Sound. (or This is still Australia: they’re utes not trucks)



(This is Still Australia.) They’re Utes, Not Trucks.



I got dropped early this season. One of the two coaches didn’t want me and I could feel it. That was fine. We co-existed. The club is bigger than either of us. I kept training two/three nights a week and ran around in the McGoos. As far as 34th seasons of footy went, I’ve had better. But there were small things, moments. For some reason many of them had to do with sound.


Finishing by two, I’d watch the seniors, then, when the game was done, walk my dog to the far side of the oval, where there’s the hill that gives supporters a view from their cars; of the game, the dunny block clubrooms, rolling cow paddocks, the mountain above it all I live on, and a vast cloud-filled sky.


When the siren sounded I noticed I could hear all the diesel motors starting up as many people left. Then the gentle rumble of utes and land rovers crackling over the gravel track in first gear as they left. The punt of footies being kicked by a few little kids on the oval. Nobody in a hurry.


Week after week, that turning of keys, that distinct diesel ignition rattle, going off here, there, across there, creating the one rumble… Bush footy.

The occasional gurgle of a p-plater’s V8.



This year I noticed, even though we don’t train as hard as other seasons, most of the next generation don’t want to stay out to do extra, so I shuffle behind the goals when we’re done and wait for a few stragglers to have some shots. To practise my marking, to be out there longer, get more out of it. Give the goal kickers a hand. To take off for twenty hard steps and kick it back to them on the lead. To be the ball fetcher for the club’s future, and if they all go in, to do figure eight shots myself, and get something out of that. (Get into a jogging rhythm of shots from the left boundary, gather ball, jog through and out for shots from the right. Figure eight.)


One night, Billy stayed out. Tall, skinny as a whippet, to practise his goal kicking. It was middle of winter, about minus two degrees. When his kicks went long and I had to go behind the light tower’s glare to gather them, I remember noticing the Milky Way above him and our club.


Billy ran hard for my kickouts, would mark, then, as he was lining up the goals I would run back for the line. I would mark his shot, then play on, running out to deliver another 30 meter stab to another. We worked up a good rhythm, went hard. I did one kickout long, and made it back to the line while he was still going through his set shot routine and noticed, in the still, cold air, each of his breaths were forming thin, white, soldier-like clouds that drifted in a row away from him, almost standing in line, waiting for his shot.


I dunno. Nothing in it. Just a nice footy moment.



Like most of the locals in our team, if the joker poker is running high, we venture to the pub on a Friday. Have just the one or two and don’t win the raffle to have a shot at the joker and go home, or nurse another beer and watch the footy. The volume’s always down. God, I love that. We form our own opinions on the game to the talk of price of hay and boggy tracks, and bush politics. Provide our own commentary.


One game I saw this year was Fremantle versus Collingwood. A Freo player got a free from the opening bounce and chipped it sideways. The player, a man on his mark, chipped it back into the corridor a bit further behind him, who did the same. But each time, being the start of the game, fresh legs, the Collingwood players got there to bail them up. Stop them playing on. The opening bounce and six chips and a handball later, one of the Freo players had to rush it through for a behind. Collingwood were winning and they hadn’t touched it yet.


I’m not saying it was bad, just a bit bizarre. Modern football. Watching it, I wondered about footy in ten, fifteen years time. Would teams be fit enough to do what Collingwood did all game long? I’d love to skip to then and see if I recognised the game as the one I played. That opening minute was the only time I’ve ever wondered what the commentators were saying.


Did they love it, or were they too bust explaining it? Was it emotion, laughter, or talking down Freo? That, and ironically, Pav’s last game, were the moments that stuck with me most from the AFL’s home and away season.


Both times the jukebox was playing.



This Saturday gone I started early. A good bloke I know was coaching the Div One Juniors of a corker country town. They were in the Preliminary, a huge feat, and were a great bunch of young blokes. The friend asked me to speak to them before the game.


I’ve been under the pump a bit, so rocked up, little sleep, with a big load of wood still on the back of my ute, and gave a talk I wasn’t too happy with. I hope they got the gist of it. If there was one thing, more than anything, I could take back this year, it would be that talk. Reckon, with a bit more time I could have proper nailed it.


It felt like I’d gone cheap on a rare privilege.


I stayed to watch them take on the mob who finished the year on top, in constant Tassie drizzle. The other mob’s supporters had taken up residency in the big concrete and steel grandstand above the main clubrooms and tucker shop. It’s huge for a midsized town. And would be rocking come a close seniors final, when the crowd is in.


But this was juniors. It looked cold.


My mate’s mob planted in the rickety old wooden stand near their interchange. Forty of us almost filled it. Tired wooden a-frames, mouldy yellow mat finish paint and birdshit everywhere. It was old school and perfect. When they cheered, the stand rocked with volume! It held and made ripper atmosphere.


There were kids and parents and girlfriends and grandparents and clubmen and a husky, with bedding, and some small yappy things.


A pocket of a community, on the road, sitting on faded wood, yelling at the umps and clapping their clappers.


Then the other mob would get a goal and you could hear the exact same thing from the other grandstand.


The main thing I noticed was, being junior footy, with more mothers and sisters and girlfriends in the crowd, how much shriller the cheer after a goal was. A totally different tone to, say, the ressies watching the seniors.


Drizzle was replaced by rain, by clear breaks, and more drizzle. The teams went goal for goal, mobs went cheer for cheer. Unfortunately the other mob busted it open. By the game’s end they had a few more things to make noise about.


I went into the rooms for the post match, season-over talk. There was no happy bobble, just that sound of people who give a shit shuffling in and settling into silence. That moment before the coach speaks, while everybody figures out how angry or proud of both he’ll be.


I like the honesty of it. The anticipation. It’s always a great moment, win or lose.


My mate didn’t want to let anyone down. After his general talk, he went through the team with positive words, in front of friends and family and supporters, one-by-one, eye-to-eye. What a corker.


I had to go before he was done. I still had the wood to deliver and stack, then a drive back to and through the city, to its other side, where our seniors were playing in the Grand Final.


The rain was coming down as I was walking out to the ute, the cars were lining up to get in for the reserves and seniors. Again, there was that sound, that gurgle; diesel motor after diesel motor, work ute after work ute, idling in the queue, the slight splashy wash of mud each time they moved a place forward.


Workers and their weekends. Bush footy.


Making the Grand Final was a ripper effort for our young team and always is for such a small town. Us ressies got bowled out in the Elimination, but I trained with the Ones all the way through. To stay involved, to help – fetch the shots, get the water, be the bloke out front on the warm-ups, be the defender in set play drills. A walking, calling, leading witch’s hat. To witness a finals push from up close.


To keep training.


I dunno, because I love footy, all of it.


I was waterboy on the big day. Too old to bullshit myself with jealousy, I’m not good enough any more to be at that level. Haven’t been for a while. Just happy to be on the oval with them, firing off warm-up handballs, listening to the crowd murmur.


I noticed it most taking the drinks over to the interchange. The rumble of keen voices, all talking in that happy, Christmas-for-footyheads tone, the air it gives of occasion. It just had that Grand Final sound, and does at any level.


Of course I ran water with a bunch of teenaged kids rather than get drunk with the boys. Why wouldn’t I? If only for that sound. The way you only really hear it out on the ground, because there’s nobody in your ear out there to drown out the bigger picture, and all noise drifts to the middle.


The boys lost. We lost.


We hit the sponsor pub on the way back to the clubrooms. It’s on the edge of town, before the streetlights stop and the hills start climbing. Kade and I were the last to leave.
My girlfriend lives in Melbourne, where most sounds blur into each other. I rang her on the way to the rooms, using the speakerphone. She listened to me talking, framed the sound of a diesel motor. A work ute on the way to the social side. The other half of footy.


I parked on the grass near the tucker shop, and walked and talked to her, no other sound than the odd cow baying, right up to the door, where I had to hang up. Sliding it open I was physically hit by warmth and the loud din that could only be a group of young and old louts getting loose, letting their hair down now a season was over.





  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I can’t believe you said on the radio the other day that “I’m only a woodcutter” Matt.

    Mickey Randall – get this on the SA syllabus.

    Australia – get this put in the national archives.

  2. Agree with Swish that this is brilliant. Sound and silence at the footy. A while back Martin Flanagan wrote about how the grand final has been hijacked with various types of official sonic pollution. Bush footy’s beauty is partly its score- car horns, PA announcements about catering, kids yelling.

    Top read Matt. Thanks.

  3. Poetic. Lawson and Les Murray. Values and sentiments worth sharing. I’m with Swish and Mickey – put it on the Year 10 syllabus.
    Have bought 2 copies of Matt’s book. Sent one to my 84yo dad who is recuperating from a knee op. Every turn of the page is a forgotten memory revived. Bones McGie has me in stitches.
    Gold. Do yourself a huge favour.

  4. Thanks Matt.
    Just wonderful.

  5. Genius

  6. Beaut as always, Matt. The crunch of tyres on gravel is a quintessentially Australian sporting sound. I’m lucky enough that in my part of suburbia most of the footy clubs were once country clubs so the diesel engines can still grumble around the boundary, even if they are on Toorak tractors these days.

  7. Malby Dangles says

    Top post, Matty! Love how you could discern the different sounds of cheers at a kids game and the seniors.

  8. Thanks all! On ya Peter!

  9. A great read, Matt. Most evocative. here’s to another season.

    My boys got me your book for Father’s Day. My missus came home from work tonight and said “Have you finished Zurbo’s book yet?” I replied “Steady on. Have you seen the size of it?”

  10. Could block-up a tank!

  11. Great stuff Old dog there is something special about country sport it really is the thing which binds every thing together as always thanks for taking us along for the ride

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