by Andrew Starkie


In the late ’70s mum and dad took my sisters and I on a road trip around Tasmania.  It was deep Winter and the roads were hilly, winding and wet.  I was car sick for two weeks.


I recall moments like framed snapshots.  Slipping on snow and ice on Mount Wellington; rushing, frothing rivers beside the road; dark, menacing forests.  Mum going off all excited to see Lovelace Watkins perform at the Casino.


Also in Hobart, we visited the Gilberts, friends who once lived in Warrnambool.  Eric played footy with dad at Merrivale back in the day.  Dad has a team photo, taken before a final at local headquarters, the Reid Oval, as screen saver on his computer.  He was the ruckman, so he’s in the back row, beside Eric.  It was during Dad’s Tom Jones period, head thick with woolly curls.  Rob Lowe Senior, local Indigenous leader, determined and ready to go, is in the middle row.  The Rea brothers are there, wearing goofy grins.  There’s Jack Kelson.  Terry Morrissey. Briney Douglas.  Nut McMahon.  Down the track, I would attend school with some of their sons.  And play footy and cricket with and against them.


Eric worked in the bank and he and the family were dragged around the country.  For a while, they were in Adelaide where Eric ended up president of Woodville in the SANFL.  He changed their name from Woodpeckers to Warriors and got Blighty back as coach.  It was the start of a slow climb up the ladder before the merge with West Torrens.
We spent a night in Queenstown, a Deadwood mining town in a valley in west coast wilderness.  Dad and I went for a look at the local footy ground and discovered it had a gravel surface due to the years of mining which had killed-off much of the local vegetation.

It was a weeknight and training was on.  Dad and I watched from the fence behind the goals.  Rain fell in buckets and the surface water ran in rivers into a grated drain in the pocket.  A tubby bloke in a Collingwood jumper led to the flank and juggled one.  Steam rose from the players’ shoulders.  They all had beards.  A small, square grandstand stood on the wing as a windbreak.  The change rooms were underneath.

Dad probably shook his head and said something like, ‘Geeze, these boys’d be tough.’

In ’03, during the September school holidays, I drove around Tassie with a few colleagues, one female, a footy hater.  I dragged them across the isle to Queenstown to see if the oval still existed and if it was still gravel. It did and it was. It was mid-arvo on a week day and I stood behind the goals again and took a photo.  Later that night, the publican’s wife told me the club thought about grassing the oval, but voted against it.  I think she said she was the treasurer.

‘Why lose our advantage? Opposition hate coming here,’ the publican shrugged.  He had a beard.

Today, the photo hangs in my kitchen.  The yellowy gravel wings spread in the foreground.  The bar stands at the far end of the ground.  You can imagine locals slurping on cans, huddled around drums, red sparks and smoke drifting into the cold air, as darkness falls late in the last quarter.  At first glance, the mountains in the background look beautiful, snow covered.  A closer look tells you they’re bald.  Lifeless like a moonscape.

Next time I’m down there, I’ll drag whoever I’m with to Queenstown to check out the ground again.  I wonder if anything will have changed.



  1. That ground is a fortress Andrew. The local “Crows” have a double advantage. Travelling teams always have more than a few outs during the middle of winter for climatic reasons you referred to and also there are always plenty of well oiled locals with little else to do.

    My son played there a few years ago and was lining up for goal infront of the Crows social club. He was offerred all sorts of advice on where his kick would end up and his birth legitimacy so he took the locals on.

    He lined up like a certain Essendon forward and pulled one sock up much to the annoyance of the mob. It was pissing with rain and no wind but it was a crucial third quarter kick to bring his team to within ten goals of the Crows. So he picked up a hand full of muddy gravel and threw it into the air to check the direction and velocity.

    That caused great excitement with the locals, but not as much as when he shanked the kick.

  2. Andrew Starkie says

    Phantom, I’ll never forget Qtown. Tough men, tough town. Do they win flags? what league do they play in? i should’ve done my research but I wrote this piece quickly yesterday.

  3. Andrew, how would they go against some of the private school clubs in the Amateurs?

  4. They play in the Darwin Association Andrew. This is based around Burnie’s region but as there is only one team down there now they are in another league. Used to be a league of its own when the boom was on. City, Smelters Gormy etc. All in and around Queeny and as porochial as. If a player moved from City to Smelters (both at the same ground) the town would be in up roar.

    They played in the grand final this year (first time in a decade I think) and were favourites. They were in a winning position but apparently went the thump and lost to Natone. They had to travel to Burnie for finals therefore didn’t enjoy the home groung advantage.

    Litza, I used to play with the private school boys in the amateurs in Launceston and it was a very tough league. We had a few slaughtermen from the local abbatoirs. You didn’t win as many flags in blodbaths as we did if you were soft.

    Speaking of priveliged private schools boys how are the Good Old Navy Blues shaping up for 2012.

  5. Phantom – was thinking more along the lines of Melbourne school ties. Insofar as the Good Old Navy Blues go, at the height of our powers in the late 70s early 80s, our privileged school boys club was backed with some underworld muscle. Don’t know that muscle still exists, be we should do just fine in 2012 anyhow.

  6. Yes, they let anyone into the good schools these days Litza.

    All this new money floating around.

    Common people without a skerrick of good breeding popping up everywhere like bogan mushrooms.

    Orta be a law against it.

  7. I remember my first year playing at Balwyn, hitting the nightspots in Hawthorn after a game. Had the clothes, the hair , a few well-honed one-liners – everything – right. Everything that is except for the school I went to. Welcome to Melbourne.

  8. John Butler says

    Andrew, it’s about time Lovelace Watkins rated a mention in the Almanac.

    Very well done. :)

  9. I expect to see Lovelace Watkins mentioned in some of this year’s cricket commentary as a descriptor – i.e. Khawaja’s cover drive was as smooth as Lovelace Watkins.

  10. Andrew Starkie says


    you will understand what mum got all excited about

  11. I umpired senior footy on the gravel in the early 80’s in the WTFA. It was raining so hard you hear the ball coming through the air! There was a drain hole covered with conveyor belt rubber with holes punched in it. Those blokes were as tough as nails and expected nothing and gave nothing. Left Burnie at 8:00am and returned home through the snow at 12:30am the next day. “Queenie” was a different world in so many ways.

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