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  • Ned Manning

A Tale of the Unexpected in Melbourne

When we moved to Melbourne from Sydney I was brimful with expectation. I was embarking on a sea change, albeit in reverse. Rather than heading north to the beach, I was heading south to the bay.


What I could not have expected was how the move would pan out and what would dominate my five years in one of the world’s “most liveable cities”.


As my wife was settling into her new role as Artistic Director of the Malthouse Theatre she was asked if I liked sport. It’s not the sort of question a new AD is usually asked in a foyer. Most inquiries are related to the theatrical ambitions of the interlocutor. Not many are about the world outside the theatre, let alone a partner’s interests.


The fact is I do like sport and before long was rolling the arm over at the nets with a bunch of fellow travellers. It was fun and a good way to break the ice in a new city. We even had a game. Then the cricket gear was packed away and my host invited me for a “kick”. I’ve used inverted commas for a reason. I should have used capitals but that would give the game away.


Being a bit of a sporting adventurer and needing an excuse to get away from the desk, I accepted. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for.


I joined an eclectic bunch of men and (from time to time) women and began a journey of discovery. For, this wasn’t any old bunch of guys kicking a ball around. This was a bunch of guys who took kicking a ball very seriously and managed to create an incredible support group in the process.


I hadn’t kicked a ball for a long time. At least twenty years. The last ball I had kicked was a soccer ball. Decades before that, a rugby ball. I had my 60th birthday a few months before my first “kick”. It didn’t occur to me that I was about to learn, with varying degrees of success, a whole new skill set.


The first thing I learnt was that we weren’t kicking a ball. We were kicking a footy. More specifically, a Sherrin. A Sherrin is more than a ball, it is a kind of religious artefact. It requires particular attention. It needs to be rubbed with Dubbin, buffed and blown up to exactly the right pressure. In terms of religious significance it is akin to a chalice.


I had trouble with the Sherrin. I had trouble catching it, let alone kicking it. I can catch a cricket ball but the Sherrin was elusive. I was meant to run for it and take it “on the burst” (as we say in NSW). My efforts “on the burst” usually resulted in my arriving at the Sherrin’s destination way after it had hit the deck. I was to learn this makes the kicker look bad. It probably explains why some of my new team mates seemed to kick anywhere but in my direction. They didn’t want to be made to look bad and lose valuable B&F points. Others, the nurturers in the group, actively sought me out and kicked, or handballed, to me. They smiled empathetically as I grassed another sitter.


As for my kicking, it was diabolical. I had no idea how bad I was. If I had been more sensitive I would have realised that I was close to outstaying my welcome as yet another kick slid off the side of my boot and over the fence.


The thing was that these guys were incredibly tolerant. They forgave my dreadful skills, they forgave my age and lack of speed, they forgave my attempts at ironic humour.


The one thing they didn’t forgive was the fact that I came from NSW. That was never forgiven and never forgotten.


I had no idea Sydney has such a bad rep. Especially amongst footy kickers.


Having a kick was about more than footy though. As madly obsessive as everyone was about the game they were even more madly obsessive about looking after each other.


As I got to know my way around the oval I realised that this was a kind of footy half way house that catered for all types of drifters, vagabonds, lawyers, doctors, educators and even octogenarians.


It was as all inclusive as the real game is.


Whenever I was feeling lost or a little blue I knew I had the “kick” to look forward to. I knew that all anyone was interested in was whether I could master the drop punt and take a mark. That, in itself, was quite liberating.  


I didn’t quite master anything but I did forge new friendships and get an insight into what makes Melbourne such a surprising place to live.

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© 2020 by Ned Manning.