Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Belluga is almost certainly based on Barmedman"

1956 was a year I shall never forget. If Schlunke's "Belluga" was in fact Barmedman (who could doubt it?) here was once the centre of my world, however briefly. A nineteen-year-old bank officer, I'd arrived in the town the year before but with no intention of playing anything. The football season had all but finished, but somehow this place and this culture just seeped into my veins. I was, one might say, "fast-tracked" into Barmedman's small community as one of only three bank employees in town. "The Barmedman" Hotel directly across the street from the bank's unimposing structure was where I spent my first couple of nights before being invited to board with a local family. It was the beginning of one of the most wonderful 18 months of my life, and I'm proud to say it was spent in Maher Cup Country.

Fortunately, I'd played both codes of Rugby at school and afterwards, and hailing from Balmain territory it was not long before the pressure was on to pull on the old boots and turn up to training. I'd had a slight conflict of interest, as one might say, being a churchy sort of lad with (un)natural inclinations to shun Sunday sports. That inhibition quickly faded as the 1956 season drew closer, and I was soon a regular member of the team, playing on the wing, as I'd always done.

My name might well have been included in the list of Maher Cup players were it not for being absent in Sydney on the weekend of Barmedman's first challenge match against West Wyalong, but I was just as happy to be a spectator at the August rematch and there were all the other regular season games that were simply unforgetable. Tom Kirk was, I think, the referee at one game where I came off second best in an attempted tackle: "don't ever try it that way again, son" was Tom's stern advice as I picked myself up, half stunned, off the turf. It was a particularly wet year, as I seem to recall, and the journey up the track to WW or South to Temora was fraught with flooded creek crossings often necessitating transport by truck. And the early morning coach trip to Murrumburrah-Harden is also hard to forget, the game where necessity brought Jim "Nipper" Lawrence out of retirement to kick a goal? I could be wrong about that. Is it also only my imagination that suggests I might have picked up an end of season award, "Best Improved Back, Reserve Grade"? Hell, it was great fun anyway!

Now approaching 80 years of age, I have few memories as vivid, or enjoyable, as my year in Barmedman nearly sixty years ago. To the wonderful "family" of friends that helped me celebrate my "coming-of-age" (perhaps in more ways than one) I have only the warmest, and deepest, gratitude. Wonderful, unique Barmedman!

Geoff Wellings