Following Ranee: Retracing the 1883 night walk of Melbourne’s first elephant

This interactive digital narrative using Google Maps to document prose, audio and photographic based creative responses from a historically informed walk that retraced the 1883 night time trek made by Melbourne first elephant, Ranee, from the Port Melbourne police station to the Royal Melbourne Zoo in Parkville.

Melbourne Zoo by night

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Written by hand

Written by hand, first draft.
Written by hand, first draft.

I haven’t written by hand for the longest time. A signature here and there, the occasional note in a card but nothing of substance. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten how hard it is. But here I am, just a few sentences in and my hand already aches. Years of typing and texting have reduced my muscles to untrained strugglers. For someone who makes a living from the written word it’s galling to feel your body actively rebel against the act of writing.

I’ve simply fallen into the habit of using the computer or my phone to express my thoughts. Typing has become a part of my writing habit. But the act of writing reminds me of the rewards of putting pen to page. Anyone who says writing is easy is full of shit. It’s fucking hard. Like pulling teeth. Writing by hand is a physical expression of that struggle.

My hand is relatively neat, mostly legible but the act of writing has never been easy. Being left handed brings a certain awkwardness, means you write around your own words, but that isn’t the issue. I write with a heavy hand, a script that hurts. It’s an ache that makes me want to stop writing. But I can’t stop yet, there are so many things still to say.

That writing will have to wait because these scribbles, scratched by hand, record the moment I rediscovered the joy of the act of putting ink to the page.

A handwritten second draft.
A handwritten second draft.

The dilemma of public grooming

The number 8 lurches to a halt, destination Toorak via the city. The doors slide open and I step onto the tram.

Incredibly, a couple of seats are still vacant. I edge down the aisle, take a seat and glance about my fellow travellers.

An old guy has incredibly high pants. A hipster wears glasses without lens. People staring down at their phones, one or two reading.

It is the woman across from me that grabs my attention.

Holding a compact and tweezers in front of her face, she plucks her eyebrows fastidiously.

I can’t help but stare. It takes a few moments but she picks the facial precinct bare. Satisfied, she raises the tweezers to her lips, turns her head and blows the offending hair into the walkway.

I glance around. In some collective act of self-preservation I’m not privy to all other punters are oblivious.

I consider saying something but instead ponder personal grooming.

I wonder whether we have any right to intervene in the routines of others.

An outspoken high achiever walks into the room with the back of her dress tucked into her undies.

A rogue poppy seed gets lodged on the front tooth of work colleague.

A businessman with a piece of toilet paper stuck to his immaculately shined shoe .

Do I intervene? Spare them from potential embarrassment by letting them know? Would my intervention be more embarrassing? I could just avert my eyes, pretend not to notice, and let them go about their day.

Everyday dilemmas.

I formulate a position.

If you know the person’s name then you have an unequivocal responsibility to tell them. Not doing so equates to shitting in the bathroom sink at a friend’s house when the toilet is right next to you. Don’t know the person? Then it’s a judgment call but making eye contact or having talked to them at some point must tilt the scales.

Intervention has its dangers. I once pointed out the toilet paper stuck to the shoe of an elderly woman in Sydney and was chased down the street. Tact is also important. Viciously brushing the dandruff off the shoulder of a work colleague isn’t a good look but do nothing, say nothing, and the guilt of inaction until will haunt you until day you die.

The tram rounds the corner and my stop approaches.

I stand, but before leaving I bend down and tap the woman on the shoulder.

“You look fabulous,” I say then head for the door.

Reworked from 6 Oct 2011.

It wasn’t meant to end this way

The reflection that follows was written in September 2013. It was the weeks that followed the Underwater Hockey World Championships and the disappointment was still raw.

I’d imagined a different ending. Twelve months have been spent training for this tournament and now it’s over. It’s over and my imaginings have been exposed. In my version of events it was my teammates and I who hold the World Championship cup aloft. Instead, we are two rungs down with bronze medals hanging heavy on our necks.

Fifteen teams travelled to Hungary to compete in the Elite Men’s division of the Underwater Hockey World Championships. Some would argue that finishing in the medals is a good result. In time, perhaps I will come to see it that way. I’ll appreciate having had the opportunity to travel across the globe to represent my country. I’ll reminisce about that quaint little Hungarian town, Eger. I’ll remember laughing and joking with mates. But right here, right now, those thoughts are a long way off. We arrived as defending champions. We leave as footnote to a French victory. The jubilation on the faces of the French players is confronting. They are deserving winners but my guts churn with disappointment and envy.

Their celebrations continue and I try to pinpoint where it went wrong. Our preparation was excellent. My Australian teammates and I arrived more than a week before the start of the competition. The first days were spent getting over jet lag. Our training sessions allowed us to get a feel for the speed of the bottom and to gain touch on the puck. We ran drills and practiced set plays.

By the time the other teams began to arrive we were well settled. In the world of amateur sport, Underwater Hockey is about as niche as it gets. Invented by a group of English dive enthusiasts in the 1950’s it is only played by about 10,000 people but it wasn’t long before the streets of Eger were filled with Underwater junkies from across the globe. South Africans, Colombians, Canadians, Portuguese and many more, all draped in their national colours.

The competition ran nine days. Teams were divided into two seeded groups for the round robin. We were drawn in the tougher group and faced the two strongest teams – France and New Zealand – in the early stages.

We started sluggishly. Australia’s geographic isolation limits the opportunity for international match play. Having players spread across the country also means that we don’t get together often. Like all amateur sports, money is always a major consideration and it’s hard to justify paying for more than one training camp prior to a competition. It disadvantages us against countries where teams train and play together on a weekly basis.

The first two days provided mixed results, after four games we had two wins, a draw and a loss. We started to build momentum after that and finished the round robin sitting third in our group with a guaranteed finals berth.

Individually, I was happy with my performance to that point. There are always things you can improve on but I was in good physical shape, hadn’t spent any time in the bin and wasn’t getting pulled for fouling. My performance had been pretty consistent.

We won our quarterfinal game against Colombia 5-1 and booked a semi-final appointment with our long-time rival France. That was when things turned went bad. I felt the beginnings of a head cold and by the next morning I couldn’t get to the bottom of the warm-up pool without feeling like my sinuses would implode. My tournament was over.

Teams can field a squad of twelve in international tournaments but only ten play each game – six in the water and four substitutes – which means two players sit out. Our backline was full of experienced players so I may well have been sitting out the semi-final anyway but it didn’t make it any easier. For the first time in my career I wasn’t in the best ten for an important game.

I stood on the periphery while the team worked through our warm-up. When the semi-final started I found myself standing awkwardly by the side of the pool. I was vocal but powerless. The boys gave it a real shake. They played well but never quite got the upper hand. Two disallowed goals in the first half proved costly and the full time buzzer sounded with both teams tied at a goal apiece. That meant ten minutes of extra time. We applied sustained pressure to the attacking tray in the early stages but a referee call saw one of our boys sent to the bin for two minutes. Playing a man down, we defended grimly but the French eventually bullied the puck into the tray. They shut the game down and in the blink of an eye the final buzzer sounded. We lost 1-2. The realisation hit, our dream of back-to-back World Championships was over. A searing hollowness flooded into my guts.

Everyone was pretty flat but the boys picked themselves up to deliver their best performance on the final day. Our team peaked at exactly the right time but the bitter irony was that we did so in the wrong game. Not having done enough to get into the final meant we served our best to Great Britain in the bronze medal playoff. We constantly had numbers on the bottom and each play was executed with ruthless efficiency. Given how well they played, I reckon the boys could have beaten any opposition. The game ended in a 7-1 rout.

It was a lack of focus that cost us. We lost sight of the basics, didn’t swim enough to stretch the opposition, our effort was inconsistent and we didn’t string enough phases of play together. We assumed that we could just resume from two years earlier when we defeated South Africa 6-1 in the World Championships final held in Portugal. That assumption was our downfall.

I wrote the passages above in the firm belief that I had played my last Elite tournament. We had trained so hard, swum so much, and it hadn’t been enough. I couldn’t imagine putting myself through that again. Fast forward two years and I read over my thoughts with a different perspective. I have come to appreciate the things I thought I would: travelling, competing, and spending time with mates. The next Underwater Hockey World Championships will be held in Stellenbosch, South Africa in March next year. I have started training. I’m still unsure whether the fire burns bright enough but I have begun to imagine being there. I’ve started imagining holding that World Championship aloft, celebrating with my mates.

The growing legend of Matthew ‘Gator’ Gaite

Early talk centres on the first gamers Dale Sheedy and Luke Edwards. Like many in the room Edwards has come through the Fitzroy Under 19s. Sheedy, on the other hand, has followed that well-worn trial up from the bush. The boys wish them luck and talk around the table quickly shifts to second gamer Matthew ‘Gator’ Gaite.

“Apparently he’s seven foot,” someone says.
“Seven one,” comes the reply.
“A giant among men.”

The discussion captures the interest of the room. In only in his third year of footy, Gator has made his way up into the ones. This time last year he was running around in the thirds.

It may have been the wine, it may have been the reflective mood of the room but it was hard to tell where truth ends and fiction begins. Whispers of a volleyball background abound. It is said that Gator grew up in the rugby heartland. He’d finally found his calling and made his way to proper footy.

Word goes around that Fitzroy has itself a genuine FIFO footballer. Just 12 hours prior, Gator had been in his hometown of Bellingen up in Northern NSW. Apparently, he’d risen at 2am, driven to the Gold Coast and met a flight bound for Brunswick Street. It’s a good thing he was picked in the ones as he wouldn’t have made the start of the reserves.

The Amateur Footballer was consulted and a few of the old boys shared a chuckle when they discovered he would be wearing – 120. Others just nodded knowingly, a big number for a big man.

The people were thirsty for more information. Questions were directed at Curly Hart, the youngest man in the room, who had played with Gator last year. Curly suggested Gator was most athletic person he had played alongside.

Talk moved to Gator’s Wayne Harmes moment in a thirds game last year. The sprayed kick of a teammate looked a certainty to end up out on the full. Gator refused to yield and instead sprinted full pelt in pursuit of the hopeless ball. Launching himself horizontal he managed to get a fingertip on ball millimetres from oblivion. Gator slapped the ball goalward and into the path of an oncoming teammate who ran into an open goal before falling to the ground coughing. He spluttered and retched before managing to spit something into his hand. A moment later, he stood and raised his arm to hold aloft the mouthguard that he had inadvertently swallowed. He quickly replaced the mouthguard before standing up back to the centre square to contest the next centre bounce.

The luncheon participants were suitably impressed and the legend of Gator continued to grow. Past players, old and young, speculated on his ability. He was said to have a decent leg and the ability to make the impossible look easy but was occasionally prone to dropping the simplest of marks. The reoccurring theme was that Fitzroy had found itself another man who has a dip.

An Engineer by trade, Gator is said to be a man who constructs buildings by day and leaps them by night. Today he would don the famous red, blue and yellow gurney and tread the same Brunswick Street turf as former Fitzroy rucking greats Albert Clay, Frank Curcio, Russell Crow and Alan Gale.

Gator went on to spend the game rotating through the ruck where he thrived on the contest, often using his height and reach to give the Fitzroy midfield first use of the ball. He also competed strongly around the ground and took some telling marks late in the game.

Originally published on on 20 May 2015.

VAFA: Fitzroy v Old Melburnians

Fitzroy FC 12.9 (81) def by Old Melburnians 13.10 (88)
Brunswick Street Oval
16 May 2015

Grassroots footy is up against a crowded cultural landscape. It vies for attention with the elite competition, any number of other sporting codes, community organisations and recreational activities. But footy clubs have a unique ability to bring people together; in many communities throughout Australia footy grounds are epicentres of place and belonging.

This is true of the footy ground in the heart of Fitzroy. The Brunswick Street Oval has hosted footy for nearly as long as its been played. The Lions played more than more than six hundred VFL games there between 1897 and 1966. League matches are a distant memory but the Brunswick Street Oval is still a place where people from all walks of life come together to reflect, relax and kick an oval shaped ball around an ancient paddock.

Like so many Saturday’s afternoons that had come before the Brunswick Street was again home to a game of footy. Today it was the Round Six VAFA Premier B game between Fitzroy FC and Old Melburnians.

Fitzroy’s long and proud football history was on full display at a reunion luncheon held prior to the game. MCs Colin Hobbs (1966-71; 64 games) and Danny Wilson traded jokes, laughs and war stories with past players from a range of eras. Winner of the 1971 Stawell Gift Trevor McGregor (1966-71; 47 games) reflected on the challenges of balancing football and athletics in an era when cross training was unheard of. Paul O’Brien (1966-69; 47 games) discussed fighting at Preston jazz dances and playing Centre Half Back in the senior team. Brian Pert (1954-65; 125 games) recalled how he came to miss the 1960 Preliminary Final after being cut by a falling shard of glass after his teammate kicked a football into a fluorescent light hanging from the roof. While self proclaimed member of the ‘All Australian team of surnames beginning with Z’ Bruno Zorzi (1957-58 & 60; 18 games) shared his memories of debuting at Full Back on North Melbourne’s Jock Spencer and playing in Brunswick Street mud so deep that he lost his boot.

Fitzroy past players luncheon at Brunswick Oval.
Fitzroy past players luncheon at Brunswick Oval.

The modern day Fitzroy Football Club maintains a sense of community that is rare amongst sporting clubs, especially in the city. Supporters range from Fitzroy diehards to young families who just happen to live around the corner. Club President Joan Eddy takes the stage, welcomes them all and acknowledges a list of sponsors that reads like it would in any town in Australia: the local Bendigo Bank, the North Fitzroy Caltex, the Royal Derby Hotel and Piedimonte’s supermarket, to name but a few.

Joan notes that at 1-4, the game it is crucial in the context of Fitzroy’s season but also acknowledges that the competition is as tough as ever in Premier B. She makes special mention of Dale Sheedy and Luke Edwards who are making their senior debuts. She also notes second gamer, 7’01’’ ruckman Matthew Gaite. Edwards is a product of the Fitzroy under 19s while both Sheedy and Gaite have made their way to the club from the bush.

Looking out over the ground but it is hard to imagine the muddy bogs of yesteryear. It is a perfect autumn day and the ground is in beautiful nick beneath a cloudless blue sky. There certainly wasn’t any chance that boots would be lost to the mud.

When the siren sounds it is Old Melburnians who burst out of the blocks, moving the ball with fluency. Fitzroy co-captain Daniel Bisetto is doing his utmost to stem the tide, repeatedly dropping back and dragging in telling marks, but the Redlegs run and carry is generating too many quality opportunities and they take a two-goal lead into the first change.

The second quarter sees the intensity lift and with it a change in momentum. Gaite competes manfully in the ruck, using both height and reach to give the Fitzroy midfield first use. Redleg’s midfielder Edward De Fegely cannons in and out of packs but Fitzroy’s defensive pressure is decisive. Rory Angiolella and Dominic Pound-Palmieri both look lively and the Roys get themselves back into the match kicking four goals to one for the term.

The half time siren sees of past players, supporters and blokes from the 2s duck through the back gate of the North Fitzroy Bowls club for rumination and speculation over a couple of quiet pots. Attention is diverted from the clinking of glasses and the speed of the green when the siren sounds. The punters down their the last of drinks and head back to WT Peterson Community Oval for the second half.

The game settles into an end to end struggle. Old Melburnians draw away and Fitzroy to doggedly peg them back. George Hurley-Wellington is strong across halfback for the Redlegs but Bisetto is equally effective on the opposite line for Fitzroy. Thomas Bachet finds himself on the end of scrambled kick and converts for Old Melburnians but Chris Doherty finds the reply within a minute. Only two points separate the sides at the final change.

The final term is a seesawing affair. Fitzroy come out all guns blazing and skip away to a two-goal lead but the Redlegs rally with consecutive goals. The scoring dries as the ball is shunted from contest to contest. The deadlock breaks when the play opens up and Theodore Rosenthal puts the Redlegs in front. A big contested grab at centre half forward by Bisetto has the Fitzroy old boys nodding with appreciation. ‘League level grab that,’ is the call. The two sides go goal for goal while supporters anxiously glance at their watches and yell themselves hoarse. Thomas Hywood’s second goal seals the win for Old Melburnians and the Heritage Listed grandstand groans.

Fitzroy supporters walk away disappointed with the result but content in the knowledge that the Brunswick Street Oval still knows how to put on a show.

Originally published on on 19 May 2015.

In Bob we trust

Bob Murphy lives around the corner. I see him walking the streets of Carlton North with his family, Justine, Frankie Jarvis and his dog, Arthur. I guess it’s the lot of an AFL footballer living in Melbourne but it’s weird knowing so much about a person you’ve never met, let alone talked to. We know a lot more about Bob because of the weekly column in The Age. We’ve read about the first pair of football boots he owned, his friendships with Gia and the people’s Beard and his love of the kennel.

Bob writes a good piece, he has humility and an eye for detail that you don’t often see. Bob’s musings on life, mateship and the joys and pressures of football provide a unique perspective on what is an increasingly sanitised industry. His writing is reminiscent of the Brent Croswell pieces I’ve read.

Other than our geographic proximity there is bit of common ground between Bob and I. We seem to share a taste for flannel and the music of Tom Waits, Tex Perkins, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and You Am I. We also both grew up in Gippsland. I’m pretty sure I shared a ground with him once or twice while playing junior footy, him for Warragul, me for Wonthaggi. Any similarities didn’t carry through to the playing field. Bob’s a creative flanker, a quality footballer. I was an ankle kicking struggler.

Because of these associations I’ve followed Bob’s career more closely than others. Not only is he an astute sports writer he’s also a joy to watch on the field. He’s quick of both mind and foot and rarely wastes it. Good footballers bring their teammates into the game and that’s one of Bob’s strengths. His creativity allows his teammates to shine. What I like most about Bob is his unabashed love for his club. It’s righteously old fashioned and wonderful to see.

In Bob we trustBeing the off season I’ve noticed Bob around the neighbourhood a bit more often over the past month, having dinner at the Great Northern, grabbing a coffee on Rathdowne Street, going for a run around the streets of Carlton North.

I have probably paid a little more attention given all of the press around the Bullies. He seemed to cut a forlorn figure amongst the Carlton crowd. I couldn’t help but wonder what he made of the Griffen, Cooney and Higgins departures or how he felt about Brendan McCartney’s resignation and now Luke Beveridge’s appointment. Bob ducked out of the kennel for a couple weeks and has returned to a different looking family.

I was glad to see Bob named captain. He’ll be a ripper. He looks the man to build a bridge between old dogs and new pups. He’ll insist on a respect for tradition and share his love of the club and it’s people. I reckon things will be all right out at the kennel. All this recent turmoil will be quickly forgotten. I’ll still see Bob around the neighbourhood now and then but I won’t be wasting my time wondering whether the pups of the west are in capable hands.

Originally published at on November 25, 2014.

All Saints Day from the Nicholson Street TAB

TAB sign

It’s no coincidence that the best card in Australian racing fell on All Saints day. The canonized associates of the lord presided over fields of the highest order. More than 90,000 people graced Flemington’s lawns, marquees and carparks but for me it was the no-nonsense surrounds of the Nicholson Street TAB. For the regular Carlton North crew (and their peers that frequent countless other TABs across this great land) Saturday racing is a ritual equal to any Christian observance.

I know the Nicholson Street TAB well. It was the first agency I worked in, I did my Sellers ticket there. Dad is a horse breaker and farrier so I’d been around the gee-gees all my life but it wasn’t until that point that I discovered the complexity and intrigue of parimutuel betting. It’s been a passion ever since, and that I’ve ended up living less than five minutes walk from the place is both a blessing and a curse.

Not much has changed in the 15 years since I worked there. It’s not the classiest joint from which to experience the sport of kings. Men in dapper suits and women in heels and cocktail dresses are a world away. The place smells of sweat and stale cigarette smoke. There’s hardy a soul aged under sixty; well dressed gentlemen with their slacks, shirts and sensible shoes and those in two strip tracksuit pants and runners. The TAB might be bleeding market share to the newer, sexier sports betting agencies but there’s still a place for it. TABs have a rhythm of their own: punters moving from board to board, the rush and hustle at the windows and the quality of the banter. There’s also the fact that form reads better when pinned to a corkboard.

It was a good day of racing; neck and neck finishes with a bit of value to be found. The Carlton locals seemed to start well, half the room called Kermadec home and while heads were starched when Thunder Lady saluted in the Wakefield, Hucklebuck provided atonement.

At one point a woman walked in with her fella – necks craned and pacemakers stalled but the excitement quickly abated. Eyes returned to the form or the screens.

A few in the crowd applauded Joao Moreira’s double, more for the fact that he steered Signoff into a Cup berth. Some even celebrated with focaccia from Milato Café across the road. They returned with a couple of sneaky Fat Yak stubbies in time to see Happy Trails get the nod.

The highlight of the day came when Preferment nosed out Bondeiger. The bloke next to me looked to his mate and said, “Good win. Oliver?”

His mate nodded, “Waller too.”

“Pricks,” said the first bloke. They shook their heads knowingly and chuckled.

I had to smile too, two Group 1s for Ollie and three winners for Waller, it’s a fair day at the office.

The Myer Classic saw Bonaria add some much needed value to the multiples and as the 96 tram continued to rattle back and forth between East Brunswick and St Kilda those still alive in the Quaddie discussed the chances of Deep Fields. $1.60 is pretty skinny but he still proved to be a popular winner.

For me and most others, that saw another Saturday done. For the blokes still with a taste for it there were a couple left at Ascot then the dogs at The Meadows. The Nicholson Street TAB might not have the gravitas of Flemington but it’s still provides a good day of racing.

This article was originally published in the Footy Almanac on 3 November 2014.

How to become the No.1 triangle-maker in town

Screenshot of triangle-maker search on LinkedIn
Screenshot of triangle-making search on LinkedIn

Everyone is talking about LinkedIn: arguing how important it is for career mobility, trying to sell it as a cornerstone of business development and sharing anecdotes about all the job offers that are rolling in. Until recently, I had managed to resist engaging with it. It might be odd for someone who works in digital marketing but I just didn’t see the point.

My reluctance to engage didn’t have anything to do with a lack of understanding of its mechanics. I appreciate the value a social network focused on professional interaction can offer users. The ability to communicate your extended networks and have your professional skills peer reviewed is a useful way of demonstrating expertise. The capacity to connect with potential employers and, conversely, employers being able to review the skills and networks of potential employees is also very appealing.

There are plenty of people who have gotten meaningful value out of being on LinkedIn, there are others who haven’t. Personally, I just never felt any inclination to establish or maintain my own profile. This reluctance probably steams from a simple lack of ambition.

A LinkedIn profile was forced upon me by a recent change of job. The new role requires me to maintain a company profile and this meant establishing a personal profile. Biting the bullet, I dug up a semi-professional looking photo and dumped in my CV. Then I had a bit of a poke around.

My initial experiences confirmed that I haven’t missed much. The user interface is clunky and annoying to navigate. The majority of user profiles look identical. “Make sure you look your best,” is the advice provided when uploading a photo and it seems that everyone has complied. Well-lit and well-framed profile shot of people in business attire are a dime a dozen. Everyone also has an extensive list of skills and experiences. The most disappointing aspect is that the majority of content shared on the network is completely uninteresting.

Bored, I decided to experiment. I uploaded a completely inappropriate photo. I added a bunch of weird skills: triangle making, sandblasting and hat wearing to name a few (all of these skills are legit: I made triangular pre-fabricated roof trusses for two years, worked as a labourer for a sandblaster and wore hats on both jobs).

Other than becoming the number one triangle maker listed on Linked the tweaks haven’t really made any difference. I still receive a similar number of requests for connections. I still get same amount of skill endorsements. I doubt the job offers will flow but at least I’ve made a boring workplace chore a little more fun. My attitude might change as soon as I start looking for a new job but for the time being I’m going to leave LinkedIn to the professionals.