Back street Aussie Rules.
Here the rules are god given, and the oaks and maples struggle for life in the valley clay soils of parched Victorian country Bendigo. They remember me and watch in silence as I climb the hill toward the forest of eucalypts which growl darkly against the morning sky of my youth. The paddock where I kicked a football seems to slope more acutely than I remember.
Long weedy grass clumps and tussocks grow where a hundred thousand voices roared as I soared above the pack to grab the mark of the century. I fired long punts and wobbly drop kicks at galahs that swung in shrieking pink and grey fits from sagging telegraph lines. I fired stab passes at my sisters who came with messages from my mother about dinner getting cold. They dodged or batted the ball away in annoyance. I bounced the ball and ran fiercely around my little brother who represented all defenders and non red and white players on earth. His laughter as he tried to lay a hand on me still rings as the forest trees rub together in the warm evening wind. The forest seems to suffer the drought more easily than the lonely maples and oaks.
I had wanted to wear skin tight skimpy shorts like the men did. I was unaware in my innocence of their bulging meanings below bright jumpers with numbers. I tore the sleeves from my best jumper and paid the price, but for three beautiful hours I ruled an empty paddock like Royce Hart, underpants knotted at the side to look like home shorts.
The citadels of glory were distant hopes for us, the country lads destined for hay carting and shallow marriage pools. Certain girls seemed to be attracted to the forwards, and some to rugged defenders. Some girls played with us for a while but dropped away as games grew more fierce and physical. They only flirted then.
I wander further up the slope away from the paddocks, into the tall dry weeds, and sit at the edge of the eucalypts. Their smell crackles through me tinged with wattle.
I have just returned from Uluru in Australia’s heart, where red morning suns crack through damp earth, releasing the children of Mutitjulu like swarming bees around a red leather balloon. They play football in mobs laughing and diving and creating new edges in ancient ways. I wanted to play with them but they are too fast and inventive. At their age I kicked end to end with a couple of mates. How stable and constrained we were compared to these red dust scamps with their twisting, bundling, melting, black scramble. They break apart squealing and colliding again, colliding each other into the dust.
From up here the old maples look distant, sagging beneath their transplanted expectations and Uluru now only a hazy memory. The rules are made but who are they for? It’s a question of culture the one hundred thousand throats shriek.