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In life and football, 'that's how she goes'

Date

Martin Flanagan

Day of old: North Hobart Football, with Archie Flanagan (circled), who is now their oldest living player. He will be 98 in August.

Day of old: North Hobart Football, with Archie Flanagan (circled), who is now their oldest living player. He will be 98 in August. Photo: Supplied

NORTH Hobart Football Club is under threat. Established in 1881, it has a record of success that compares to South Australian powerhouse Port Adelaide and good numbers in their junior programs. Their oldest living player is my father, Archie, who will be 98 in August.

A barrage of North Hobart people have been urging me to say something before it's too late. AFL Tasmania has deemed that there is only one statewide licence to be shared between North Hobart and Hobart Football Club (formed in 1944). Either one drops out of the senior competition or they merge.

The plan is to start a new club where the population growth is, south of Hobart. This plan smacks of the logic that brought us Greater Western Sydney and the jury is still very much out on whether that experiment is a success or a costly failure.

North Hobart is one of the old growth forests of Tasmanian football. Dad got games with North in 1936 when he was a student teacher in Hobart. North was state premier that year. Two years later, he won the Devonport Gift, one of the island's big footraces. By then he was teaching at Sheffield, a small town up behind Devonport that nestles in the green hills beneath Mount Roland.

Dad captain-coached Sheffield in the footy and boarded at Jackie Maddox's pub. There was another bloke who boarded in Jackie Maddox's pub who was always jabbering on about the looming war in Europe, saying, ''If she's on Archie, we'll be going''. After the war, dad met his fellow boarder in the streets of Devonport. He'd never gone.

Dad's parents were semi-literate, signing their names with a cross. Dad got the world of difference that is an education. He played Malvolio in a production of Twelfth Night at Launceston High School and saw Hitler as a threat to civilisation.

A bit of a loner, dad was fascinated by the characters he saw coming in and out of Jackie Maddox's pub. From Syria, after he'd joined the army, he wrote a poem about being in the bar on a Saturday afternoon and that moment in a pub when the sound of the wireless goes up and the hum of the voices go down for the running of the next race. That's what he thought about when he asked himself what was this Australia he was fighting for.

Jackie Maddox, the bloke who owned the pub, worked behind the bar. Everyone used to tell him their troubles. What my father noted was that Jackie Maddox said the same thing to everyone who confided in him their woes. ''That's how she goes''. One day a bloke called Yorkie exploded. He said, ''That's how she goes, that's how she goes, that's all you ever say!'' And, in truth, that is all Jackie Maddox ever said to explain life's mysterious ways.

All that, is 70-odd years ago. On Wednesday, my parents left their home and went into aged care. In leaving their home since 1968, they also left my home. The backyard was the closest I ever got to playing on the MCG. A favourite dog is buried down the back. This is where my father, for most of the past 30 years, spent every sunset, pottering round, talking to people no one else could see.

It's beautiful in that backyard in the evenings, broad Derwent estuary a stone's throw away. Towering above the river like a man in a top hat is the mountain. On a clear day in winter, you can feel the mild warmth of the sun on your face as it drops to the west of the mountain. Well, the place has to be sold now to pay for the bond required by the aged-care facility.

Mum has had four strokes but, with a small army of helpers, dad looked after her to the end. All my siblings put in, my younger sister being heroic. The grandkids rallied but things only got more difficult with time. Dad didn't want to go into care but he accepted it was best for all. ''That's how she goes,'' he said.

There was a time when I didn't know my father all that well - footy was our connection. Writing footy was like writing letters to him. On Wednesday, as mum and dad were leaving their home for the last time, I was again contacted by a North Hobart emissary.

I rang my sister, a message was relayed to dad, asking if he'd like to make a comment on what was happening to North Hobart. The previous evening he hadn't felt like talking. Now he grabbed the phone to dictate the following statement: ''North Hobart is to Hobart what Collingwood is to Melbourne - old, established and esteemed - with great club spirit and a lot of devoted followers''. Go North!

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