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Round 11 – Sydney v Carlton: The nature of reconciliation



The theme of this year’s Reconciliation Week was ‘Don’t Keep History a Mystery. Learn, share, grow.’


I live not far from the Cook’s River in Sydney and often walk its banks looking for a little slice of solitude in this big city. As a non-Indigenous woman I will never truly understand the way this river and valley burst with spirituality and meaning before European invasion. But I can educate myself in order to imagine. This week, as I stretched out along its course, I extended the riverside bush back and back in my mind, letting it swallow the built environment that has interrupted it. I imagined the diversity of plant and animal life, the stories lying in situ, the Gameyal clan cooking on the ancient fireplace that remains at Wolli Creek, the former richness of the river – fish and shellfish, cockles, rock and mud oysters. I imagined the camps on the mudflats set up to take advantage. And the children waiting under the she-oaks when they were lost, as they were told, where the needles make a soft bed to rest. I paid respect to the ancestors who are buried in the soft soils and sandstone of the river’s banks.


The Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round is my favourite round of the year. It’s when footy and spirit combine in the most meaningful ways. It’s a chance to stand quietly (or noisily) in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, cultures, history and pride – to educate ourselves and grow in the context of a game we relate to and love.


Winter had burst in June’s Friday door in Sydney. The SCG had the bright edges that crispness brings. We bounded up into the O’Reilly in puffy jackets and beanies and huddled tight until the players emerged in Cheryl Davison’s super ‘Guunyu’ guernsey, the swan who rose from persecution to be beautifully black and proud. The didgeridoo reverberated around the ground and through my rib bones right up to the first bounce of Marn Grook.


There’s a certain expectation that comes with build up. That somehow a game should bang open like a piñata filled with all the goodies that have been loaded into it. But the first moves were more like fresh air hits. Just four minutes in, our own super black Swan laid a tackle that cost him 50 metres and the first goal went to the Blues. Curnow was benefiting from what Rampe might call the ‘Clarkson effect’. And then six minutes in, the loudspeaker roared with a burst of premature victory banjo, swiftly switched off by staff. I felt sure the players would all race to find a seat!


The Blues were moving it deftly by hand and finishing cleanly on goal. We were scrubbing it well off the ground or intercepting on the line, but missing in front of the sticks. Late in the quarter Ronke mopped up down back and for a moment I thought it was steady Teddy in the #25, mis-magicking a handball that ended in the first goal for Lance. How we cheered!


We learnt in Q2, how costly a fifty metre penalty is as Isaac Heeney sauntered past an all-in melee to slot the first for the quarter. We learnt that Jack Silvagni is not just a pretty face. We learnt that George Hewett is doing homework with Brett Kirk. But the flimsiness of the general play was hard to stay with. I got carried away by the lifting and falling and folding of all Australia’s flags flying over the Members Stand. Then Gary Rohan insisted his way through the middle to Lance deep in the pocket. But the posts were greedy. The Blues took the lead halfway through the quarter. Newman couldn’t bend it. Mac worked it to Zac but he poked it well short. Heeney provided some relief. With a one point deficit on the board, Swans supporters went to the break managing the teetering discomfort that this could just as easily be a loss.


I set off to find my Cygnet a hot choccy. The coffee cart wasn’t doing chocolate and the bistro wasn’t sure they’d have enough milk. There’d been a run on them—that’s how cold it was in Sydney! As we waited in a queue and listened to Briggs beating out the break, I was thinking that what I like most about this year’s Reconciliation slogan is that it asks individuals to do the work of finding out what they don’t know. It’s a call to curiosity. It’s not about waiting for grand institutional shifts or the mechanics of unwilling government to provide the answers. It’s about taking it on as individuals, having the courage to ask questions, adding missing pieces, sharing and allowing that to grow outwards into something more. Supporters make these relationships with their teams, by knowing them, attending to them, owning and enduring the bad that comes with the brilliant. And teams make themselves through the same methods I suppose.


Perhaps Horse was offering the same thoughts. Sinclair goaled and Lance kicked a stunner from the airport pocket early in the second half. A voice behind us hit full pipes. ‘C’mon Boys, get it! You got this.’ ‘Take it!’ she pleaded, of the groundball. I turned to give her a smile of solidarity for getting them going. But her peroxide blond hair was tucked up in a Carlton beanie! We’re no different, us supporters, whipping up our different colours.


The play hesitated through four straight Carlton behinds and plenty of navy momentum. Until Parker kicked straight late. And the Sydney grind started to turn the match. Hayward took full points. He reminds me of our glorious Micky O. ‘Oily,’ offered O’Reilly Max, in the way that an eel ribbons its way. He could be a superstar, that Will. Sinclair bookended the penultimate quarter with a second goal and it finally felt like the piñata was paper thin. The blond Blue beanie went quiet. Macca got that 200th goal he’d been earning all night and the intensity lasted long enough to take us to Banjo Version 2.


Club histories are made of losses and wins. Any game could be a season bolstering win or a season jeopardy loss. But both are recorded in the story and culture of the club and contribute to the way it defines itself. Isn’t that why the Sydney Premiership was so satisfying after 72 years? The Bulldogs after 62? The Tigers after 37? Why shouldn’t we take the same approach with our country, account deeply for the losses as much as the advances? As Marcia Langton put it at Sydney Writers’ Festival, ‘Why would you only want to count that smidgen of history as the reality of this place, and claim to love it and exclude everything else?’


Back down by the river on Saturday after the win, I walked alongside the glassy satisfaction of full tide. Despite the devastation, both human and environmental, that this river valley has seen in 230 years, it remains a place of great cultural significance, which is now being reanimated by the communities who have taken on custodianship.


I walked and looked more deeply at the surface and noticed that, in fact, it was only the edges that were glassy satisfied. The current was still pulling fiercely down the middle. And in that wonderful holistic brand of thought that Indigenous round promotes, nature and sport and nation collided in my mind. For things to be smooth, there needs to be energy driving at the heart of it.


‘Let’s just keep getting it done,’ Captain Kennedy said as he held the Marn Grook trophy front and centre. Let’s.








About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. “Don’t Keep History a Mystery. Learn, share, grow.”

    How apt, especially this Indigenous round. Applies to everything really, as long as the learning and growing is shared in positive ways.

    Thanks Mathilde, for your insightful article.
    Cheer cheer

  2. Rulebook says

    Mathilde enjoyable as always had the pleasure of being assistant coach re Will Hayward in SAPSASA
    Primary school footy in Adelaide following his career with interest rapt how he is going

  3. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks Mathilde, love this piece on so many levels.
    I worked opposite the MCG for 10 years and use to wander around the surrounding park lands in my lunch break. Apparently before European settlement the G was the location where local tribes gathered in their thousands to trade, and dance and sing. Prior to the altering of the Yarra and the development of a modern metropolis, the whole area was an abundant wetland supporting aquatic and bird life. So with just a little imagination you can picture a rich life for the local indigenous people. In some ways despite their loss, it is fitting that the G still provides such an important meeting place, and that Indigenous people play such a key role in our “Indigenous” game.

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Wonderful Mathilde,
    It’s also becoming one of my favourite rounds because so much history that was hidden is now shared. We can indeed educate ourselves to imagine and imagine to educate ourselves.
    There’s something about rivers that’s cleansing and still mysterious.
    I took a dip in the Acheron/Styx river, which is about 30 minutes drive from my Mum’s village, back in 1987. Damn cold, even in the middle of summer, but so exhilarating. In Greek mythology it was the ‘River of Woe’ but has been re-interpreted as a river which provides a gateway to another world beyond our earthly perceptions, superstitions, beliefs and assumptions. A ‘River of Transcendence’, perhaps.
    You got me thinking/imagining. Thanks MdH.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Spot on Mathilde, the Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round is extremely well done and a wonderful weekend of events. Something the AFL has got right. Reckon the Swans and the Eagles had the best guernseys of the round.
    Love that last line.’ Let’s just keep getting it done.’

  6. Generous and thoughtful piece of writing Mathilde. As your reward you can take Lewis Jetta back.

  7. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks Mathilde for a lesson in perspective. 60,000 years of cultural perspective versus 150 years of a football-game and currently a football-team that is not being kind to me at the moment. Coach Luke Beveridge said the 2016 Premiership ‘didn’t do us any favors’ talking about the decline in performances since then. People of my vintage particularly who waited, wished and hoped for a second premiership over the 62 years, would beg to differ.
    So I enjoyed reading your story about the indigenous -round where the football-match on the day became almost incidental. Like my football-club, I’m sort of on hold at the moment as I wait for those young Bulldogs to age even by one year and for the senior players’ injuries to heal for the start of next year.

  8. Peter Warrington says

    Great story and I agree re the magic of the Wolli valley and its deep and mysterious past.

    Phil, the last person I know who had a dip in the Cooks was straining for a cricket ball down at Ewen Park, and was crook for 3 weeks. If cadmium is your thing, come on up!

    PS Sinclair must be a smokey for the Brownlow surely? may have 3-4 BOGS?

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