Sweaty balls and a cool chest

The dry season in the Territory is a very popular time of the year, not just for visitors to the Territories many regions, but also for locals, who enjoy the ability to move out and about and explore this great place. For me it is about getting out bush, wetting a line, playing some footy and generally having a good time. Nothing beats a Top End dry season in my books, the crisp morning air, the cool nights, those southerly winds and those clear blue skies.

How good is this weekend, heading to the Daly River Sports Festival, a couple of hours south of Darwin, which means some footy, fishing and feelin’ good. On top of that telling the boss you’re not available for the day, frees up Friday and turns ‘just a weekend’, into ‘an exceptional weekend’. It’s amazing what a trip out of town does for the psyche, the frame of mind that you enter, the composure that sets in and nullifies the distractions of town life.

Yes, they’re always good times when you’re heading south from Darwin, travelling down the Stuart highway, with my mates ‘Tickets’ and ‘Shed’, squashed up in the front of my Landcruiser ute, with all the gear we need for a few days of fun sitting behind us. Listening to the sometimes fictitious stories, as they struggle with a level a truth that only Territory yarns can get away with.

They call me ‘Cocky’ because they reckon I’m that cocksure of myself it ain’t funny. Maybe I am confident, so what, I like to see everything as an opportunity and I believe in myself. I met ‘Tickets’ and ‘Shed’ about 10 years ago at the Top End Hotel in Darwin. I’d just come off a station in WA, caught a bus to Darwin and was planning a big weekend, when I ran into these two, the rest is history.

‘Tickets’, in his own mind, is one of the unluckiest footballers going around in Australia, he still hopes one day to get drafted by the AFL because he knows that he’s something special. ‘Tickets’ has put his name down for that reality TV show, the ‘Recruit’, every year now and can’t understand why they haven’t short listed him for a spot yet. ‘Tickets’ is a great bloke, but he’s a lousy footballer, and the stories he tells of his exploits post match are what legends are made of.

‘Shed’, who’s real name is Tim House, could also be called ‘BP’, ‘the quiet achiever’, he’s one of those talented people that whatever he turns his hand to, pays off.  He doesn’t say much, just goes about his business and gets things done without any fuss. ‘Shed’ is the perfect mate for ‘Tickets’, an excellent example of the Chinese philosophy ‘Ying and Yang’, and the two of them have been mates for as long as they can remember.

We arrived into town and caught up with the Sams brothers from Emu Point, who we’d lined up to play with. We sealed the deal by bringing the footy jumpers down from Darwin, plus a couple of footies that we got from the Southern Districts footy club. As far as the footy was concerned things were looking pretty good from the start, we had plenty of players, and everyone was pretty keen to get themselves one of the new Eagles jumpers.

We had three games scheduled to play on that first day, the first one against the Wadeye Saints, who won the Wadeye Football League Grand Final just last season, so it was going to be a challenging start to the weekends footy. We left the wheeling and dealing of negotiating the team line up the Sams brothers, after we’d called our positions, “I’ll play Full Forward, ‘Tickets’ can play in the back pocket and ‘Shed’ can play on the ball.”, “No worries Cocky”, was the response.

The three of us headed off to unload our gear and set up our camp for the next few days. We swag it during the dry, nothing better than a night under the stars and waking up in the morning under a warm blanket and a cool morning. Our plan was to fish upstream of the crossing, so we set up camp towards Oolloo crossing, the clear fresh waters after the wet season flush are always inviting there. We had a small tinny with an electric motor, which wasn’t ideal if you came across a large Saltie, but it was perfect for moving around the snags along this magnificent and picturesque stretch of the Daly River.

We headed back to town and arrived as the team was getting ready for the first match.  I enjoy playing these games, they are competitive yet the surroundings gives the games that relaxing feel. The Wadeye Saints came out firing and kicked the first 3 goals, we needed to get our act into gear if we were going to give these guys a run. One of the Parry fella’s got stuck into the guys in the middle, and the next thing, the balls headed my way and hitting me on the chest.

We kicked the next 5 goals, before the Saints came back with one and made things tight again. After the break ‘Shed’ got his hands on the footy and made life as a full forward easy, delivering them lace out and right in front of the eyes. Thanks to ‘Shed’ I finished the match with a lazy 5 and the Emu Point Eagles got up over the Wadeye Saints by 20 points. Win number one!

The next games went in similar fashion, we knocked off the local team the Green River Saints and then the Peppimenarti Bulldogs to have three wins for the day. ‘Tickets’ got his obligatory 15 touches per match, all turned over to the opposition, I managed to bag 12 for the day thanks to the ‘Shed’s’ lace out delivery, and ‘Shed’ got knocked up getting so many touches. No more footy till tomorrow now, so its fishing time.

We had about an hour of light left, so we got ourselves onto the water quick smart to make the most of it. Floating along the Daly River in a tinny, flicking lures around the many snags, there’s not much better. When you search for the definition of tranquility in Dictionary.com, it should just have this image. The chomping on the water echoing against the banks of the river, let you know that it was feeding time and there were some hungry fish about.

The three of us have our own definition of a fisherman, which is a person who hits the water, with the intention of catching a feed for the here and now, and leaves very little trace of their existence. We enjoy the natural element over the competitive aspect, so as a consequence we avoid the areas where the ‘city destroyers’, as we like to call them, travel to.

The number of boats hitting the Daly had doubled over the last few years as more and more people ventured to the region, however the size of the boats has near on tripled in that same time. If you go fishing on the downstream side of the crossing past Browns Creek, you are competing with 6m boats, with 200hp motors on them, belting along, churning up the river. I ask you, where’s the tranquility in that?

It wasn’t long before ‘Tickets’ yelled out “Oh yeah, you little beauty”, and that nice silver colour burst out of the water, trying to lose the lure that had lodged firmly in its mouth.  The fish was a good size, probably around 70cm, and it was planning on putting on a show. The etiquette in our boat was that you kept your lines out of the water once there was a fish on, however every now again that doesn’t go to plan, as ‘Shed’ let out a “Oh shit”, as he hooked one up while reeling  in.

We spent the best part of 10 minutes working both these fish, making sure the lines didn’t cross, trying to keep them as far apart from each other as possible. ‘Shed’ had his at the back of the tinny trying to keep it out of snag, while ‘Tickets’ worked just as hard at the front of the boat. My job was simple, make sure my rod didn’t get trampled on, make sure I had the landing net ready for which ever one come in first, and working the electric motor to keep us out in the open part of the river. Easy!

The exhilaration of catching a Barra is always invigorating and pleasurable, the fact that you are catching a fish that has to be over 1/2 meter to keep, says a lot in the first place. When your on a good size fish, their initial hit on the lure is hard and strong, your line straightens automatically, as the fish heads to the surface and explodes into the air. Shaking its head, working hard to throw the lure, looking spectacular, while the angler battles hard to keep the line tight and not give it any slack.

We got them both into the boat and decided to choose ‘Tickets’ 77cm fish, to keep for a feed. It is customary to take the obligatory photos of each catch for prosperity, and for proof during later discussions. We fished for another 30 minutes, each picking up a couple of good size fish and releasing them back into the river ready for the next encounter.

We sat around the camp fire, eating freshly caught, and hot coal cooked Barramundi, enjoying a beautiful dry season evening. Once ‘Tickets’ started telling us about his exploits on the footy field from earlier today, ‘Shed’ and I jumped in our swags and called it a night. Looking up into the star filled sky you reflect on your own journey, where you’ve been, what you’ve achieved and where your heading to next, its a shame that the surrealism was intertwined with the play by play description of “Tickets’ day in the field.

You wake pretty early when you’re swagging it, the sunrise is natures way of letting you know that a fresh day is about to begin. The sunlight that breaks the horizon, the birds signal in the mornings arrival and the nocturnal wildlife gives way to the diurnal wildlife. One of the best things about camping out is getting the breakfast cooking after that peaceful nights sleep, getting the fire up again and sitting that nice big frying pan over the flames.

For mine the meal of choice is poached eggs on toast, with tomato and seasoned with pepper. Always looking for a reason to eat fruit, I’ll cut an orange in half, eat out the contents and then use the two hollow pieces to poach my eggs. A tomato cut in 1/2 and a couple of slices of toast turning in the frying pan, with a touch of oil and ‘bobs your uncle’, 20 minutes work from start to finish, ‘voilà’.

‘Tickets’ is a bacon, tomato and fried eggs on toast man, the bacon needs to be crispy, the eggs running but have to be turned over and the tomato sliced and heated. ‘Shed’ is a vegemite on toast fella, who uses a cheese scrapper on a pound of butter, and then spreads thick lashings of vegemite over the butter, a cholesterol specialists dream. We all indulge in a cup of billy tea that is brewed strong with milk and sugar added, stuff that you can stand spoons in.

After an earlier morning flick and a few more photos, we made our way back to the township to find out who and when we were playing next. The visiting teams from further away, the Numbulwar Suns and the Ngukurr Bulldogs had arrived in town late yesterday evening and were keen for a game, which meant all up there were now seven teams competing and we had another 3 games to play today before the finals on Sunday.

A few of the Emu Point boys celebrated the previous days victories a bit to hard the night before, and had made themselves unavailable for the mornings game. The negotiations with the coordinator as to when games were scheduled began, with the Sams brothers arguing towards afternoon games for their team, so that we had a better chance of having all our players fit and ready to play. We struck out and had the first game against the Numbulwar Suns scheduled for an hours time.

“Don’t worry Norman”, I said, “We’ll get through this first match and still be in good shape for the rest of the day”. Numbulwar and Ngukurr had to play 6 games between now and the start of the finals, we were still the only undefeated team to date. “We’re in good shape mate” I added. We lost the first game to Numbulwar and then to Palumpa Power after that, things started to pick up though when we got up over Ngukurr for our last match of the day, but the Sams brothers were not happy, and told the team to tone it down on any celebrations tonight.

While our community teammates were disappointed that the footy comp had taken a twist for the worse on the second day, it wasn’t a bother the three of us. We enjoyed our games, got enough of the footy to feel like we contributed, “Tickets’ even hit a target with one of his possessions, and now we were back on the river again, nailing ourselves yet another feed. We relaxed that night knowing that the serious stage of the competition was ahead of us and that there would be some argy bargy, while those that mattered laid down the law.

The Emu Point Eagles, sat 2nd on the ladder after the minor rounds, below Ngukurr and above Green River and Wadeye Saints, all teams that we had already beaten during the competition, which made the Sams brothers happy. The negotiations for the final format took place and it was finally decided to have a top 6, which meant that Palumpa were the unlucky one’s who’s carnival had finished. Palumpa weren’t overly excited about this, as they had beaten us, and as we were 2nd, they figured that they were as good as to.

With the top two teams not playing until there were two teams left from the remaining 4 teams, we got to sit it out for a bit. Green River got to play Numbulwar, who had beaten them on the Saturday quite comfortably, the Suns were a pretty slick outfit when they got the chance to run with the footy, and continued their domination over the Green River Saints. Wadeye Saints took on the Peppimenarti Bulldogs, who had beaten them on the Friday, however this time around the Wadeye team over came the team from the plains of Peppimenarti.

That left four, Emu Point to take on the Wadeye Saints, while Numbulwar tackle the Ngukurr Bulldogs, the two winning teams playing off in the final. All sounded pretty fair, at least while your team was winning!

For us visitors to the competition, its great to just sit back and watch things unfold, when the time comes to playing the game, we’re just making the most of an opportunity to have a kick. For the community teams competing against each other, there is plenty of pride on the line and no one wants to feel the shame of losing, sometimes tempers fly, sometimes words are said, but never have I seen grudges held.

We managed to knock off the Wadeye Saints once again, however this time, they never got a jump on us as we took control early. Ngukurr didn’t manage to do the same in their game against the Numbulwar Suns and the tight struggle was settled with a controversial goal after the siren. There were a few arguments as a result, while the winning players moving away from the scene to get themselves ready for the final against us, their supporters and the Ngukurr team argued about the validity of the free kick.

So it was Sunday afternoon, we’d played about 7 games of footy, caught a number of Bara that provide a couple of very good feeds, and other than the bush baths we’d had, were pretty much travelling ‘au natural’. We had one game of footy to go before we were heading back to town, which meant our ‘exceptional weekend’ was quickly coming to a close.

All three of us wanted to finish off on a high note, and the Sams brothers had made sure that the fella’s antics from Friday night weren’t repeated last night, so the team was up and prepared to rectify their poor performance from Saturday morning. My only comment to ‘Shed’ was “I only want them lace out and in front of the chest, nothing less”, he smiled and retorted “Cocky, there’s no other way I can deliver them to you, you can’t jump and you can’t bend down, if there not in the spot, its the oppositions pill”.

The game got underway and ‘Tickets’ came up with a goal saving tackle in the first minute of the game that created a long ‘ohh’ from the crowd, an angry disapproval from the Suns player teammates and a sigh from ‘Shed’ and myself, as we knew what we’d be listening to that all the way home. The Emu Point guys were quickly around ‘Tickets’, patting him on the back and keeping him safe from the angered Numbulwar players. It must have been a painful tackle, as the Numbulwar player limped awkwardly off the ground to get his injuries attended to.

‘Tickets’ got a free kick for the tackle he laid and took advantage of the disorganised Suns forward line and played on, kicking the ball long into our forward line. It was a sensational kick, long, low, hard, straight, literally it was a 50m pass that hit Chris Parry on the chest and he went back and slotted a goal. The rest of the game went without incident, it remained close but we managed to keep in front of the ledger by a couple of goals consistently through the match.

When the final siren went we celebrated our victory, commiserated with the Numbulwar Suns players, then hung around for the presentation of the trophy that was on offer. The team was pretty excited and there were hugs and congratulations all around, ‘Tickets’ got plenty of pats on the back for his opening tackle, it really set the scene and the guys knew it. We promised that we’d be there for the next time Emu Point Eagles played  together, which was definitely something we were happy to do.

We hit the road back to Darwin, chatting about the weekend, laughing about different parts of the trip that would eventually become the fables of future tales. ‘Shed’ suggested to ‘Tickets’ that he should try out for the Recruit again, the next time it comes up, “that tackle of yours was sensational, the AFL scouts needed to see that, but your 50m pass, after you played on from the free kick, that’s what legends are made of”.

We hadn’t had a real shower since Friday, so we were a bit on the nose to everyone but ourselves, there was no doubting that we were covered in stale sweat, but cruising home with the windows down definitely provided some cool air on the chest.

Chance is about adventure and uncertainty, Boondock is the enjoyable attributes of the Territory, its roughness and remoteness
Chance is about adventure and uncertainty, Boondock is the enjoyable attributes of the Territory, its roughness and remoteness