The centre circle

Three days after landing and my soul is nowhere to be found. I am wandering in circles, sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, speechless and unsure.

I have been away for two months: long enough to loosen the ropes on the moored ship of self; to drift beyond the routine world.

Two months of northern light and summer sun. Two months of new and novel thoughts. Two months of tuning to a deeper inner dialogue.

Then hurtled in a tin can, at 40,000 feet, back to winter and the south. I’m in shock.

I can hear a game of football at the far end of my street – an old, familiar music carried on the wind. Waves of sound rise and fall, depending on the action.

A siren rings. A whistle blows. Distant voices fill the air. I head for the oval and enter the dance.

When I was young and earnest, I followed the game in detail: tackles and tactics; captains and coaches; strategies, scores and statistics. Football as chess. A zero-sum game.

Now I’m on the boundary line with a can of lager in my hand. I face the sun and close my eyes. My body dissolves in winter light.

The game is a river; it sweeps one way, then another. I stand on the bank as the contest ebbs and flows, alive to its rhythm, mystery and force.

The oval lies at the western end of Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge. The traffic is a distant hum, a sound so unceasing and hypnotic that it seems a part of nature.

Clouds come and go at remarkable speed. There are drops of rain. There are gusts of wind. The oval is bathed in a fluid light. The air is sharp and cold.

Spotswood defeat St Albans by nine points – but what do I care?

I want only to be carried: to be warmed and made welcome; to be lulled and made whole; to travel on the currents of the spectacle before me.

I go to the football to rest and recover. I go to recalibrate.

When the players have left the ground, and the sun is in the gum trees that line the western wing, I step across the boundary line and head for the centre circle.

I stand among long shadows and watch the sky grow dark. My breathing slows. My fingers freeze. My soul arrives without a sound and settles at my feet.

Home again.

Image: The centre circle; Paul Bateman, 2017

About Paul Bateman

Paul Bateman is Melbourne-based writer. Read his work at


  1. Beautiful words there, Paul.
    There is something about local footy that the AFL just cannot replicate.

  2. Welcome back, Paul. Looking forward to your next letter.

  3. Love it Paul.
    “I head for the oval and enter the dance…”
    There is a timelessness about your observations; your place.
    Those gum trees.

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