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Undressed And Contemplating Dance As Sport Amid Blackjack And Craps At Jupiters (In Which Everyone Who Gets In Line May Be King For a Snap)

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2014 Dancesport National Championships; Pavillion Ballroom, Jupiters Casino, Gold Coast; 20/4/14

The woman folds herself right back, saved from toppling only by the man’s grip, as though he were attempting to feed her a spoonful of something that is fatal if ingested.

Report by Nicholas Turner

It’s just before morning-tea time on Easter Sunday and the Gold Coast’s Jupiters Casino is positively teeming. Beneath its infinite ceiling the foyer is jammed; smack in the middle, affecting a sieve of all human traffic, is a ten-foot depiction of Las Vegas with holes where the heads of Elvis and two showgirls would otherwise be. Tourists are queuing to be the King or one of his scantily dressed ladies, and the only way through is via the memory stick of some Chinese woman’s digital SLR, apologising.

Ignorant to the ways and means of national dancesport competition, and dressed still for an early morning dip at the beach that is not a potato-gun’s strike from the casino itself, your correspondent seeks out the little tucked-away room in this glittery, coin-clattering hive where a humble ballroom dancing comp should already be underway. The foyer and its full-chested guards are making his salty hair and shorts and loose t-shirt and sandals seem a little underdone. After inquiring at the box-office, he is directed to the Pavillion Ballroom, the name of which alone is enough to forewarn a monstrous faux pas that is very much nigh, and then well and truly upon him.

It only gets worse. The ‘Ballroom’ is exactly what it sounds like; replete with mirror-ball and black velvet curtained walls and galactic lighting, round tables for the VIPs, elegant table settings, stiff-backed waiters and Champagne. Already a few hundred are in attendance for an event whose finals will go well into the night, and not a male soul – not even the few restless sub ten year old boys about – is without long trousers and a coat. There is, by the looks of it, an unspoken zero-tolerance policy on round-necked t-shirts with team logos on the back. Reminded suddenly of a thick helping of Zinc still smeared across his nose, your correspondent feels approximately as though he has stepped out of a cold shower and – biblically naked – into the sacred chambers of…you get the drift – I feel like an asshole.

Naturally, your correspondent decides to be in and out of this comp like a cat burglar, as they say, focussing on the first decisive dancing contest that the program throws his way; incidentally, the Juvenile Open Latin final, which by the way the schedule is going is probably a couple of hours off.  This is time enough to catch some top-flight heat competition and peruse the dancer’s market, an integrated part of the event wherein all manner of dance-specific shoes and jewellery and couture and make-up and sticky tape and stitch-in breast cups and such and such are available for sale.  You might think dancing, an ancient ritual of that demands only a wealth of passion, would be a light-on sort of enterprise from a fiscal point of view. I can report, very much on the contrary, that a women’s dress (comprising >0.1m2 of actual material) fetches around $1200. And I don’t want to even guess how much money goes into the make-up and fake tans and teeth-whitening and hairspray and whatever else goes into making these dancing women (and, to a lesser extent but surely, men) look less like painted humans than animated dolls.

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Dancesport is curious to new eyes, and I think at least part of the confusion is what seems to be the antithetical strangeness of it as a ‘higher’ form of what we lay folk know to be dancing. By which I mean the bump and grind or hold and sway which is either a precept to or public adjunct to sex, or else just something nice to do with someone you care for enough to share breath. The salient point is that the dancing of social custom is something implicitly and explicitly intimate. But here, formalised as competition, it doesn’t really look like that. The ‘Standard’ dances (Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep), have in common the fact that the man and woman contrast the extreme proximity of their middle torsos with maximum separation of their heads. The woman folds herself right back, saved from toppling only by the man’s grip, as though he were attempting to feed her a spoonful of something that is fatal if ingested. In addition, each dancer, by means a despondent and distant facial expression (likened best to those sideshow clown heads that take ping-pong balls orally), makes it seem as though they don’t notice that they are actually dancing with a partner. In other words, competitive dancing disguises the emotion of the act, or else buries it in the technical prowess and the synchrony of the bodily movements. Which may well be the natural progress of dancing as competition, but it nonetheless leaves your novice viewer with a sense that it’s all a bit cold. That no one out there on the floor is getting any spiritually closer by dancing.

When the two pairs of Juvenile dancers eventually take the floor for the Latin final, a now routine hush floods the whopping room. In purple and black, the soft-faced Asian pair begin with a nightmare stutter; the little lady tumbles down the stage’s final step, face planting before the presenter’s nose. Nerves, one has to guess. Once she’s scooped up, the contending Caucasians in green and white descend without mishap. The latter pair is slightly taller perhaps. All four dancers are under thirteen years of age, and a certain ‘stiffness’ of the older competitors is biologically denied them. Whereas in the adult competition the near-comical frigidity seems to be a virtue of technique, here for obvious reasons the absence of it doesn’t register.

In the first few bars of the Samba, neither pair moves a muscle, and it briefly seems as though stage-fright has struck them all. But soon they count themselves into it and the colourful costumes paint the floor in broad, child-like strokes. The couple in purple are immediately more compelling, full of jittery reflections of the inner rhythms of the music. By contrast, the two in green think through their steps, counting a carefully contrived set of one, two, three, fours. You can almost see the boy mentally mapping a small section of the very big stage. In all four disciplines, this trend continues; the purple combination flow relatively freely, throwing themselves cheerfully into it. By the time the Cha Cha Cha is underway, they’re pretty clearly the superior pair.

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What really separates the winners, however, is that undeniable dynamism that results from a strong male lead. The Asian boy, kind-faced, slim and yet solid looking, upright in everything he does, really works his partner around the polished wood. His subtle, pillaresque domination of the dance creates a genuine sense of cat and mouse, of high and low, in and out, a sense of play in which male physicality is not there to squander but to highlight feminine finesse, to give it something to refract against.

Where these two pairs of dancers ultimately diverge is probably the point at which the inter-sexual nature of dancing becomes something truly relevant. The purple pair, clearly, have begun to ‘play’ – indeed, to dance – in a way that is at least a feint sketch of the world of adulthood.  A drama exists between them; it’s effect is creative. On the other hand, their competitors still dance as though the purpose of doing so were to perform perfectly as two distinct entities, to strive for excellence in parallel. In an odd sort of way, this exhibition says some compelling stuff about how grown-up couples really do become more than the sum of their parts.

 

Match Day Burger Rating: Deep-fried (!) burrito in casino bistro, 2/10

MD(D-F)B Price: $9.90

MD(D-F)B Service Atmosphere: 3/10

Results: Lucas Cheng & Ashley Huynh, 4 def Aiden Falzon & Hannah Smart, 8 (lowest score wins)

 

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2014 Queensland Premier Rugby ‘Game of the Round’; Round 4 (‘Books Of The Beach Blitzed By Big-Smoke Counterparts In St Lucia’)

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UQ ‘Red Heavies’ vs. Bond University Gold Coast ‘Breakers’; St Lucia Oval 5A; 12/4/2014

“As they parade before the bustling coup of second-and-third-champagne-in young things, hysteria breaks loose; the ladies rush the fencing, hooting and hollering, pawing and grabbing beyond the confines at the passing pack of ultra-suitable mates in all their pre-picket-fence-and-two-point-five-kid glory.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

MDB descends on the lustrous turf of UQ Rugby’s home ground on an afternoon of occasional sunlight and a little overcast steaminess. The visitors are the Gold Coast Breakers, now Bond University’s team, meaning that it’s a city/surf student showdown; loosely, aspiring doctors v aspiring plastic surgeons. It’s also, incidentally and yet in no way disappointingly, Ladies Day. UQ’s is by far the most coveted ‘Ladies Day’ ticket on the Premier Rugby circuit; where other clubs summons at best a considerable handful of singles to amble free-range inside the sectioned-off space wherein paper bracelets denote free drinks, here at UQ they’re jammed in so tightly that they’ve hardly room to scratch themselves. Their pretty and much made-up little heads poke awkwardly through the temporary fencing in a way that recalls those horrifying ads that ask us to boycott battery farm eggs. The inside word is that this afternoon’s fundraiser sold out in just under 36 hours. By the looks of it, even that was overselling the space.

On a side note, the style of the season is fluorescent and shimmery; all the girls look a little like deep-sea fishing lures.

About five minutes before the opening whistle, the UQ side completes its warm up and heads for the dressing rooms. As they parade before the bustling coup of second-and-third-champagne-in young things, hysteria breaks loose; the ladies rush the fencing, hooting and hollering, pawing and grabbing beyond the confines at the passing pack of ultra-suitable mates in all their pre-picket-fence-and-two-point-five-kid glory. The players, somehow, retain their game-day Zen, keep their heads down and faces expressionless. I’m not terribly sure if I’m opening myself up to reverse, inverse or inverted sexism by suggesting that, for all their effort to block it out, the players probably don’t mind being on the butt end of out-and-out objectification today. I mean, if they’d like to be less interesting to women, they’d have chosen to play at Wests…Zing!

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The game kicks off with the usual technical quibbles and feet-finding of week-four play. In a first half that gives little away, UQ have the upper hand but not by much. While the Gold Coast team has clung tight, they’ve got some systemic issues that are as plain and unpleasant as warts. The first is that, despite at least a half dozen genuine early chances to swing it wide, they fail to shift the ball past the centres. And not because the defence is particularly brisk; simply because they drop it cold or else throw it wildly; it all just goes to the dogs far too repeatedly. I find myself wondering late in the half if they’ve managed to field an all-left-handed backline, since the first time they actually find the winger is the first time the assignment is right-tending.

Which brings me to the second issue that should well be on the Gold Coast whiteboard come Monday; their outside backs make terrible running decisions. Ball retention in counter-attack and near-sideline play is just crap, largely because isolated runners tend to decide to stop dead and flop to the earth in solitude. It’s a classic symptom of trusting neither back-up runners nor loose-forwards and/or being unpractised in effectively stalling play and/or just not being strong enough, and it completely bones any chance Gold Coast might have to steal a couple of tries; frustratingly enough, they’re outside runners are clearly quick enough to threaten.

The breakdown today is not nearly a thing of beauty. The game just doesn’t work out that way. UQ are, as usual, an across-the-board fit and physical side, organised above and beyond all else, clinical in the mould of Brothers and GPS. For the first half of the game they play OK but with a lack of sting, crossing over for a pair of tries that are more inevitable than exciting. But once the second half gets going, the true character of the game reveals itself. It’s a mismatch.

The second half goes; try (UQ), try (UQ), try (UQ), try (UQ), try (UQ), try (UQ), try (UQ), give or take a try that can only be to UQ because I’m absolutely certain about how many points Gold Coast score and that’s none. There’s not really all that much to learn or single out except, yes, UQ have some great inside-back vision, and look like they’re going to do their scoring this season through the middle. Gold Coast, on the other hand, just get the bad end of it and they accept it pretty early on. Their big number four seems to play by his own rules once he reckons it’s all over, skulking behind the defensive line, waiting for a chance to step in and make at least one UQ player feel average at full time. It doesn’t work out quite like that; instead there’s one more gap for the city boys to score through.

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The inevitable result is sorted by about twenty to go, and attention wavers beyond the sidelines; even the pre-teen manning the scoreboard walks away from the monotonous job and starts making sand castles in the long jump pit. On the synthetic running track between us and the field, a match race between a five-year-old princess and a Ninja Turtle restarts every few minutes and it’s usually the turtle that wins. Around us in the stands fully grown men in mum’s-dressed-me-for-a-birthday-party combinations of tucked-in pastel and branded Ralph Lauren caps and leather sandals are pretty common.  Over in the eligible bachelorette enclosure, shirtless boys in bow-ties hand out trays of cheap champagne, their pants’ seats worn thin by pecking hands. And up in the sky a camera drone hovers as a near pitch-perfect symbol of something that’s too hard to describe here and now. In short, it’s by no means the most boring afternoon to endure a forty-point romp.

As for the outcome of Ladies Day; it is in a spirit of journalistic rigour that MDB stays abreast of social media feeds into the night as these frenzy-whipped women are served up and get to party with the victorious doctors’ sons in an after-match and all-night orgy (to use the word only in the PG-rated, ancient Roman sense of there being much food and drinks and whatnot to gobble up). Plenty in the way of solid records come over the interwebs into the early hours, but perhaps the soberest and most family friendly and exquisitely understated tribute comes from UQ Rugby’s own Twitter feed the following morning:

“A red UQ Rugby tour jacket with car keys in the pocket has gone missing at the Ladies Day event tonight… If you have taken the jacket please return it to the club house on Monday morning and no questions will be asked.”

If the beholder of said jacket is among MDB’s readership, let not shame withhold her from doing the right thing.

Match Day Burger Rating: 5.5

MDB Service Atmosphere: 4.5

MDB Cost: $5.00

Result: UQ 47, def. GC 5

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2014 Queensland Premier Rugby ‘Game of the Round’; Round 3 (‘Local Swoopers Saddle Equine Guests In Finger-Biter on Chipsy Wood’)

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Souths Magpies  vs. GPS Gallopers; Chipsy Wood Oval, Yeronga Park; 5/4/2014

“GPS’ flyhalf is a practitioner of cross-bow like service, his flat, accurate passes open space for outside backs running exquisite, well-practised lines, most devastatingly a number thirteen who moves like a Basque bull and has a consistently threatening impact on the game.”

Report by Scott Gittoes

Chipsy Wood Oval is a special patch of earth.  The specialness I speak of here is not the hallowed turf, legends-of-yore type (though not to deny that quality, either) but rather of a far more plain and empirical nature; this oval is Souths Magpies’ solitary field.  It’s a modern day botanic miracle that the soil is capable of supporting any grass-life whatsoever, be it that nine separate tag-shoed teams train and host games on these scant few square-metres week after storm-addled, sunburnt Queensland week.  But today, owing to some favourable early season scheduling and, rumour has it, a new groundskeeper with a sixth sense for lawn nutrients, Chipsy Wood is in as good a state as one’s ever likely to find it; deep shamrock green, duck-down soft on top and firm and fast underneath, on what is yet another textbook autumn afternoon in Brisbane.

The curtains are drawn for a free-flowing contest and based on recent form – namely, GPS Gallopers’ tantalisingly close premiership bid last year and the Magpies as-yet undefeated start to the season – one suspects the protagonists will eagerly oblige.  After no more than ten minutes, it’s evident that today is bound to be a spectator’s delight; equal parts free-flowing, physical and impassioned.

It’s expansive across the park.  GPS’ flyhalf is a practitioner of cross-bow like service, his flat, accurate passes open space for outside backs running exquisite, well-practised lines, most devastatingly a number thirteen who moves like a Basque bull and has a consistently threatening impact on the game.  Only rigorous three-quarter defence prevents the visitors from collecting any material points from these incursions.  As it stands, Souths have crossed first on account of some deft hands and opportunistic support play from a skilful, mobile forward pack whose biggest are also amongst their quickest and most dexterous.  But for all their damaging size – the front row recalls images of Easter Island’s Rapa Nui – natural talent and clean set-pieces, the Magpie pack’s inferior discipline and structure at the defensive breakdown is their undoing. photo (1)

The Gallopers are far more calculating.  They choose their battles wisely, committing few to the rucks and mauls and so conserving health in defence and exploiting gaps that appear with increasing regularity at the fringes.  It’s from this platform that GPS establishes first-half ascendancy, scoring three unanswered tries, including a chip-chase one-two from flyhalf and inside centre that is a certainty for the season highlight reel.  To deepen their woes, the Magpies’ notoriously volatile flyhalf earns a late-half yellow card for a hit that is much more shoulder than arms.  At 25 – 8, if the writing’s not yet on the wall for the home side, the paintbrush is certainly wet.

Confidence: nigh on impossible to practise and bottle but easy enough to recognise – a whimsical, organic element that more or less floats on the wind. It’s directly proportional relationship to instinct is well acknowledged; ‘natural’ players are all but nothing without a gullet-full of the stuff.  Fifteen minutes into the second half, moving along a seemingly inevitable trajectory towards a GPS victory, the instinct-laden home side receives a telling shot of confidence in the arm.  A bullocking maul pushover is immediately followed by a stunning kick-off return from a fullback who has an utterly dependable (and, for the visitors, consistently annoying) habit of finding routes through barely-there gaps like water.

This dramatic shift in momentum is decelerated only by an engine-room fracas that results in a second Magpie in the bin and a local crowd baying for pounds of officialdom flesh.  Rendered largely impotent by preceding defensive phases, the Gallopers are unable to gain any relevant advantage against fourteen men.  Upon recovering their full suite, Souths execute an authoritative landslide scrum pushover.  GPS cling to the lead by a lonely point.

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The conspicuous absence of an official match-clock is part of the uncultivated beauty of rugby at this level.  The referee’s wrist is the sole arbiter of time.  Spectators are left guessing, pointing at watch-faces, blind to the seconds that remain.  In a game that has been a tale of discipline versus flair, both teams must now exercise the former.  The Magpies maintain their composure and, against historical form, prevail in this final test, repeated pick and drives drawing out a penalty within range.  The unpredictable wind on the Chipsy Wood plateau ensures silence until the flags are raised.  Souths scrape home for consecutive wins at the death against the best from last year.

Result: Souths 30, def. GPS 28

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2014 Queensland Premier Rugby ‘Game Of The Round’; Round 2 (Vegan Match Wrap; No Burger)

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Easts vs. Souths; David Wilson Field, C.P. Bottomley Park; 29/3/2014

“The subterranean mud stinks like a pig pen and the only thing missing is a swarm of what the Yankees call buzzards.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

Only a week ago C.T. Bottomley Park put on a feast for the senses; a nail-biting Championship game at dusk, the conditions between the sidelining native trees so poetry perfect you could just about snatch a handful of summer’s last leaves from the weightless autumnal air. Nigh on perfect conditions for rugby – both play and spectatorship.

Today it’s a markedly different aesthetic experience. After two days of non-stop rain that threatened to wipe-out the whole round, the turf of David Wilson has a distinctly fragile quality, that of a sheet of soggy cardboard resting on a pudding. It’s as humid as cling-wrapped hell in the stands and staying stock-still won’t save you from sweating. The subterranean mud stinks like a pig pen and the only thing missing is a swarm of what the Yankees call buzzards. And to top it all off, the sun’s taken to occasionally screaming from behind the clouds in a way that’s almost purely unpleasant, kicking just enough heat around to keep a simmer on the nasty brew throughout the afternoon.

Last week the East’s Tigers took on the interstate might of Sydney University and narrowly slipped off the Club Championship trophy in a noble pre-season scrap. Today their task is the much less predictable South’s Magpies, a club that has fairly reeked of talent in recent years without managing to play out a full season of appropriate standard.  In stark contrast, the Tigers have made a job of ultra-consistent rugby in any situation, culminating in a truly special grand final that brought last year’s flag to the clubhouse.

Predictably, in these oily conditions, the ball is as elusive to the hand as a greasy marble to chopsticks. Dropped, stripped, fumbled and/or blithely misthrown pills come at a rate of one every two minutes for much of the first half. Easts are keenest in early attack, their outside backs make repeat work of treating the defence like a sieve. But their two run-away efforts fail titillatingly close to the line. Flyhalf is an absolute stand-out for level-headedness and opportunism in difficult conditions. Not to mention watertight with the boot.

In the levelling conditions, the contrasting styles of the teams is somewhat depleted. But generally speaking, Souths adhere to a less formalised brand, sending mobile loose forwards and stocky inside-backs hard at the line. Their own flyhalf is brutal in head-down one-on-one defence, accelerating in a single-minded rage; one lowly Easts’ player that receives the pass of death learns this the hard way, spared utter physical reconstitution by a matter of degrees and pot luck. Late in the half, the Magpies move up the paddock and maul toward the line for an easy one-out-and-over. They’re blessed by some quality, running forwards and lightning outside backs of unusually rigorous defence.

By half time the ‘mugby’ quality of the game is largely writ. Loose forwards are having a busy day and for all the hoo-ha out wide, here at the coalface is where the big gears of the game have shifted. Defence has been the paramount narrative, and discipline in defence has become the increasingly relevant sub-plot; three penalties to Easts have kept the scores levelish at 10-9.

I should mention somewhere (like, here) too, perhaps by way of illustrating how these two teams philosophically differ, that while the Easts kicker is a picture of patience, routine and discipline, a product of emulating the style that trickles down from the contemporary professional ranks, Souths’ counterpart is today firing them through the posts with little fuss and (ask someone who was there if you like – none of us in the stand could quite get over it either) right off the ground. No tee, no Buddhist mind-emptying routine, no two-minute ass-out-hands-together pause to envision success. That both are eminently effective is as good an indication as any that whatever the means of attack from either side, today’s result will probably be close.

After many exchanged blows and changed leads in the second half, the Magpies gradually wriggle into a two score advantage. Which it turns out they’ll be desperately needing, because in the dying ten minutes of play (having already upset the ref in every ruck-related department, culminating in a first half sin-binning), Souths’ quickness to the defensive line falls under the sort of intense official rapid-fire that recalls Umpire Hair pinging Muralitharan, and they’re taken on a handful of consecutive backward strolls that have the captain looking skyward for answers and the Magpies’ sideline faithful howling murder, grievous and blue. The East’s crowd, fittingly, find this all to be very suitable, and make something of a game of helping the officiator in finding subsequent offenses. Meanwhile the Tigers on the field, exuding the kind of professionalism that wins flags, show no form of remorse; they make Souths pay for every infraction, and go over with a couple of plays still in the game. A home-side come back seems virtually inevitable, but in this game the clock is the truth.

So for two weeks in a row the home ground of Tigerland and it’s heaving spirit just aren’t quite enough; the Magpies grit their beaks and hold on.

Result: Souths 24, def Easts 21

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Students Endure Eighty Minutes In Bottomley Wildcat Enclosure, Live To Tell the Tale (Struggling Journalist Files Speculative Debt Claim Under Jungle Law)

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Easts vs. Sydney University; Australian Club Championship; David Wilson Field, C.P. Bottomley Park; 22/3/2014

“…to see the game unfold this evening is to witness one of the most intrusive, palpable examples of home-ground advantage one could hope to find at a modern day suburban club rugby match; a call to yesteryear.”

Report by Scott Gittoes

Tigers tend not to go hungry in their element.  But here’s one with a worried look, frisking for spare change inside his orange-and-black-striped, velvet-textured one-piece costume – presently unzipped down beyond his navel – his swaying tail the exaggerated tell of a few hours tilting cans and cups.  Fumbling through his wallet, he turns his bearded head toward me, revealing a glazed, reddened complexion and a corkscrew-smile, his eyes fading-out beyond my left shoulder, seemingly fixated on something distant. An outstretched hand reaching over the cash register is expecting dosh that this dishevelled feline apparently doesn’t have.  Without exchanging words, I hand him a few dollars and move on; it just seems wrong that the native cat should go hungry here at the place they call Tigerland.

We’re at Bottomley Park, home of Easts Rugby Union Club, for the Australian Club Championship, an ostensibly annual but historically irregular contest between the reigning first-grade premiers from Sydney and Brisbane.  Sydney University, with an imposing local record of eight titles from the last nine seasons, is here to contend with an Easts team and, perhaps more tellingly, a vehemently parochial home-crowd still very much buoyed from recent premiership success.  Far from descending into a hollow early-season trial, this evening’s fixture will end up attracting a few thousand spectators and turn out to be an utterly atmospheric grassroots rugby experience, equal parts memorable and memory-jerking and one that presents a compelling case for the relocation of Brisbane grade finals, at least in the preliminary stages, from Ballymore to suburban home-grounds.

It’s forty-odd minutes shy of dusk on a postcard early-autumn Saturday.  Players from both teams are warming up in front of the grandstand, hitting the pads in unison, stringing the ball through the hands or else pairing up for stretching drills.  Golden slivers of sunlight stretch out from a low hanging sun, finding gaps between the grand old trees that fringe all four sides of David Wilson Field and tower above the goalposts.  These mature botanic dames are testimony to the increasingly rarefied existence of such inner-city grounds; this field is a considerable patch of real estate set amidst one of Brisbane’s more exclusive enclaves.  (A neighbour sitting on the patio of her much-sought-after Queenslander would, in all likelihood, be closer to the action here than a patron in the front tier of any major stadium).  The playing surface, not yet beset by the rigours of the regular season, is invitingly crisp and fresh.  Juniors – as young as four and five years old – adorned in the stripes of the home club, are everywhere; some bounce around near the sideline absorbing the warm-up, throwing passes in emulation. Others play chase, flitting between and around adult legs near the barbeque-bar below the eastern end of the stand.  The adults too are overwhelmingly adorned in Easts’ colours, forming a continuous stream of blue and gold that graduates from the mellower groupings of family and friends near the barbeque-bar area into a dense and imposing wedge of old boys and lower-grade players who occupy close to a quarter of a near-overflowing grandstand.  The stand itself, within spitting distance of the northern touchline, runs ten to fifteen rows back and spans twenty or so metres either side of halfway.

What all of this amounts to – this idyllic suburban charm, this extended family of spectators, this vociferous block of clubmen – is what the Greeks probably called ‘atmos’.  And to see the game unfold this evening is to witness one of the most intrusive, palpable examples of home-ground advantage one could hope to find at a modern day suburban club rugby match; a call to yesteryear.  And the rugby Gods seem to be dancing to the local tune. After twenty-five minutes, almost every bounce of the ball, every counter-ruck, every clutch tackle – every low-percentage play – has gone the Tigers’ way.  Following some enterprising forays from their halves and a scything run from their debutant inside centre, Easts are up 14 to 5.  They’ve shown commitment but little in the way of consistent structure; the crowd is just ploughing them forward.  Conversely, despite obvious flashes of brilliance, the students appear burdened, simply flustered.  Their backline, in particular, has the feel of an expensive sportscar with the handbrake on.

Presently, the Sydney number five is feeling the weight of the crowd even more so than his colleagues.  A recipient of a yellow card for repeated breakdown infringements, he’s seated not much more than an arm’s length from the rabid crush of Easts’ supporters.  Led from the front by an erratic but unceasingly boisterous tiger (who now owes to your correspondent around 35% of a hamburger, a debt I’ll not even hope to call in), they’re chanting his name, raining down unpleasantries.  His cauliflowered ears simply cannot escape the torrent.  It seems almost every University line-out, scrum, penalty, fumbled-ball has occurred in front of this very same section of supporters, and now this lock-forward has to sit here, mere feet away,  simply wearing it; the location of the sin-bin is surely no coincidence.  But for a runaway try to their elusive and swift-heeled winger, University just can’t take a trick.  The half closes 14 – 12.

The break is a perfect opportunity to walk the outside of the field.  The golden beams and purpelish hues of late afternoon have now been replaced by floodlight, casting the lower sections of the fringing trees in imposing relief.  Light dew precipitated from the cooler night air has drawn out the scent of freshly cut grass, reminiscent of evening training sessions.  In the darkened shadows under the trees, in an almost continuous line, spectators lean or sit on the sponsorship-laden metre-high fence that runs the entire way around the field.  Some even sit in the trees, be it kids or a seventy-year-old man replete in a polo shirt and chinos who has found himself an ideal location in the fork of a Jacaranda.  Locals continue to wander down from neighbouring houses, bare-feet or bethonged, beer in one hand, son or daughter holding the other.  Couples and groups scoop beverages from small eskies and cooler bags.

Even amid the comparatively tame shadows of the southern touchline, it remains an unmistakeably impassioned crowd.  The banter, albeit subdued, is still relentless; the University winger is told to pull his socks up on more than one occasion.  Early in the second half the students score, again out wide; their centres and outside backs now moving freely, threatening the line at every step; young, brash, skilful and fast.  One gets the feeling that they’re used to carving up more hapless sides and are now starting to taste blood.  Easts, however, still buoyed by this most atmospheric of home amphitheatres, are defending stoically, committed and hard-hitting, camped as they are in their own half.  It remains this way for most of the rest of the game.  But five minutes from time, in what again appears to be largely supporter-induced fortune, the Tigers find themselves in a position to steal the fixture at the death.  The crowd is boiling, and short of scoring the winning try themselves, they will Easts’ mercurial fly-half within inches of the line.  The fairytale doesn’t read to script though and the students hang on, adding a little interstate silverware to their busy cabinet.

Match Day Burger (Tigerburger) Score: 7.0

MDB Service Atmosphere: 7.0

MDB Cost: $5.50

Match Score: Sydney University 19 def. Easts 14

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Viking Raid Ends Liquid Dynasty at Chandler (Top Anglers Disappointed After Targeting Apparent Boil-Up In Suburban Diving Pool)

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Queensland GPS Swimming Championships; Brisbane Aquatic Centre, Sleeman Sports Complex, Chandler; 7/3/2014

“Tales of impossible personal bests at these championships are almost mythical, growing each year as they’re passed down through the generations by teachers who’ve seen it all, coaches who once swam here, or former competitors who slink in to sit quietly in the stands, children and/or grandchildren on knees, reminiscing.”

Report by Scott Gittoes

In the glossy program for this afternoon’s GPS Swimming Championships, the record for each of the forty-two events is printed prominently above the starting list.  Headlining the first event, the all age four hundred metre freestyle, it reads:

GPS Record:     3:51.94     KJ Perkins     1991     BBC  

Despite having done pretty much everything that swimming can ask a man to do, Kieren Perkins, the former world-record holding and twice over Olympic gold medal-adorned Superfish, is rumoured to have singled-out this annual competition as the most atmospheric and parochial of his extraordinary career.

We find ourselves caught in a crush of teenage students, shirts half-tucked, ties awkwardly too short or else too long, earphones dangling from ears into bags or pockets. There’s hundreds of them on the move, each in theory with a destination in mind but in all likelihood merely tracing the steps of the kid in front.  They’re cascading into the Brisbane Aquatic Centre (more colloquially known as ‘Chandler’, the indoor Olympic pool built back in ’82 for the Commonwealth Games). The mail from a nearby teacher, with an unashamed dollop of bias, is that today’s championships are bound to be a two-horse race between Nudgee College and The Southport School. History too says it’s a safe bet; no other school has won the event for 23 years.

Chandler today is a sort of giant humidifier in which the energy of a couple of thousand mostly-teenage humans has churned the hazy waft of chlorine into something both thick and palpable and undoubtedly exhilarating.  Concrete tiers lined with metallic bench-seats rise up from the pool deck perhaps twenty-five rows or more, their ascent halted where the back rows meet the ceiling.  Masses of students are arranged in three-to-four hundred seat sections, the effect being giant sheets of uniformed humanity, clearly delineated in variations of blue, green, red, yellow, white and black, striped horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Ties are universal. These students fill the seats closest to the pool, swimmers and families the ones higher up.  Not surprisingly, the schools with the largest boarding houses are the best represented, and most organised.

Synchrony and enthusiasm are tested with opening war cries; across the pool the chants strike like rocks on corrugated iron, ricocheting and returning from innumerable directions, firing off the lines and angles of the building. Soon enough it’s all thundering white noise; the acoustics here are kind to amplification but not clarity.  But that’s of scant relevance; in establishing the ascendancy of support, it’s obvious that volume is valued above all else.  Amid all the commotion, the pool water remains impossibly still, glistening under lights.  It looks fast in that indefinable way of all great pools in the titillating moments before a championship.

On the western side of the pool deck, there’s a brightly lit catacomb that opens up and leads somewhere under the stand.  Right now, nine thirteen-year-old boys are waiting there, fidgeting nervously.  It’s hard to know precisely what they’re feeling, but peering out of that hallway – the concrete above them quaking under the combined stamping and screaming of close to one thousand students – they’d have a curious snapshot of the other thousand or so boys in the opposing stand, most bound together arm-in-arm, bowing, swaying, jumping, dancing to music between races, some yielding painted, oversized megaphones, others waving flags and a select few dressed as mascots: a tiger, a bear, a shark and a Spartan, to but survey.  It’s controlled chaos out there, all co-ordinated to achieve a very specific effect.  It’s fair to assume these nine prepubescents are feeling some of that effect.

Exiting the relative shelter of the marshalling area to take up their positions behind the starting blocks, the entire arena opens up before them, in all its utter madness, its utter ecstasy, and just plain utterness.  In comparison to the near-to-fully-grown muscle-bound swimmers who’ve just finished the all age individual medley race, these kids, indoctrinated into this order of heavily traditioned private schools only a few weeks ago, are mostly sinewy, five-foot-nothing whippets; boys among near-enough-to-men.  The whole scene must be grossly magnified for them. Overwhelming, to say the least.  At the sound of a whistle, silence washes over the crowd, and the competitors step up, almost climb, onto their blocks.  Leaning down to take their marks, the hush deepens.  I can’t see it from where I sit, but I’m quite sure their legs must be shaking, seized by fear and adrenalin.  At the gun, the spectators burst into voice as the boys hit the water for their first time at GPS; the thirteen and under fifty metre freestyle is underway.

In the cold, lonely light of an underslept, poolside weekday morning, it might be hard to nail down exactly what would drive schoolboys to follow that sub-aquatic black line, to train lap after waterlogged, lung-busting, lactic-acid-inducing, sometimes nauseating lap, three or five or ten times a week, week in and out. What could possibly inspire a teenager to crawl out of bed at dawn over the summer holidays and every morning of the first few weeks of the schooling year just to punish one’s saturated self in preparation for a single performance that on average lasts less than a minute? It might all be lost, in theory, to those of us long-ago out of the classroom. But as these thirteen-year olds have undoubtedly just been reassured, there is something about a few thousand concentrically facing peers ripping their throats to shreds in your name that any kid looking for his place in the world would understand in a microsecond. To be at the middle of all that, just for a moment, is probably worth just about any sacrifice.

The swimming here today is darn impressive.  Scholarships abound at these schools for boys with sporting ability and, in a region that’s arguably Australia’s if not the world’s breadbasket of swimming talent (cue honour roll of world champion and Olympic swimmers from Queensland), you’ll always find superlative underage swimmers in the water at GPS.  But it’s not the elite – among them a fourteen year-old from BBC who this afternoon wins three individual events and annihilates one record – that make this event what it is, rather the less talented but equally enthused boys who tirelessly turn up to every training session for that last solitary spot on the team.  Tales of impossible personal bests at these championships are almost mythical, growing each year as they’re passed down through the generations by teachers who’ve seen it all, coaches who once swam here, or former competitors who slink in to sit quietly in the stands, children and/or grandchildren on knees, reminiscing.

The square diving pool at the far, southern end of the arena is awash with splashing bodies, recalling an oceanic feeding frenzy.  The last ten events of the day – the medley and freestyle relays – are fast approaching and hundreds of competitors are warming up.  It’s often the relays, with swimmers emboldened by a common goal, shoulder-to-shoulder in the marshalling area, which provide the most compelling content for the viewer and induce many of those fabled personal-best and come-from-impossibly-far-behind performances. By the time the swimmers appear for the last event of the day, the open freestyle relay, with Churchie having broken the multi-generational Nudgee/Southport dominance and all but sown up its first title in 49 years on account of both sheer individual brilliance and consistent depth, it’s rather easy to see why Kieren Perkins said what he said.  The student hordes are exhausted, keeled over, hoarse, soaked through with sweat, but they haven’t been at more of a fever pitch all day.  They’re gripped by a kind of manic dehydrated delirium, carrying the anchor-leg swimmers home as if they’re walking on water.

Match Day Burger Score: N/A

MDB Service Atmosphere: N/A

MDB Cost: N/A

Results: 1st Anglican Church Grammar School, 257; 2nd The Southport School, 249.5; 3rd Brisbane Boys’ College, 222.5; 4th Brisbane Grammar School, 220; 5th Brisbane State High School, 216.5; 6th Nudgee College, 207; 7th Ipswich Grammar School, 200; 8th Gregory Terrace, 185.5; 9th Toowoomba Grammar School, 167.

Enjoy it? You can follow us by entering your email in the ‘follow us’ box at the end of the page or by clicking on the black ‘follow’ tab in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.  You’ll then receive our reports fresh from the grill to your inbox.  Stay hungry.

Pools, Stairs And Rails Shift Underfoot In State Sanctioned Shred At Capalaba (Survey Of Pubescent Males Finds Genital Punch Favored Over Extended Suburban Mosey)

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Saturday Afternoon Session; Redland Youth Plaza (Capalaba Skate Park); 22/2/2014

“…by appearances at least, skateboarding retains a punkish edge – it’s generally teenage, middle-finger-raised realisation that some parts of the life are blatantly contradictory and bullshit. And, more specifically, that lots of potentially fun places are deemed off limits and policed thus.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

K has something difficult to do, something difficult and also pretty dangerous, and his brain won’t let him do it. The thing he’s got to do is really something he’d like to do, rather than need to do, and he thinks that that’s why his brain is interjecting, stopping him right before he does it, telling him that he’s scared and that it’s not worth it. Every time he rides up to the precipice, his back foot kicks down and pulls his skateboard up short – and so he stands there, the scratched-into-oblivion print on the underside of his deck flashed to all of us down at the foot of the stairs. And he shakes his head;

Shit. Ok…ok…..ok…shit. Ok, I’m going again.”

K turns around and heads back to the top of his run-up. He takes a moment to square up the task, then comes toward the stairs again. But the outcome is the same as it has been the last dozen or so times. His back foot kicks down stubbornly. He halts at the top.

“Alright, alright,” says K, hands enmeshed on his flat-brim cap, elbows pointed skyward. The large, geometric graphic on his oversized white t-shirt stretches out like something three-dimensional unfolding. “Alright, man.  Pete, man, alright man. If I don’t do it this time. Pete, if I don’t do it this time, here man, you’ve got to punch me in the nuts.”

“Nah man,” says Pete, shaking his head. Pete’s prickly black moustache shrinks like an insect poisoned. He’s in the habit of scratching his wrist tattoo with a finger. “Nah man, I don’t want to man. I don’t want to punch you in the nuts.” Pete’s nursing a busted hip from a fall not ten minutes before. I think he’s kind of glad to have a reason not to be trying to do what K’s trying to do.

“Come on man. I’ll do it, man. I’ll do it but you’ve got to promise me you’ll punch me if I don’t. In the nuts.”

“Nah. Nah, I don’t want to man.  I’ve got it. I’ll tell you. Man, if you don’t do it this time, I’m not driving you home.”

“Oh man,” says K, nodding, maybe wincing.

“That’s it man. You’ve got to do it this time. Or you’re walking all night.”

“Yeah,” says W, who hasn’t said much for a while. W’s not injured, he just knows he’s not good enough to even attempt something like this. And he’s ok with that; he speaks softly and without any swearing and generally he’s kind of sweet. He’s got a soft face, a bit of straight hair on his lip, and a shiny brown pony-tail whose loose strands he directs back over his ear with one finger. He’d make for a convincing stage and/or screen Jesus.

“Ok, that’s it,” says K, taking a few deep breaths and heading back to his mark. “That’s it then, this is it.”

K gets going with three big kicks that are all business and no intellectual compromise. By the time he’s at the top of the stairs, it’s not a matter of if but how he’ll get to the bottom. On wheels or face or ass.

Your correspondent is at Capalaba skate park (officially, ‘Redlands Youth Plaza’), where for maybe the last hour or so K, M and Pete have been taking turns at the fairly shallow six-stair rail at the centre of the facility. For those outside the skateboard discourse (I’ll assume everyone knows at very least what a skateboard looks like, and its defining features), to ‘do a rail’ is to jump up and land the board on a (usually metal hand-) rail and slide down it and land on the ground at the bottom and skate away. Depending on how one’s board sits on the rail (on some part of the wooden deck, or on the metal trucks between the wheels, or some combination of these) and which direction one is facing and also if and how one is garnishing this manoeuvre with the flavour of ‘style’, the slide goes by a different name.

If you’ve never seen this happen, think about it now; if you’re standing on a smooth plank of wood or a couple of rounded bits of metal, sliding down a metal rail, you move like something smooth and hot falling down a wall of ice. Which is to say, awfully quickly. More or less solely in gravity’s tugging hands.  Skateboards from this position have no form of break and no kind of rudder or steering wheel and anyone less than very well practised would almost certainly go ass over tit and be mangled by or around the rail and/or stairs. What I’m trying to say is that it’s both tricky and dangerous, and that it requires all kinds of agility and subtlety of movement to nail. Not to mention guts, because you’ve got a hell of a lot of unforgivingly hard and awkward objects underneath you, and no way of avoiding them if things go even a little bit wrong.  As a group, K, M and Pete land around 65% or the 150 or so rail slides they attempt.  Of those not landed, around 10% result in evident pain. The wonder that bones are not broken and/or ankles and wrists not regularly dislocated never subsides. In fact it seems flat-out miraculous.

Right across from where the boys are doing rails, there is an even steeper and higher set of stairs, this one closer to sheer, basically 45 degrees.  Ultimately, only K has the gall to roll over to it and declare himself ‘ready’. Which brings us back to the apparent absurdity where we began; a sixteen-year-old boy handing his testicles over to his friends to be held again him as ransom. His demand; that his own stubborn sense of self-preservation not kick in where it naturally ought.

Capalaba skate park is pretty darn impressive, much more so that anything that was available at your correspondent’s home town when your correspondent was pubescent. There’s a nice looking bowl with lots of different gradients, oodles of metal-railed concrete boxes, a handful of ramps, stairs, rails, bumps, slopes and boxes all underlined by one very long run right through the middle that’s got to be a hundred meters and full of things to jump and grind and generally find skating use for. Word on the street is that it usually heaves here on the weekend, though today (it’s overcast, and rain has threatened constantly) K, M and Pete pretty much have the run of the place, except for a swarm of pre high-school kids on Razors (little metal scooters that went viral about ten years ago – you have seen then) who sometimes just stand there right in the way of where they boys are landing under the stairs and look into space in a way that really is infuriating. Generally, the boys exercise Zen patience.

Looking out over this collection of oddly misplaced urban objects – an empty pool, and staircases that ascend to and from nowhere in particular – one is reminded that skateboarders have always exercised a philosophical elasticity when it comes to utilitarian structures. They found a whole other use for waterways, gutters, ramps, park benches – indeed stairs and pools –  and basically any odd shape or bump or lip or edge or ripple in the man-made concrete world. In the beginning, as the potential use of the structures was discovered, skateboarding was by default a ratbag activity, outlaw stuff. It tore at the efficient fabric of busy urban scapes, jumped fences and drained and ruined pools. Indeed, by appearances at least, skateboarding retains a punkish edge – it’s generally teenage, middle-finger-raised realisation that some parts of the life are blatantly contradictory and bullshit. And, more specifically, that lots of potentially fun places are deemed off limits and policed thus.

If you accept the premise that skateboarding is at it’s heart a kind of physical graffiti, a ‘footloose’ dance all over the concrete and steel structures of the city, then skateparks are an attempt to confine all this to a sanctified zone, to drag the rebelliousness of skating out from under its wheels. Indeed, as governments integrate skateboarding facilities into the very structure of the city, it’s increasingly difficult to understand exactly what skateboarding represents politically, culturally, even artistically these days.

To which curiosity this report provides only fodder for thought, and no answer. By the looks on the faces of M, K and Pete, it doesn’t seem immediately necessary that skateboarding represent much more than its own tactile pleasures. Here, happily, three young men use an organic communal spirit to overwhelm the fear and self-doubt that are the ceiling of personal limitation. M, K and Pete take photos and video of each other on their iphones, and watch them play back between attempts. Indeed their constant showcasing and sharing and back-patting and cheering of their deft and daring interactions with these brutal structures, the brief moments of flying and sliding and freefall, and the incredibly elegant underfoot play – the board twisting and twirling, uniquely both mode of movement and baton of flourish – demonstrates how this activity is at very least a unique alloy of sport, performance art, play and just plain old kicking it.

Enjoy it? You can follow us by entering your email in the ‘follow us’ box at the end of the page or by clicking on the black ‘follow’ tab in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.  You’ll then receive our reports fresh from the grill to your inbox.  Stay hungry.

THE THICK WHITE LINE – The Problem With Miss Perry

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What do an embarrassing Channel Nine interview and some grubby internet comments say about the chances of women playing cricket on our TVs?

“Those who witnessed the mildly controversial Cricket Show interview with Perry and her teammate Meg Lanning in December past will have been reminded of just how rigidly TV tells its story, and may have been forced to acknowledge that TV cricket, as a narrative, is squarely a boy’s perspective.”

By Nicholas Turner

There’s a couple of great photos in circulation of Australian Women’s cricket player Ellyse Perry wearing the baggy green. The photos are really close-up, and in both shots Perry is pinching the brim of her cap, and she’s smiling, and her nose is smothered with zinc and her lips are sprinkled with the cracked shards of white where more zinc used to be. In one of the photos, Perry is still a teenager, a fraction puffier, and wearing a retainer whose thin metal wire dissects her already-pretty-straight-looking teeth horizontally. In the other, taken just a month ago, she’s that little bit less a kid.

There is something about these images that’s oddly moving. One part of it, naturally, is that Perry has the kind of face that is so uncontroversial, wholesome and downright healthy that it’s hard to imagine someone not warming to it right away. It’s the kind of face you’d put on the Surf Life-Saving tin on a fundraising day. The other part is the fact that she’s wearing one of this country’s most recognisable and rare uniform items with a stirring look of both joy and content.

That she is a girl, in these images, wearing that uniform, is neither novel nor oxymoronic. Indeed, her apparent, unashamed ‘pleasure’ in the baggy green (read: an unguarded sense of the fortune of being good and lucky enough to wear it) is something many might consider an example, especially on occasion when members of our national male team succumb to what seems like all-too-frequent entitlement and prima donnaism that may or may not be a bi-product of being incredibly famous and playing for lots of money from a young age.

Indeed, in these photographs Ellyse Perry’s rise to cricketing stardom seems not only easy to fathom but also both compelling and potentially revelatory. But as we all know, photography is not the principal media of cricket. Television tells us how cricket is.

Those who witnessed the mildly controversial Cricket Show interview with Perry and her teammate Meg Lanning in December past will have been reminded of just how rigidly TV tells its story, and may have been forced to acknowledge that TV cricket, as a narrative, is squarely a boy’s perspective. Much of the tut-tutting from the print media opinion-makers and the cheap seats at home decried sexism on the part of the interviewers. Which, inside or out of cricket, was pretty damn obvious. Indeed, subjecting two professional female athletes to the kind of condescending interview usually reserved for the ones they do at half-time of AFL games with the 5-years-old kids from the Auskick program, is pure crock. And, if you permit that this contributes to the broader cultural struggle, indeed this was a tiny but telling polyp on the sinuous tract to/of equality.

More significantly and more definitively, however, the interview testified to just how difficult equal treatment of women will be for this particular televised product. For cricket on the TV. In other words, the ceiling that really matters here is not so much glass as it is these days LCD and highly pixelated.

TV cricket is quite literally a boy’s story. And an elite, closed fraternity of boys at that. We watch a crop of young men through the commentary of men who used to be them. The cameras themselves – the actual eyes of the game – remind us endlessly of our point of view. Females have traditionally received only two types of substantial attention by cricket’s TV lens; one, in the form of the wives and girlfriends (WAGS) of the national team, predominantly good-lookers, all heavy make-up and wrap-around sunglasses gabbling outside the corporate boxes of the MCG, sometimes holding babies, occasionally interviewed on how hard or else wonderful it is to live with a professional cricketer, and; two, the healthily endowed young blondes of the cricketing crowd, the pursuit of gratuitous close-ups of which Channel 9’s telescopically endowed cameramen consider to be the side-show to any slow day of test cricket. Tasty, time-filling treats for the real cricket fan’s wandering eye. Apparently.

Whether chicken or egg, it’s an attitude that is reflected in the cricket audience. Cricket fans bemoan anything that threatens the blokeishness (which, tellingly, is near-synonymously referred to as the relateability) of modern players. We’re sceptical of even the slightest perceived androgyny – sometimes going by the name ‘metrosexuality’ – in players the like of Michael Clarke. Sentimentally preferred are the unselfconsciously portly Boon, the salt-of-the-earth Hussey, the hairy-forearmed Ponting. It’s probably worth remembering at this point that Mitchell Johnson began his career on the fringes of national team selection with a tongue and labret piercing. And today, as a staple and the veritable poster-child of Australian cricket’s resurgent ‘spirit’ of merciless, confrontational, manly competitiveness, he has replaced both silver appendages with a rugged handlebar moustache.

That’s part of what this ‘gentleman’s game’ thing is all about.

TV’s version of cricket is indeed a narrative, and almost all narratives offer definitions of virtue. Dignity, bravery, ruthlessness, stoicism, intelligence, selflessness, honesty; these are the things to which the cameras and commentary point as both the hallmarks of a good cricketer and a good man. We are shown, too, what women are in this particular world; eye-catchers, mothers, loyal support crews. The sport itself, at least the televised, professional side of it, has been so codified and regulated, so programmed in terms of what is meaningful and valuable, that watching it on TV (for a man at least) is the ultimate lazy indulgence, a truly idle exercise; it requires next to nothing in the way of critical thinking. And so, logically, it seems that nothing truly new or upsetting could possibly happen here. It is in this context that the notion of a girl in Australian sport’s coronial cap is less offensive than it is a kind of parody, which is surely the less permeable attitude.

Indeed, Miss Perry in the baggy green, all zero make-up and hinted freckles and sagging blonde locks and utterly non-suggestive expression, is a square peg in the round hole of TV’s telling of cricket. One can hardly be surprised that as her value as a cricketer has been forced onto the public through non-TV means (namely, with the ‘Everybody is so busy watching men’s cricket…’ meme, and its infamous stream of comments), those unable to shake the value-system of TV cricket have deflected Perry’s aspirations as a matter of sheer principle, reducing her (in that particular case) to the base order of internet fodder. And the basest thing that any screen-separated viewer can say about Ellyse Perry is that she’s a healthy young woman that by all reasonable assessment has the biological setup to bear children, etc.

So indeed, for anyone who’d taken so much as a few moments to think about the whole psychological planet of TV cricket coverage, six minutes of prime, unscripted air-time with The Michaels – the excitably ditzy Slater, the dicky pseudo-controversialist Vaughn – and two attractive, young female ‘parodists’ of the sport and mindset that has defined the lives and fed the children of those two TV approved and sanctioned narrators, would have seemed like a slow, gruesome train-wreck from way off. That we only had to watch Slater continually refer to Perry and Lanning as ‘lady cricketers’ (like a croquet-dabbling sewing circle from the 1920s), condescendingly encourage these consummate professionals on their ‘improving skills,’ refer endlessly back to the recent success of the men’s team and inquire as to how the ‘ladies’ might attempt to emulate it, laugh-off the mere possibility of female competitive spirit by making the universal ‘catfight’ gesture at its suggestion, and without so much as a palatable segue throw to footage of both girls in bathing suits, was probably a merciful result from an sexual politics point of view, all reasonable possibilities duly considered.

THE THICK WHITE LINE is Match Day Burger’s occasional amblings on the ‘big, bad leagues’ – which is to say, professional sport. If you enjoy what we do here at MDB, please become a ‘follower’. 

Ocean Mammals Educated By Students On Allan Border (Absence Of Aging Man In Beige Or Off-White Or Bone Exposes Vacuum In Television Or Viewers)

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South East Queensland 1st Grade Cricket One Day Final, Allan Border Field, 9/2/2014

“(The) TV vantage…determines that lateral bowling movement (whether deftly subtle, or dramatic) is the critical virtue of the game. And this in turn has cultivated an obsession for admiring swing and spin that verges on fetishist; famous Shane Warne deliveries cause cricket fans to groan in raptures of erotic joy.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

Around one half of thirty-plus-year-old Australians, I reckon, feel some level of personal emotional trauma at the thought of Richie Benaud crashing into a wall in Coogee. The silver mopped old-timer nursing a cracked sternum in the milky white purgatory of a Sydney private hospital is lump-in-the-throat stuff. He’s the man we let into our own homes on family holidays, the binding element of intergenerational conversation on the raw back end of Christmas. Narrator and host of the constant sub-plot to whole weeks of time through regular stages of our lives. In our minds, Benaud is the Zeus of Australian cricket, life-giver to demigod players, spiritual father to the game itself. He’s the eyes, the epistemic insoluble of a sport that infiltrates one’s life like no other that I know. For my generation, Benaud has always been the trusted currency between cricket and being.

Indeed, the synonymy of one cricket commentator with cricket itself is a perfect example of how the play and presentation of a sport can be conflated. For many of us, cricket – which we seriously adore – is actually televised cricket.  And so, on a day when I find myself headed to a local cricket game for the first time in at least ten years, I am fated to take notice of what’s different about TV cricket – which I know too well – and the in-the-flesh original stuff.

The venue for this imperfect investigation is the South East Queensland 1st Grade One Day Final, at Allan Border Field.  Your man on the ground is one of not many, perhaps thirty, out there to see it unfold on an overcast day in the shadows of Hamilton Hill. The game itself is a bit of a downer. The only word for what the University of Queensland team do to the Gold Coast team is trounce. UQ could almost certainly have reached the Gold Coast’s total twice had they been allowed to bat out their full fifty overs.

And it’s not that the Gold Coast bat badly. They come out a little slow, yes. And they make the sacrilegious and always psychologically telling error of being run out not once, nor twice, but three times. But they’re also a good batting side with quality strikers who, when on the attack, play confident pullshots and straight lofts to the boundary. After losing an opening batsman to a hip injury, reaching 189 seems like a reasonable effort at face value. But what we, or at least I, don’t know yet is that the UQ opening batsmen are next-level excellent. They put on a batting showcase – all picturesque cover drives, textbook square cuts, lunging sweepshots and down-the-ground-for-six paddlings – that sucks the likelihood of competitive tension out of a fifty over game after around five, and the mere possibility of it in around ten.

Indeed, the last couple of hours of play have all the nail-biting, edge-of-your seat excitement of an endurance race between a Nascar and an Olympic walker. Even the eight young men and three blow up dolphins that have picked out a shady tree from which to radiate rude-shirted Gold Coast die-hard support till the seemingly implausible final ball of the day find themselves at a loss to summons credible encouragement. It’s not by coincidence that your correspondent has put extra brainpower into the question of cricket epistemology to go with some distracted ogling.

The first thing to be said, of course, is that cricket of the television takes a vantage that is not even possible without a fancy camera. That long-range shot from over and behind the bowler’s shoulder as he runs in, so that the bowler and batsman and wicket keeper are very close and in perfect focus – the non-telescopic human eye simply isn’t up to it. (My options today, were I to make an attempt to emulate the TV view, would be to hop the fence and head over to the neighbouring greyhound track’s grandstand with a pair of binoculars, or to ask the stumps umpire if I may sit on his shoulders. Neither of which I’m up for.) And TV’s vantage has infiltrated the home viewer’s psyche like a heavy street drug; if the cameras showed the delivery of a single international test ball from any other position (the way they sometimes annoyingly do in TV tennis – and just remember how infuriating that is) the audience sentiment would amount to a national bloodlust. And yet out here today at Allan Border field, no one even tries to sit at the ends of the ground. We, and everyone else, watch from the side; either the colonial Mathew Hayden Stand in the West, or the grassy slopes to the East. Batsman and bowler in profile.

It is this TV vantage that determines that lateral bowling movement (whether deftly subtle, or dramatic) is the critical virtue of the game. Or, at least, the bowling half of it. And this in turn has cultivated an obsession for admiring swing and spin that verges on fetishist; famous Shane Warne deliveries cause cricket fans to groan in raptures of erotic joy.  And yet from where we’re watching today, Warne could not impress us if he turned it a mile; the only indication that the Gold Coast spinners are spinning the ball is that the batsmen sometimes miss it (but not often). I can think of no other sport with such a dramatic schism between live and televised point of view, nor its effect on the play-by-play interest one takes in the contest.

It’s also true that cricket on TV is a muffled version of the real thing. A nice shot on the TV will sound like a clean pop, or maybe a pock, or else a (onomatopoeic) clock. It always sounds so noble and assured, the bat in complete dominance of its small, white subject. In actual fact, from ground level the sound of the ball on the bat is more splintery, like the sound of splitting firewood. Here, one is far more respectful of the crude physicality of sending a ball to a boundary than matters of angle or finesse. TV, being digital, has cleaned up the details of the real and true analogue experience, as well as reducing the contact of bat on ball to a theoretical game of angle where the ball flies off the bat with a kind of magic energy, the difference between playing a game of actual ping-pong and the old computer version of it. TV could be accused of forgetting that the real business of cricket is the violent collision of compressed willow and a leather-clad rock. Even the most confident shot from the UQ batsmen today is a blunt, physical exercise of heaved, grunting, thrusted weight. No matter how clean the strike, the bat tends to shudder afterwards.

Another thing that you can’t get on the box is the sense of isolation and strangulation that a batsman faces at the crease – the extreme pressure applied to him as he waits to negotiate a fired bullet away from his body. On the TV, what’s relevant during the bowler’s run-up is only bowler and batsman and maybe the keeper. But out here the whole field is constantly alive with the singular, swarming purpose of an ant colony that’s found a dead possum. The art of decomposing a batsman is in making him feel lonely out there in the middle. Or incidental. Irrelevant, even. The UQ fielders talk among themselves, loudly, sometimes actually about the Gold Coast batsman, as though the batsman were a different kind of being altogether and could not possibly understand anything that is said about him. They talk about him like he’s a formality, a statistic, like his wicket’s already been taken, like the next batsman is more interesting to them. Bullying is not quite the right word for it. It’s more like extreme condescension. In any case, UQ are experts at it and it buys them three run-outs.

Finally, a sub-culture of cricket that you can only see at the ground is the curators. These guys have the unenviable job of nursing the absurdity that is a cricket pitch – a high-maintenance, non water resistant, deliberately vulnerable bit of earth that requires the endless attention of a sick infant. They live and die by its condition. To see these guys on an overcast day, behind the white picket field of play, waiting for the first flicker of rain that might so much as spit on their beloved pitch, is to see grown men in a painfully drawn-out, girly pre-date fever to which no TV coverage could possibly do justice. The afternoon is unkind to their nerves. Waiting for six whole hours in the small concrete dugout behind the picket fence – three men in two bumper-to-bumper golf buggies – they are mercilessly taunted by clouds with grey distended bellies that somehow do not burst. To say that all three of them lean forward in their buggies, clinging on to the steering wheel and twitching with bottled excitement like children in playcars waiting to be pushed, is no exaggeration.

Match Day Burger Score: N/A

MDB Servies Atmosphere: N/A

MDB Cost: N/A

Game Score: University of Queensland Cricket Club, 1/195 (34.4 overs), def Gold Coast District Cricket Club, all out for 189 (48.1 overs)

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Generations Butt Heads For Tex In Iconic Purtell Panther Pit (As Grassroots as Urine On Iron)

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Dave ‘Tex’ Murphy Memorial Game; Normanby Hounds vs. Normanby Old Boys; Putrell Park; 1/2/2014

“Rugby league…is a game of bashing the life out of your opponent until he is weak enough for you to pass. And so I ask; can that really be done in a friendly way?”

Report by Nicholas Turner

Purtell Park is surely one of Brisbane’s most spectacular grassroots sanctums. It feels reverent and secluded, waiting at the dead end of an unassuming route into the quiet backside of the Bardon Hills. The earth ascends amphitheatrically from the southern dead-ball line and the eastern touch; the sudden hills are crowded at the base by loping, interwoven trees, then become gradually dry, brown and balding toward their dramatic crests. There’s nothing but sky to contemplate beyond this natural stamp in the earth, and the sun seems so intent to light the field that I could almost swear the goalposts cast no shadow.

I’m also fairly confident that the place would throw back an echo if you came here on your lonesome and yodelled.

Sadly, it’s all but a spiritual ground these days, discharged from formal duty after the recent disbandment of the historic Wests Panthers rugby league club just two years shy of its centenary. Where in the past as many as eighteen thousand punters have swarmed the sidelines for top grade grand finals, today it’s probably less than two hundred (players and coaches included) as the Normanby Hounds host a memorial fixture for a fallen clubman, Dave ‘Tex’ Murphy. And that’s just fine; family and friends, club die-hards and a couple of grassroots sports reporters have come out here to see some off-season league for a good cause. Money raised from today’s game and a follow-up dinner will go to helping Tex’s 16 year old son through his schooling.

The Hounds’ competition team, from the Open Northside 2 division, will today be taking on the Normanby Old Boys (The N.O.B.s), a tight-knit collective of players of yore. In other words, the N.O.B.s (also calling themselves ‘The International XIII’) are de-commissioned clubmen, and while some are still looking pretty fit, others look flat-out wrong on the park; I note the ominous heavy-breathing from a large portion of the squad before the game has even begun. Plus, as a matter of honour, Tex’s son, the one for whose benefit today’s game is being played, has also strapped up for the International XIII. And while he’s not the wispiest sixteen year old I’ve ever seen, he’s certainly at that end of the scale.

All of which is not such a big deal if you fail to recognise that their opposition is a fully-competitive, second grade side that won the grand final last year with ease. I personally saw them mutilate a not-too-bad Sandgate Brighton Gaters team by 44-0.

So the first question I have when I see this surely lopsided affair get underway is fairly obvious and also human; is someone going to get hurt here? And furthermore, if it’s Tex’s kid that gets chopped in two, is that going to put a serious dampener on the benevolent spirit of things? Rugby league, I remind you, is the ball-sport equivalent of boxing; it is a game of bashing the life out of your opponent until he is weak enough for you to pass. And so I ask; can that really be done in a friendly way?

In the early stages of the game, physicality is not really the defining thing; the Hounds are simply more organised. Soon enough they’ve scored down the eastern boundary with an overlap that’s a good four men in number. And then they score again. The portly forty- fifty- and sixty-somethings of the International XIII have a good system of self-preservation in place – they are substituting themselves in and out of the game after sometimes just a single play in which they are not even involved; it looks like a competition to see who can get the most game time without actually playing.

Incidentally, having taken refuge from the sun in the enormous players’ shelter along the sideline, your reporter soon learns that the occasional pattering on the corrugated iron structure is not the breaking of rain; excited and/or nervous players find privacy enough to relieve themselves about a foot from my ear. Ah, the familiar charms of local sport.

The game is wisely broken into quarters, and during the breaks the International XIII’s skipper keeps spirits up – he earnestly believes the defence is weakening, and he might just be right. The International XIII lacks nothing where size is concerned (the way they carry their size is probably more to the point, however) and they’re making good yards when they punch at the line. Front-on defence has been solid too. A few players also make the point that the referee (who I assume is a clubman too) ‘wouldn’t dare’ penalise the International XIII for grubby or cynical play, and everyone seems to agree that it might be worth pushing the boundaries of legal play to neutralise the fitness advantages of the opposition.

Turns out they’re right about that too. The veterans don’t get penalised all afternoon.

In the second phase of the game the International XIII find a new way over the line; they put the ball to the boot and go to the sky. Twice they score tries this way, swinging play from east to west, the ball dropping perfectly for attacking players in the in-goal.

The afternoon goes on like this; the Hounds score occasionally through the middle, busting the line as the defence wearies. They sometimes like to ‘woof’ when they score. The International XIII snatch one back here or there, through an overlap or in the air. But the real on-field business of the afternoon, as it turns out, is a bit of score-settling between old bulls and young bulls. Much hyped intergenerational grudge-matches come to the fore and a handful of disturbing hits thunder around the park (which I now know echoes). Shoulder-charges, illegal in the modern game, are here given a kind of amnesty. But somehow, even after being the subject of certified double-whipped creamings, players seem to get up smiling, dusting off the grass and swatting away the circling tweeties.

It remains a given that the Hounds will win, and no one seems to be keeping score anyway. It goes without saying that this game’s true significance dwarfs the possible relevance of any scoreboard. In answer to my question, the players do manage to look after each other by following a law of fair square-offs that is pretty natural when you think about it. Basically, you don’t hit a guy unless he’s up to it.

And thanks to that, Tex’s kid survives the afternoon long enough to benefit from its proceeds.

MDB Score: N/A

MDB Service Atmosphere: N/A

MDB Cost: N/A

Game Score: (Estimate – no official record seems to have been made) Normanby Hounds, 37, def N.O.Bs, A.K.A. International XIII, 22.

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