The Albatross Rules: Chapter 9- Rosie

The Albatross Rules

(a football chronicle)

(The story so far)

Con’s been brought in to resurrect the Albertville Albatrosses, otherwise the league will force them to merge with arch rivals, Mt Logan. Though they’ve started the season with a couple of wins Con is still at a loss to understand exactly what motivates his team.

9. Rosie

“I reckon there’s football in the blood of this town. It runs pretty deep doesn’t it?”

Con was sitting in the drafty old Mechanics Institute Hall with Des and Maree Brown. They were the local history society, passionate about preserving a rich but slowly fading story. After The Prof’s speech before the Nambool game the coach realised he needed to understand the deep connections between the place and the game if he was going to be a part of reviving the club. “Talk to Des, mate,” was the Prof’s advice, “there’s nothing him and Maree don’t know.”

“What you need to understand first off,” said Des “is why there’s a town here at all.” He had small bright eyes and the shock of white hair that seemed just right for a Des.

“Before all the whitefellas came they reckon this was good country for hunting and the streams held plenty of fish. Then they found gold up here. Mining isn’t kind to that sort of history…”

“Or that sort of life,” said Maree, passing Con a plate of biscuits.

“There’s a few families in the valley who’ve still got connections,” Des picked up the thread without hesitation. He and Maree were a real double act. “And there’s some bloody good footballers among them. But in Albertville and right across this area the physical signs are pretty much gone. But those rocks, The Dentures, they were special they reckon.

“The miners came in droves. They brought a kind of prosperity. But mind you, this was still very much a frontier town. Like a lot of gold towns it was in its prime almost as soon as it came into being. In its hey-day there were, four hotels, a post office, a bakery, a general store, and two Churches—catholic and Presbyterian—along Main Street. And there were two dance halls, Mary O’Reilly’s and Rosey’s… Let me know if this is too much detail, Con, won’t ya’?”

“No, no. All good stuff,” Con insisted. If he was going to understand why winning a flag meant so much he felt he needed to know all this. “But just to back up a moment” he added, “do you reckon any of those aboriginal lads might want a game up here.”

“Worth a chat, I reckon. I’ll introduce you. Whatcha reckon Marce?”

Maree sparked up immediately. It was easy to see how keen her interest in football matters was. “The Cartwright boys aren’t happy down in the Valley League. I was talking to their mum last week. Their grand-dad played for the Albatrosses. You could do a lot worse…” Con made a mental note.

“Anyway,” Des continued, “that was in the early 1860s and one of the things that miners brought with them was a passion for the emerging game. Another passion of the time was for railroads. An ambitious plan was hatched to construct a rail link right through to the mountain goldfields and a petition to parliament was proposed. And this is where things begin to come together. At the time Mt Logan was a smaller town than Albertville—primarily servicing the needs of miners, but no-one ever found gold there. It’s principal business was catering to the mines’ never-ending demand for timber. There are photographs from the time that show parts of these hills almost totally without trees—stripped bare. At times the mills at Mt Logan operated around the clock.

“Now the people of Mt Logan decided that they should be the terminus for the rail-line and folk in Albertville insisted it should finish here. Local legend—I’ve got no reason to doubt it—recounts a night around the card tables at Rosey’s, when old Tom Albert, who this town’s named after, shaped up to the self-styled mayor of Mt Logan, the timber miller Arlo Munster, aiming to settle the issue once and for all. It was, so legend has it, the madam of the house who put a stop to the fighting, proposing instead, that a game should be played the following week between the men of the towns, with the winner to get the railway.”

“Now that part may or may not be true, but we know, for sure that that game took place.” Maree wandered over to the shelves marked ‘Early Years’ and returned with a folder of photocopied clippings and photographs and a little archival storage box.

On regaining her seat Maree took over the story, and, just as she had, Des leaned back in his chair, eyes almost closed, transported by her words to a magical time, almost a century and a half before.

“The game was scheduled for the following Monday and a playing area was determined on a flattish plateau, between the towns. Like everywhere it had been largely cleared of trees. We reckon it was most likely down near Archie’s place. A single set of goal posts was erected at either end of the field, nearly three hundred yards apart.

“There was no shortage of volunteers for the match—strong fellas too. The Mt Logan team was made up of men who cut trees by hand, and Albertville of those who dug hard shaly ground with pick and shovel. There were bare-knuckle fighters and bare-back horsemen too. Men who fashioned the frontier with little more than the tools they were born with.

“It was agreed that the first team to score five times would be declared the winner. The rules, such as they were, were based loosely on those the Geelong team of the day had devised, but the game was not the same pretty thing we love to play and watch today. It would be, for the most part, a tough and dour struggle, with mauling packs punctuated by short runs that usually ended in crunching tackles and more packs or rushed kicks forward… and more packs.

“On the nominated day a crowd gathered along the creek, where remnant trees provided a little shade from the bright spring sun. Ever the entrepreneur, Rosey, legend has it, erected a large tent under a billowing red gum, from where she could oversee the administering of reviving pleasures to resting players.” Maree smiled gently. She had recounted the story often enough that she had refined around it a delicate, romantic manner of expression, that coloured the yarn wonderfully as she spun it. “In brazen defiance of the town’s church-going folk she set herself up outside its entrance, in a red cushioned cane chair. From this vantage point she had a fine view of the proceedings, being able to clearly view the goals of both teams, and being clearly visible, herself to all those who came to either watch, or play, the game.

“Now I could go on about the game, Con, but perhaps I should leave the description of it to someone who was there. This is how it was reported in the High Country Guardian.” She opened the folder and shuffled through until she found a folded A3 sheet.

” A Grand Match – ‘The Barracker’ reporting,” Maree began…

The men of Mt Logan and Albertville gathered last week for a grand football match. The chosen captains shook hands before the game and resolved to play fairly by the rules that they had agreed. Archie Albert chose to try for the southern goal and the game began with a place kick by Mt Logan’s captain, Peters. Residents of both villages had come to watch their teams and so a great cheer went up as the game got underway.

The teams battled manfully and no quarter was given in pursuit of the goal. The Mt Logan boys held a slight upper hand, making up for a deficit in skill by virtue of strength. But Albertville forced the ball forward. They proved themselves well versed in the ways of the game and after an hour of struggle Martin took a good catch of a forward kick and declared a mark. He sent the ensuing kick through the posts for the first successful try of the game.

Not long after, Mt Logan’s young adonis, Adams, made a run, as far as rules allowed and kicked towards Masterson near the goal posts. Though he could not make a mark of it he saw the ball through despite the best efforts of Mundine and Strachan.

So the match went, with no side gaining a clear advantage. The large crowd was surely delighted by the thrilling spectacle which did not conclude until the captains came together as night fell, agreeing to continue the next day.

A deluge greeted players and spectators on the following morning, though spirits were little dampened by it. The struggle continued through to mid afternoon. Each side had scored three goals and the captains agreed that the team to score next would be declared the winner.

Soon after, the ball was forced wide into an area of wooded countryside. A scrummage developed in the area and there was some confusion. Then young Davey of Albertville appeared with the ball some distance away from the ruckus. He ran a distance and kicked long to his captain, Albert who, on catching it cleanly called mark and went back to kick for goal.

How fitting that Albert who had been his team’s finest over two days should have had the opportunity to secure victory. Though forty or more yards out he kicked truly and the Albertville team had triumphed. Upon realising their town’s victory the good people of Albertville ran onto the playing field to congratulate their team.

Maree folded the paper again. Des rocked forward in his chair. “What a game, what a great game,” he declared, just as if he had been sitting there near Rosey’s tent watching it all unfold.

“There’s some speculation about the winning goal,” declared Maree matter-of- factly. “It seems that the players had run the ball up into the slopes above the flood plain. Davey had worked a claim in the area and it’s said he may have dropped the footy down a short ventilation shaft. The story goes on, that as players scrambled around in search of the ball in a patch of bracken and blackberries he entered the disused tunnel a way off, retrieved the footy from it and emerged with it in space. It’s surely the only time a football has ever been conveyed underground in the course of a match. The rest, as they say is history. Well, either way, it’s history now. Two things emerged that day that remain at the heart of Albertville. The first is a passion for the game. The second is the rivalry…”

“Contempt…” offered Des vehemently way.

“…our rivalry with Mt Logan.”

“What’s in the box?” Con asked.

Maree’s soft smile rose cheekily at the corners. “The highlight of our collection.” She raised the lid and unwrapped a small parcel of tissue paper. In the box was a lace garter. Embroidered across one side were the words ‘Albertville v. Mt Logan Sept 1861’. Stitched around the opposite side in a delicate cursive hand was a simple proclamation.

‘To the victor the spoils — R.’

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