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Round 17 – GWS v Sydney: There and not there


The Aussie Football League’s Round 17 started on Bastille Day. There they are, my two halves. I don’t celebrate Australia Day but I do note Bastille Day. I suppose because it’s the underside of my two halves, the one which lies mostly dormant in my everyday life in Sydney and benefits from the formality of calendared dates.


The Cygnet was to be sleeping at a friend’s place. Dinner would be à deux and wickedly made of cheese. The Cob was in charge of the cheeses and bread. I was in charge of greens and red. I vacillated between a Côtes du Rhone and a Grand Vin de Bordeaux until the Bordeaux promised to be excellent with cheese and chocolate. There they are, two of my weaknesses. As dusk bit the day with its chill, I washed the leaves, grilled the asparagus and mixed a vinaigrette the way my French father taught me. The Cob had procured a Roquefort, a Brebis d’Argental, a Manchego and an Ossau-Iraty. There was something profoundly sheepish about his choices.


We worked our way through a bowl of bread and biscuits. The Cob stopped on his third or fourth cracker of Ossau-Iraty, leaned back in his chair and, with his eyes closed, said: ‘God I love this cheese.’ He swallowed. ‘It’s like … it’s not there. But there.’ I thought quietly about what he meant.


He is right. Unlike the Roquefort, the Brebis and the Manchego which bite straight away with their salt and earthy metals, the gentle Basque Ossau seems only texture at first on the tongue. Its initial bounciness gives way to something milkier. Until flavour emerges slowly from its mute thickness, growing but without completing, escaping before it becomes too emphatic. It’s a cheese that works on hints and lingers. A bite turns out to be more like an immediate memory of a taste you have experienced before, rather than something which is wholly present. It is intriguing and moreish. As he described the sensation, it reminded me privately of the way I experience my Frenchness. It’s an odd thing sometimes, living with two nationalities. As if the two sides play this exchange of emphasis and finish note, trade places and even sometimes render each other indiscernible.


We streamed Saturday afternoon’s game between the old foes down in Melbourne. I made dinner and dessert and a pot of winter stock throughout the afternoon, while the voices of the Grandstand team told the story of the midfielder who became a great full forward, of the hero (or villain) Hodge and his fairytale finish dashed. The Cob was cleaning nine years worth of home office. We came and went. It reminded me of what Friday nights in Sydney used to be when all we had was News Radio. We used to cook and clean and pack away the week to Whateley and Parkin and Maclure (who is born incidentally on the 14th of July!). We would finish at the kitchen bench sometime during the fourth quarter, hands wrapped around a cup of tea, staring into the space of the weekend, our imaginations finishing the details of a big win or a tight finish. Not there, but there.


By last Saturday evening in televisual Sydney, it was Roquefort we wanted, bold forthrightness, an immediate tang, veins of acidic bite. I felt the rivalry for the first time on Saturday night. I really wanted us to win. Badly. I pounded my fist into an open palm right before the first bounce. What a relief then to see them bring all of their parts together. What a relief to see them play with such intent from the start and maintain and maintain and maintain. From early on, McVeigh and Jack were Kings. Clean, thoughtful, patient. They played with the kind of extra time that Lara used to accrue at the crease. Heeney was like the puppy at their feet. He’s as eager and fearless as Rohan but with a measure more body control. His limbs don’t flail the same way Gary’s do, they work on compactness.


Defence were back to their organised best, aided by the no show of Cameron I’m sure. Melican – or ‘the Swarthe’ as we call him in Row U for his dark Celt looks – is the dutiful apprentice to Old Man Grundy. He jumps and turns the same way. Misses one, goes the next. Smith and Rampe spread and swept, keeping naughty boys Johnson and Greene in opposite pockets. Intercepts threaded the needle for the chains that were stitched up field and all the way to goal. Intercepts always seem a sign of intent.


The early season games that were forced into the youngsters, the time they had to hold the fort and battering, seem to be paying off in the ‘right to participate’ stakes. Dan Robinson finds a role to play among Parker, Hanners and Josh. Lloyd is the tidiest link player by foot of them all. And Towers has found true confidence. He plays super cameos, repeatedly. And God knows you need the extras to be superb for the scene to be believable – there but not there.


As the two Sydney scores approached each other in the final quarter, we called and called to Lance and Zak and we raged at Mummy. We eeked at Rohan’s ‘limp and leave’ following a long chase for distance he was never going to make. We bravoed Tom Papley and his greedy small forward’s sense of entitlement. We cursed bloody Stevie J and his brilliance and thanked a God for Lance and his run, his marks, his entries and his belief-defying left foot kick.


We beat them!


The Swans have given us an intriguing season, a season so far of two halves. They have grown like the Ossau’s depth of flavour and perhaps they are especially likeable right now for the ways they have ripened into full complexity. They are intriguing and moreish.


And while constitutions tell us we cannot be two nationalities at the same time, I am reminded that I don’t know my nationalities as allegiances, obediences or adherences. I know them as elusive and moveable feasts, sometimes undercurrents and sometimes bold tempers and expressions. They never override each other, but are both simply there and not there together, reminding me never to be too emphatic. Strangely enough though, I wouldn’t halve my team allegiance for anything. How can we be so contrary?


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. Mathilde – oh yes, you had me at the cheese. I could eat cheese and crackers, with red wine, all day. Recently I shared a bottle of Clos Des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape with a client who has a passion for wine. It was absolutely magnificent; subtle and yet vibrant. A bit like the work of P. Dangerfield at full forward.

    The Swans have gone ahead of GWS now. Interesting that the AFL gift wrapped a Premiership for the Giants and they don’t look like grasping it.

    Your description of a Saturday, taking care of household matters, was so cosy. Loved it.

  2. Joyous Mathilde. “There and not there” describes my Eagles alternate weeks of form. Surely you could follow the Cygnet’s lead for a little blue and gold divided loyalty? Just asking.
    Being a child (read pensioner) of the radio and book age I am captivated by imagination. A glimpse of stocking more captivating than Full Frontal Foxtel? Women and footy were so much better looking then. In my mind.
    As for food and wine. I love that the European names capture place – terroir – before ingredients. Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone. Manchego and d’Argental.
    Personally I prefer the languor of Burgundy with a green peppercorn brie (vert something??)
    The Avenging Eagle and I will be in the Basque Country in September. Might sneak over from Donastia and Bilbao to Biarritz for a day to check in on your homeland.
    Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite. There’s a half forward line for you.

  3. John Butler says

    Excuse me, have I just stumbled into the food channel?

    Elegant, as always, Mathilde.

    I saw the Swans live at their lowest point in round 6. It’s been interesting to hear the players say they resolved after that game to never let certain aspects of the day reoccur. Thus far they’ve lived to that resolution, which is much more like the Swans we’ve come to know.

    The way this season is panning out, who knows what is possible from here?

    PB, unfortunately, owing to salary cap pressure, Fraternite will need to be delisted at the end of the season. #modernafl

  4. Love the individually wrapped Cheddar cheese slices too – with a few cups of goon.

  5. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Wash your mouth out Dips!
    Love the forward line! And yes, the resolve not to play like that again JB.

    Oh PB you must pop over to French Basque. One of my aunty’s moved there from the chilly valley of the Drome and I fell madly in love with the Basque lands the first time I visited. She’s in Ciboure, the other half of the very charming St Jean de Luz. It’s just inside the border, south of Biarritz. Go to Patisserie ‘Maison Adam’ and eat the real Basque macarons – the muxu. And get a Basque cake. And buy a chunk of Ossau Iraty and a pot of the sour cherry jam and an ancienne baguette and take them out to the Fort de Socoa for a picnic in the face of the Atlantic.

    My all time favourite cheese is St Agur. And I love a Tomme de Savoie or a Pont-l’Évêque or … stop me!

  6. Rick Kane says

    Mouth-watering Mathilde, and I’m talking about another entrancing journey you have taken me on. Not there but there. Wow. That’s a powerful metaphor.

    Your last paragraph (the searching reflections trying to better understand self and place, with a cheeky nod to your team) is a terrific destination. Your essay starts, as Dips so succinctly put it, at cheese and wine and you had us hooked. But the finish, like with a favourite red, is really where the heart of the story lies.

    PS: It was slightly disconcerting to nod appreciatively while reading your description of Buddy (“belief-defying left foot kick”) and being jarred with the reminder that he is trademarked Swans rather than Hawks. Isn’t he so good to watch?


  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Nice work Mathilde,
    Your Swannies’ season is aging like good wine, while my Magpies’ season has aged like cheese.
    Have reconnected with the wireless this year. Yet to attend a game, but still ‘there’ through another medium.
    Rowan fit and full of run is delight to watch.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    “Strangely enough though, I wouldn’t halve my team allegiance for anything. How can we be so contrary?” Brilliant.

    Been watching Towers with great interest, playing really well, looks like he’s finally cemented his spot in the team.

    The second half of your two halved season looks like it will only get better…

  9. E.regnans says

    Here and not here.
    Beautiful summary of a philosophy for life, I think.

    Many thanks, MdH.

  10. Really enjoyed this, Mathilde. Thanks.
    There is something terribly indulgent about a good cheese. And red.

  11. Mathilde- Like many I feel frisson when a cheese plate does a lap at a party. There’s not much better than cheese, some crusty bread and an engaging red.

    They were lowering the Swans coffin in Round 6, and now they’re poised for yet another swing at it! Amazing.

    Love the way you coax meaning from life’s gentle tides.

  12. Keiran Croker says

    Lovely Mathilde. I enjoy how you entwine simple everyday life with our beloved game. And of course that’s what it is all about. Winning is important … very … however I find joy in how you watch, or listen to the game, and with whom.

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