As another AFL season kicked off with an anti-climactic split round, the sports pages filled with interviews of players. Each spoke of their desire for success. Adelaide’s Patrick Dangerfield went as far as telling his club that he won’t re-sign unless he can realistically see a premiership opportunity arising. The always eloquent Bob Murphy, while fretting about his laces, hopes his Bulldogs are sailing toward the finals once again. But heading into his fifteenth season, Murphy will be acutely aware that many players with decorated careers have never won a premiership. Many footballers in all manner of leagues go through their lives without even a junior premiership to show for it. It appeared this fate would befell me until late in my footballing life. Happily, I managed to play in two. It was the first of these that will always be the most memorable.
A trip to northern New South Wales put me within visiting distance of the coach of that premiership season, Tom Granleese. In a common refrain, work and further study meant that Tom had moved on from University Blues. First to Rockhampton, where he coached Brothers to a flag, then to Armidale where he led the Nomads to back-to-back premiership success. Coupled with his victorious debut season as coach in 2008, Tom has rightfully earned the moniker ‘Supercoach’.
I first met Tom early in 2008 when I returned to the Blues after a couple of seasons playing in the bush at Birchip-Watchem Bulls. He was introduced as the coach of the Blues’ Club XVIII team. Then 21, Tom felt that his playing abilities would best be suited to the Clubbies and believed that he would be as well-placed to manage the team as anyone. Although I was much more experienced than he, I was immediately impressed by Tom’s whole-hearted embrace of the Blues and of the Clubbies. I was also impressed by how friendly and inclusive he was, no doubt due to his country upbringing in the New South Wales town of Temora.
My training at Blues was limited early in the season as I was working a few hours north of Melbourne. I would drive down on the weekend to increasingly find that the Supercoach was developing a cult following. The naturally modest Tom found speaking in front of crowds a touch difficult and the football club was no exception. Evidently his reading of the teams was a highlight of the training week for many. His idiosyncrasies endeared him to all at the club and helped embed him in the fabric of the place.
Under Supercoach we started the season superbly and quickly established ourselves as one of the teams to be beaten. Tom was a brilliant leader for the team. He wore his heart on his sleeve on the ground and his passion often overcame his ability to speak when addressing the players. Off the field, he was brilliant at organising the players and encouraging everyone to have a go. When your team is third or fourth in the pecking order at the club, the players at your disposal can vary weekly and Tom managed this with aplomb. We couldn’t help but be united under him.
One Saturday I arrived at the ground more or less on time to find the coach and all of my team-mates already in the rooms. Unbeknownst to me Tom had organised an honesty session before that day’s game. Each player had their name on a sheet of paper and all the others had to write a positive and a negative about that player. The feedback I received was not surprising as I think I already knew what would be written, but it did make an impact to know that this is what your team-mates were thinking about you. The most amusing feedback given was to a guy with a Southern Cross tattoo. The overwhelming criticisms were about his poor choice of ink.
The season went as seasons do. I played well in some games and poorly in others. Tom was injured for a few games. Some of us went up to the Reserves while others came back. Injuries and absences hit us during the colder months. As the year rolled on, only a few teams were able to make the finals and we were one of them. We felt we were in the best couple of teams in the competition but some losses during the uni holidays meant we only just snuck into the final four. Our tilt at the flag was labelled “a good, old-fashioned, white shorts campaign” by an unperturbed Tom at training during the week.
We won our way through to the Grand Final and set ourselves to play the Old Xaverians Crocodiles. As fate would have it, the Crocs were the competition powerhouse. Their team mostly consisted of former-A Grade amateurs who couldn’t find the time to commit to the higher level. Their experience and ability was second-to-none in the Club XVIII competition.
The game was one for the annals. Thousands of words could be written about the events of the day. To summarise, we took an early lead before the Crocs came back at us in the third term. The scores were dead-locked for much of the final quarter and we had the wind. Despite 90% of play being in our forward half, we could not score. The hard-headed Crocs defended resolutely.
When the siren sounded the scores were level and confusion reigned until a croaky voice informed us over the tinny loudspeaker that there was to be two extra stanzas of 5min each. In the first we scored a solitary point, but a hard-fought goal broke the Crocs’ resolve in the second and we kicked away to win by 19 points. With what felt like our entire club watching, it was a famous victory and celebrated accordingly. Tom has hazy memories of the night which went down in club folklore.
In the week that followed, winning the premiership didn’t feel as good as I expected. Of course I was pleased but I remember going back to training thinking not much had changed, especially as I ran out for our club’s Reserves the following Saturday. It is only with time that I have appreciated what we won under Tom.
At his place in Armidale with our two boys playing, we watched the two periods of extra time. I hadn’t seen footage of the game in the intervening 5 years. I was surprised by how key moments in the game passed so quickly. In my mind our break-through goal was a titanic moment but on the computer screen it passed in seconds. The atmosphere on the recording did not quite reach the levels I remembered. But it didn’t diminish how proud and happy I was to have won that flag under the Supercoach. To Bob Murphy at his fifteenth attempt and every other park footballer still chasing a flag, it is worth it and good luck.
* Some photos must be credited to the excellent John H Wood Photography
It is interesting the way in which some places become tourist attractions while others sit more quietly. Neither of Victoria’s two highest peaks (Mt Bogong and Mt Feathertop) are ski resorts. Infrastructure was created elsewhere and the skiers followed. While sitting on ski lifts at Mt Hotham, I have often looked over at the clean, fresh snow on Mt Feathertop and wistfully compared it to the busy ski runs of Hotham. Odd quirks of fate such as this are innumerable. Why is Byron Bay so popular when you can sit on many beautiful beaches by yourself elsewhere on New South Wales’ north coast? How many places exist that only locals know about?
We spent a few days at Crescent Head, a couple of hours north of Newcastle. Crescent Head is popular with tourists, but its distance from Sydney and Brisbane make it quieter than some more famous beachside towns. Short drives into Hat Head National Park, Goolawah National Park and Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve reward the curious with turquoise waters washing onto quiet sandy beaches. But eventually we continued north to visit the World Heritage listed Dorrigo National Park.
On the drive, we were listening to Dr Karl’s segment on Triple J radio. A caller rang with a question and said that he was from Bellingen, coincidentally our destination for lunch that day. Dr Karl and the caller chatted briefly about Bellingen and they mentioned a place called the “Promised Land” just north of the town. The caller was quick to say that he should keep quiet lest it become more popular. Needless to say, this little exchange piqued my interest.
Bellingen, although unknown to me, is clearly known to many others. It has a plethora of hotels, shops and cafés that are clearly designed for through traffic rather than the 2500 people who call the town home. Contrasting this is the town of Dorrigo, about 30km away and about 600m up the mountain. Whilst Dorrigo does have some tourist-driven infrastructure, its main function is to service the local farming community. Dorrigo’s claim to fame is a World Heritage listed national park, and Bellingen is known as the birthplace of Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist yet Bellingen is the more popular tourist town. Another oddity.
We spent a day exploring Dorrigo and its National Park. We strolled out on the Skywalk at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and took in the view over Bellingen all the way to Urunga on the coast at the mouth of the Bellinger River*. A number of walks began from the Rainforest Centre and we chose one to explore the Gondwana Rainforest that made the National Park World Heritage listed.
The popularity of the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre was obvious. Tourists stopped off while driving Waterfall Way, and school groups regularly came through for educational experiences. A large gift shop and café serviced those that came through. But the highlight of Dorrigo National Park came for me when we took a drive to the Never Never picnic area. The 10km drive through the park was picturesque with the rainforest encroaching on either side of the road. Occasional breaks in the foliage made possible astonishing views of nearby hills and rolling green farmland. We were the only people at the picnic area, which was a slightly peculiar feeling given we had only driven 15min from the popular Rainforest Centre.
Fortunately, our visit to the region coincided with the 3rd Saturday of the month – Bellingen market day. We left our campsite early to investigate the wares available and were not disappointed. After wearing the mini-Bugler out, we strapped him in for a sleep while we drove out to the day’s main event.
There is little on the internet about the Promised Land. A quick search only netted a few results but did identify a road near the hamlet of Gleniffer called Promised Land Road. But we didn’t quite know what would be there. The one website with some information said that it is a “tranquil part of the Bellinger Valley” and one of the “purest and most magical places”. It mentioned that the Never Never Creek was good for swimming and for enjoying a picnic. Clearly good enough for the Bugle family to explore.
Even the drive to the Promised Land was spectacular. A narrow road wound its way through incredibly verdant farmland. The cows grazed on thick grass at the foot of a dramatic escarpment covered with thick rainforest. Mrs Bugler and I were left stunned at the beauty of the farms that were in stark contrast to those where we grew up. Less than 100km to the west parts of New England are suffering through their worst ever drought, but in this valley that seemed an impossibility.
We continued our drive on the Promised Land Loop Road and ogled slack-jawed at the properties. No wonder the likes of George Negus and David Helfgott call this home. Eventually we arrived at a bridge crossing Never Never Creek. A couple of parked cars signalled this as our picnic and swimming spot. A short walk through the rainforest and we were at a perfect swimming hole with superbly clear fresh water. The Promised Land.
More than once I have arrived at a place and been frustrated by the lack of phone reception or the inadequacies of the dining options. For these reasons I understand the attraction of popular tourist destinations. Mrs Bugler is also fond of telling me that places are popular for a reason and, certainly, I was still astonished upon viewing the Taj Mahal, Uluru and the Eiffel Tower despite seeing millions of images of them. But just occasionally if you follow a rumour or a tip, you might just find yourself enjoying the solitude of a Promised Land.
* As an aside, the Bellinger River is spelled with an ‘r’ at the end while Bellingen obviously ends in ‘n’. The mistake was made by a draughtsman when the area was mapped. He mistook the ‘n’ for an ‘r’ in the surveyor’s handwriting.
Much of my knowledge of towns and regions is because I have travelled there or knew a person from there. As I meet more people and travel more places, the pages of my personal atlas gradually get filled in. I once played footy with a guy from Pambula in NSW, and had driven through the Sapphire Coast of NSW as far as Merimbula. But the pages in my atlas remained blank between these towns and Sydney. I knew little of what lay ahead as we planned our next stop, but a photo of a stunning white-sand beach called Green Patch piqued my interest.
Mrs Bugler did some research and found that it was possible to camp near the beach at Green Patch in Booderee National Park. It seemed that we were not the only people keen to explore the area. The information she gleaned was that the campsite books out well in advance in the summer months, especially on the weekends. Unperturbed, we stocked up on cheese and supplies in Bega for a few nights in Booderee.
The weather proved less than ideal as we drove north. Grey clouds slowly rolled in from the west and a cold wind began to blow. We arrived at the gates of Booderee National Park to find that the weather was not the only thing unfavourable. Sites at Green Patch were booked out for the weekend. We could have set up camp elsewhere in the national park overnight before transferring to third camp site in the park for our remaining two nights. Instead we chose to ask if there was a campground closer to town that might be better for us.
We didn’t quite understand why we were pointed in the direction of Huskisson rather than nearby Vincentia. Nevertheless, we took the advice and set up camp on Currambene Creek just north of Husky. Our drive through the towns helped me understand the advice given. It became clear that Husky was the tourist town while Vincentia seemed to house more permanent residents.
A summer storm confined us to our tent and we spent some time reading up on the local area. Booderee National Park has a fascinating history. The park is wholly within Jervis Bay Territory, a Commonwealth of Australia territory similar to the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory. For the purposes of Federal Government representation, Jervis Bay Territory is part of the ACT and is governed under the laws of the ACT. The Australian Federal Police enforce the laws and cars are registered with ACT number plates. This is despite Jervis Bay being nearly 200km from the ACT and not part of the ACT. It is the smallest mainland state or territory and was created in 1915 so that the Federal Government in Canberra could have access to the sea.
The territory is now recognised as mostly Aboriginal land. The majority of the residents are of Aboriginal ancestry and live in the towns of Jervis Bay and Wreck Bay. Employment in the territory comes in the form of the navy base, HMAS Creswell, or from the administration of the Booderee National Park. The administration of the national park was also somewhat controversial. Despite it being declared a national park in 1992, the park wasn’t transferred to the Wreck Bay community until 1995.
With this history in mind and increasing our curiosity, we set off the next morning to explore the mainland territory of Australia we did not know existed. We were a little tired due to a curious pygmy possum, and the weather had not cleared but we headed straight for Green Patch. It was immediately obvious why the campsite was so popular. People had set up camp in beautiful sites amidst the temperate rainforest. A short walk away was an incredibly picturesque beach that has arguably the whitest sand in the world. Even with the inclement weather, it would have been brilliant to wake up in our tent there.
Others had found places to picnic and we did likewise. The mini Bugler explored the vicinity and chanced upon a shy wallaby. After so many stories and toys about kangaroos, we thought he may have been more excited. His reaction could have been better described as curious confusion. He did have a slight smile as the wallaby hopped away.
We walked off our lunch with a walk along the beach and through the trees. A short drive to Murrays Beach presented us with another stunning white sand beach and amazing views across the water. Grey clouds obscured the vista somewhat making us ponder how incredible the beaches must look on a clear day.
We drove across to the south side of the park’s peninsula on the less-travelled road. Our destination was the ruins of the Cape St George Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1860 despite controversy about its location. The maps were a bit unclear and the builder decided the location was closer to the quarry. It oversaw a series of shipwrecks before being replaced by another lighthouse in 1899. But because the Point Perpendicular Lighthouse was so close to the Cape St George one, ships got confused in the daylight. Thus, Cape St George Lighthouse was used as target practice by the navy and ruined following the World War.
Other than its controversial history, the lighthouse was not a happy home and many residents died. Despite all this controversy and death, the location was another spectacular site in Booderee National Park. There were views up and down the coastline of dramatic cliffs. The ruins were also worth seeing. The sandstone blocks were made to last and parts of the ruins were in superb condition even after the navy’s battering.
By this time the mini Bugler was tired and it was time to head back into Huskisson for some first birthday cake. Perhaps I had heard of this other mainland Australian territory at some time but I never committed it to memory. After a day exploring Booderee National Park and reading of its history, my personal atlas has certainly had a blank page illustrated thoroughly. If you are ever on the south coast of NSW, I would recommend visiting the Jervis Bay region. Just make sure you book a campsite in advance.