OF FISHING, FOOTY & A COUNTRY MUSIC LEGEND

We approach an unpretentious white building, overgrown with shrubbery. A couple of empty beer barrels and a few other chattels clutter the entrance to the Darwin Railway Club.

The outer suburb of Parap is typically Darwin – multi-cultural, good eateries, a thriving little shopping centre, which, on Saturdays mornings during the Dry season, comes alive to host the popular Parap market.

But on this Friday evening all the side streets are chockers.   Parking is at a premium. Troy Casser-Daly’s in town and he’s appearing before a sell-out crowd.

The Railway Club, I discover, has a reputation for attracting good muso’s , but it’s a bit of a coup to lure Troy. He is on his way to Kununurra for a festival and has stopped by for a one-nighter.

Boots and Akubras, thongs, singlets, ultra-casual gear, blokes who have come straight from a hard day’s yakka and their female mates with stubbies in hand are the order of the night. $15 pizzas are on the menu and two tattooed, dreadlocked barmaids go hell for leather to cope with the demand of the thirsty patrons.

You’d think, by the diversity and rowdiness of the crowd, that any minute someone could be sent sprawling across the darkened floor, sparking an almighty ‘blue’.

But no, they’re a cheerful lot and they give Troy a hearty welcome when he climbs onto the tiny, crowded stage and gingerly manoeuvres his way between the instruments, to the microphone.

In no time he has them in the palm of his hands. There was a moment when you sensed : ‘he’s lovin’ this’ – as his audience rocked, waved and danced for a good hour and a half. It’s a terrific vibe. He has engaged brilliantly with them and you just feel – ‘gee, what a natural bloke’…………….

 

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It’s a great time to be visiting the Top End. Everything’s still nice and green and the Dry is just starting to kick in. The humidity has all but disappeared, even though it’s pretty hot when we arrive a couple of days earlier.

Charles Darwin University’s Graduation Day is on at at the swanky Entertainment Centre and, of course, it’s ‘no show without punch’ – we’ve secured an invite to this red-letter event.

Just to idle away a bit of time beforehand, I wander down to the Wharves, where you never fail to come across a character or two if you strike up a conversation.

This bloke looks a bit way-out . He’s checking some lines that he has dangled over the pier, into the water below. I ask him if he’s having any luck.

‘Nah, buddy.’

A couple more questions tease out his life-story : “………..Hey, I just travel around. I’m a Queenslander….. Come here the other day from Broome. There’s all my belongings behind me”……. He points to his swag. It’s where he caught some shut-eye last night, he tells me.

I ask him how he liked Broome……’Alright…..worked as a chef, but lost me job. That’s why I’m here…..The head chef’s hand accidentally slipped into some boiling water.”

That’s bad luck, I sympathise……..”Not really. He’s pulled a knife on me, the prick ……..Cost me 43 f……..n thousand bucks a year, mate.”

He tells me he was a professional fisherman a few years back , but lost his license when the AFA (I don’t want to interrupt him, but presume that’s the Australian Fisherman’s Association) introduced drug-testing.

“I got done for testing positive to cannabis. So now I just do me own thing.” I’m wondering whether this fellah’s having a lend of me, but then, his crazy eyes tell me he’s probably fair dinkum.

I leave him in peace………..

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There’s a smorgasbord of sport in the Top End at any given time. This week-end you have the choice of Kenya’s national cricket team playing a couple of one-dayers against a Territory XI, the local Rugby League and Union competitions, among assorted others.

And my luck is in. The Territory Thunder, the representative Aussie Rules team, is pitted against Canberra Demons . Marrara is my destination on this warm, balmy evening.

The Thunder, the reigning NEAFL premiers, are almost invincible at home, but dropped a rare match to Southport last week and are keen to atone. They do so in no uncertain manner by blitzing Canberra to the tune of 98 points.

They are irresistible; too quick and skilful, and produce a brand of football which shows up the Demons.

The roar of the crowd in the cavernous Marrara grandstand, boosted by a contingent of U.S marines, gives you the impression that it numbers a couple of times more than the 500 in attendance. But they create a good atmosphere, even though the locals don’t seem to get as rapt up in it as their own unique, Wet Season footy.

There was talk at the end of the NTFL season that players from a couple of clubs – St.Mary’s and Wanderers – were at loggerheads. It followed a Grand Final bust-up and they were reportedly not keen to play alongside each other at the Thunder.

But strained relationships have been repaired and everything seems to have been smoothed over.

Former St.Kilda player Xavier Clarke is the coach of the Thunder and has the job of moulding this group into a cohesive unit.

Xav learnt his football at St.Mary’s, the fabulously successful premiership factory. He suffered a number of back and hamstring problems at St.Kilda, which restricted him to 105 games over seven years.

When he was traded to Brisbane, the injury curse hit again and he lasted just a half a game in his one and only appearance with the Lions.

But he’s a Darwin boy at heart and is thriving on the coaching job. His brother, Raph, who played many of his 85 AFL games alongside him at St.Kilda, is now back home and is also on the N.T list.

Xavier led the Thunder to a flag last year and is a fair chance to emulate that feat in 2016. He harbours a desire to further his coaching ambitions and would come under the radar if he clinched another title.

But, would he be able to forego the Top End life-style again ? He’s a laid-back fellah and loves his fishing and family.

It’s my bet that he’s a Darwin lad for life……..

 

 

 

 

THE NORTHERN SAFARI

Early October in Darwin. It’s hot, but not unbearable. The locals inform you, with a knowing smile, that the ‘Build-Up’ is coming.

The monsoonal ‘Wet Season’ storms that spectacularly light up the sky and send the vegetation into an explosion of color and vivacity, will be accompanied by a sweltering and uncomfortable humidity.

The footy season starts this week and the usual collection of ‘southerners’ have made their way to the Territory capital to top-up each of the eight teams. They will be of varying types, quality and character. Some will be back home by Christmas, either because of the heat, homesickness or because they’ve underestimated the standard of footy. In other words – they haven’t been able to get a kick.

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m sitting under the Mabel Griffin Scoreboard at Nightcliff Oval, in the gathering dusk. Eager young lads, sweating, straining at the leash, are going through their paces. My mind goes back 43 years………..   ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I made the northern football pilgrimage in 1971.

Cutting myself free from the umbilical cord of the Rovers, to which I had been attached since birth, was painful, but ahead lay the prospect of broadening my horizons.

There were no pretensions that I was about to ignite some latent football ability. I was a scrubber.

A short piece, recently written by a fellow battler, Jarod Newton, about his own travails, summed me up to a tee:

……”Every footy club has at least one. He’s never going to tear a game apart, yet he’s at the heart of footy and footy clubs. He is the battler. He’s the bloke who comes off the bench for short bursts, the bloke who is the scapegoat for supporters. He frustrates his coach. He runs the water when he’s injured, sells his raffle tickets and never misses training. When he’s omitted from the side, as he will be every season at some point, he takes the knock, admits his failings and swears he’ll stand up in the reserves to put himself back into contention.”……….

So I packed up the old grey and white EK Holden and ventured forth. The first port-of-call was Brisbane.

Having little driving experience outside Wang I found bang in the middle of a traffic jam in the city, on arrival, on a busy Friday afternoon. I panicked, the EK stalled, a cacophony of tooting horns from exasperated drivers heightened my predicament.

There was a contact at one of the old, traditional QAFL clubs, Coorparoo so, in a trice I became a Navy Blue and could, in latteryears, boast that Jason Dunstall and I both occupied the goal-square at Giffin Oval.

Most of you have vivid memories of the great games you have played over your careers, but I’d like to tell you about the only day I felt that I ever elevated my performance to another plateau. Unfortunately, it was a mere practice match, held in front of a handful of onlookers.

I experienced the sensation of flying gracefully through the air for marks, clunking them with authority, then swivelling in mid-air and shooting bullet-like Polly Farmer-style handballs to team-mates many metres away. The Sherrin, on this memorable occasion, seemed to be under my spell.

Aha, I privately marvelled. Inside this slovenly body is encased a superstar. But alas, despite initially causing club officials’ hearts to flutter, this proved something of a mirage.

It was a great experience with the ‘Roos. Our form tapered and we eventually missed the finals, but this was soon forgotten amidst the anticipation of a four-day trek across the nation.

What a relief to arrive in Darwin and stretch the legs at last. Alighting from the dusty red Monaro to which I had now upgraded, an incredible wave of heat forced me to rush to the comfort of the nearest air-conditioned bar.

Four hours later, after renewing acquaintances with an old mate, Frank Griffin, I was introduced to a new set of team-mates at training. Knowing ‘Griffo’ from old, I knew that he would have given the Nightcliff boys an inflated description of my limited ability.

In the fading light of that first session, they appeared to be a combination of black, brown, brindle and white and the darker it got the more sinister they looked.

But they were a terrific lot of blokes. The first piece of advice I received was to keep the fluids up and remember: “up here beer is medicinal”!

Nightcliff had won three flags in their brief history and were originally known as Works & Housing. The club’s roots were heavily steeped in the Public Works sector.

So they found, or gifted, me a job as a ‘Scaffolder’. Hell, I had no idea even what a scaffolder was, let alone operate as one.”Don’t worry”, they said. “All you’ve gotta do is get the boys lunch, morning and afternoon tea and clean up a bit after them”.

Nightcliff (The Tigers ), boasted some of the NTFL’s stars among their ranks. Probably their smoothest mover was Kenny Bonson, a Nicholls Medallist and former coach.

The Bonsons were famous in Darwin footy, as were many other families, like the Lew Fatts, Motlops, Coopers, Ah Matts, Roes, Muirs, Tyes, Stokes’ and Longs.

The up-and-coming star of the side was a teen-aged rover called Joe Daby, who was to become a 5-time club B & F and dual Nicholls Medallist. His side-kick was a tiny bundle of energy called Greg ‘Muscles’ Adams.

Wayne Radbone, an ex-Sturt player, had taken on the coaching job and in mid-season Keith Pattinson, a SANFL star arrived. Among the southern influx was a red-headed former Carlton Reserves player, John Kemp, who achieved some sort of fame within the club by sleeping in his car throughout the season.

The Tigers trained at their home, Nightcliff Oval, but most games were played at the historic Gardens Oval.

We were a middle-of-the-road side, being no match for Darwin, who were chasing something like their fourth flag in a row. But we managed to scramble into the First Semi-final against St. Mary’s.

In a bruising encounter, which culminated in an all-in brawl in the last quarter, the Saints proved too strong and ran away to win by 20 points.

“…..There were more cautions handed out in 10 minutes in this game than by a referee in a tag – wrestling match…….”, the NT News proclaimed.

My sayonara to the NTFL came the following Tuesday evening. Summonsed to the Old Darwin Court House, the tribunal meted out a two-week sentence for striking a feisty Saint whose name has always stayed in my mind – Leon Puruntatameri.

There was plenty of time to ponder my misfortune. The next day the Monaro cruised onto the Stuart Highway and I tentatively began to negotiate the 4,000km journey home. The Northern Safari was over………

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