Off Season Odyssey – Part 42: South or West

Off Season Odyssey. Pt.42.

Missing Round One was far less hard than I thought it would be. It’s time to go, or never leave. I fly back to Cairns in a five seater aircraft, pick up my dog and ute in Port Douglas. The mechanic’s done no further work on it. Not really.

“I’ve jigged a front end alignment as best I could. There’s a fair chance you might make it back to Tassie,” his note says.

The up-side is it cost less than I thought.

I have one last drink with the Port boys, then head off around 4am.

A family stop in Townsville, to do with heartache and loneliness, and good people who need but have no love, and it’s pitch black again by the time the coast cuts away and the ute falls inland.


The last truck stop for 200kms is still. It sits a few hundred meters down from a dusty, pothole-filled intersection, smack bang in the middle of nowhere. One road heads west, the other south. Both bend and rattle and carry the hard luck and everyday of truckies’ lives. Between them, these back-roads branch, if you have the supplies, spare tires, water, tools, to just about anywhere in the world.

It’s insanely quiet, though. Not a truck, not a sound. The floodwaters are on the wane, but the sign facing south says at least three towns are still adrift.

It’s tempting, standing here, to head west, where the flooding isn’t so bad. Where the journey might not end.

To just go.

When I listen I can hear the barracking of hard Pilbara teams. The higher pitch of the all-Aboriginal teams and their supporters, in the Kimberly. I’m told one mob travelled nearly 600kms to play another, only to find the river between them and the oval was swollen. The whole team swam across croc-infested waters, played, won, waited out the floods and drove home again. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that? These new, amazing, too often hard, old world, old school places?

From here, in the dark, I can feel the heat of the Outback. Of Darwin and Uluru and Broome. From here the road is a hungry thing, calling, even when it’s made of nothing but sand.

I step onto it, just to feel its undertow.

If I listen, I can hear the whisper of small talk. The sweet bullshit players spout, all lazy, in the clubrooms after training on Tuesday nights. I can hear the fights, the pubs. The roots, the good women met, the strength of netball. The snotty kids who bounce around until their Dad’s game is done.

I can feel the dust rising where there should be grass.

I can see that there’s so much I don’t know. People make a land, but a land also shapes its people. The culture, the way of doing things, would, in the heat, be so different. Even the chatter not the same.

I could say I played alongside the next Jurrah, or Reiwoldt. The next Jeff Farmer, who I’m told, ended up hacking away out North-West somewhere, overweight, picking fights. I’d hook-in and trade stories with the footy nomads. The professionals with a backpack and pair of old footy boots, that people on the Eastern seaboard will never hear of, not from birth to death.


I give it thought. Good thought.


Stand on that westward road, that leads to termite hills and mangroves. To places where there are no easy answers and few easy lives.

But I have a young mate to pick up on the N.S.W Central Coast, and deliver home, to the mountains in Victoria’s South West, after which I’ll have one more day to make Melbourne and the boat across to Tassie. That gives me four days. If I drive for 14-16 hours each one, the ship will get me back to Devonport by 7am Saturday morning, and I’ll be playing, lost somewhere in Tassie’s North East, in my community, by 11.30am.

Home, my footy club, is still an adventure to me.

It’s routines, it’s small-town politics. The way our players blue each other on the otherwise dead pub on a Saturday night. 70 year old Don taking the under 12s, calling “Play on…”, even after the posts have been packed away, because he can’t hear the siren. The talk of firewood and chainsaws and good and bad dates. The Ben Hudsons after the game. Our Sunday sessions, that involve endless back-roads and logging tracks that spit us out down at the coast. Or inland. Or to a pub in the city that sponsors us. The way we, players, wives, girlfriends, each away game, stir its three barflies and dust and fill it with noise and life.

The way, hell or high water, Mad Dog will goal umpire by crouching and stabbing two fingers forward like skewers.

Watching young Ballsa, Box, Gee, Wog, Norm, Bib, not six months age between them, be the last to leave the rooms, as a group, on a Thursday night. A gang without even realising they’re a gang. Mates for life.

All of it, good and bad, my tribe. The stuff that counts.


There’s half a chance the waters are already down, and the work crews, simply, this far out, are waiting until dawn to open the roads. I don’t want to waste a night backtracking, so push the ute around the flood barriers. The front end creaks and feels all wrong. It’s a big gamble, but so what?


In the first hour or two I know I’ve made the right call. So far the water, at the dips and crossings, hasn’t been more than a foot deep. There are no trucks, there’s no traffic. I turn off the high-beams and drive by starlight down the middle of the road. Home is still the length of a continent away.

For 2,000kms the desert is mine.


  1. There’s a question. Does the land shape the people, or does it only allow certain types to appreciate it?

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Thanks for another great piece Matt. I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles.

  3. Richard Naco says

    Collate these jewels, all of them, and publish. Even if it’s just on the net.

    Damn, they’re all such compulsive reading.

  4. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I wanted so very badly to be on the tray of that ute under the starlight!

    Matt, this piece is such an exquisite distillation of this continent, the lines that cut across it and may never meet, the sniff of something out there that we may never truly encounter … but that we yearn for, the tunes the crust of this country sings. If only relationships in this vast land were always treated with such a sense of gentle ‘unknowing’ – they could work so beautifully. And if only home were as relative as you allow it to be.

    The distances, the space, the solitude, the togetherness – all of them are so palpable. No easy answers … just a journey.

    Thank you. Thank you.

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks everyone, Mathilde, what a name! And prose!

    Gus, as always, you’re a thinker. Good question.

  6. Peter_B says

    Great stuff, Matt. You have a way of using few words to say a lot. Your sentence on the family stop in Townsville, had me imagining all the possibilities. Thanks for sharing.
    Are you lining up for the Wynyard Cats any time soon? Phantom reckons they need a hard man.

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Sorry Pete, The Ghost Who Walks lives in the wrong part of Tassie. I Was tempted to call my dog Devil, though.

  8. Alovesupreme says

    I reckon you’ve lived a lot more life than any of us (even those with a good few additional years on the clock) prior to this trip. However, the odyssey has added as much again in life experience. How privileged we’ve been to share it with you? And how wonderfully you encapsulate the homing instinct that another year’s football means to you?

    Good luck on the home trek!

  9. Malby Dangles says

    Thanks for sharing this amazing journey Matt.

  10. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Brilliant Matt and the Posts above encapture your article also Go the Knackery

  11. Matt Zurbo says

    Cheers Malcolm!!!

  12. ZURBS: heading to Tassie next week for a fortnight+ of R and R after a long central Vic. footy season, writing and b’casting local games.
    Like Daff and GWS’s Sheeds, I do regular tours and drive-arounds of footy grounds wherever we are in Oz. Kangaroo Island (home of Brendan Lade, remember him?), Coober Pedy (where they go on safari to play their home-and-away games), from SA border area back to Vic (so Mt Gambier, and the Hampden League grounds), N-E Vic which is my wife’s old stomping ground and so on, those little clubs along the Murray from Mildura to Swan Hill etc….
    We’ll pick up the hire car in Hobart and head to Bruny Island. What about east coast grounds? Have you any faves?
    Probably get to west coast deep into 2nd week.
    Cheers and (hooped) beers: RICHARD JONES

  13. Matt Zurbo says

    Richard, the old ringarooma ground is a ripper, even though they folded a few years ago. Queenstown, of course, is legendary for the fact it is gravel and has no grass, the Bridport oval overlooks the Nth coast, Evondale’s feels like a quaint English village. My favourite one to play on is Fingal/s up in the Fingal Valley, snow capped mountains all around. The prettiest oval is Nth Hobart’s. It is small and surrounded by tall stands and a great view of the river. Oh, also, check out my post on Southport’s oval. It is about number 1 or 2 of the Off Season Oddysey’s posts.

    Good luck! Say g’day if you are anywhere around the Nth East!!

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