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Round 21 – St Kilda v Sydney: A road trip, thoughts of death, and a wonderful Swans victory

SWANZ is happy to be on the road again. He had his milestone health check earlier in the week – the 200,000 km overhaul. Not only did he survive the rigorous examination, but passed with flying colours. $600 and 24 hours later, with his shiny black tyres looking as they’ve never looked before, off we set, down the Hume.

There is nothing really that can compare to a road trip. We can make what we want from it, be it admiring the beauty of the landscape, listening to music, chatting – or not – and a time for quiet, with no distractions. How often do we allow ourselves hour upon hour of stillness and quiet? We don’t. We’re lucky to put aside 15 minutes in our hustling all-consuming day – if that.

This trip down the Hume was different. The route was the same, the destination the same, the purpose the same, but somehow it felt different.

We’d left Surry Hills an hour or so later than planned and wanted to arrive in Albury by 6pm. So, I just kept driving, bypassing our usual stop in Goulburn for late breakfast. There was very little talk on this trip, although the inanimate object on the windscreen occasionally interrupted to tell me to stay on the Hume Twy (its interpretation of Mwy). Marshall didn’t say much either. He read the newspaper and his book and we listened to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

It must have been the music that got my emotional juices stirring. Music usually does. Thoughts came and went and occasionally I allowed them to flow. Thoughts of family, friends who are struggling, my book, the Swans, suffering people, homeless people, how lucky I am, the genius of people who can write music, old people in nursing homes and hospitals and ones I visit, the game against St Kilda the following day, and for some reason I started thinking about death. Hardly stillness of the mind!

Death rarely came into my thoughts when younger. Even at 60 I didn’t give it much time. We don’t. We’re too busy living. But hitting 70 a year or so ago, death seems more real now. Of course it could happen at any time, not necessarily to me but to people close to me. This finality is inevitable, but the thoughts of it happening and the emotions that I imagine will follow, certainly come to the fore more frequently for me in more recent times.

We’re approaching the wind turbines at Gunning and Marshall looks up from his book. We comment, as usual, on their beauty and how they add to the magnificence of the landscape. The visualisation of the imagined canvas changes on each trip, but it’s always stunning. One of Beethoven’s late quartets is filling the car with its wonderful, almost abstract sounds, and I find myself holding back tears. Nothing too obvious, just gentle droplets that go hand in hand with thoughts of loved ones – past and present.

Hours pass and I glance at Marshall. Still holding his book, he has nodded off, head tilted towards his chest. When he has a doze at home I look to make sure his chest is doing its little heave, up and down, but in a car that is impossible. I relax my mind and tell myself of course he’s only sleeping. Twenty minutes later I notice I’m getting a little anxious. I gently grab hold of his hand and give it a squeeze. In no time at all, it squeezes back and a smile appears on his face. I smile too. He says “my tummy’s rumbling”. “That’s a good sign” I reply, “it won’t be long before we’re in Albury and you can have your favourite dinner”. Alas, when we arrive at the border town we’re told that sheep and their farmers have invaded Albury and Wodonga for their annual festival, so, sorry, no accommodation is available. We google motels in Wangaratta, and eventually arrive there at 8pm, Marshall’s tummy now growling and mine just starting its rumble.

Approaching Melbourne the following day, the emotional reminisces of yesterday have passed, and footy is on my mind. Again, I’m a little nervous about this game against the speedy Saints. Surely, most supporters of those teams clamouring for a top-four position are nervous too?

We’re staying in enemy territory, St Kilda, and surprisingly there are more Swans people on the train from Windsor to Southern Cross than those with the black added. We arrive early and watch the celebrations for the Pride game: interviews showing on the large screen with Nicky Winmar and his gay son, gay footballers, and other gay people telling their stories of the difficult times, the discrimination and subsequent pride in who they are. The rainbow colours are everywhere, and as the flags and banners proudly reinforce the meaning of this Round of footy and what it means to many, the ball is bounced.

St Kilda are right up there with the more fancied Swans, and both teams trade goal for goal for 30 minutes. Tim Membery is showing his class since leaving the harbour city, and his team is playing well, their speed and quick ball movement denying the Bloods any chance of breaking clear. Macca and Hanners are instrumental in the quarter for the Swans, and when the siren sounds with the scores 5.0 to the home side to 4.1, I am a little nervous.

The second quarter: More of the same. Goal for goal, but the Saints are now missing their shots in their 2.5, whereas we manage 4.3. The highlight goal was from former Swan Sean Dempster, 60 metres out on the run. He’s always been a great long-kick so there was no surprise. What was surprising was the smile on his face, as shown on the large screen. Sean never smiles! Well, not during a game anyway. With a slender Swans lead of five points at half time, it is really anyone’s game, even though I hate thinking of it.

The third quarter. Not more of the same. This is Buddy’s quarter! He has helped turn the game on its head. Playing further up the field, on the wing, he’s performing his magic. When not kicking goals, he’s instrumental in others. We’re creating more space, we’re getting the ball forward more easily and we’re kicking goals! Not behinds. Oh, how I hate behinds! St Kilda manage to break our streak of seven goals, and when Buddy produces more brilliance with a 60 metre goal around his body on his blessed left foot, he’s kicked his 5th and our 8th for the quarter. Lukey Parker and Hanners have had a brilliant 30 minutes and Aliir Aliir and Callum Mills have shown they are stars of the future, if not already. My greedy appetite wants more goals in the last term.

The last quarter. More of the same. A further 7.1 to our mighty Bloods is more than I could have imagined: three of them from consecutive 50 metre penalties. Is that a record? I’m sure Paps, Buddy and Macca were all extremely happy to be kicking their goals from the goal square. So were we, the supporters.

To have kicked so accurately this time round was indeed a bonus. 23.8.146 reads well. It sounds beautiful too. It was beautiful.

We sing the song, over and over. The flags are waved and the smiles become wider. Bloods supporters are happy tonight. Bloods players are presumably happy too. And so they should be.

My reminisces from the trip down the Hume are a thing of the past and my recent thoughts about death are far from my mind. On the way back to St Kilda on the train I remind Marshall to please not die before the end of the footy season! His reply is very comforting: “I’m going to live until I’m at least 100, so we’ll get to many more finals in the next 16 years or so, so stop worrying”.

My highlights from the game:
Buddy in all of his glory
Hanners, Parks and Joey (they do it every week)
Aliir Aliir and Callum Mills in the backline
Macca, especially in the first half
And, our accuracy!

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About Jan Courtin

A Bloods tragic since first game at Lake Oval in 1948. Moved interstate to Sydney to be closer to beloved Swans in 1998. My book "My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans" was launched by the Swans at their headquarters at the SCG in August 2016.


  1. i turned on to watch the 3rd quarter. timed my run well. incredible goals, incredibly bad umpiting. St Kilda watching their season wither on the vine. very Richmond v Geellong 1994.

    glad you got home safe!

  2. Hi Jan,

    I watched the game at a footy pub in Osaka. I was so happy at the first half as my Saints dominated well. My roars and passionate were answered by my boys including ex-Swans.

    But your Swans showed experienced footy in the last half. Likely when you watched the game against Bulldogs, I was so shocked to see Swanies kicked goals and goals. Where was our attacking footy? We are still young.

    You seem to get your negative emotion back from matches against Doggies and Hawthorn.

    Swans were too good. We gave you away credit that we earned from Carlton in the previous week…



  3. jan courtin says

    Thanks Peter and Yoshi
    Not actually home yet Peter. Staying in Melbourne the week and flying to Hobart for our game there on Saturday. Will then drive back to Sydney. My memory about the Richmond Geelong 1994 game is obviously not as good as yours, so I Googled it. Similar, but our game on the weekend was much closer at half time.

    Yoshi, for your sake I’m sorry you lost, but obviously I’m very happy we won! Yes, your team is young and certainly on the “up”, so you’ve got a lot to look forward to. We’ve also got a bunch of young players, in fact seven of those currently in the team are playing in their first year of senior footy. So it’s ideal to have a good mix of experience and youth.

  4. Each week I ponder and think
    About what comments might come from the brink
    Of the hippocampus and pre frontal cortex
    Where nonsense humour of things about sex
    And general silliness of footy and things
    Do originate. But then line after line brings
    Challenges galore to the caudate nucleus
    And other grey matter until something glorious
    Might appear on the page of the footy almanac
    Where Jan Courtin’s stories do come with a knack
    Of humouring the reader of many a persuasion.
    But then as the brain tries to reach a cessation
    The lines just keep turning until – of shit!
    That’s enough. end of story!!!

  5. Earl O'Neill says

    Jan, several years of riding south, usually to Philip Island, has taught me every road between Sydney and Melbourne. Try the Princes Hwy on your return, only 40 miles longer and far more pleasant and scenic. I did take the Hume once, got back in nine hours. I had to rush, I had a court appearance re speeding. Got the fine reduced too.

  6. jan courtin says

    Thanks Jude and Earl.
    I love your poems Jude! Very clever!

    Earl: I have taken the coast road many times and of course it is far more scenic. Can’t do it this time when we leave Melbourne next Monday (after our game in Hobart), as I have to be back in time to receive delivery of my books on Tuesday.

    Thanks again

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