COLIN Garland is a traditional sort of man. He's a Tasmanian and the island state remains at the heart of his passions.
His father's family were from Irishtown in the far north-west. His father, also called Colin, was a miner, as were his elder brothers. His father played footy with Wynyard, the local senior club, and also with bush teams like Myalla. As a kid, the Melbourne utility thought he'd play footy with local clubs and maybe become a miner. Then his parents split when he was in primary school and he went with his mother to Hobart.
He played under-14s with North Hobart then gave the game away. It was too hard for his mother to get him to training. He started again in the under-17s with no thought of being drafted, was elevated to the seniors and within 14 months had made his debut for Melbourne. It helped, he says, that Ricky Petterd, another Tasmanian, arrived at the club when he did, along with James Frawley, like himself ''a country boy''.
He was always ''pretty good'' at school. He always liked history. One of his interests is the connection between football and Australian history. He's a reader. The last book he read was The Changi Brownlow by Roland Perry. Fifteen thousand Australians were among the prisoners-of-war held in Changi Prison during World War II. Garland says: ''They didn't have proper food, they didn't have medicines, but they had a footy competition and they bet on the results.''
The Changi Brownlow was won by Peter Chitty, brother of then Carlton captain Bob Chitty. Peter Chitty was an army ambulance driver. In reading the book, Garland was pleased to find mention of Harold Ball after whom Melbourne's best first-year player award is named. (Ball, who played in Melbourne's 1940 premiership team, was one of a group of four army ambulance drivers whose bodies were found during the battle for Singapore, having been executed by the invading Japanese forces.)
Another book Garland values is The Red Fox by Ben Collins, an account of the Norm Smith era at Melbourne. The book is a comprehensive study of the greatest period in the club's history, detailing both its triumphs and its volcanic upheavals. Garland, who is now part of Melbourne's leadership group, thoroughly approves of the practice of all first-year players at the club being issued with a copy of The Red Fox.
Garland has immersed himself in the history of the Melbourne Football Club. He's proud it's one of the oldest sporting clubs in the world, that it's the club that wrote the first rules for the game, that it connects him directly with Tom Wills. ''I wouldn't stay here just for the money,'' he says. ''Melbourne is my family within a family.''
The club, he points out, has players from all over Australia. ''LJ [Liam Jurrah] is from Yuendumu. We've got the Bunbury boys, Neville [Jetta] and Jamie [Bennell]. Jake Spencer is from Townsville, Luke Tapscott is from Orroroo, Jeremy Howe is from Dodges Ferry.''
I ask Garland what's so special about Tasmania. ''It's hard to describe but Tasmanians will know what I mean. The air's fresher down there, it's great to be outdoors, the produce, like the seafood, is so good. There's a closeness in the communities like the one I grew up in.''
Garland has been with his partner, Jess Medwin, since school. Whereas Garland was known as Humphrey when he arrived at Melbourne (since like the character Humphrey B Bear he didn't speak) and he is still not one to waste words, she has an outgoing personality. He says they will probably return to Tasmania when he finishes footy.
He's interested in politics, particularly Tasmanian politics. He says that, on the north-west coast, unemployment among men his age is 30 per cent. The majority of kids in his year at school now live interstate.
One of his closest friends, North Hobart Football Club director Mark Bacon, is the son of former Tasmanian Labor premier Jim Bacon. Ben Groom, who works at the Demons, is the son of former Melbourne player and Tasmanian Liberal premier Ray Groom. Garland says he'd consider going into Tasmanian politics if he thought he could make a difference.
I ask him whether the demands made of players are too great. ''They are becoming intense,'' he says. ''Guys have to be on their guard with social media … The coverage of the game is ridiculous. You open a newspaper and get 10 pages on a coach who's in trouble and two pages on what's actually happening in the world.'' But he wouldn't be anywhere else. ''Not many people get to go to work with their best mates and play a game they love.''