Random thoughts on why scribbling’s pretty fine…

The following was tossed up on Random House Australia’s blog a few days back…

Why I write

Every writerly blog devotes paragraph after paragraph to it.

Writer-tweeters re-post articles by anyone who’s devoted web copy to it.

Book clubs and literary festival panels are obsessed by it.

What is ‘it’?

‘It’ is a question I’m now going to try to answer for you: why do I write?

It’s at this point I should probably lift a quote from Virginia Woolf or Mark Twain, or whoever else has scribbled something suitably chin-rubby or navel-gazey. I could drop an anecdote about an English teacher at school – that Robin Williams Dead Poets Society-style mentor who dragged me from near illiteracy to the wonders of T. S. Eliot. Or maybe I could reveal a deeply spiritual connection to my mysterious art, and how my desire to link words is only ever satiated when I’m on a 24-hour keyboard roll, hummy to the eyeballs with a natural amphetamine my naturopath extracts from Guatemalan cacti.

Sorry to disappoint, but for me to fall back on any of that stuff would be most disingenuous. A colourful writerly back-story just gets your picture in The Good Weekend, which is why I assume most scribblers are making it up when they summon up their inspiration clichés. And besides, despite my broader writing interests, I’m a sports non-fiction guy. So what am I going to do? Start banging on about how Norman Mailer’s boxing fetish tickled my fancy way back when? Give you a list of my favourite New York Times sportshounds?

Nup. Can’t, won’t and wouldn’t.

So then, to the question at hand. Why do I write? I’ll give you two reasons.The first is the one I’ve clung to for years: that writing is fun and is almost better than any other job I’ve ever had. But bear in mind, I’ve had some pretty ordinary jobs over the years. Lawyering was one of them. So too flipping burgers at Maccas. My stint as a kitchenhand at a nursing home was terrible. So all things considered, scribbling – even if it is for a relative pittance – is a pretty damn fine way to fill your day.

And the second reason? Well, this only revealed itself to me recently when I was umm-ing and aah-ing over whether to write what is now my second book: THE BAD BOYS OF FOOTY: MODERN FAILINGS OF FOOTBALL’S FINEST. ‘This book would be a revisitation of a host of football’s most inglorious moments,’ the good folk at Random House Australia said. It was going to involve trawling through a host of ugly on- and off-field episodes, and repackaging the kind of sporting stupidity the world has long had a gutful of. It would involve drugs and gambling and hopeless drunkenness and horrible sleaziness.

I baulked. Who, after all, needs to hear about all that again? So, as flattering as it is to be asked to write a book, I said NO in my mind countless times.

But then something happened. I started delving. And as I started dipping into piles of press clippings and biographies and archived film footage, a pattern began to emerge. The badness I was being asked to expose was, more often than not, human. I recognised myself in some of it. I saw glimpses of friends and their erroneous ways. I saw frailty. And soon enough I learned that badness itself was not the story. Instead, the story became about why people do the things they do, and why we, on the outside, are so vicious in our condemnation when our own backyards are a mess. In the end, it became something of a mirror held back at the world. A rather humanising quest, and a challenge I’m now grateful I accepted.

So why do I write? When I get asked that question now, I have a new and improved answer. I write because the search for words gives me the chance to surprise myself, empathise with strangers, try harder to understand people, and to learn from the mistakes we all make. In a very real way, I’d be a lesser person if I didn’t write.

So maybe that’s what draws this moth back to the light, time and time again.

Bad Boys of Footy: Modern Failings of Football’s Finest is Matt Webber’s latest book.

Go HERE to get a taste.

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Answering the impossible question…

For the past little while I’ve been filling in as Mornings presenter on 91.7 ABC Coast FM here on the Gold Coast.

During my time there we were running a promotion to celebrate Australian Music Month. The question posed of listeners was (and is): What is Australia’s greatest album of all time? Once it’s all been narrowed to the relative needlepoint of a Top 5, the leading vote-getters will be played in toto during Fridays in November. You can vote here if you’re keen to put a ticket or two in the hat. Might even win your self a 15 disc prize pack if you do!

Anyhow, all the musical pondering naturally enough got me thinking about what my top few were.

What was fascinating to me is how inseparable a sense of time and place was and is when it came to music that has somehow glued itself to me on my journey.

Hereafter my various justifications…

Probably best to start with the outsiders and roughies that I couldn’t quite find room for.

Among them is ‘Minor Birds’ by Melbourne roots rockers Downhills Home. It’s an album that probably passed a whole swag of folks by, but it’s just so damn lovely I couldn’t let it drift past me without a mention. Also – and this will become a recurring theme – it became something of a soundtrack to a moment (in its case my last days in good old Melbs before I moved north to Queensland). Augie March’s ‘Moo You Bloody Choir’ has a similar resonance because I can connect it to the sticky carpeted, pub-on-Fridays, over-coated Melbourne I knew BEFORE kids. Same goes for Wagons ‘Trying To Get Home’, an album I heard before it became an album (if that makes sense) when I saw Henry Wagons and Si the Philanthropist and the doctor who played lead guitar and the rest of the scruffy, motley crew that made up Wagons’ five piece squeeze into already crowded enough Marquis of Lorne on a Sunday arvo while we all tucked into tequila shots just because we felt like it. Then there’s The Drones, a band I reckon has robbed me of a little hearing on account of me unwittingly positioning myself in front of a PA speaker one night unaware that the Dronesian method involved turning everything up to a million and just letting rip. Their ‘Wait Long By The River And The Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By’ is in my opinion easily the most epic album title ever, and on it exists arguably the greatest contemporary Australian rock song in ‘Shark Fin Blues’. But does it all hang together well enough as an album to make the final shortlist?

There’s also the recordings you simply can’t ignore. I’ve mulled over any number of Paul Kelly albums. ‘Gossip’ is an obvious inclusion in a final long-list – all those artful words and stories (even if production that renders elements of the record sounding a little thin to my ears – just quietly, I reckon it’d be great if PK revisited and re-recorded it). ‘Comedy’ was another I pondered. Again, it spoke of a moment, a bit of a lonely time if truth be told, one where certain images leached in. AC/DC’s ‘Powerage’ and Cold Chisel’s ‘East’ were records my family’s neighbour, Syd, played over and over while he tinkered about doing whatever and his big Alsatian Frank barked deep octaves. Syd drove a truck. He was an outlaw in the relative sanctuary of comfortable middle class Cremorne, Sydney, where I grew up. His music was heavy and dark and kinda naughty and spoke of the kind of girls I’d most likely never know.

The Oils too. ‘Species Deceases’ was my entry point with them. ‘Hercules’ was HUGE, but that was an EP. Still, through it I found ‘Head Injuries’ – that cold, cold change and catching the bus to Bondi and the RAGE that existed back on the borderline, wherever it was. And on a lighter note there was Gang Gajang’s self-titled effort. A theme album to a trip up to the tropical north with a mate in a Kingswood. While they sang about cane cockies and breathing humidity we were driving through February soup, the whiff of canefields filling our car, Mt Bartle Frere always gazing down at us. There may or may not have been a girl involved in that memory, too. Ah, innocent, heady times. And even though Powderfinger are a band I’ve never really totally connected with, I LOVED the pure rock sensibility of ‘Vulture Street’. Some of those gee-tar tones just kick serious freckle. In the end, sadly, commercial radio kinda killed it for me. Then there’s Jimmy Little’s ‘Messenger’. Robert Forster’s ‘The Evangelist’. Karma County’s ‘Olana’. Geez I haven’t even mentioned the Easybeats. Or Billy Thorpe. The pioneers!

Seriously, I could go on forever.

Focus, Matt. Focus.

So to as close to five as I can get…

5. Ed Kuepper – Honey Steels Gold

Have you ever really listened to this album? I mean REALLY listened? It just sounds incredible. That persistent throb in the title track was the soundtrack to god knows how many late night crawls from Sydney north to Sydney east and back. And the rest of it just sounds SO big. And Kuepper’s weird, creepy lilt. And the chimy 12 string. Yep, that album just sticks.

4. AC/DC – ‘High Voltage’ AND ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’

Yes folks, we have a tie. I can’t separate them. So, so dangerous and so utterly gnarly. And simple, kinda. And loud. And glorious. And fun. And drunk. And cheeky. And by lordy if Bon Scott isn’t out and out undisputed KING of rock vocalists i’ll eat my dining room table. Acca Dacca, I tips me lid.

3. Hoodoo Gurus ‘Mars Needs Guitars’

I could have picked out any number of Hoodoos albums. Selinas, Coogee Bay Hotel. Oh, the fabulousness of those nights there back then. Loud, fun, infectious, anthemic classic rock/pop. And, in this album, such variety. The bluegrass-infused ‘Hayride to Hell’. ‘Death Defying’ is kinda weird surf doo wop. An an oft-forgot track, ‘In the Wild’, is like what you’ d get if you locked the Ramones, the Oils, and the Stray Cats in a studio for beer-soaked afternoon. Then there’s ‘Bittersweet’ with it’s big, rich, jangly chords – just magnificent. And I always loved how Australian Dave Faulkner sounded. Yep, the Hoodoos were OURS.

2. The Saints – (I’m) Stranded

This album terrified me at first. Chris Bailey was like a possessed devil-man. The word punk was being bandied about. To my sensitive little private schoolboy ears it all reeked of smack dens and violence and petty thievery necessary to survive until the next fix. The album’s sleeve did little to alleviate my concerns: four gaunt detached souls staring at me from the bowel of some filthy warehouse. But as scared as I was, the sound was just insane, and that alone made the terror approachable. The amps sound like they are going to burst. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard drums sound so good. And the whole thing feels so alive, like you’re up front at a pub gig getting blown backwards by volume. The fact that I’d later learn how influential this record was internationally made me feel proud I’d sensed something within when I first heard it. I still play it A LOT. ‘Prehistoric Sounds’ gets a run occasionally, but inevitably I always return to the brutality of (I’m) Stranded.

1. You Am I – ‘Hi Fi Way’

It’s truly bizarre that a band that I kinda completely lost somewhere along the way still manages to wrangle my number one spot. But again I come back to the whole musical time and space connectivity argument. I think I first saw them play at the Annandale Hotel circa ‘Sound As Ever’. I remember thinking: Jagger swagger. Tick. Richardsian danger. Tick. British jangle. Tick. And once I’d finished my ticking I stood back in quiet awe that despite the whole influences on sleeve schtick, these guys sounded absolutely and undoubtedly Australian. But with ‘Hi Fi Way’, the big, thick, heavy sound of their previous outing had lost a little weight. Over the raucousness I could now hear Rogers taking me to places I recognised. Under the Glebe Point Bridge in a pair of purple sneakers. Red things to swill. Personality pills. Stagelit sweat flicking from that proboscis of his while he told us about Cathy’s Clown. And all the while I was working in five day stretches to go and see music like this on Saturday nights in pubs bursting with excited people attuned to a decade of classic music that just kept coughing up new and utterly compelling stuff like there was no off switch. We were a music factory back then. if we still are, I’m clearly immune to whatever’s in production. In the You Am I of that moment we had it all: real, raw rockin’ sounds with words that defined us and all without the need to slip into acoustified beachy barefoot strummery or folksie cliche or (dare I say it) the need for a white guy to roll out a didj and get all Ben Harper on our arses with a Weissenborn (good as it may sound’n’all).

Bloody hell, is Hi Fi Way the greatest Australian album of all time?

I don’t know.

But it was without a doubt the soundtrack to the moment when I first really opened up my eyes to how sincerely good rock music could be when it didn’t try to be anything other than Australian.

For me, at least here and now, I reckon that’s as good a yardstick as any.

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Revisiting a launch gone wrong

March, 2012 

So there’s a few radio interviews inked in for Day 1 of what shall hereafter be called ‘The Other Campaign’ so as not to confuse the six or seven people locked in on the cheesy sideshow alley that is Queensland state political pre-electoral message-jamming. (WATCH IN AWE as Anna Bligh rides a Quad bike on a farm and convinces you of her earthy humour and general go-get-’em zip! SEE the magical mystery of the unelected leader Campbell Newman as he hypnotises you with daring  talk of ‘can do’ deliverability!).

Good lord what have we let happen…

Anyhow, I digress.

Yesterday. 2-ish.

I’m running a smidge late.

The Pajero is straining a touch as I fly with so many others up the godforsaken stretch of speedway otherwise known as the M1 Motorway. I’m en route to Brissie to speak Sunsly bookliness with Tim Cox on his 612 ABC Drive program.

The phone rings. Today I get a little thrill whenever it does.  Maybe this time it’s Mike Sheahan or Caro Wilson or one of the other footy journo big wigs. Or better still it’s Jennifer Byrnes.  She’s calling up to see if I’m good for a gallop on ABC TV’s The Tuesday Book Club.  As it happened her co-host Marieke Hardy had momentarily lifted her gaze from defamation writs and spotted the glorious red of my book’s cover in among a whole stack of complimentaries from publishers everywhere. Mine stood out. Her slender fingers slowly turned the opening pages. Before she knew it she was ten chapters in and laughing in all the right spots. ‘This, at least for a sports book, is actually pretty good,” she’d said. “I’m gonna call Byrnsey.”

Christ, how could I NOT answer?

So I did.

But it’s not Jen. Nor Marieke for that matter.

Instead it’s Bernadette Young, host of Drive at 91.7 ABC Gold Coast. I’m speaking with her later this arvo. She’s calling to make sure everything was set and ready. We speak for less than thirty seconds before a blue and white checked bonnet and accompanying swirly light looms large beside me.

Officer Mirror Shades’n’ Moustache points to the kerb from behind his tinted window.

“Shit, Bern,” I say. “I’m SO knicked.”

I drop the phone to the floor and pull over.

“Shitting pissing fuck fuck!” I yell as the Paj squeaks to a halt.

I really did yell exactly that. Seriously.

Mirror Shades’n’Moustache leaves the dirty work to female Officer Short Hair In All Likelihood Lower Octaves who I now see approaching in my rear view mirror. She yanks her wraparounds from her hard, angular features and leans on my ve-hi-cle.

“Was there an emergency that necessitated your use of a mobile telecommunications device whilst driving northbound  high speed ?” she asks.

I gag on her word meal for a moment before sorting my retort. It comes out a shambles.

“I’m being interviewed,” I blurt. “I have a new book. My first. it’s out today. I’m going to be on the ABC. I’m late. I haven’t done this sort of thing before. Be interviewed that is. Not talk and drive. It’s really important. I’m distracted. I’m really sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I know I was wrong.”

I hand her a copy thinking it might somehow soften things. “Here! See?”

She reads the back cover.

“Great! Love the AFL. Played a bit in the womens’ league back in Melbourne. Tigers member since whenever. A book, huh. That’s great.”

I’m thinking warning.

She’s thinking fuck that.

$300 on the spot.

After the advance is repaid, that’s thirty sold books.

Shitting pissing fuck fuck.

“Good luck with it all,” she says cheerily.  “I’ll buy a copy for sure.”

Twenty nine books then.

Sigh. Onwards. Upwards.


Auntie’s new whizbang studios are in South Brissie.

Whereis.com doesn’t seem to agree.

It instead takes me up Coronation Drive to bloody Toowong. I pull an exasperated and highly  illegal u-turn and follow my nose back to where I’m meant to be in Grey Street, and – as the clock clicks ever closer to on-air time with Coxy – I’m  feeling a bit late night pervish as I cruise the general precinct for even the vaguest clue as to my destination.

But nup. Nuthin’.

Suitably chastened from my earlier ordeal this time I pull over to call someone who will know.

“Corner of Russell and Grey,” says the ABC receptionist. “Opposite QPAC. You can’t miss it. Car park’s underneath.”

I try again. There’s no bloody street signs. 3.00 ticks by. I’m all but due there. In vain hope I try a random laneway. Trucks and construction workers line it. The new ABC studio is still something of a work in progress, I seem to recall. This could be the right place.

But it’s not right in the slightest.

Before I can blink I’m on some kind of riverfront esplanade dodging pedestrians and steering circles around street art. There’s a big bloody ferris wheel. People eating sandwiches. Tough kids floating by on skateboards. One shoots me a snarl of death. Another flips the bird and tells me I’m a dumb fucker. In as much as one can with a hand gesture, I kind of agree.

Back on Grey Street I eventually catch a glimpse of the ABC logo through some construction hording. I swing a left into a half finished driveway. I strike luck for the first time today. This is it. I’m home. I hit a button. Security lets me in. They tell me where to park. I don’t want to be late for interviews twice on  Day 1 of The Other Campaign so anticipating the need for a quick getaway afterwards, I reverse into my allotted spot. In the rear view mirror I see one of those yellow concrete buffer stopper thingos on the ground. I inch back until I feel a bump. I yank on the handbrake, grab my things and go. When I do I see that a rather large sheet of glass behind the Paj has a whopping great crack in it. I quickly line things up (surely not?), consider the nature of the bump I’d felt (kinda standard), check the tow bar for tell-tale debris (there is none that I can see), nut out some quick geometrical calculations and finally deduce ‘nup, musta already been there’ and off I head.

Even if Clive Palmer’s latest act of mindless footballing barbarism tends to overshadow things, the interview with Coxy goes well. Money frigging with sport is one of the key themes in my book. The tie is neat enough. It’ll do nicely.

I’m signing out of the building when security ushers me over.

“Regrettably, there’s been an incident with your car, Mr Webber.”

For whatever reason – most likely some post-interview-about-my-book-stroked-ego funk –  I blank out on the prior damaged window situation. Instead I immediately think theft. Band practice tonight. I’d pre-loaded some equipment earlier on. Not the amp. Please don’t be the amp. I love that amp. Shit! Did I pack the telecaster? Not the tele. NOOOO! It was a bloody engagement present! You idiot! Why did you bring it? Please no…

The elevator door slides open. Straight away, everything taken in from a new angle, it’s only too apparent that one of two scenarios has played out. Either the concrete buffers hadn’t really been measured to accommodate a ’97 Pajero with a tow bar fitted OR said buffers weren’t designed to cope with tyres designed to climb mountains. All said and done I’ve probably touched the pane just hard enough to shatter the bastard. The Paj is a heavy old clunker. It wouldn’t take much.

So, so spewin’.

I hand my details over to the security lady and as I head southwards in bumper to bumper clutter I ponder the exchange of blame-shifting letters likely to follow. Security lady didn’t know what would come of it all. Cost unknown at this point. Glass is exy, I’m thinking. I remember the quote for the new shower screen back home gave me a godawful shock. So too the bill when the mower flicked a stone through the Paj’s back windscreen. At a guess maybe fifty books? Sixty?


I try not to think about it. I can’t. Interview #2 for The Other Campaign awaits 70 clicks south. Fire up. Get going.

There’s four traffic sedating accidents on the way home and SO not the two the way-too-chirpy Brad from the Australian Traffic Network keeps telling me about. So many viciously spat swear words later, I arrive at 91.7 ABC Coast FM. I have two minutes to spare.

Bern Young’s apologetic for my mobile-yak fine. She needn’t be. I’m just a freakin’ dunce who ought to have known better. The important thing is that she’s read the book and she enjoyed it. She asks me questions that remind me of the absolute joy it was writing the bloody thing, how proud of it I am, and how cool it is that after too many years of crap jobs I’m smack bang in the middle of something that gives me a genuine thrill. And, of course, I can’t help but be reminded of how footy, just like the day I’d just had, can absolutely relentlessly and ruthlessly ruin you until one little glimmer at the end of it all gives you reason enough to smile.

In sport, as in life, there’s always tomorrow when things go to shit.

All you can do is the only thing possible: dust yourself off and get on with it.

So I shall.

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Brendon Goddard: the rules provide; the rules take away.

The story goes that Brendon Goddard cried when back in 2002 he heard he was off to St Kilda. Apparently, too, his mother rang the St Kilda CEO and begged the Saints to let her boy go to Carlton, the club he’d been eyeing since way back when, his childhood love.

But the Blues had lost its right to the number one draft pick for systematically rorting the salary cap in the years prior. The AFL had changed the rules to punish them. By default, St Kilda jumped the queue. So as Goddard sobbed and his mother pleaded, the Saints licked their lips. In 2001 they’d snagged Luke Ball, Nick Dal Santo, Matt Maguire, Xavier Clarke and Leigh Montagna in the so-called ‘super draft’. The year before they’d nabbed the best number one draft pick in years, a key position freak named Nick Riewoldt. Now they’d snared an esteemed utility who could win his own ball, play tall or small and kick the bloody thing like a mule. For once in it’s dismal recent existence, St Kilda’s future was secure.

I remember little of Goddard’s first year beyond the rather impatient and underwhelmed mutterings of twitchy loyalists in the outer awaiting a golden egg to hatch. But I do recall one game. It was late in the season and played in long afternoon shadows at Princes Park. The Saints’ new youthful vim was finding a rhythm, the ‘measurables’ and ‘processes’ demanded of it by its dare-to-be-different coach, Grant Thomas, finally leaping off the whiteboard and making sense out on the turf. Conversely, their opponent, Carlton – hitherto Goddard’s first choice – had lost their way entirely. The Saints flogged the Blues that day. I think Fraser Gehrig kicked nine as the Saints showed off that rampant devil-may-care style that would carry them to the brink in 2004 and again in 2005. And in amongst the mayhem stood an impossibly young frame belonging to our boy Brendon. A 17-touch game. A modest return, really. But that flying mark on a wing.  The perfect arc of those raking right foot punts. Those targets hit. Such polished beginnings.

Over the next decade, Goddard would become the epitome of the Saintly cause. Together with fearless skipper Riewoldt and the endearingly brave Lenny Hayes, Goddard was one of a triumvirate of red, white and black spiritual leaders champing at the bit to win. Brow furrowed with intense passion, by his own example he’d demand plenty. He’d thump the St Kilda crest with a clenched fist and bellow like William Wallace when he kicked a goal. Three times during 2009 and 2010 he rallied his troops on Grand Final day. Three times he was all but the Saints’ best. Three times the Saints fell short – twice agonisingly so. But not even one of the game’s greatest ever high marks was enough to let his Saints take a much deserved Premiership. Perhaps all this was salt in a creeping wound. In the end the whole ordeal rendered him a kind of ghostly, craggy presence. Goddard’s recent years have been solid enough, but the colour from his game has faded. Even if his average is better than the efforts of most, a lethargy has crept in. The all-over rover of yesteryear now specialised as a playmaking quarterback, a function reserved for a spare man in defence, a player without an opponent, a man alone within the team. Eventually, this game can drain you of life. They say that if you go without food for long enough, somehow you lose the will to eat.

And so now, a decade after it all began – perhaps inevitably in hindsight – Goddard’s time as a Saint comes to an end.

Not just a little ironically it’s a rule change that sees him leave.

Free Agency – a new system that affords long serving out-of-contract players an opportunity to jump ship before they are either pushed or under-appreciated – is the culprit.

Goddard is 27. St Kilda could afford to keep him until he was 30. The Saints made an offer in keeping with Goddard’s recent form line, the figure ‘not insignificant’, a figure reflective of his place in the current St Kilda pecking order.

Essendon, with a middling contemporary history and a squad bereft of a spread of stars had room in its salary cap to make a much grander bid.

They did so to the tune of as much as $300,000 a season over four years, one year and a bucketload beyond what the Saints could hobble together, the equivalent of an unencumbered inner city Melbourne terrace over the full term of the deal. Forget this ‘one-club player, unfinished business’ bullshit. With his name on a dotted line, Goddard was instantly superannuated and some. The choice, for him, was simple. He autographed in the right places then promptly jumped on a plane to the USA ‘for a holiday’ and away from the public glare – a far cry from the badge-beating tyro who so courageously carried his share of St Kilda’s hopes for so long.

Commentators pondered the wisdom of Essendon spending so much on a player two seasons post his peak. Others argued a change would see the fire return to Goddard’s game. Some raised an eyebrow at the ethics attached to an Essendon Board-member’s deal-sweetening offer of a job. Most however moved quickly onto which trade would likely to draw headlines strong enough to encroach upon the start the A-League, domestic cricket and Spring Carnival Racing seasons.

Among St Kilda people, reactions swung from the furious to the philosophical. But for every die-hard screaming bloody mutiny there exists plenty of rationalists. Every player has a price, they say. Money saved now can be better spent later. And we get a compensation pick. We might even get someone better. For them, the past is quickly glossed over. The future is where glory lies.

As a proud – if battered – St Kilda man I’m not sure where I sit on it all. Rage is so futile, disappointment so wasteful, and pragmatism so cold. I do think back to my brief time working at the Gold Coast Suns, though, and in particular the night of the 2010 National Draft. At one point I found myself up close to the action while some of the big name recruits had their destinations read out to a full room and a national television audience. Backstage, I listened in as they discussed who would go where. The surprising revelation to me was that the colour of their new jumper mattered nil. Instead, for them, it was all about the opportunity to play, to compete, to be recognised as part of a collective rather than as one of a subset. My reaction at the time was shock at the weird kind of sporting androgyny of it all. And with the ink still drying on Brendon Goddard’s new ground-breaking deal, I again wallow in the same pond. More and more the things we hope for in this game – sepia-tinted things performed by semi-professionals when jumpers were woollen and grounds did not have rooves – are not a reflection of reality. Not even close.

As if we needed reminding, this game is now a hard, ruthless, expensive business.

At moments like this I wonder for how long we will continue to pretend it represents something more.

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A new little blob of fiction…

This little story of mine published last month in a most impressive new magazine called White Horses.

Go to www.whitehorses.com.au for a perve. Well worth it, I assure you. Gra Murdoch and team do an amazing job I reckon.

I have another little tale in Issue 3 too.

The Bar

The English girl was squat-fit in the way backpackerettes often are. Benaud brown as a berry and muscular arms buried under a layer of beergarden cheer.

I couldn’t remember her name. It was killing me.

That was her camper out front, the one with boards stacked four high. Her co-pilot – Chelsea, like the football team (didn’t forget that one, did I) – was in there sleeping off last night in Batemans Bay.

Back home they surfed in Cornwall, she said.

Even in July, here was a spa-bath by comparison.

Here was Merimbula, more precisely the bottom bar of some pub, name unknown. Bright fluoro globes made the place feel like a triage nurse should be lurking behind the glass screen instead of the bored bloke running the TAB tickets. Place was a funk of recycled smoke and stale grog. Outside stank too -low-tide mudflats and exposed oyster beds. We’d already joked about which whiff was worse, this girl and I.

Thought I mighta had her when the conversation stumbled onto music and our shared thing a thing for RL Burnside and all that ballsy blues that Possum Records churned out for a bit back then. I played guitar, I told her. She grabbed my hands, gave them a once over, and smiled when she ran her fingers over the calloused steel-string ruts.

“There’s blokes who play and then there’s blokes who say they play,” she said.

I’d caught her attention with the truth. It seemed a good place to start.

Problem, though.

I didn’t really surf. Not well, anyway. And definitely not often. But she did. Lived for it. Hunted it. I had a 9’2” log tattooed with some defunct AM radio station’s call sign. It was a promo board, a Taiwanese factory slab with a cheap plastic fin and black garage crud melted into the wax. No cred. Not a zot.

Cue Peter ‘Quacky’ Dunn. He’d grown up on the beaches – Freshy in Sydney, Curly for a bit. Up and downed Baja in a Ford pickup truck and been to Indo twice. Maldives was next on his radar. Good with his dough, Quack. Or tight, depending on your perspective.

“Cornwall, huh?” he said, eyes ablaze with opportunity. “Surfed Gwenver in a bloody balaclava. Balls like peas after. Couldn’t feel my lips. And that wall at Newquay…”

Her face opened up like the dawn.

“My parents are in Newquay,” she said.

Quack ran with it like he always did. Like he still does.

“I’m Pete.”

“I’m Kate.”

Kate. Fuck it.

So Quack quacked and she listened. Later Creedence filled the room. The 4/4 chugalug suited him to a T. Prick could save money, surf and dance. He took Kate’s hand and egged her on and they were off, laughing and spinning on the carpet in among dribble-drunk fisho’s and a few pissy surfie toughs. I grabbed a stool and nursed two slow ones while Adelaide hauled in Hawthorn in the wet at Footy Park on a small, silent screen. Dasher arrived while I was lip-reading the post game interviews.

“That road’s so shit,” he said. “Better be some bloody waves.”

“Something between millpond and surfable at the Bar,” I told him.

“Better’n nuthin’. Beer?”

We chucked a few back before voting unanimously to celebrate the glory of the far south with Dasher’s homegrown.

“Seems only right to mark the occasion,” he said.

We wrapped two big ones under torchlight on the street directory in his mum’s Meteor, washed them down with takeaway MB’s and took in that oyster stink from the bonnet. John Cougar Mellencamp twanged from a tape inside the car.

“People bag him, but I don’t care,” Dasher said.

And as the haze descended, neither did I.


Back at the pad the door to the big bedroom’s shut. I stick my ear to it and all I can hear is shhh and pretty English giggles and I’d have been envious if it weren’t for the weed anvil dragging my jellied brain into the muck. Dasher’s oblivious (still is). He starts rolling again and pisses himself when he sneezes his preparatory work over the balcony’s edge.

More beer.

I drag out the twelvie from its case and pick at G’s and C’s while he recommences production. We burn his one, then I craft another while the frozen lasagne we nabbed at the servo en route heats through. Memories tumble. Conquests. The night we dropped acid and drove to the Valhalla to see A Clockwork Orange. He hid under the seats and mumbled; I thought my popcorn was talking French. Then that time we squirted pie sauce on a mouthy drunk boiler in the 7-11.

It’s bloody late.

More G’s and C’s. The odd D. Night’s over when I push an A minor into the mix. Dasher gets the nods in his director’s chair. I’m too cooked to haggle over the single bed in the second room so I take the couch. I lie there and listen hard for more English giggles but there’s no sound. Before I figure if that’s a good or a bad thing, I’m gone.


In the dim light of way too bloody early Kate’s hair’s a mess as she clinks about in the kitchen in her new fella’s school footy jumper, the one with ‘Quacky’ embroidered on the front and 89 ironed onto the rear. Thing dangles round her knees. Her calves are strong. I bet she was a runner. Hockey maybe. They play that over there, don’t they? I shift. She looks over.

“Sorry. I’m not much of a sleeper,” she says. “You want tea?”

“Might as well,” I croak.

I need a piss, and when I’m back she’s looking glum on a seat outside nursing a mug in both hands, knees tucked up. My cup’s on the table next to her in among all the mull crumbs from last night. Not long ago we’d sweep all that shit up. Scratch out a cone, maybe two. The twelvie’s still leans there. I pick it up and slot it back in its coffin.

“I heard you playing,” she says. “You’re good.”

She’s about to say something else but Quacks’s spidery frame in the doorway distracts her. He gives me the quiz-eye then massages the back of her neck. She purrs. I resent it.

“Kate’s gonna come for a wave,” he announces. Then he’s stretching out his long paddler’s arms, fresh as a bloody bean, a root and four hours up on me, the arsehole.

“I’ll give Dasher a nudge,” I say and leave them to it.


My paddling’s clumsy, too far forward, too far back, and the others forge ahead while I flounder in the channel like a dickhead. I’m just over half way when Dunny swings into a little one, but it’s weak and he hasn’t got enough board underneath him. Kate and Dasher both nab the third in the set. He sweats on her going right, but she flicks left, cross-foots it and shoots at him like a torpedo. He bails out, equal parts polite and indignant, then sinks upright into the well behind. When I finally catch up, the lull’s on. Crossed arms and hunched, silent frames: waking, waiting, shivering. Kate rejoins at a distance, settles on a spot closer in. She tilts her head to the side and squeezes water from her hair. The pink of her cheeks leaps out against all the slate and charcoal and pre-sun sand. She catches me looking at her. I turn away and lock in on a container ship way out, a big steel seagull on a wiry horizon.

Bumps eventually arrive. I pick the second one on the wide bank. I go early and hard to give myself a run at it and just as I think the fucker’s too fat and I’m too bloody unfit, a fortuitous little lip tosses me forward and I’m off. The board finds it’s own high line, and when I bend my knees I drop into a fast gliding arc and my face cuts the morning ice and the world surges under me. And for a flicker there – no more than a frame – I catch Kate’s blues eyes down the line. I glide onto a fat shoulder and sink gently into the foam. When I rise again and break the surface she’s the first thing I see.

And she’s still looking.



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