Oct 10, 2016

How Much For A Heinz?

It is difficult to quantify a person’s contribution to a football club. A traditional metric for players is to count games and celebrate milestones. But this tends to over-simplify the devotion, commitment and genuine love players have for their club, and that clubs have for their players.

Nowhere is this more apt than for Uni Blues’ Dirk Heinz. For while Heinz strode the field for the 200th time in a Blues jumper, his contribution to the club has been far, far greater.

Dirk Heinz surveys the Main Oval at Melbourne University

Instead of games, another way to measure a person’s contribution to a club is in time. 13 years have passed since then Under 19 Coach Tim Giles parked Dirk at centre half back against St Bernard’s. A young Heinz was dubbed “The Markologist” as he proceeded to grab everything that entered his vicinity.

“Intercept grabs, contested pack marks and the odd diving chest mark.  He had both ends of JJ Holland Park covered,” is how great friend and fellow Blue Matt Torney describes Heinz’s marking feats.

Another teammate, Tom Rankin, also thoroughly enjoyed Heinz’s marking abilities.

“As a midfielder, racking up stats with Heinzy in the team was a piece of cake. Makes for a good day when the guy who takes 10+ marks a game says ‘just run past and I’ll handball it to you’,” Rankin recalled.

Perhaps an unorthodox method of measuring a player’s worth is by counting the number of nicknames. Although a little unusual, the number of nicknames potentially represents the value that player has in his teammates’ hearts.

Heinzy, Diggler, Derek, Dick, CJ, Big Cat, Danny Tran, Domingo El Casillas, Four Goal Heinz, the Settler, Sven. Although some were self-appointed, this catalogue of nicknames point to a personality that others flock to. Together with his brother Jack, Dirk has entertained his teammates with impersonations that create an upbeat, vibrant and happy club.

Lovable, selfless, genuinely caring, riotously funny, are just some of the words others around the Blues have used to describe Heinz.

“Dirk has always had the respect of the playing group,” Torney said. “He is a friend to many and his efforts to try and keep the club’s spirits up especially during times of disappointment have been valued by all.”

The number of injuries footballers sustain are also a measure of a player. In this case, Heinz is no exception. Uni Blues’ president Joe Sturrock was surprised that Heinz made it to 200 games.

“It wasn’t because I didn’t think he was good enough, but more because of the way he plays and the fearless nature with which he goes about his footy,” Sturrock said. “I didn’t think his body would have lasted.”

Dirk Heinz celebrates on the Main Oval at Melbourne University

Rankin commented on his ability to relentlessly run backwards into packs and still come up with the ball. Torney concurs.

“There were times when Heinzy would fly blindly back into a pack, or dive on a ball that he had no right to compete for, that I feared for his life,” Torney said. “But sure enough he would emerge, battered and bruised, but with ball in hand.”

But, as ever, Heinz showed his commitment to the cause with hours in the gym developing resilience necessary to last all these years.

An easy way to calculate value is assigning a monetary value. In Dirk’s case, $50.

Heinzy’s grandfather, the late Jack Coventry, would watch Dirk play more often than not for the Uni Blues. In Jack’s later years his eyesight began to fail. But it mattered not as he still took up position in the Pavvy to listen to the sounds of the game that his two grandsons, Dirk and Jack, were participating in.

After each game Dirk would be slipped a $50 note by his grandfather so that he could enjoy the night “with the boys”. This beautiful and endearing moment speaks volumes for the type of person Dirk is and the type of family he comes from. It also speaks to the impact Dirk and his family had on Uni Blues and vice versa.

On the topic of family, perhaps the most unusual method for measuring Dirk’s contribution to Uni Blues is in sausage rolls. Not goals mind you, literally sausage rolls. The Heinz family, led ably by grandmother Eunice, have generously donated over 28,000 homemade sausage rolls to the Blues’ infamous afternoon teas over the past 13 years. An incredible number.

But this unusual measurement risks under-valuing the contribution Dirk and his family have made to Uni Blues.

Dirk’s parents, Karin and Tony, have donated an extraordinary amount to the Blues. Both are a fixture at games with Tony often called upon to put his general surgical skills in practice. Karin has been a tireless contributor who never asks for a thing in return. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her working the canteen one minute, rubbing shoulders with players the next, and catching up with her many friends a few moments later, such is her devotion to her sons and the club they play for.

“Dirk has been one of the best exponents of what it is to be a Uni Blues footballer,” Torney says. “At a club where community and contribution are king, Dirk has been peerless.”

Uni Blues Matt Torney and Dirk Heinz celebrate a premiership win

Club president Sturrock agrees with this assessment of Heinz.

“Dirk is one of the best clubmen that I have known in my time at the Blues,” Sturrock said. “He is never one to sit back and let others do the work. More often than not he is the first to put his hand up and organise things off the field.”

Heinz has regularly organised the club’s social calendar. He has been MC at the Blues Ball on a number of occasions with his good friend and teammate Torney. He has sat on countless committees and offered his legal expertise when required.

By any measure, Dirk Heinz’s contribution to University Blues has been profound. After taking to the field for the 200th time in Blue and Black, he should be applauded long and loud. Not just for his games tally or his efforts on field, but for what he has given and continues to give for his beloved football club.

Apr 22, 2016

Footy and Politics in the Red Centre

Behind the scenes, it was an eventful off-season for the Central Australian Football League (CAFL). The fixture was released in early March with only one noteworthy change – a new team, Plenty Highway, will replace MacDonnell Districts in Division One. This might seem insignificant but the absence of MacDonnell Districts is but one indication of some earnest politicking in a complicated region.

The dry river bed of the ephemeral Todd River, Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Sid Anderson is an important man in Central Australia by any measure. He is a life member of the CAFL and a former captain and former coach of the Papunya Football Club. He recently retired as President of MacDonnell Regional Council, but continues to serve as a Councillor of the Luritja Pintubi Ward. He has served on the board of Central Land Council, Papunya Community Council and Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation. Undoubtedly, Anderson is a leader in the community.

Karl Hampton is a former Northern Territory Minister for Sport. He served in the NT parliament as Member for Stuart from 2006 to 2012. He serves as Chairperson of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) and as a board member of Imparja Television. Hampton is also on the committee of the Redtails Central Australian Football Club and his son Curtly plays for Adelaide in the AFL. There can be no question of Hampton’s influence on politics and football in the Central Australian community.

Seemingly at odds with his life membership of the CAFL, Anderson has been a driving force in trying to establish a ‘breakaway’ competition, the Wilurarra Tjutaku Football League (WTFL). Hampton has worked with Anderson to get the WTFL operating for the 2016 season. The plan involves teams from remote communities such as Papunya, Yuendumu, Areyonga, Laramba, Nyirripi, Mt Allan, Kintore, Mt Liebig, Ikuntji and Ltyentye Apurte playing in a community-based competition instead of the Alice Springs-based CAFL. Both men have called on the Northern Territory Football League and the CAFL to support them in their endeavours.

There is no suggestion Anderson and Hampton were doing anything but trying to act in what they believe is the communities’ best interests. Both men are concerned by the alcohol and anti-social behaviour young men from remote communities are exposed to when they stay in Alice Springs. By keeping these young men away from Alice Springs, they hope it will lead to healthier men and stronger communities. Although a noble goal, the WTFL proposal ignores and underestimates some significant issues while introducing a whole raft of supplementary problems.

Although broad descriptions with some unsavoury undertones, ‘alcohol’ and the attendant ‘anti-social’ behaviour are relatively problematic in Alice Springs. Indeed, statistics paint a horrifying picture in which the rates of drunkenness, domestic violence, assault, and damage to property far exceed the national average. Nevertheless, the remote communities are not somehow immune to these same problems. The suggestion that avoiding Alice Springs  will somehow insulate against social problems is demonstrably false.

Many people from remote communities spend a significant proportion of their lives in Alice Springs, football or no. Some work or go to school in town. Others visit family members or access service providers such as the Alice Springs Hospital or Central Australian Aboriginal Congress. While some young men who reside in Alice Springs are keen to play football for their home community, the difficulty in traveling hundreds of kilometres out of town may mean they are unable to play for their preferred team. The WTFL proposal seems to assume 22 players will be available and in their home community for each game.

Federal Demons train in preparation for a game in the Central Australian Football League

Long-distance travel is an unfortunate fact of life for people from remote communities. Hours spent in hot cars on the red, dusty, un-sealed roads of Central Australia are commonplace. On the surface, having a home game every second week is appealing when you live in Papunya. But this ignores the players who reside in Alice Springs. More pertinently it also ignores those communities who are in a geographically different direction. All of Papunya, Mt Liebig, and Haasts Bluff are near to each other, approximately 200-250km west of town, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Santa Theresa/Ltyentye Apurte is about 80km south-east of Alice Springs and footballers would have to travel through Alice Springs to play almost every other team in the WTFL significantly increasing their driving. Similarly, although Yuendumu is about 150km north of Papunya as the crow flies, the Tanami road runs back toward Alice Springs making this the most efficient route.

An unanswered question regarding the WTFL is would players support it, or would they jump ship from their communities for the chance to play on a bigger stage. Footballers of all abilities enjoy playing on immaculate grounds. The red dirt football games create a beautiful and iconic Australian image, but players would much prefer to be jogging out onto the MCG. The main ground in Alice Springs, Traeger Park, is of a high enough standard to host an AFL game each year. Growing grass is easy with plenty of sunlight and a consistent water supply. It is easy to imagine a car-load of footballers travelling along the road from Ntaria looking wistfully at the green expanses of Traeger Park or Albrecht Oval before continuing their long drive to the red dirt oval of Papunya or Yuendumu.

With the fixture released, it appears the CAFL will proceed largely as it did last year. The five town teams will play on Saturdays in Premier League while the ten community teams in Division One and Division Two will play on Sundays. The obvious exception to the participating community teams is MacDonnell Districts who are based around Papunya, Anderson’s home community. All CAFL games will be played in Alice Springs on Traeger Park, Albrecht Oval and Jim McConville Oval.

Practicalities aside, at its heart the development of the Wilurarra Tjutaku Football League is a play for power and influence. Anderson and Hampton want to see community people take control of their lives and recreation. Meanwhile, the established CAFL are loath to lose players and the accordant funding which would see their influence, control and power diminished. Changing demographics have already had an impact on the dominant and powerful town teams in recent years. Established footballing interests would not like to see this continue.

A quirk of Central Australian footy is that town teams are allowed to play a few registered community players in their Saturday games. The players can then play the next day for their community. Both of last year’s grand finalists, Federal and Wests, recruited heavily from remote communities to bolster their teams. Wests were a powerhouse in the early 2000s, winning five premierships. What followed were some lean years and dwindling numbers. David Wongway was one of Wests’ best in a losing grand final team, but he also rolled out for Ltyentye Apurte in Division One during the 2015 season. Similarly, Papunya’s Marcus McDonald was in Federal’s premiership side but spent his winter Sundays playing for his community team MacDonnell Districts.

Kicking a goal for the Federal Demons in a big win over Pioneer

Central Australia is a complicated region with Alice Springs at its heart. The complexity of social problems is unparalleled in modern Australia and football is but a reflection of this. Politics, power, money, race, and football – Hampton and Anderson have stirred up a hornet’s nest. Meanwhile, the CAFL have worked quietly behind the scenes refusing to comment publicly on the WTFL proposal. This weekend, under the big blue Centralian sky, attention will return to the field as young men from all over the region forget their woes and play football again.

Mar 10, 2016

Resuming The Dangerous Dance With Traffic

Continued from A Typical Alice Springs Morning Ride and Dark and Hazy Days In Hospital

It has been over six months since I got knocked from my bike. I rode over 100km a weekend or two ago. I went in a triathlon and won. My right hip and gluteals are still limited in their range of movement but it doesn’t affect me too much. I get sore if I don’t rest and don’t stretch, but this is relatively normal for a man of my age.

The most significant problem that remains is the memory. I went for a ride this morning and pulled off the road twice as trucks went by. My anxiety rose every time a car went past. I pulled over at one point to take a photo of the sunrise and half-climbed over a fence to be as far away as possible as a sedan went speeding along the road.

The sun rises over the Telegraph Station near Alice Springs on the North Stuart Highway

More than one person has told me I am crazy for going cycling on the road again. But I don’t quite see it that way. I have been through the accident a million times in my mind and still think about what I could have done differently. Quite rationally I conclude I did all I could. The most likely scenario is that the truck driver fell asleep on the long road from Tennant Creek to Alice Springs and I was an innocent victim. No amount of light, no amount of reflective gear, no amount of armour is going to protect you from bad luck.

I called the police less than two weeks after the accident and was told the case had been closed. I asked a few questions of the responsible policeman and while he was amenable to my suggestions, I heard nothing further. I don’t resent this decision, as police in Alice Springs have much more pressing matters, but I do feel that more could have been done. That is a fact of life with an over-burdened public service.

I don’t retain any particular feelings for the driver. I would like to have a quick chat with him, just to show him my scar and explain the disturbance that it caused in our lives. I don’t think this would change anything.

A lone rider ascends a hill toward the Alice Springs Telegraph Station with Mt Gillen in the background

Certainly it wouldn’t change those first few weeks out of hospital. The two months on crutches were difficult to say the least. My head was constantly hazy with medication and I was unable to sleep soundly. I caught a virus which slowed me down for a few days. My wound leaked through its 52 staples into my clothes and bed sheets. I couldn’t walk, ride, or drive making appointments a logistical nightmare. I had to arrange time off work and accident compensation. And I had an active 2 year old to chase. A pregnant Mrs Bugler was magnificent.

I went to the gym on crutches and rolled weights to benches. I brought my array of thera-bands to add some resistance to the simple range of motion exercises set by the physio. I graduated to easy leg weights with as few kilograms as possible. I cannot emphasise enough how quickly I improved from going to the gym 2-3 times a week. I would see other rehab patients at my regular hospital appointments and feel guilty that they didn’t have the resources or wherewithal to visit the physio and the gym.

I was back on a stationary bike just over a month after the accident. Although horrendously boring, sitting still and spinning my legs over was another thing that accelerated my recovery. It gave me some strength without putting too much stress or impact on my leg. After I concluded the accident was not my fault, I returned to the road. My first forays onto the road were rather timid affairs. I avoided traffic like the plague, stuck to quiet roads and bike paths. I felt like I didn’t belong on the bike.

The cycling bunch descends toward Alice Springs on the North Stuart Highway

Inevitably, my story has become old. I listen to other people complain about their aches and pains, and no longer feel like I can trump them. I think I have almost showed everyone in Alice Springs my scar – the first time I had a couple of drinks it was on show most of the evening. I’m still happy to show anyone who cares to ask, but everyone has an horrific story to tell.

Other than the feeling of not being as fit as I was, the thing that continues to frustrate me most is the fatuous bickering regarding cyclists. The absurd arguments that categorise and pigeonhole cyclists as though they/we somehow don’t drive cars or walk on footpaths. The sense of superiority and self-importance that seem to take hold as people curse cyclists, motorcyclists, truck drivers, Volvo drivers, or some ‘other’ road user, questioning the validity of their reasons for using the road. How did public spaces become so exclusive?

Of particular poignancy over the past few months is the victim blaming. I cannot countenance the idea that I was ‘asking for it’ by going for a ride on a road that also carries trucks. In much the same manner as rapists, the victim blaming somehow legitimises and excuses the truck driver. If the very same truck driver fell asleep and drifted into my path as I was driving my wife and kids on the same stretch of road what would be the reaction?

The bunch rides west away from Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive

I’ll get off my high horse but hopefully it is food for thought. Thanks for the messages of support – I’m happy to be alive, riding, running, and Bugling.