Almanac Rugby League – Rosemary and Football

At the door to my (outside) study, there is a healthy rosemary bush. It usually reminds me of happy times: roast dinners, especially, which the kids look forward to.

“Can you get me some rosemary please?” I ask Theo, the oldest, as I start clattering trays from the oven.

And thus begins the process of (relatively) cooperative preparation which culminates with us sitting around the table together. My guess is that these will be strong memories.

For a few days each year that rosemary bush triggers different thoughts.

My mind turns to ‘Gallipoli Rosemary’, a song by Mick Thomas of Weddings, Parties, Anything fame. Mick has an eye for what is significant and meaningful in Australian, and he writes of a rosemary bush which has been grown from a cutting brought back from the Gallipoli campaign. (This version is Mick with Squeezebox Wally, an Almanac stalwart)

I wonder, though, whether I would reflect on the place of war and loss, and the powerful and the wealthy, were it not for other triggers.

During the coverage of Saturday’s Doncaster meeting from Randwick I noticed a couple of men wearing sprigs of rosemary on their lapels, and for a while the poppy-sellers have been wandering about Flinders Street Railway Station which makes me think differently about the famous pub across the intersection: Young and Jacksons. It is usually a place of hedonistic merriment (my favourite) where, under Chloe’s nakedness, I can have a beer en route to the races or the footy. But at this time I am reminded that many a young man had a beer before getting the troop train to Broadmeadows or Port Melbourne. Their last beer in Australia. The closest some came to a woman’s nakedness.

That’s one reminder. The more obvious trigger comes through the promotion of the football contests which have become part of the ritual: the ANZAC Test and the clash between Essendon and Collingwood at the MCG on ANZAC Day.

Of course the games themselves are even more significant. Even if they do give rise to some corny (and exploitative) commentary, there are elements of those games which affirm those things which ANZAC Day represents.

The Kiwi Haka was chilling on Friday night (and I was in a lounge room thousands of kilometres away). “Ka mate, Ka mate, Ka ora, Ka ora” translated means “I die, I die, I live, I live.” In the traditional sense it’s a call to action and to skill and courage, all of which were mandatory, and evident, in those who took to Eden Park in Auckland.

The opening minutes of the Test were brutally intense: both teams stood their ground, and tried to win a physical advantage. Men went down. Small men were steam-rolled and got up. Big men were stunned and bleeding.

The Kiwis were relentless early and challenged the line, which held, until Kiwi hooker Isaac Luke barged and spun and twisted from dummy half a metre out to go over in the arms of his opposite number Cameron Smith.

A proud man, Smith was no doubt rankled by this. It was not what he had hoped for in his first game as Australian skipper.

But Smith is a good man and a fine leader and he rallied his men around him, organising and orchestrating from dummy half himself, and from the back of the scrum.

Debacle is a military word and I have read that military action is never far away from chaos. It requires sound and inspirational leadership; a head kept while others are losing theirs. And unwavering belief. These are the qualities of Cameron Smith who led the Australians to victory and scored a similar try himself as his opposite number stood looking on.

ANZAC Day is an important commemoration and it makes sense that there are a variety of reminders, as long as organisations haven’t appropriated the deep-seated feeling for their own benefit.

This Test was just a game of rugby league, yet it wasn’t.

I can only imagine what a rosemary bush means to those who have lost loved ones.





About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    I’m about to go out a pick a sprig of rosemary. It’s two years today since my mother died. We attended the 2008 Anzac day game together .It was my first and her last. Started writing a piece about it last night – may or may not finish it . Hope it’s a beauty of a game today.

  2. Andrew Else says

    As i read this, I noticed the channel 9 newsreaders wearing a sprig of rosemary. I’d never heard of it until a minute ago. Thanks

  3. JTH, very poignant observation about troops having their last beer under Chloe. Moving stuff. Thanks.

  4. A rich, emotive and thought-provoking piece about ANZAC Day.

  5. John
    Mick Thomas was on John Faine’s show yesterday and did a wonderful live version of ‘Gallipoli Rosemary’. It’s a really thought-provoking song about loss and renewal.

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