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……..

 

 

 

 

A WEEK-END AT THE FOOTY

Darwin, mid-December….. Soaring temperatures,…brooding,overcast skies….sweltering humidity…..,’Mango madness’.

It’s said that when there are mangoes in the markets of Darwin there is madness in the streets of Australia’s northern-most football stronghold.

My girls assume that I’ve caught a dose of the common Territory affliction when I leave the comforts of an air-conditioned apartment to venture to TIO Stadium at Marrara on this Saturday afternoon.

At least the Grandstand offers some shade, but, as a newly-arrived southerner, you still feel as though you’ve stepped into a sauna. There’s a handy crowd in, as the first game of a triple-header – Palmerston versus Southern Districts – gets under way in the heat of the afternoon.

Territory footy has a flavour like no other competition in the nation.

The fact that it’s played in the wet season, from October to late-March enables clubs to scour down south for players to top up their ranks. They’ll require a bit of ability, though, and will need to be able to adapt to a style which is absolutely offensive and is focused on pace, pace and more pace.

There are some big names on display today. Matthew Stokes, recently delisted by Geelong, is back home and is saddling up for Palmerston (the Magpie Geese), as is ex-Melbourne speedster Leroy Jetta.

Southern Districts have been the form side so far, and good judges have them firming as favourites for the flag.

But this is not their day. They are convincing in the first term, with former Western Bulldogs and Wangaratta big man Ed Barlow mopping up well in the back line and ex-Brisbane Lion Jarred Brennan in good touch behind the ball.

They lead by three goals at quarter-time, then proceed to kick 3.15 for the remainder of the game, to go down by 24 points to a Palmerston side, inspired by the brilliance of the breathtakingly quick Leroy Jetta.

The much-heralded St.Mary’s, who have just about the best record of any major-league club in Australia, face off against an arch rival, Darwin Buffaloes in a keenly-awaited twilight encounter.

Saints, after a slightly slow start to the season, are beginning to click into gear. They’ve won their last 4 games and are gradually filtering in most of their big guns.
They are still below full-strength and some people doubt whether they’ll be able to overcome Buffs, who have won seven straight.

One of the competition’s traditional powers, Buffs have struggled in recent years, but, according to the experts, are looking the goods.

They have included an old Melbourne and Carlton diehard Brock McLean in their side. Brock was a handy utility player in his 157 AFL games but appears to have lost a yard. He gains possession a few times, only to fumble the sweat-laden football, or be swamped by a nippy Saint on each occasion.

You could see, early on, that he’s eager to get into the clinches, but seems to be struggling for fitness. The longer the game wears on, the less impact he has, and by siren-time he appears ‘shot’.

St.Mary’s lead by a comfortable three goals at half-time and their coach, Rick Nolan, implores them to pile on the pressure in the third term. “You know these blokes are all talk. They’ll crack if you keep working hard.”

And they do, going out to a 44-point lead before letting up a bit in the last quarter, and winning by 30.

They have some talented youngsters, but the bloke that I like is, Ignatius Vallejo, an old-style defender, who cleared the ball time and again.

‘Iggy’ has played over 300 games with the Saints and figured in 8 premierships. It’s hard to fathom how he slipped through the AFL recruiting net. He is the sort of player who has made St.Mary’s the club they are and is one of the greats of N.T footy.

Wanderers and Waratahs square off under lights. The ‘Tahs’ have had a disastrous season, having lost every game. But they have all their fly-in players on deck for this game and are optimistic about their chances.

It’s a tough, relentless match and it is the famous Motlops (there are five of them playing) who provide the leadership for Dean Rioli’s Wanderers. Shane Thorne, a former Western Bulldog, kicks 5 goals, as the Eagles hold on to win by 28 points.It snaps a 4-game losing streak for the reigning premiers.

On Sunday I strolled around to the Nightcliff Oval for the clash between the Tigers and the visiting Tiwi Bombers.

Of all the games, this provided the most exhilarating display. The Bombers, who have been indifferent this season, really turned it on and belted the home team by 11 goals.

Their side contained 4 Puruntatameris’, 2 Kerinaiuas’, 2 Tipuamantimirris’ and 2 Tipungwitis’ and their dazzling array of skills just left the Tigers for dead.

The star of the show was Ross Tungatulum, the recruit who fired Wodonga Raiders last season. Every time ‘Rocco’ went near the ball there was a buzz and you just knew he was going to do something with it. He kicked 6 goals and was largely responsible, along with Austin Wonaeamirri, for their 8 goals to 2 opening quarter.

They led by 52 points at half-time and I expressed my delight at their display to an old-timer, Freddie Adams, who was standing nearby.

‘Yair, mate, but can they run it out ? That’s their problem,” he said.

There were to be no lapses today, however. They booted 23 goals to blitz Nightcliff by 66 points, much to the delight of their yabbering fans and happy coach Willie Rioli.

One of their players, Harley Puruntatameri, is the subject of a racism claim from left-field that has been swirling around the NTFL in the past couple of weeks.
Southern Districts star, Ben AhMat, a former Nichols Medallist, has accused Puruntatameri of calling him a white c….

It’s a strange one – a footballer with Aboriginal and Caucasian blood claiming he has been abused by an Aboriginal.

AhMat has asked the NTFL what they’re going to do about the matter. The League wants to follow the rule book with a handshake and apology.

But, as they argue, in a multicultural city like Darwin where skin colour and different cultures merge into one, is that enough ?

It’s just another slice of drama in the weird and wonderful world of Territory football.