Category Archives: sport

The Non-Gambler

It was such a pleasant Sunday afternoon this one just past. The sun was out, shimmering off the Derwent; a salve after days of mist and humidity. We’d dined well and extraordinarily cheaply at the bistro and I was happily ensconced by the panoramic windows, watching the boating activity on the briny, supping on some amber heaven and perusing the weekend papers. People all across the room, in singles or groups, were doing the same or similar. I noticed they were mostly of my own demographic, seemingly all quite content and at ease with the world, by the look of it, as I was. My lovely lady had left me for one of the other attractions of the venue. She was having a flutter at the pokies – something she really enjoyed. We do this every couple of months or so, my love and I. Now I’d certainly describe her as a responsible gambler, for she knows ‘when to hold ’em…when to fold ’em’ – so to speak. Many call her Lucky Leigh as she seems to win reasonably frequently on both the machines and Keno – not huge amounts, but she’s had some very tasty ones. As well she had a goodly return from the lotto a few years back, just enough to make proceeding into retirement less financially problematic. It was fair dues, given she’d spent years making a nurse’s salary stretch beyond belief. She’s a marvel money-wise. It’s one of the many reasons I admire her as well as love her.


We’re going to the ‘No later on. Coming?’

Thanks, but no.’

In the end they gave up asking, my uni mates, at my residential college. Back then, in 1973 and after, for a while, Wrest Point was a happening place – the nation’s first casino. It gave the city of Hobart its first MONA effect. It was the place to be. International stars came to the showroom – why Jerry Lewis opened the whole shebang. The high rollers flew in and the locals came to gawk, dressed to the nines – well, most of them. Word had spread of the beauty and allure of the young ladies manning the gambling tables – one of these honeys later went on to marry a premier.

The lads from Hytten Hall would head down to Sandy Bay and the ‘No of an evening, after they’d completed their studies. They would be attired in a motley array of jackets that had seen better days. Most were bought from the local op shops for that specific purpose for a few bob. Ties were compulsory too to pass the doormen. They’d later regale me with their adventures – the glorious women that were there, or how much they’d had to drink. They couldn’t afford to gamble – but that didn’t stop one or two testing their luck. As I recall, the one-armed bandits were not a feature back then, but I could be wrong, never entering the place. Of course the mainland cities soon caught on, with each having its own equivalent these days – but I’ve never been as comfortable in those as I am at the local one in my dotage. They’re just not my scene. It is.


As you have no doubt gathered by now I am not a gambler. I’ve never had a bet on the ponies in my life. I had a bit of a go on the pokies with Leigh once, but within ten minutes I’d had enough. I’m just not interested. But that’s not the point. When, at the last state election, Labor’s Bec White tried to lead us all into a pokies free existence, she ended up falling flat on her face at the polls. I could easily see the reason why, apart from the funds the vested interests sent the way of the Libs. She had great intentions after all the horror stories we’d heard, from the Northern Suburbs, of families wrecked through gambling addiction, but I was unsure whether what Bec was attempting could be the answer. Wouldn’t they just find another way to self-destruction?

So, no. I don’t get upset that my AFL team attracts the highest percentage of its profits from poker machines of all the clubs. Sure, something needs to be done about addressing the advertising for the activity that is associated with the game. Yep, I reckon that’s where the attention needs to be focused. I might be naive, but I reckon most are like my Leigh. They play the pokies sensibly, just loving the expectation that a little windfall might be in the next press of a button. They set themselves a limit and stick to it. It is a social occasion for many – some perhaps not having much else in their lives. My Leigh just loves having a chat with like minded punters in those rooms too. So what if all that is not to my taste. Why should all those that find it convivial and derive pleasure from it be denied? I may be accused of living in a bubble but there it is. Go Hawks 2020.


James Morressey’s opinion piece =

Olympic Woes

In 1960 the Olympic Games were held in Rome and as a nine year old, I was engrossed in the small black and white screen of our Healing television as I watched our athletes competing. Some even stood on the winners’ dais to be presented with medals. We were proud of them and of our great sporting nation. Every four years it was the same – Tokyo, Mexico City, Munich and on. Back then I had no real notion of where we were on the medals table, but I became very excited when Norman May screamed ‘Gold! Gold! Gold!’ It was a given that the USA and USSR would win the most gongs, but it seemed very special that, during those Cold War years, they were sharing the same sporting fields, despite their major differences. Then it changed. At one of the games one of the big two failed to put in an an appearance in protest at the other and we, following on the US’s coattails, as we always did, gave our athletes the choice. Then, another time, we hardly featured on the medals tally board. National disaster! There was so much angst that we weren’t great anymore the athletes were made to feel ashamed. Money had to be poured in to lift standards. Money meant medals right? That, to me, didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the Games. Then came the drugs. I had gradually lost interest in the event but the final nail in the coffin for me came when the AOC started setting targets for the number of medals that had to be attained before the team could be considered successful – inevitably heaping extra pressure on our young and often vulnerable representatives. That’s a heavy weight to carry – letting the country down.



As a teacher, therefore, every four years I largely avoided the seemingly almost compulsory module on the Olympics. If I was asked by my colleagues why not, I gave my reasons.

But now, common sense and dare I say it, a little of that spirit may be returning. I doubt that ever the sports(wo)manship will ever reach the levels of the recent Invictus Games in Sydney, but a newly made decision is a start. Read all about it in the accompanying Greg Baum article. Maybe some time in the future

I’ll return to the fold.


Greg Baum’s Article =

Leather Soul: A Half-Back Flanker’s Rhythm and Blues by Bob Murphy

In this year’s Herald Sun popularity poll for most popular AFL player, Adelaide’s indigenous, buzzing goal-sneak, Eddie Betts, was the clear and expected winner. He is a ‘character’ in what some (not me) claim is becoming a characterless robotic game. It’s hard not being drawn to Eddie’s big smile, the passion with which he plays and his delight in scoring a major. But, for several years on the trot, the Sun’s accolade went to a Western Bulldog’s player. Just as the Doggies were most people’s second favourite team, so Bob Murphy was the player all and sundry admired – me included. He was always second on my list behind Luke Hodge, just above Cyril.

He was rated highly for his loyalty to his guernsey for a team that had a long history of occasionally challenging for, but never making, the big dance – that is, until the fairy tale that was 2016. Mostly, though, they were cellar dwellers. Their previous premiership was way back in the fifties. They were the team from the oft struggle towns that formed the western suburbs. And arguably the heart and soul of the ‘Sons of the West’ was Captain Bob. But he has another string to his bow that earns equal kudos from me. He can write.
Mentored by Martin Flanagan and other doyens at the Age, he developed his own voice and style. Fingers crossed, he looks set to take on Flanagan’s mantle. So, unlike most from the world of footy,

bobRobert Daniel Murphy would need no ghost writer for the saga of his career. He has hung up his boots, involved himself in the media, is more often than not sporting a flannie and now has ‘Leather Soul – a Half-back Flanker’s Rhythm and Blues’ on his CV. He has written with great aplomb to produce a page-turner. There’s candour, tales to tickle the funny bone and poignancy. What we sense from it all is Bob’s love of team, history, family, humanity and Aussie Rules. I urge all footy-lovers to purchase a copy, kick back and enjoy, as I did.Reading ‘Leather Soul’ I found that I had a couple of very tenuous connections to the great Bulldog, nonetheless of which is the fact that a few weeks ago my Hawks-loving daughter actually got to meet him at a book signing. But there were also other cases of the two degrees of separation thing. Back in the eighties I was teaching in the north-western Tasmanian town of Wynyard. I was reasonably able in the classroom and had a handle on most aspects of the art of teaching. But, over the years, there was one skill I never mastered – the ability to tell identical twins apart. My colleagues always managed to do it, carefully explaining their subtle differences, but it was beyond me. So when the Atkins twins came along during those years I was all at sea – and they knew it. They milked my hopelessness for all they were worth too. Their talent lay more outside of the classroom though – revolving around the leather ball. Both, the experts predicted, would make the big league and soon after leaving school both Paul and Simon headed to VFL central – Melbourne. In the end only one climbed the mountain to the top.


Simon Atkins appears on page 47 of the book, but by the time he met the scrawny young lad turning out for Werribee, his own playing days at the pinnacle were over. The team was coached by Alistair Clarkson and Simon’s job was to make sure the young buck made it to training on time. My ex-pupil later became a runner for Footscray after contributing 127 games to their cause. He has a spot in the folklore of another team as well. He kicked the last goal for the Fitzroy Football Club. These days he manages a firm supplying cranes to construction sites.

The other link comes much later on in the memoir when the author relates a tale, in turn told to him by another ex-Taswegian in Butch Gale. It starred legendary bush coach, Frog Newman, who once used a dead (or alive depending on who’s telling) possum in an address to lacklustre players to spur them on to use more guts. Need I say more? Anyway, for a long time I taught in a school in a little village in the hills behind Wynyard and had the pleasure of instructing Frog’s two offspring in my classes – and lovely kids they were too.

Simon Atkins’ nickname, in his football days, was Axe and a highlight of this publication is Murphy’s list of the best monikers given out to often unwilling recipients during his time in the game. You’ll have to make a transaction of money to find out why certain identities were labeled ‘Lacka’, ‘Harvey Norman’ ‘The Mailman’, ‘The Lantern’ and best of all, ‘Clock’.


Bob’s adoration of his last coach Luke Beveridge resonates throughout the volume. LB is a bit of an eccentric in his own right, but certainly no Frog Newman. And the wordsmith also dishes out quite a deal of love to his teammates, particularly Matty Boyd and Ben (the Beard) Hudson. He fails to mention another noted eccentric, Brian Lake – perhaps because of his defection to my team – and is scathing with his assessment of Jason Akermanis. The latter seemed to have managed, during his time with the team, to get everyone completely offside.


Like Murphy himself as a footballing wizard, this is a lithe and immensely likeable read. The hero was known for his ‘…astounding performances on and off the field’ according to Beveridge. To my mind, in his action, Bob was a ‘glider’. He always seems to have eons of time on his side, despite the commotion going on around him, to glide away from packs, scanning upfield for options, hitting leading forwards with pinpoint accuracy.
And I glided through this product in print in a couple of sittings and I relished doing so. The writer now has his own show on Fox but it is my hope that the future will lead him to concentrate on his writing for, as Martin Flanagan tells us, ‘…there is only one Bob Murphy’.

Book details here =

Pack Weavers

Watch him on YouTube. Maybe, if you’re my vintage, you’ll remember him, but the clips on the digital carrier of the player in his pomp are still eye-opening – as they would be to younger souls who never witnessed him play. Of course modern football, with its fast and furious gut running, is a very different kettle of fish to when he was up and about but, no matter your age, can you see the similarity? Can you see the magic he weaved? Do you reckon, like I do, that he also had that same special x-factor as the guy we said goodbye to this past week?

Dusty breaks up packs with pure strength, escaping them, ball in hand, with don’t argues. Selwood burrows in with head down cunning. But the Doc wove his way through and even if he didn’t have ball in hand, he was still in control of it. And that’s the case with Cyril.

Darrel Baldock’s glory years in the VFL were back in the sixties, but he was a star even before he crossed to Yarra City. I have a very early memory of my father pointing him out to me before he left and telling me what a champion he was. Tasmanians had champions back then, some even seeing no necessity to leave the island. But the Doc did and all we islanders know what happened when he donned a St Kilda guernsey. I only fully remember him when he came back to the North West to captain/coach Latrobe in the local comp, the NWFU. Back then Tasmanian footy was vibrant and watched by thousands, continuously producing those champions who found Melbourne fame. It was a far cry to the pitiful state of the local product today, thanks to the behemoth that is the AFL, the digital age and maladministration. By his return the champ had lost most of his magic and at times his focus wasn’t always on the ball, but he was still miles above any opponent placed on him.

I wrote recently how I’m drifting away from AFL as a viewer of copious hours of it on tele. Sure, we’ve still got Buddy and Eddie for a while longer, but the loss of Cyril doesn’t help. As Tim Boyle wrote in a tribute piece for the Age, ‘Now it will be harder to laugh at the footy.’ for the player was pure entertainment. He dazzled, leaving others at the height of their powers looking stupid in his wake. And boy, could he get up in the air for a hanger.

I loved the way Bob Murphy, who also penned a piece in homage, commented as a recent player that, when he had the ball against the Hawks and scanned the way forward, if he couldn’t see Rioli, he knew he was in trouble.

Today’s game needs the magic that Cyril can produce as so much of it, unlike in Baldock’s era, is waged in close. I have wondered how the Tasmanian would have coped with today’s style of play. Certainly he couldn’t have held down a key position as he did for the Saints, but I’ve no doubt he would have found a way. He, like Cyril, was a pack weaver. The Hawthorn player could transform a game with only a few stats against his name, as he did in one of the four grand finals he played in. On this day the crowd, crammed into the ‘G, was in no doubt who the judges should award the Norm Smith to for best afield. The chant went up and they had no choice. It could only be one man.

He’s struggled these last two seasons in body and mind, especially in the latter which has been in another place. I’m probably too old to see another pack weaver of his or the Doc’s quality in my lifetime, but their deeds will live on, thanks to the digital world. Many scribes are expecting that one day in the not too distant future Cyril will return, but in some ways that will be a tad sad too. As his body slows down guile will come to the forefront, replacing the dazzle and magic. It wouldn’t be the same. Let’s remember him as one who left us breathless – you wouldn’t want him coming back to the pack.

Bob Murphy’s article =

Timothy Boyle’s article =

Driftin’ Away and Blaming Rich

‘Don’t buy it Rich. Don’t buy it! Why would you want something that big???’ would have been my advice, except he never asked for it. Naturally he wouldn’t consult with me – why should he? But I’ll blame him any way. With that purchase of his and his lovely wife Shan’s, the dye was well and truly cast.

I am the direct opposite to you Monica Dux, the direct opposite. But it’s waning, dear me, it’s waning.

My beautiful Leigh is the love of my life and sharing an abode with her here by the river is pure bliss. She is many things to me, almost everything. But one aspect of life we do not share, to any degree, is a passion for the native game. She is not a footy person and I respect that, just as she respects my lack of enthusiasm when it comes to stage musicals, which I find, to quote Monica ‘….silly, nonsensical and boring’ (unless rock music is attached). I do admire, though, women with a passion for Aussie rules, like my dear friends Steph, with her devotion to Essendon and Laurel, the Cats.

I hasten to add that Leigh doesn’t actually hate the game – she’s just ambivalent to it. She’ll watch a bit of pre-game carry-on with me, or maybe enjoy a bit of the repartee on ‘Footy Classified’, but as for actually watching a game she’s not interested, just as I wouldn’t be sitting with her through ‘The Sound of Music’ or ‘Cats’ in any way, shape or form. Nor would I expect her to give up pole position in the lounge room so I can watch the footy in the main arena and send her off to watch ‘Big Bang Theory’ in another room. In the past it’s been my practice to do that – to take myself off to the small screen in the spare room. Once upon a time I was perfectly happy to do so, but not anymore. And so now I am worried, that in the digital age, I’m driftin’ away, bit by bit, driftin’ away. It seems I’m doing the same with AFL as I once did with cricket. If passion for a sport is measured by viewing hours – well, I’m almost gone.

There are reasons for it – and not one is to do with the state of the game, so bandied about in the media. I dispute the claim that the style of play these days makes it less of a visual attraction. With footy, you won’t hear me saying it was so much better back in the day

So the first reason for my slow drift away has already been alluded to. I just enjoy my lady’s company – simple as that. Watching a show together, tucked up in the lounge room, is just so pleasurable. We can discuss our shows, often including testing ourselves as to exactly who is that actor we know we know but just cannot place. Then there’s her delightful habit of disputing the way certain medical procedures are done and I’m blessed with her perceptiveness in finding holes in the story that I always miss, especially when it comes to continuity. And as I watch and engage with her, I am able, all the while, to sit in comfort on our new sofa with a device in my hand that keeps tabs on the scores, be it from the summer or winter game. Perhaps the sofa, too, is a cause of the issue in itself.

Another reason is that we are in the midst of a golden age of television, or so we are repeatedly told. And I wouldn’t demur from that conclusion. So many platforms now that we have added Netflix and Stan; so many excellent series that these days movies on the small screen do not get a look in. Given the choice between watching the Gold Coast play Carlton or Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons taking on the world in Game of Thrones, it’s no contest for me. Which would you choose?

And the ads. OMG the ads. After every goal, every single one – and often there are two in succession shouting at you to buy wood-fired heaters or bargains at Hardly Normal. They drive me, especially when a team has a run on or it’s getting towards the end in a tight one, bananas. Just ruins the flow, detracts immensely from the spectacle. I know I could go ad free for a not expensive amount, but it’s hardly worth it given, yes, I’m inexorably driftin’ away.

Maybe, just maybe, a factor could be that I am totally sated. My cup has runneth over supporting the Hawks, they at least having given me one, if not more, premierships in all the decades of my life since the Sixties. What more could a follower ask of his/her team? The Doggies winning in ’16 and the Tigers last year, because they’re both such great stories, gave me perhaps as much, if not even more, pleasure than if Hawthorn had emerged victorious in the final dance again.

I’ll never, ever become Ms Dux in my attitude to the sport. I still relish reading about a Hawthorn victory in the Age and the opinions of its columnists on footy matters, especially now with Robert Murphy back in the fold. I could still hold my own in any conversation about the weekend’s results. But, increasingly, it’s becoming a smaller and smaller part of my life.

And lastly, I blame you Richard Lovell. That big screen television of yours and Shan’s, that I get all to myself when I’m house/Memphis sitting whilst you both are somewhere sunny, is a trap. And up at Bridport, last weekend, I watched a whole game for the first time this season – the Swans v West Coast – and I almost swooned with the ecstasy of it. It was a terrific contest – imagine how crabby I was the following Sunday when I fired it up to watch the Tigers/Geelong match up only to find, bless their hearts, it wasn’t on Southern Cross! Now going from that to the little screen in the spare room just doesn’t cut it. And whereas the giant screen is perfectly at home in your spacious abode, Rich, it would indeed look ridiculous in ours. What we have, for me, is just fine – but, at home, I’ll simply be driftin’ away.

Monica Dux’s column =

Mothers Day with Joe

Joe played his first test against the touring English and visited their shores four times. In all he played thirty-one tests against our old cricketing foe. He captained his country in eighteen of those. It took Bradman to lead the Australian XI more times to that point. He, Joe, was a thick set man in the Boon tradition and also mightily powerful with the bat. He was courageous against speed in those unhelmeted times, could defend with stoicism and build an innings by slow aggregation. He figured in some mighty stands. But, when it called for it, he could swashbuckle his way to a ton in the blink of an eye. He once held the record for the fastest century against the Poms. He also took on the South Africans once they came into the test fold.

My lovely Leigh and I, for various reasons, did not travel north this year to celebrate Mothers Day with our wonderful Mums, but nonetheless we wanted to do something to mark the day, something a little different perhaps – something we normally wouldn’t do. In the lead up to it Leigh saw an ad, I readily agreed and she made a booking.

Joe was born at Glen Ormond in South Australia, the son of a well-to-do merchant. He attended the Prince Alfred College in that state’s capital, quickly demonstrating his prowess with the willow. He once set a schoolboy record, scoring 252 against a neighbouring educational institution. He also was proficient at the native game, playing footy at a high level. After his school years he moved on to an agricultural college, before managing one of the family’s wheat farms. Later he returned to Adelaide to marry and open a sports store on Rundle Street. His father, John, saw his business potential and started to groom him to take over the family firm and was not happy when his son was selected to play his sport at the highest level for South Australia. Over time his wife, Alice, gave him ten sons and five daughters so Joe was soon to have trouble balancing his life between representative cricket, family and business. Could he make a go of it in all three arenas? Only time would tell.

The journey on that most recent of Mothers Days was only a short one, just into the nearby suburb of Claremont. The location of our repast was to be an elegant mansion that was once, before the area became built up, the most dominant feature on the landscape for miles. Now it is largely hidden from view of the major thoroughfares. A chocolate factory is now the feature most commonly associated with Claremont, but once upon a time it was this house. A recent benefactor had lovingly bought the building back to life as in previous decades it had fallen into decrepitude. It is now open to the public for tours, high teas and special occasion functions such as ours.

To start with his sporting passion won out for Joe, but the time away from family weighed heavily. Then his father pulled the mat right out from under him. John purchased a large property and informed his son he was to manage it. Joe retired from cricket and followed his old man’s orders. But his country needed him and he was soon back in whites, succumbing to pressure to take over the national side as captain. He tried to battle on in that role for a few more years, but age and weariness caught up with him. He was doing too much and had to slow down, seeing him give away the game at the highest level to return to his holdings and his ever growing family. Part of the trouble was where his father’s land was situated – almost in the middle of Tasmania, just outside Oatlands.

Claremont House was radiant in the dusk as we arrived. Entering, we were impressed by the capability of the restorers who had taken it back to something akin to how it must have looked in its heyday. On its originally prominent site it began life, around 1840, as a four-roomed Georgian home, gradually morphing into its present day form as a mansion in the Italianate style. The land it was established on was once owned by another iconic figure, one of the founders of Melbourne, John Pascoe Fawkner. He put it up for sale in 1826 for it to be purchased by another mover and shaker of those early days in the colony, Henry Bilton. He built the first structures on site, including the cottage, by 1840 transforming it into a substantial house of rendered brick. Fast forward to 1858 and Bilton had increased his land holdings around it to 350 acres. Being childless, on his death in 1889, the land was sub-divided and sold off. Parliamentarian Frank Bond became the new owner of the house itself, adding extra rooms to his Claremont edifice and constructing its tower. Twenty-one year old Kathleen Brook purchased the property in 1911and with her wealth it soon became a centre of the local social scene for the well-to-do.

Stuck in the middle of Tassie, Joe was far away from any substantial social scene, something Alice probably would have felt quite keenly. But being in that part of the world had some advantages for her husband. He found a new passion – politics, initially throwing himself into the various farming associations whose function it was to gain better deals for the man on the land. But Alice was hankering for a more urbane existence and it was her that saw an advertisement in the press for a substantial house to house a substantial family by the Derwent, not too far out of Hobart. It was also right on the road north to Stonehenge, their Midlands residence. Perfect. She quickly purchased it on Joe’s behalf and they moved in in 1920. And soon Joe started to set his sights on taking his political ambition one step further. He became the MLC for Cambridge in ’21 and served that electorate in the Legislative Council until 1941.

I wouldn’t rave about the tucker, but there was plenty of it, being a buffet – and it was palatable enough. But it was the plush surrounds, on that second Sunday in May, that really appealed. The food was being served in a large room dominated by an expansive billiard table. And on this was arranged all sorts of memorabilia that fascinated this diner, including from Joe’s tenure at the stately home. Amongst it was a plethora of photos from his time as a cricketer, including a snap of him arm in arm with the great WG, as well as one of the man he called his ‘white-haired boy’, Victor Trumper. I was so engaged I almost totally forgot about my stomach and the gorgeous date waiting for me back at our table. Also featured, from more recent times, was an image of the current owner with Dame Helen Mirren.

Along with politics the former cricketer was partial to automobiles, converting the coaching house to hold his collection of six expensive models. Sadly, though, time marches on and with his children grown up and largely dispersed, the place became too onerous for the ageing couple to manage. He sold it to the Red Cross in 1940 to be used as a convalescent home for the war wounded.

It was a delightful evening at Claremont House for Leigh and I, well worth the cost of the meal for all that history. My lady has vowed to return to partake of the tour and high tea and I would encourage any visitors to our fair city to do the same.

Joe Darling CBE saw his later years sadly mired in controversy as he dared to take on the might of the Forestry Department whose practices, back in the day, were every bit as dubious as they have been in a more recent era. He accused the minister and some officials of taking bribes and demanded a royal commission. The evidence he presented was so compelling that this was finally granted – something that did not earn him friends, but served to demonstrate the man himself hadn’t changed much from his days leading our nation on the cricketing fields of the world. He won out in the end, but did not live to see the outcome, passing on in 1946. He was the last surviving member of the soon to be federated nation’s touring party of 1896, dying only thirteen days later than fellow Tasmanian tourist of that team, mate and local parliamentarian CJ Eady. Joe is buried at Cornelian Bay. I wonder what the great man would have made of twenty/twenty, IPA and dare I say it, the current ball-tampering farce? I daresay he’d turn in his grave by the river.

Claremont House website =

A Wink from the Universe – Martin Flanagan

He’d travelled from Canberra to watch his beloved team that day at Etihad. He was passionate and I enjoyed watching him as much as I relished watching the game itself. I was seated next to him and it was a terrific seat, almost at ground level, where the match proved to be a totally different beast to observing it from higher up or on tele. It was a sensational conflict from two very different teams – enthralling. By the end my new found pal was quite hoarse from all his vociferous barracking – at each break he had needed lubrication from the bar to keep him going. His wife was only mildly interested in the jousting out on the field and we had good chats while he was away. She was a teacher in the capital so we had common ground and she gave me their back story, little of which I recall as it was a few years ago now. Her hubby had grown up a western suburbs lad so his connection with the ultimately victorious team was strong. During his lifetime his lads had never made the big dance at season’s end, but they’d been in the semis a few times, not progressing once, to his disappointment. He told me he had a feeling in his bones about 2016 and on that day they certainly looked the goods. But it was only Round 11 – much could still happen. And it did. Their journey was a rough one. Boy, was my footy mate in for a ride.

In my view this decade, so far, has been a special one for our indigenous sport. Firstly my blokes, the mighty Hawks, stamped themselves as the greatest team of the new century with a three-peat. That, coupled with 2008, put them just above the Brisbane Lions (2001-2003). Then there’s been the introduction of AFLW and I love to watch it. What a revelation that has been – the girls’ massive determination and their hardness at the ball making it such a spectacle. Then last year, 2017, the long suffering, volatile Tiger Army finally had their reward with their team’s precise demolition of the Crows. It occurred due to a forward line innovation of one tall – Jumpin’ Jack – and a mosquito fleet around his feet. But, as footy stories go, 2016 outshone even that. A team that hadn’t won a grand final since 1954 rose from seventh position at the end of the home and away to score at the big one – unheard of till that date. During the end of year games they played a pulsating brand and had us all gasping at their audacity. They defied the footy gods, receiving their very own ‘wink from the universe’.

More joy, for this punter, has been added by the cajoling of an initially reluctant Martin Flanagan to tell this story in print for posterity. He’s been sorely missed since his retirement from The Age. Flanagan’s been the best writer on AFL for decades. It is therefore perhaps fitting that another legend has revived his association with that newspaper, one who was also closely involved in the tale of the Western Bulldogs’ 2016 surge to victory – the Doggies’ captain, Bob Murphy. Dramatically the man who was the heartbeat of the team, never took a mark or had a kick in that rollicking finals series. In the end, for Flanagan, it was too good a story to pass up, so he set about chronicling it – and all lovers of the game should be pleased he did.

Martin F’s book is akin to a footy season itself. The pre-season always gives a foretaste to what lies ahead. In this publication’s introduction the wordsmith sets the scene with an interesting history of the area of Yarra City that the Bulldogs eventually emerged from. Then there follows a pen picture of both the coach and captain that made for great reading, followed by one for each the other players of the premiership year. Then the season proper gets underway. Of course it takes a while for things to take shape and for the contenders to emerge. The author takes us on the journey that was the home and away rounds. We have summaries of each Doggie’s game and the coach’s input into proceedings. Also mixed in are tales of the club’s staff and its fan base. It’s the least successful part of the book with, for the reader, like no doubt for a player, it at times feeling a bit of a slog. Ultimately, though, MF is a spinner of yarns. There are many in this section related of the team and its followers through the tough winter months into spring. Sometimes events occurred that made it difficult to keep the faith, such as the tragedy that occurred very early on in Round 3 against my team. As Flanagan states, ‘Only Hawthorn wanted Hawthorn to win…’ It was a classic encounter, but an incident happened that took the shine off the quality of the play and even the most diehard of Hawk’s follower would have been devastated at the cost of the game to the opposition. Just as the Dogs were mounting a challenge there came an excruciating to watch injury which forced Captain Bob out for the rest of the year. You would expect that to knock the stuffing out of the cohort; for it to be season defining in the negative – but, if anything, it only made them stronger and more determined. Flanagan weaves into this the effect of the injury on a prominent fan, comedian Wil Anderson. He had to go on stage that night and make funny as his heart was crying for his team and its captain – a player respected by all.

The long season and an equally long injury list, by the last round, had taken its toll and the magic had dissolved from the play of the team once known as Footscray. Their finals campaign looked done and dusted. They clung onto a top 8 position by their fingernails. The last roster appearance was in the West and they were thumped, with gutsy backman Dale Morris, essential in holding the defence together, badly hurt. The first elimination final would see them fly back to the West to take on the Eagles, who would be red hot favourites. Then came the eponymous ‘wink from the universe’ – and the rest is history. For the first time the AFL inserted a bye the weekend before the finals. The ‘Scray boys had breathing space – time to regroup, sore bodies to mend and injuries overcome. And it negated the late season impetus of some of the other fancies for the flag. But Morris and others would be fit to play on.

With the playoffs Flanagan’s tome really comes alive. His writing is as pulsating as the four matches the Dogs had to win to take the urn. It’s great sports writing. I loved him on that amazing campaign from the ‘Sons of the West’.

The first one across the Nullabor was against the same team I had seen play earlier in the season at Etihad. In that match, yet again, even given the travel, one sensed the home outfit would be, well, underdogs. Acting captain Easton Wood was a late withdrawal and young gun Marcus Bontempelli would step up. The Eagles had a couple of power forwards, a tall backline and a more than worthy midfield to add to their perceived domination. I couldn’t see any way the Doggies could beat this mob. Coach Beveridge knew the answer though – his side would have a chance if the match was played below the knees, so he issued orders accordingly. I’d never witnessed a game like this one as the ball zapped up and down the ground at lightning speed once it was in the hands of the players in red, white and blue. There was no long bombing of it as the Eagles were doing, giving time for the backs to swarm all over the taller visitors’ forwards. But it was the kicking of the home side that really caught my attention – how close to the ground they were directed. Kicks skimmed through the air, seemingly inches from the surface, so the advantage in size and height of the opposition was eliminated. And to the excitable cheers of my new found friend, they narrowly won the day He and I parted with a hand shake and I assured him that, if they made the GF against anyone other than the Hawks, I would be on their side – so much so that come the end I couldn’t watch it live so keenly did I want them to be victors. But, no doubt, come the final siren there would have been a watcher in Canberra – or maybe he’d scored tickets to the ‘G that day – beside himself. He’d celebrate for the ages, as many did.

The book also features many images from the season, including the iconic moment when the coach presented his Grand Final Medal to his captain.

Since then the tale of the Dogs hasn’t been so magical. The mother of all hangovers seemed to afflict them all through ’17 and this year it is only at time of writing that the Western Bulldogs are starting to display a modicum of promise. Captain Bob is now retired, but he’s back filing a weekly column for the Age. He has as deft a touch with the language as he had with the Sherrin. One day he may be the chronicler of another Doggies’ premiership.

The SMH review =



There's Nothing Like AFL Footy

Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football – edited by Ross Fitzgerald
From the Outer – Edited by Alicia Sometimes and Nicole Hayes

My Dad liked Wally Clark. Ostensibly my father supported Cooee in my region’s local footy comp – a club, that, like so many others, did not survive into the new millennium. But, of course, he admired any good footballer playing for our coastal teams. This was particularly the case when they donned the maroon and gold of the North West Football Union to take on the NTFL, from up Launceston way or, more specifically, those high and mighty Cascade swilling southerners from the TFL. If our men managed to beat them – a rarity, but it did happen, celebrations were long, my father was ecstatic and much Boags was quaffed.

outer02Wally Clark and Kevin Murray 1963

Wally Clark was a rover. It’s a term no longer in use, submerged by the generic one – midfielder. Gone are the days of the rover, along with ruck-rover, wingman, flanker, centreman or pivot, drop kick, stab pass, flick pass and so many others. With the saturation coverage of the AFL, today regional football in the south, north and north-west is a mere shadow of its former self. I remember, as a callow teenager, watching Wally Clark when his team, Latrobe (later to boast the magnificent Darrel Baldock as its captain-coach), travelled to Burnie’s West Park to take on my mob, the Tigers. I recall him as a short, close to the ground, beer-barrel shaped player; the captain coach of the coastal Demons from ’64 till ’67. He won the local equivalent of the Brownlow, the Wander medal, in ’65 and no doubt would have donned the maroon and gold – maybe even being selected for ‘the map’; selected in the state side to take on interstate rivals. Occasionally our little island could even match it with the Big V.

In those days our teams would welcome back locals who had made a name for themselves over in Melbourne, such as the Doc. With robust finances, as healthy numbers supported the local clubs, big names could also be attracted to play out their twilight competitive years here. Wally Clark was one such.

Reading ‘Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football’ and ‘From the Outer’, I found Wally Clark mentioned in both. Here’s Barry Dickins writing on his beloved Royboys in the former – ‘My hero, Butch Gale, rots (sic) (Yes, ‘Heartfelt Moments…’ could have done with more thorough editing) on with a big barrel chest out and lots of people reaching over the concrete race to pat him on the back, he is glossy with Deep Heat Muscle Ointment which I forever associate with courage and determination and agonizing ligaments; his rover trots on next who is wearing the very first example of the famous Flat Top Hair Cut and he is Wally Clark; and Fitzroy fans all yell out excitedly on viewing him, ‘Good on yer Wal!’

Tony Birch, recounting in ‘From the Outer’, had a similar addiction to Dickins for the Roys. Here he is on Wally, ‘As a kid my maroon and navy football jumper warmed me with the number 7 in honour of Wally Clark,…Wally was built like a butcher’s apprentice and played 105 games for the club.’ Later Birch was to forsake Clark for the great Kevin Murray in his affections. I knew Wally Clark had come to Tassie’s northern shores from the VFL back then, but until I read these two tomes recently had no idea that he was the ‘real deal’ amongst the big guns in his day. I checked him out on a VFL/AFL website in the ether and discovered he was a star, playing eight seasons with Fitzroy, giving ‘gutsy and commendable service.’ He debuted in 1955 and saved his best for his team’s unsuccessful finals campaigns in ’58 and ’60. He was their top goal scorer in ’62 with the slim total of 21. But the following year he was back in the reserves, therefore his decision to seek greener pastures elsewhere across the Strait as his powers waned. Yep, my Dad was correct in regarding Wal so highly. He stayed on the coast after retirement and could often be found in footy club-rooms, entertaining with his fine voice. Like the Cooee Football Club, sadly he didn’t see in the new millennium either.


There is some dross in these two publications, particularly in ‘Heartfelt Moments…’, but there’s also some great wordsmithery as many a notable writes on the effect the native game has had on their lives. ‘From the Outer’ is the better, more attractive publication, with a cover illustrated by the wonderful Oslo Davis. The fairer gender dominate the contributions here, but I loved Jason Tuazon-McCheyne’s item on the formation of the Purple Bombers, a very personal account of the growth in support for the LGBTI community by football bodies across the nation. Sam Pang tells of the day he sat by the Flying Doormat (Bruce Doull) at Carlton’s last game on the Princess Park grass. There was one fine effort that wasn’t all that complimentary of our game. Catherine Deveny would have to rank up there with Keith Dunstan as a footy-hater par-excellence, far preferring her kids to be on computer games than having anything to do with the AFL – to the shock of her Melburnian mates. You see, for someone with no family tradition in the game, growing up in the city was basically a trial. Sophie Cunningham writes glowingly about the Geelong Cats and their frustrating climb, over the decades, to the powerhouse they are today. There’s Alan Duffy’s account of how he coped with, on meeting his new girlfriend’s parents, hearing the words ‘This is a Hawks family, Alan.’ The implied threat involved was obvious – they didn’t seem to care as much about his intentions for their daughter. Also included are reminiscences from role model-umpire Chelsea Roffey, Stan Grant, Christos Tsiolkas, Angela Pippos and Bev O’Connor.


Alongside Barry Dickins in ‘Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football’ is that great D’ Brian Dixon, as well as Jeff Kennett, Susan Alberti, Chris Bowen and even George Pell. Ken Spillman’s account of the day Lethal Leigh felled Barry Cable is a ripper and we have Richard Allsop recount his favourite Hawthorn moments. He plays tribute to the sublime skills of the indigenous genius of our native sport who is universally simply known as Cyril. Another great, also with a shortened moniker, Roo (Mark Riccuito), is adoringly portrayed by Chris Kenny. Humanising Liberal politicians everywhere is Josh Frydenberg’s paean to his beloved, once mighty Blues. ‘Now a father myself, I have responsibility to pass on that love of the Navy Blues to my little daughter.’

As for my own daughter, I am so proud that Katie is as fervent a fan of the brown and gold as I am. Together we have followed their fortunes in yet another finals campaign, unfortunately an unsuccessful one this time. But what of my granddaughter, Tess? Well now, there is another force at work here. You see her paternal grandmother is a passionate follower of the Hawk’s nemeses from down Corio Bay way and the Tiges, when asked who she barracks for, smiles sweetly and replies, ‘The Cats, Poppy’. And, to my surprise, I don’t care a jot. If she develops the same love of the game as Laurel, her great grandfather and her mother, it is enough for me.

Our Amazons

Very little of the recent Olympics was viewed in our house by the river so not much of it that was positive caught my eye. Drug cheats and athletes, after giving their all, feeling necessary to apologise to a nation for not attaining gold left a sour taste – as did the extremely rarefied expectations of our sports officials and pundits. To me those aspects of the Games were a turn off. But even so, from the little I did espy, one could not fail to be impressed by a beautiful, ever-smiling young lady, Chloe Esposito, who came from nowhere to win the prized gong in a sport few had heard of in Oz. They have now. Modern pentathlon, I would imagine, would be an extremely hard sport to master, with all its various disciplines, so she was superb. And what about our rugby sevens girls? Their helter skelter courage was, well, amazing.


But there is another team sport, newly emerged, that is turning heads and leaving many, including myself, open-mouthed in awe. Here the girls have had the audacity to take on another arena that was formerly the preserve of the fellas and start to make it their own. No, not the cricket. Forget about that – although they are quite gobsmackingly proficient with bat and ball too. No, it’s our own native born game, Aussie rules!

Now the new AFL national women’s league is about to take off in ’17, but, on a night during the pre-finals bye, we had a foretaste. And it was wonderful to behold. The D’s took on the Doggies – and for four quarters they went at it, full throttle. For me their display was a joy for these ladies possess the same gut running, kicking to position and pack-marking prowess as the opposite gender. Their hands are as quick and their brand is open, with speedy transition. And from their marquee players names are emerging to rival Bontempelli, Dangerfield and Fyfe. Here are two:-


Daisy Pearce. Do read Martin Flanagan’s paean to her. When she’s not sizzling around the ‘G or Etihad she’s nursing – being a mid-wife in fact. Evidently she brings as much passion to that as she does chasing leather. Already she has a Hodgean ability to read the play, direct traffic and enter the fray to make a critical difference. She magnetises the eye on the footy field.


Moana Hope – If you haven’t already done so, i-view Australian Story ‘A League of their Own’ from Monday, August 29. It deals with this power forward’s relationship with Susan Alberti, the Doggies’ vice-president. One would expect that the Melbourne socialite would have little in common with the heavily tattooed battler from the other side of the tracks, but she sees in Moana something special – as we all should do after watching her on their episode of this Auntie staple. But there’s nothing frivolous about Alberti – she’s all substance. As well as being a strong advocate for the women’s league, we know she is not afraid to put her money where her mouth is as she took on the odious Sam Newman after his appalling attempt at humour with Caroline Wilson his target. Alberti has developed an affection for Ms Hope who has come out of retirement with the formation of the national league. Moana is a whiz goal-kicker with her hard leading and accuracy. This electrifying young lady is the prime carer for her disabled sister and is working hard to set up a business to ensure her family’s financial future. She is simply inspirational, as are all these incredible girls who love our game and play it with such mesmerising fervour.

Martin Flanagan’s article =

‘League of their Own’ Australian Story =