Regrets and Odysseys


Gianpi and Sergio were two of my best mates. When they were about 20 they hopped in a car and headed north because it was facing north. Just drove and drove. By the time they reached the Northern Territory they had $20 dollars between them. The caravan park operator saw their Victorian license-plates.

“Can you blokes play footy?” he asked.

“Sure, but not good,” said Serge.

“So what?’  the man scoffed, ushering them in.

Within two hours of arriving they were playing in the local Twos team, with a house to rent and jobs lined up.


I always regret not using my footy more like that.


Earlier this year, someone invited me to play footy in the Middle East somewhere, desert mountains everywhere. Jesus, I cracked a fat! The thought of it’s been haunting me ever since.

Imagine it! Mosques. The call to prayer mixing with the siren’s wail.


To play out West, up nowhere. On swampy ovals, in the snow. Serge found out. You don’t have to be good. He stayed, met a woman, had kids.

He’s dead now, and I miss him. But he did it.


So, now the season’s over, I’m going on an off-season season. An odyssey, just like that Homer bloke they made the film O Brother Where Art Though about.

To be honest, a little because I’m lost, to find something. Trouble, desert winds. I don’t know what. Good road trips are like that.

My work is seasonal. Wood cutting, re-veg and tree planting all depend on me being wet. So bugger work. I’ll do whatever shit-kicking job there is on the way. Abattoirs, ditch digging, factories. There’s always something.

I’m heading off, no real plan or direction other than I’m going to run through my old league in Eastern Tassie, down the coast, then through Hobart, to find the southern most football ground in the world.

Then have a kick.


Brought a new footy for it and everything.


It’s raining right now, with more on the way, which will feel right. Like home. Driving through the wet and mist to footy somewhere.

I love it, the distance.

Somewhere along the line I’ll bounce through Warrnambool, because that’s where the Monaros live. And because I’ve played some good footy against blokes from there.

And have a kick. The sort that doesn’t raise a sweat. A real hangover thing.

Just get out on that oval and take it in. The world. The sky. Being alive. My own advice, even.


Each year, each batch of juniors, once or twice a season, I would take them onto the ground before a game and, for pre-match, say:

“Take a minute. Look around. Take a good look. Who’d want to live in Afghanistan? Somalia? You’re young, strong, living in the best country in the world, in the best time in history to be alive, playing the best sport ever invented. People wash your clothes, take you to games, umpire, run boundaries, clean club rooms, so to be Kings, of it all, is as simple as running out there and going hard. You’ve already won.

“Young, strong,

“the best game,

“the best country,

“the best time in the history of the world to be alive.

“And all you have to do to thank all those people, and seal that victory, is, know it.

“Is, in an hour, run out and be invincible! And enjoy yourselves.”


I’m gunna have a kick with the Monaros, and see if I can know what the coach in me knows.

I don’t have to have talent, or money.


Then visit an old club or two in the Otways. Work in the bush a bit. Do some concreting in Colac, some spud picking in Gellibrand. Then Melb. Have a lifetime reunion, of nothing and everything football, with whoever joins in.

And have a kick.

Then Sydney, then a bit of work and hanging out with a few men I once coached in the mines in outback N.S.W. and Queensland. Then, maybe, there are a few old teammates living and playing in the Ovens and Murray region, and the Gold Coast, and Townsville.

Meet and greet, catch up and have a kick.

A former club president, and the best bloke is now working in Byron Bay. He’ll line up some work for me. Point out an oval.

Then I’ll have a kick on it.

I don’t like Byron Bay, but this trip is not about scenery.


Maybe in the sugar cane town of Mossman I’ll play a no-sweat social game, where walking for the ball gets your team three points for being cool.

Then, shit job by shit job, work my way up to the Daintree, where I still have unfinished business, and no-one knows or cares about football.

See if a croc will have a kick with me.

Picture that! A croc-skin ball.

I’m going! With nothing more that a few hundred dollars to start me. I’m gone. Who knows? Maybe the right place will swallow me up. I’ve always loved those plane-drop opal mining towns. Maybe I’ll just fade to nowhere. Maybe I’ll be back in a month, defeated, hungry for a good, cold Tassie pre-season.

It doesn’t matter a damn.

I hope I bump into a few of you. That we share a kick. Put some scratches on and stories into my footy.


Anyways, I’m off! Off, in the off season. Me, my dog, my ute. To meander around a country, no real direction other than work and football.


For me and Sergio. No talent required.


  1. If you are on the Sunshine Coast after July, You can kick it to me.

    I was finished as a footy player before I left on an o/s life experience. As we move into the reflection part of our journey before moving home next year, the best parts have often been to do with playing, travelling or just being with the teams…

  2. Can I come?

  3. Skip of Skipton says

    No ball and chain of any kind. You lucky, lucky bastard!
    Don’t bother looking in Tasmania for the southernmost footy ground, Matt. By my calculations that would be in Ashburton, NZ. ( Unless there’s a league in Patagonia I haven’t heard of.)

  4. If the compass takes you West there’s a feed and a bed any time. The in-laws need seasonal workers. Mangoes and grapes. My nephew needs to hear your speech, and feel what you feel. Bon voyage.

  5. Damo Balassone says

    Mate, you are a lucky man if you can pull this off! Hope you’ve packed an ipad underneath the seats, would love to hear the odd update. You are the Tim Winton of the South East.

  6. Not this trip, Peter, but thatks heaps. Would be great. There will be others.

    Damo, good on you mate. Cheers. Will do.

  7. “imagine it! Mosques. The call to prayer mixing with the siren’s wail.” Now that is an image that will help Muslim/Christian relations. One can only hope Turbo.

  8. Andrew Starkie says

    Zurbs, did you know Jack from the Monaros has gone north to work in the mines? Three weeks on, one off sort of thing. You may bump into him somewhere.

  9. I would like to meet Jack from the Monaros – either up the mines, or r-and-r-ing. Latter might be more suitable.

  10. Shitte, thanks Andrew. Last he told me he was thinking about it. Was sick of the abs. Doubt he will not be back for the family x-mas camp at Kalarni (sp?) If not, oh, well. There;s still Gav, Sam and the Van Kemp Han family.

  11. Andrew Starkie says

    Not sure of Jack’s Christmas plans. will chase him up. You’d like Jack, harmsy. Top bloke. Genuine.

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