My Aunty Hannah is an artist: a former-painter, but now a ceramicist. I remember ‘artist’ was how she was introduced to my brother and myself as boys: she had been living in the Netherlands for some years and my first proper memories of her are only as a boy, about 4-5. ‘Artist’ was used as a way of explaining her unorthodox way of behaving, talking, and most importantly, arguing with my engineer father.
I meet her with her friend, Michael – also a ceramicist – whom lives between Adelaide and Manila. ‘He is in the top 15 in the Philippines, but, here in Adelaide, he is just ‘Michael on the bike’; she jokes about his anonymity here in comparison to his success ‘back home’.
Hannah says, ‘it is funny how you have kept up your interest in footy. Your father and your brother don’t seem to have kept it up.’ She continues: ‘I hate it. I hate the sound of it. If my father didn’t go to the games, he would always be out in the back shed with the radio on; listening to the footy commentary. That monotonous, rhythmic, sound grated me somehow. I couldn’t understand what propelled his excitement in the game. Dad – your grandfather – would go off with grandpa – your great-grandfather – to games, and they would come home arguing and fighting with each other. They would talk to each other as if they had actually taken part in the game. It was like they were angry with the other person for not actually having kicked a goal, or kicked it to a certain player.’
I visited her at her crowded suburban home: full of works by others and herself and a large TV and the superfluous elements of her adult son’s life. Hannah handed me a black and white photograph of my grandfather holding a football; poised, footy-card style. He’s standing in front of a hedge and has thin, but tightly muscled arms. I barely recognise him. I tell her how I too remember him listening to the footy while doing his work in the back garage of Helmsdale Avenue. I never remember him making any gestures of pleasure or disappointment at the result; he seemed too focused on his job at hand. I was only fluent in VFL and couldn’t understand the different language of SANFL.
Hannah then gives me a Sherrin she picked up from the local op-shop. It has the marking of the school to which it once belonged. She gives it to me half-jokingly, smirking, I ask her too, half-jokingly: ‘you don’t need it? Anthony doesn’t need it?’ Anthony is her rap dancing, Mandarin-speaking son, who not long ago, asserted that he was ‘Yellow’. No, he too, was not interested in footy; let alone the footy itself. It’s flat of course and a touch faded. But still retains its vitality.
Uncle Steve and I parked the car on a narrow street in suburban north Adelaide: Prospect. Parking is only allowed on one side of the road and many spots were taken. He finally squeezed his sedan next to a driveway and we stepped out onto the pavement. A middle-aged couple, greeted us and said, ‘enjoy the game’. Steve was in his North Adelaide Roosters red scarf, I was anticipating the evening game in my Richmond cap. We turned left into Don Lindner Walk and could already hear the cheering of the pro-North crowd.
We bought our tickets: $8 for a pensioner (Steve was apparently above 60) and $14 for a regular adult. The ticket was a simple paper stub and a second staff member was afoot to place the ticket into a perspex box: tickets would be then checked against the till – no, you cannot keep your ticket. A pillar holding up the grandstand, was painted in red and white and listed North Adelaide’s premierships; the last of which came in the distant year of 1991.
‘At which end do you want to stand, Steve?’
‘Well, “The Fuller End” of course’.
Behind us was Don Lindner Walk, and to the left, just outside of the ground, was the bowling green. We made our way past the coffee cart, hot-dog stand and the drinks shed. The pro-North stronghold was on the wing and in the stand. It was spacious and relatively quiet on the southern (Robran) end and its eastern pocket. This was the end that Steve could remember watching from when he came as a boy with his father, Clemence, and other relatives. “I haven’t been here since Dad died.” Twenty-six years had passed since his death: the SANFL was no longer a parallel league to that of the newly-minted AFL: it was now marginal. A source of potential AFL recruits, and for those on their way down from the big league.
The net behind the goals remained up during the game. There was perhaps a gap of only one or two meters between the low-fence and the boundary line. The proximity of the playing field to the terraces, the shallow pockets, and the sparse crowd meant the sounds of the game travelled easily. We heard the collisions of flesh on flesh; the striking of the boot on the leather ball, and of course the arguments between team-mates and opposition. The hecklers too in the crowd could convey their abuse, sarcasm and encouragement knowing that they would be heard by the players. The players too would be able to trace from where the abuse came.
‘Don’t you like losing, South’.
‘Come on, North, this is the quarter!’
Steve regretted the passing of the locally-made pasties. Vili’s had asserted themselves as official pastry of Prospect and their name adorned the scoreboard. A nearby bakery had supplied the pasties an pies in the past and were walked around through the crowd by itinerant sellers. The crowded terraces would have made movement difficult: now, the fans in the nearly-empty terraces made the short walk to stalls set up on the south-western pocket.
‘We would go and have lunch at grandma and grandpa’s before the game, and then walk down here. After the game, we’d have a debrief while having some kind of tea and cake. Although we lived down near Glenelg, North was always our team. Dad might have had a soft-spot in his later years for Glenelg, but he retained his animosity to other clubs: particularly Norwood and Port Adelaide.’
North win easily and the supporters pass under the grandstand on to the quiet suburban street. There is a pinkish winter-light falling upon the hills. I begin my walk to another footy ground to watch another game. The game had been a medium to imagine the intensities of Adelaide footy rivalries and to imagine the footy anxieties of my grandfather. These are the same terraces.