Off Season Odyssey – Part 15: The World is Round


The World Is Round.


The world is round. Drive far enough through any desert and you’ll find a river, or the ocean.

I wake up beside what I later figure is the Wimmera River. A superb, muddy thing with no rush to it. The trout let me know they’re there, and I swim my hangover clean.


It feels sweet, like life is timeless. I have sun and water.


I start thinking about the history plaques I’ve been reading on this journey. Every single one of them a liar.

Down on the Yarra, there was a history. The first 1/16th of the board vaguely mentioned Aborigines. The rest was the glory of white settlement, names, statuses, boathouses, photo after photo, frilly dresses and umbrellas.

Down at Peterbourough, just past Port Campbell, where all six-and-a-half of the Twelve Apostles keep going, as islands, as bridges, blowholes and amazing grottos, as if forever, there’s Boneyards. The local surfers know it. A brilliant, table-topped outcrop, not three meters wide, yet fifty foot high, that goes, and goes, and goes, until you’re standing out above the reefs and wild surf and ocean.

It got its name from white settlement. The British rounded up all the local Aboriginal tribes, herding them off its end to their deaths. Shooting the few that survived the fall and the drowning.

The plaque, though, tells the history of a ye’ old European ship that came a-cropper there. ‘Fortunately, there were no fatalities’. They’ve even given the point some other name. Maybe the ship’s. Not Boneyards.

Even though that’s what it is. Boneyards, Goddamn it!

God damn!


Beautiful, haunted Boneyards.


Somewhere up past Bordertown, where once every hour or so, there’s a small town, dusty and dry, like kindling, living in the shadow of wheat silos, my mate, Peter, the truck driver and bush footy legend, took me and his kids to a lake full of dead red-gum that straddles the S.A./Vic border.

Some time just before European settlement, the creek here blocked naturally, creating a levy, full of water, that was used by the farmers,” the first board says, as if they’re kidding anyone.

“Oh,” I pictured the Milligan clan opening their mouths and slapping their cheeks. “Look at that! It just happened after 30,000 years of it not happening. The creek damned itself just when we needed it. How dandy!”

The next board talked about the forty metres of disputed boarder. Until the issue was resolved, neither state government wanted to care for the thin, never-ending strip between each other. Escapees, criminals and rabbit plagues lived within its thin corridor.

Which was funny.

There were two more boards, full of two more committee’s versions of history. Each one as big as a kitchen window. Each one rated-G, a thing to keep tourists jolly. ‘History’. In this place without water, that has water. And had water.

None of those four boards once mentioned the tribes that must have lived there. The creek would have been gold to them. Their population solid.

I went for a swim in the dead red gums, leeches everywhere, but didn’t care. I was furious! Why would an Aboriginal want to assimilate? Everything is a lie. We are a lie. All of us.

“Shit happened. But you should look it in the eye,” I told Peter. “How can we be men and women if we don’t look it in the eye?” I ask him.

“I dunno,” he said, and we played with his children, and the defacto’s children.


Per capita, Aborigines dominate the AFL. And we haven’t even begun truly tapping their resource, their ability.

I wonder how that fact will be treated by history?


I slide out of the Wimmera, then can’t find a single reason to not lazily slide back into it.


There are no plaques out here. In the desert there is both no history, and you are surrounded by it.



  1. Peter Baulderstone says

    Clear, honest and thoughtful – as always. Thanks Matt.
    I remember meeting a successful aboriginal woman many years ago. She was a health professional, and I asked her what had inspired her achievements. She talked about her mum and dad. I think her mum was a domestic worker at the local hospital, and her dad a farm worker. She grew up in one of the NSW towns on the banks of the Darling. All of the family had turned out well.
    I asked her why the town was now a place of a lot of violence and unrest. Her response has always stayed with me. “They took our water away. The river was our playground, and we spent all our time after school and on weekends down there. Then the cotton and rice farmers upstream started to drain the river until it was just muddy puddles. Nowhere to play these days. No wonder kids get into trouble.”
    Places for kids to be kids?? I wonder how we got so clever that we can be so stupid.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    “wonder how we got so clever that we can be so stupid.” Yeah.

  3. Mary Ebbott says

    I have read many brilliant pieces of writing on this marvelous site, but this is the most powerful yet. Thank you for “writing from the heart”. You have put my thoughts into words Matt

  4. Great stuff, Matt.
    For some reason this piece reminded me of when I discovered Bruce Dawe in secondary school.
    The similarities are eerie.

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks, Mary.
    Who is Bruce Dawe, Smokie? I will look him up.

  6. John Harms says

    Bruce Dawe is a poet who writes about everyday Australian life, including football. People will know ‘Life Cycle’ and I can recommend many others. I think it timely to have a Bruce Dawe week. I’ll dig out a few of his many poems.

  7. Rocket Nguyen says

    When children are born in Victoria,
    They are wrapped in club colours, laid in beribboned cots,
    Having aleady begun a lifetime’s barracking

    Opening verse of ‘Life Cycle’ – by Bruce Dawe

    When it was the HSC we studied it in Form 6 along with Bruce Oakley’s ‘A Salute to the Great McCarthy’…

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Brilliant powerful from the heart and if we all have the guts to admit it spot on , Matt !
    You correctly point out how , Aboriginals by percentage dominate the , AFl and yet as a cricket lover where are the programmes and encouragement to unearth a future star
    tv is bringing millions in too the game but as usual at upper management level of all sports a lack of vision to invest and spend it wisely is occurring
    Thanks Matt this article has made me think more and I am sure I am not the only one !

  9. Thanks, Mal. A better wrap could not be asked for!

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