask what has just happened. The rags and clothes were confiscated to prevent her from selling them illegally on the streets. She has lost her livelihood, such as it was. She has nothing. NOTHING. Her walk back to the local village is probably five kilometres. I’m told she may not eat for a few days until she can conjure up another survival trick. And we in Australia argue about pronouns.


The Grand Final was a jolt back into the trivial. A brilliant, welcome, much-needed respite from a wondrous and confronting experience. The Eagles and the Pies put on a tremendous show. And probably the best team won, which is not always the case. And so we look to the draft and wonder which of our players will be at the club next year. Will we be contenders? I will let it all swallow me up. I will become part of it all; this lucky country of ours. But there is a little dent in my side now. Another wound. An experience that may not heal. Like I‘m not quite whole anymore.


What became of her?

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 Duffett says

    Reminds me of a couple of experiences I had in the Democratic Republic of Congo some years ago. Harrowing enough despite those couple of stints being really quite sheltered. Thanks for the perspective.

    And yes, Victoria Falls, stupendous. My passport never fully recovered from the drenching it got after I foolishly had it in a non-waterproof pocket while simply standing in the vicinity.

  2. Your description of the Genocide Museum is much like that in Cambodia’s killing fields and S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. Hence the nourishment of the soul I recently experienced on the glorious expanse of the Serengeti. The mountain gorillas were top of my list but I physically cannot do the trek. Love your gorilla pic.

  3. Thanks Dips,
    Looking forward to sharing more at lunch.

  4. Wonderful. As in full of wonder.
    Smell the flowers while you can, because soon enough they turn to dust.

  5. Colin Ritchie says

    Wonderful read Dips! Travel allows one to see things as they are, at least for most of the time. We may accept things for what they are but when confronted with the reality it can be extremely sobering and thought provoking. The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis left tears in my eyes, that man could do to their fellow man because of colour and race was shameful and mind numbing, and must never be forgotten. Unfortunately, we don’t learn from the lessons of history!

  6. Thanks Dips.

    Perspective is an interesting idea.
    Priorities are interesting things.

    In about 1990 I thought that CO2 emissions must be the biggest issue facing the people of the world. Kind of leading to existential crisis – famine, disease, mass migration, breakdown in the rule of law, breakdown in human rights, standards of living, immense population decline, etc etc.. Nothing much I’ve seen since (and since then I’ve studied these things at uni and in paid employment) has changed that idea.

    So why haven’t I spent every waking moment on that cause?
    Why, instead, have I written a stack of stories here about people and ideas related to cricket and footy?
    I don’t know.
    Is time spent on other ideas trivial? Maybe.
    Useful? Maybe.

    My perspective on Rwanda and what you have seen in Africa is this: I know about it. But even then, I choose to go on with my own life and my own petty(?) concerns without giving those in Africa much daily thought. Does that make me selfish? Probably.
    It does feel as though there are an awful lot of people struggling (for whatever reason). People in Rwanda. People under the Spencer Street railway bridge. It’s tough. And the whole momentous thing can feel overwhelming. (How the hell is this allowed to continue? Where are our elected representatives on this? How much can I give? How much is enough?)

    I’ve arrived at: Life is tough; we do what we can.

    Thanks very much.
    Your trip – a trip that poses such questions – sounds wonderful.

  7. …while remembering that:
    To have been born free and to live in Australia is to have already have won the lottery.


  8. Thanks for the comments folks.

    ER – yes we can’t live our lives perpetually worrying about overseas hardships and suffering. It would be intolerable. But one of the magical things about travel is the experience (good and bad). We look at ourselves differently, our country, our motives, our thinking. There is no better education.


  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great work Dips. Sounds like the trip was a real eye-opener.
    We argue about pronouns and feel ‘gutted’ when our team loses a game of footy. We are indeed fortunate to have that privilege.
    Did you have surviving a dip in Devils Pool on your bucket list? That’s a beauty.

  10. G’day Phil. I’m not really a bucket list kind of bloke. The Devil’s Pool was extraordinary. The weird part was that everyone was petrified about getting sucked over the Falls (quite rightly) but no one gave a thought to the fact that the Zambezi River is a crocodile’s playground.

    I saw a travel show on the Silk Road through Iran the other night. Hadn’t given that a thought, but now I’m rather intrigued. Next trip maybe. I’ll start saving now.

  11. Thanks for sharing this story, Dips.
    It sounds like it was a real eye-opener. Hope to catch up with you soon, old mate.

    Perspective: only a day or two after ignoring the UN’s climate change report, this country’s government is caught up in a faux debate on “religious freedoms”.

  12. Thanks Smoke.

    To be fair the IPCC hasn’t been right in its predictions once. Not even once. And not even close. So I’d ignore them too. But we are so lucky that we can talk about stuff that “matters” when so many others are looking for the next meal. However, the weighty issues are heavy to carry around, that’s why footy is such a brilliant release. And a needed one. I wish I knew what the answer was to all this.

    Einstein and Kate believe the answer is in simplicity.

  13. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful Dips. What a trip.
    It’s hard to imagine how a country can come back from such a horrific genocide. But the world keeps spinning.
    Rwanda are very steadily rising through the ranks of world cricket. A magnificent, international standard cricket ground has been built.
    Theirs is a story worth following. But none of this will help that poor woman.

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