The Albatross Rules – Chapter 16: Running Hot

by Richard Holt

Before the bye Con had called the boys together to talk about the team’s progress. Three wins from six games and an ordinary percentage suggested they were nowhere near where they wanted to be. On the positive side they’d played strongly in recent weeks with close losses to both last year’s finalists. But there were some important messages for the team. Con wrote his concerns on the stained whiteboard in the clubrooms—’fitness’, ‘consistency’, ‘commitment’, ‘skills (delivery, accuracy)’, ‘supporting each other’.

One thing he emphasised was the need to address niggling injuries. He knew there were players playing sore. That was fine if they’d done all they could to get fit. But he didn’t the second half of the season derailed by predictable and preventable complaints.

There were no doctors resident in Albertville. Down in Mt Logan Dr Don tendered to the maladies of the region. Where he failed the mystic potions of Dr Deng, a master dim-sim maker and part time apothecary sometimes helped.

Neither Dr Don nor Dr Deng had had any success when it came to Benny Cotton’s back. The stiffness and constant soreness restricted him significantly. He wore a brace on the field but finished each game lying on his back along the slatted wooden benches while his team-mates did their warm downs and changed. He was always last to leave, doing so gingerly, not with the swagger that one so powerful should be entitled to, but with the measured steps of an egg-and-spoon racer.

“I dunno what more I can do, Duck.” Benny’s plea was felt by all those in the room who’d watched his struggle.

“What’ve you tried, Cotto’?” It was Eagle.

“Dr Don, Dr Deng, Chiros in town, acupuncture, pain-killers, you name it. Nothing’s worked.”

“I’ve got some mates who are into natural therapies. Why don’t you talk to them.”

Peter Potter looked askance, “Hippy witch doctors! Cotto’s got a bad back not bad karma.”

The ruckman was still something of an outsider off the ground. But he wasn’t easily swayed by such slights. He figured if he could stare down a timber worker wielding a chainsaw he sure wasn’t going to be phased by a little prick like Potter. And anyway, he liked him. He was a combative little nuisance, just the kind who was handy to have around in a political stoush. He knew Potter’s kind well.

“It’d be too much to ask you to shut up just once, Potter, but really you should give it a go. They could fix your mouth. Maybe stop it running off.” Then he turned back to Benny. “I did my back in a mountain bike accident; had bad pain for months. They helped me out. I’ve been free of it for two years. It’s the only treatment I ever had that worked.”

“Pah! You’ve been on the mushrooms.”

Benny had been in enough rooms with enough degrees on the walls, had taken enough concoctions tested on enough rats to care little for the niceties of the traditional health system. “I’ll give your mates a go if you reckon they can help.”

“Maybe, mate. I know they’re worth a shot.”


A week later Cotto was delivering a load of blue metal to the sawmill in the valley when Potter fronted him. “How’s the back, Benny-Boy?”

Cotto jumped down from the cab of his little tipper. “Fine mate, real good. A little twinge every now and then and even that’s goin’ away. I haven’t taken anything, not even an aspirin, for three days.”

“You’re kiddin’ me. The voodoo worked?”

“Nevermind voodoo. The treatment was almost as good as the cure. No bloody witch doctors mate. Just a couple of chirpy little hippy sheilahs. Pretty as peaches too. Now I’m an old bloke and happily married, but an afternoon in the company of young women… you can’t knock it, mate, it could cure a gnarly old bugger like me o’ the plague, I reckon.”

“So whadda these sheilahs do then, mate?”

“Oh, all the hippy stuff. Herbs and oils. Massage. I spent half an hour meditating. Think of nothing, they said, but that was a bit hard given the circumstances. They tried to convince me to stop eating meat, but I said that wasn’t on. They even played me some bongo music and did a dance so that good spirits would go with me. Some of it was pretty weird. But I sure left in good spirits. I’ve got some oils to use that Elaine rubs in each night. She thinks I got ’em from Dr Deng. And I take a tea in the morning that tastes like crap. But it’s done the job mate.”

“Geeze, D’ya reckon they’d do me?”

It was the first Cotto had heard of any injury that Potter might be carrying. “S’pose so. What’s up?”

Now Potter hadn’t really thought this through so he said the first thing that came into his mind. “Niggling groin, mate.”

“Ohh, nasty… well you might wanna give the girls a go.”

At training that night Eagle asked Cotto how the treatment had gone. “Bloody marvellous, mate. Haven’t felt this good for years. I reckon the girls might be getting another customer soon too, but between you and me he’ll need something more radical than I got.”

“What’s his problem?”

“Potter? Oh, he reckons he’s got a groin strain or something but really he’s got a big mouth and that’s about all.”

So Eagle was ready when Potter sidled up to him. “I’ve seen what they did for Cotto and I’ve gotta try your hippy witch-doctors.”

“Natural therapists.”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard. Anyway I’ve gotta try some o’ their magic. The old groin strain’s givin’ me grief.”

“No worries, mate. Might be best if you come up to us.”

“Hippy central, eh? No worries.”

Eagle gave the little man circuitous directions to a former campsite and told him to be there by noon the following day.

At the designated time Potter arrived, feigning a slight limp, at the site. As instructed he’d driven to a spot on the old mill road then picked up a winding, two kilometre walking track through the lush forests. At the end of his trek he came upon a clearing where a handful of tents were set around a small fire. Warming themselves by the embers were two girls of no more than twenty-two. They were wearing the multi coloured thermal tights and tops of their tribe, under loose fitting cheese-cloth dresses. Fresh faced and smiling they introduced themselves as Karma and Sutra, though they answered to Karen and Suzie on any other day.

“Benny Cotton says you girls work wonders. The name’s Peter. So where do you want me?”

The girls shared a treacherous, knowing glance. They directed him to a log that made a handy seat.

Before commencing the ‘treatment’ the girls performed a ‘cleansing ceremony’ involving the burning of handfuls of gum leaves; ‘forest herbs’ they called them. It was such hokum and nonsense that they couldn’t help but suppress a giggle.

Sutra quizzed Potter about his injury. She stressed the need for him to trust them. “You must have faith in the healing process. You must put your groin in our hands,” declared Karma choking back another giggle that made Potter just a little uncomfortable.

“What’s the treatment, girls?”

“Hush, you must not talk, you might frighten the healing spirits.” Karma coughed to hide her mirth. “We have made you a bed of forest plants. As you rest upon it we will apply a warm compress to ease your soreness. Then a massage with bush oils will relieve you of your pain.”

That’s more like it, thought Potter. He wasn’t sure about all the herbal malarkey but Cotto had been right about the healers themselves and he looked forward to the more tactile elements of the treatment. So he lay down on the bed and, according to their instructions, let the mountain air circulate around the ‘injury’. The girls did a little dance around him. “Today you will be called ‘Butterfly’ and the spirits will come to you and heal you. You must remain still while they attend to your suffering.”

Attend to his suffering they did. The makeshift mattress was put together from bushes of the most irritating kind. The little prickles of the native blackberries caught him whenever he moved. The oils of crushed native pepper leaves and eucalyptus stung in these tiny wounds. Other branches were home to colonies of ants. The whole thing had been constructed over a nasty stinging nettle. Whenever he squirmed he was admonished kindly by one of the healers.

Finally Karma arrived by his makeshift bed with a sticky poultice she’d been mixing on the fire. It contained ash and oil and sap and herbs, with quite a deal of the fiery mountain pepper. It was devilishly hot. As the girls applied it to Potter’s nether region they sang a nonsensical chant in silly fairy voices.

“How long do I have to have this on?” Potter was getting worried.

“Hush, sweet Butterfly. The spirits are healing.” Potter squirmed. The briars cut his backside. Sutra and Karma danced lithely around him shaking annoying little hand-bells. Potter looked mutely from one to the other and thought of the massage to come and of the reports of bliss from Cotto. The compress stung until he could barely hide his discomfort.

“The time has come,” chimed Karma.

“To cleanse the area and massage it with healing ointments.”

‘Bewdy,’ thought Potter, ‘about time.’

At that moment there was a sound of breaking branches not far off. “Ah,” said Karma, “he is here.”

He?!!, Potter’s became suddenly agitated.

“The master, Brown Cloud.” Potter blinked in the sun. A dirty looking hippy, commonly known even to his friends as Smelly Kevin (on account of his no-bathing beliefs) gazed down upon him. The footballer took one look, screamed so loudly that he set off a cacophony amongst the canopy birds, and made to bolt, forgetting for a moment the stinky goo heaped around the top of his thigh. The encumbrance brought him to a staggering halt a few paces away. To free himself he tore the gluey lump away, removing hundreds of hairs as he did. A second scream filled the forest. He found his bearings, hitched up his strides, picked out the track upon which he’d come and sprinted out of there. “Behold,” giggled Karma, “the injury is cured.”

“Let’s go,” muttered Kevin, “I’ve got the van out the back.” They doused the fire then the three pushed through a thicket of wattle to where their old kombi was parked at the end of a half constructed logging road, abandoned but still navigable.

As Potter stumbled along the overgrown track, desperate to get back to his ute and to get back home to a soothing bath, he heard the familiar sound of a VW nearby backfiring as its engine spluttered into life. “Rotten bloody hippy bastards! Bloody Benny. Bloody Eagle.” He felt the intense stinging at the top of his thigh. “Bloody hell!”

So it was that Cotto fronted up for the Dwights Mill-Barcaroo game looking fresher than he had all year, while Potter spent much of the match fidgeting about uncomfortably like a boy on a bull-ant nest. The match itself is another story. Suffice to say that Cotto took great pleasure in ensuring that the whole team knew the circumstances of their comrade’s misfortune and that Potter, usually the instigator of such deceptions, received little sympathy for his discomfort that day.

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