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Coodabeens at Tarrawingee

I’m not a footy person. But even I have been vaguely aware of the unpretentious, quintessentially Aussie charms of the Coodabeen Champions for decades. Saturday morning, I’d be walking through the kitchen, on my way to do something else, and I’d catch a snippet of their conversation and stop and listen for a few minutes, charmed and tickled, even though most of the time I didn’t know who and what they were talking about.

When we arrive at our daughter and her partner’s place outside Beechworth it’s freezing and there’s a pot of tea and a roaring fire to welcome us.  We ask their plans for the weekend, they mention that the Coodabeens are broadcasting live from Tarrawingee – just a short drive away. My husband needs no encouragement to watch some ‘real footy’, and, somewhat to his surprise, I say I’d love to come along.

On our way to the ground we listen in to the fellahs on 774 and chuckle along with the show. As we get close to the live broadcast, the signal falters and crackles, but we pay our admission fee at the rickety entry booth, pass the girls’ netball courts on the right, park the car and wander over to the main pavilion, past the guys making ‘Egg and Bacon Rolls $4.00’ and the ladies selling cuppas and lollies, and there they are: the Coodabeens wisecracking gently, surrounded by a small crowd.

They are sitting at a long table – several trestles jammed together, with a black tablecloth covered with the ABC logo. There are a few techies mooching around, and they are facing the footy ground where they can see, at this time of day, the thirds; a team of tiny guys who don’t look robust enough to last 100 minutes of this tough contact sport. But not many people are watching the footy.

When we arrive, they are interviewing one of the local players who is hilarious. He’s a gifted mimic, and I am captivated, even though I don’t know all the people he is mimicking. He does a fine Sam Newman and Bruce McAvaney and a couple of others I’m unfamiliar with, and the crowd loves it, hovering around, cameras and mobile phones clicking quietly.

He is a very funny guy, but I realise that part of the genius of the Coodabeens is that they make everybody sound amusing, without taking the piss. They interview an older guy who, my husband tells me, is St Kilda legend Bob Murray. His face is like a relief map of craggy hills and valleys and he has an iron grey moustache. He dons his headphone/mike set looking as dour as an old Scottish Presbyterian, but once he starts talking, we start chuckling and his much-lived-in face lights up with a wry, sweet smile.

At one point I mosey off for a wander. There’s a pretty golf course backing onto the footy oval, with groups of locals walking briskly between holes, dragging their buggies. There’s a corrugated iron shed with MEN on the side beneath a spectacularly beautiful and generously spread gum tree and an ancient toilet block, long since superseded by one closer to the pavilion, behind which the Tarrawingee  Bulldogs Mascot – a girl of about twelve with a long, dark pony tail, and a grey bulldog body suit has removed her fearsomely fanged bulldog head and is relaxing while a couple of little kids gaze at her in awe.

At midday the fellahs finish up and pose for photographs and the techies move in and start winding electrical cords and putting complicated looking microphones back in boxes. The crowd disperses slowly, mooching over to the egg and bacon roll stall and the coffee hatch, turning around to give their full attention to the seconds, who have just run onto the ground and are as beefy as the thirds were slight.

I remember vividly the one time in my life when I was a regular footy watcher – when our kids were tiny and my husband played country football. First it was the Dederang-Mount Beauty Bombers and then the Portland Tigers, and I’d hop in the car with nappy bags and food and thermos and squirming toddlers and drive to whatever remote location he was playing. 

I genuinely loved to see him on the field, but it was more that it was a half-day out of the house. One memorable time, struggling with a small baby and a two year old, I marched over to Al, sitting on the bench for once, and thrust Tess at him, Paddy clutched to my breast. ‘You look after her, she’s your daughter!’ I said crossly, and, bless him, he did.

Now this toddler is a beautiful, Amazonian 27-year-old with a fellah and dogs and her own home and career, and she’s still watching local footy alongside her dad, standing beside him in matching jeans, blundstones and Akubras.

Family, country footy and the Coodabeens. What better way to spend a winter Saturday morning.


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Reader Comments (2)

Great post Clare - love the Coodabeens! Actually had one of them in the congregation I preached at monthly during time in College - and he was great. Loved listening to him read! Your writing today reminds me of distant yearnings for the country life, and remembrances of rolling up whatever the weather and wherever the game to watch my man play rugby union. Mmmmm, I may just have to suggest we do that again? Thanks Clare.

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJay Robinson

What an evocative piece Clare! I'd call it nostalgia except that it's so contemporary in rural Australia. And country footy is such a celebration of community. Thirty years ago we used to go to the QEO in Bendigo where you could gather in the breaks and listen to the coach addressing the players. We had a friend who was a field umpire and we made up a group of up to ten who gathered with the umpires who would otherwise have been friendless. And to have the Coodabeens as well - what a treat!

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRod

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