Two Kicks – Bernie Quinlan’s Traralgon

 

Living in Traralgon makes a believer of you. My great-grandparents settled here in the late nineteenth century which almost makes me a local. It really is God’s country here. And even though he left fifty years ago, it’s Bernie Quinlan country, too. I’ve found it best to believe in both.

 

Traralgon is changing but is not yet changed. A bloke walking down Franklin Street is still almost as likely to work at Loy Yang and drink Melbourne Bitter than be a hipster barista. But these days, it’s an even money bet. One can now decide that Mexican takeaway may be the go for dinner, then have a choice of no less than three establishments to pick from. There are now more Thai restaurants and coffee places than there are available car parks. Please don’t assume that we do nothing here but eat takeaway – but there is a plethora of options, that’s my point. For what it’s worth though, the chilli con carne at Arriba Cantina is worth the trip up the Princes Highway. We are often unfairly sold as a gateway town – not too far from the beach in summer or the snow in winter. Our boss ensures that every ad for a teaching vacancy reminds potential candidates that ‘we are a comfortable two-hour drive from the city’. Traralgon is too big and utilitarian to be a proper tree change option, yet too small to lose our chip-on-our-shoulder defensiveness. Those who live here have a clarity that our town is more defined by what we are than by what we aren’t. And in Bernie Quinlan, our champion is better than your town’s. But underneath the inexplicable surf clothing shops, even though we are an hour (a comfortable hour) from the beach, the franchises and the mobile phone shops, the Traralgon that gave the football world Bernie Quinlan still exists. You just have to look. It has to be believed to be seen.

 

There are some stories and memories about Bernie Quinlan in my town that can be only be true. Where I teach, the boys are still chasing many of his athletic records and he unequivocally remains the Traralgon footy club’s most celebrated son. But there are some legends about ‘our’ Bernie that time may have augmented. It’s pretty unlikely, even allowing for a southerly wind from Mt. Tassie at his back, that Bernie Quinlan kicked a drop punt from the Showgrounds Oval over the woodchopping area, past the Men’s Shed, over Hickock Street and the railway lines before it bounced into Victory Park. But there are people who swear it happened. The under eighteen premiership team from Traralgon that year were called the ‘Colts.’ I know the Showgrounds Oval pretty well. That kick would have had to be one hundred metres. It’s not likely, but it’s not  completely impossible. I’m not sure what would become of Traralgon if we stop believing.

 

I like to jog but, for the record, my hulking plod doesn’t deserve the verb ‘run.’ I like to deliberately leave the urban sprawl and rendered brick behind. Low maintenance stone gardens with yucca plants and automated double garage doors, ensuring next door neighbours rarely meet, are spreading around the town edges the way ragwort and blackberries used to. As Shakespeare Street becomes Minniedale Road I keep going. The houses give way to farmlets and there are still some road signs with bullet holes in them. Jogging this particular route, you still see as many utes as you do designer 4WDs. People driving past still give you a wave as they hurtle past and for every McMansion there a still a handful of cows and horses. There is also the added veneer of privacy which, for a pasty middle-aged secondary school teacher, is not a bad thing. There’s a certain boyish nostalgia in this route for me as well. I have it on pretty good authority that the Traralgon Footy Club did this same run as part of their training in the sixties. This means that I’m jogging the same gravel shoulder that Bernie Quinlan once did.

 

In an evolutionary sign of progress, the old Uniting Church was remodelled as a night club, before it became the home of La Porchettas, a Tapas Bar and ultimately a breakfast place where the eggs and avocados on toast are truly smashing. The Catholics still have the relatively untouched St Michael’s Church at the centre of the town, it’s severe steeple and clocktower enough to ensure a sense of proprietal judgement over the rest of the town, certainly at least the other Christian denominations. It’s easy to imagine in the early years of Traralgon how a building like this would have defined and shaped the place. It would have been visible from anywhere.

 

There is a certain Traralgon functionality to St Michael’s Church but it also attempts a European grandeur. Cathedrals were built to dominate landscapes, their architecture and shape designed to resemble an upturned boat. The church is fenced off, away from the school now, probably because one rite-of-passage was to try and kick a footy over the church roof. It’s a flight of fancy that many have tried and failed. Town lore suggests that only one of our number has ever achieved it. The theological implications of this feat are potentially world changing, I realise this. A Bernie Quinlan drop punt that once soared higher than the highest of heavenly heights calls into question everything we may think we know about the known universe. In the same way that every witty and clever quote from days of yore has been attributed, rightly or wrongly, to Mark Twain, in our town every tale of laudable accomplishment has been linked to the teenage Bernie Quinlan. Did he really clear the church? I want to believe.

 

There are people who say you should never meet your heroes, they’ll only disappoint. I suggest these people had the wrong heroes. Dad and I went to a dinner that the Fitzroy Historical Society put on. After the obligatory selfie, which Bernie kindly agreed to, I decided to ask him. Not about the kick over the church, I’m not sure my Catholic guilt can really cope with the certitude that Superboot once overcome the house of God. Just about the one that cleared the railway lines. He gently scoffs ‘Aah Traralgon…,’ he says to me, ‘you know you can’t believe everything you hear in that town…’ I thank him for the photo, I don’t want to outstay my welcome. As I’m walking off, he calls out after me, ‘it only happened once…’

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

 

 

About Shane Reid

I’m a dad to two great girls, both of whom love the Lions like their dad. I’m also a secondary school teacher. It has been a lot of fun having a go at writing, I also really enjoy reading the great pieces on The Footy Almanac.

Comments

  1. A beautiful piece of writing, Shane! You create a mystique/aura/ambience of the town so well. I’ve never been there but, when I do visit, I’ll see it in the light in which you’ve painted it. Just love the final sentence.

  2. Anne Wilson says

    Really enjoyed this combination of nostalgic town memories and irrational hero worship Shane! Keep writing.

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