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Wall and the Art of Swans Maintenance

This is something different now.


This is no longer strategy or logic. It is no longer conjecture. It’s not insight or forecast. This is nothing the water cooler can sort, nor the pages of the rags, nor the arcs of the desks of the footy show hosts. This is too tough for digestive juices.


This can no longer be the hot air balloon of hope being launched each week. It is no longer slam slam, dunk. Or bounce back. This is not pure collective will that can alchemically heal. It is not the work of the voodoo queen or the faith healer, the optimist or the sports scientist or the player GPS.


The Swans have hit the wall. And this is now a case of way-finding. ‘You just have to find a way,’ said Longmire post Round 6.


In mid February, a friend and I scraped a wall in my house. It had been peeling from water damage, the fault finally corrected in the bathroom on the other side, the wall left to dry. And it continued to peel. The surface flaked and opened and fell in small geometric pieces. I moved a large pigeonhole bookcase up against it and life went on. Occasionally I could hear those pieces drop to the floor behind. And then the paint split over the top of the shelf and around its sides, like skin peeling back, one hundred years worth of life insisting its way through, the epidermis of each effort becoming visible.


I watched this wall for some two years, knowing I should get to it and make the stich in time that would save nine. But I’m not ‘handy’. I didn’t trust that I could start in on the problem and not make it much worse. I didn’t know the path and wondered what would happen if I got lost, how much it would cost, what mess it would make. Until February. My Cob was away in Seattle for a month. So, one Tuesday in monsoonal rain, my friend and I ripped in. She had form. We scraped and dusted, patched and filled to a somewhat undulating landscape that she said I could sand and prime. But I am a poor perfectionist. I decided a second coat was in order. I lay in the middle of the night watching a trail of short movies on rendering, plastering, skim coating. I swung my legs out of bed in the morning and mimed the hawk and trowel action I would need. I didn’t think I could do it.


The following Tuesday, I slapped a top coat compound onto the middle of my widest scraper, held my breath, placed it at the skirting board and pulled it towards the ceiling. It worked. I did it again. And again. Each stroke held equal measure of doubt and delight. And it kept working. More or less. And I kept going. The scales started tipping to delight. That night, I pulled up a chair and sat in front of it, exhausted by day job and single motherhood and my self-inflicted DIY, and I took in its pale surface, still imperfect, but enough. I bowed to my Sensei before bed.


Watching the Swans play the Blues on Saturday, I saw a group of men stifled by the not knowing. Paralysed by the worry of possibly not being able to find the path, the fear of the mess they were making on the way: the panicked handballs, the turnovers, the time and space they thought they had but didn’t, the time and space which they thought they didn’t have but in fact did, the Goddamn! Godforsaken! God forbid! long kicks to the forward line. It hurt to watch. Not cause they were horrid but because they were so human.


When I got round to sanding my good enough wall a week or so later, it shed its creases and joins. It looked more and more like clean façade and confidence built and built in me as I circled round and round each tiny landscape wearing them to my idea of flat. I hit a tiny point, almost like a barnacle. And I pressed right into it and a piece fell straight from my wall and onto the floorboards below. When I looked up, I saw a hole the shape of Corsica. And then another small island further on. My little archipelago stalled me for weeks.


I researched what to do. I contemplated scraping back again. Someone suggested Spakfilla. But why stitch once when maybe it was a job that might need nine? I started drumming on the wall each night, listening for all the hollows that might join my island paradise. All I wanted to do was finish the job! I sought advice from a friend professional.


‘Ah just fill it up again,’ he said. ‘Old houses are just going to do that. Fill it up and keep going.’


So I filled my islets with joint compound, dried and sanded and re-filled, dried and sanded again. When the Cob returned from the States and helped me sweep my admirable wall with primer, we watched it become more and more what it was supposed to be. Until the roller pulled off Corsica again! Something in me wanted to sink and abandon.


‘We’ll leave it as our imperfection,’ he suggested. ‘As a reminder of all the work it took to get here.’ The Cob is blessedly not a perfectionist; he is a creative. I went out and bought Spakfilla.


Captain Kennedy must feel like sinking too. Winless since getting his cape, famous only for the superpower of being the only team in history to go from a Grand Final one year to 0-6 the next. He must wish right now for a miracle product in a small blue tub. But Captain K has wisdom, expressed in an interview this week: ‘You can try too hard to improve. We really need to get back to basics.’


I brushed some primer over that Spakfilled Corsica the other day. An earthquake wouldn’t move it. I still don’t think of myself as ‘handy’. But we painted our patched and primed kitchen this week. We cut and rolled. I enamelled the picture rails and skirting boards, fixed the window putty in the old backdoor glass. I know what order to paint the sash window. And this morning I even changed the power switch covers to match the new colour. Since I met Sensei Wall, I look at things that need doing and the thought that comes to the front is ‘I could do that.’


It’s almost a fascinating and rich place to be as a supporter, 0-6. On some level we’re only ever mending and disguising, working with the layers that have accumulated. And that’s ok. There’s many an apparatus in this world which prefers perfect running order or the flawlessness of façade. It’s actually a gift to see the work of repair being performed. It was a good thing for Longmire to say in the presser—you’ve just got to find a way. We supporters understand that. From our own wayfaring.


The Swans need to put their backs to a wall like mine this week. Train for nimble choices, block out the hollow spots under the surface, and have belief in their capacity to strengthen them when they do open up. Which they will. Some serious run would be helpful but it’s not apparent where that will come from. They’ll have to be attuned to and work with the solution that does present, at each step. I hope the new three year deal with Kennards gives them a lift!


This is something different now.


It has to be hop skip and jump over the first four stages of grief.


It has to be patch and continue.


About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. Reversing the old “sport as a metaphor for life” trope. Thought provoking – thanks Mathilde. As someone who likes to use metaphor a lot for their effective communication value, I started to wonder about the limits of the generalisations we all use.
    Elite sport is the 99.99 percentile playing the 99.98’s to see who gets to be 100.00 for a season. In life I tend to find that acceptance married with gentle striving works best. Not in professional blood sports like AFL and politics and big business. Better observed from the stands than for participants – we only get to hear about the winners and the rewards – not the collateral damage as 4 Corners demonstrated.
    I tend to like Garrison Keilor’s Lake Wobegon motto for Ralph’s “pretty good” Grocery Store – “Remember: if we haven’t got it; chances are you can get along without it”.
    Hoping to play some pretty good golf myself this Saturday morning, but similarly low expectations are not acceptable from my Eagles in the afternoon.

  2. John Butler says

    A real challenge for the Swans now, Mathilde. What has seemed robust for so long now looks fragile.

    How to put it back together? Part of that is figuring out what caused the break. ‘Adult’ discussions amongst the club’s leaders are doubtless already happening.

    And expectations will need to be adjusted. Carlton has learnt a lot about that in recent years. I will be surprised if Sydney turn out to be quite as slow at learning as we were.

  3. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Mathilde,
    I am continuing to love your work, both in the handy department and in writing. I am very proud of my small tool collection and any handy things I do, and am inspired by your faith in wayfaring and finding a way. It takes time. To get over the hurt of grand finals losses isn’t talked about much, as a Saints supporter we got over one but two flattened us and started us afresh. For players and supporters alike, the path to recover is long. I want the Saints to get to a Grand Final but am fearful about losing. I just hope the players, like the young Bulldogs last year, have the more positive approach.

    And Swans have had 2 in recent memory. And three in distant memory. Just think of those when the cracks appear insurmountable. As my mate Mark says about the Saints, we did it once, one day we’ll do it again. And that sustains me.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    My grandmother would cover holes in the wall with bookcases and cupboards. Which we only found out when she downsized and we helped her move out. Well done for having a go at fixing.

    Patch and continue hasn’t worked for us at Collingwood. No amount of Jesse White or Chris Mayne brand Spakfilla will fix the holes in our forward line….

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