MID-FEBRUARY, the city of Melbourne takes on a different smell. Now it is once again the home of AFL football, it has the smell of hot chips and dagwood dogs, carefully maintained grass, of brand new leather footballs and footy boots. The city becomes noisier on weekends as the sounds of cheering crowds drift down from the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and if the wind is just right they can be heard in suburbs as far away as Northcote or Moonee Ponds.
Melbourne is the hometown of Australian football, its birthplace. The two cannot be separated, even if the game has now spread to other states. The MCG is its Mecca, and the faithful congregate there to watch modern gladiators fight in a savage but beautiful ballet.
My gladiators are Richmond. I have held a member’s ticket for the Tigers ever since I was eleven years old. I still have my very first one, when they were paper rather than plastic; my name, Simon Murray, is scrawled across it in almost illegible childish script. My father had come to the realisation pretty early on that I was never going to be an Essendon supporter like him and Mum, and in fact, I copped the blame when my younger brother Tim also turned against Essendon and took up the flag for Collingwood instead.
“It’s every man’s dream,” Dad would tell me every now and again when the beers consumed throughout a game would start to take hold of him, “to have their son support his team. You boys have crushed it.”
“At least I don’t go for Collingwood,” I would reply, as I always did.
“At least there’s that,” my father would sigh, and he would glare at both of us Murray boys before turning his attention back to the telly.
Mum was far more forgiving. In her mind the less people supporting Essendon the less she had to share them.
THERE was nothing more shameful than being a Collingwood supporter in Patrick Murray’s book. The bitter rivalry between Collingwood and Essendon would also flare up between father and youngest son whenever the two teams played against each other.
Me, I’m much more lackadaisical. Team victories always ebb and flow. And if you’re a Richmond supporter, it ebbs more often than not so you learn to become very Zen about it all. I would shrug off my family’s taunts during the footy season with ease while laughing to myself as I watched them become more and more twisted about their own teams’ defeats whenever they occurred.
It became easier for us all when the Brisbane football club formed and the whole family united in hatred. The Brisbane Lions had the distinction of causing the demise of the Fitzroy Lions in order for them to get their own team in the AFL. The Victorian club combined with the Brisbane Bears, and our state hadn’t taken it well at all. My best friend since childhood, Roger Dayton, had been a loyal member of Fitzroy. The day the news became official, he burnt his membership card. I remember the solemnity of us, at thirteen, holding a funeral service for the team in Roger’s backyard. However, Roger hadn’t been able to bring himself to burn his scarf, and to this day it hangs above his bed, much to the chagrin of his wife Fran.
It took Roger a while to settle upon another team to support. The codes instilled in every Victorian child since birth make swapping a team come with more emotional baggage than a Catholic guilt spree. I lobbied for Richmond to be adopted, of course, and was very pissed off when Roger was unable to control his laughter.
In the end, he settled on Hawthorn. We still went to games together, sitting side by side in friendly rivalry, yellow and black by yellow and brown. We would give each other sly digs every now and again, but it never turned nasty between us. It would be what would help sustain our friendship when I got to share my greatest secret with him at the age of nineteen.
IT WAS our second year of uni. Roger was dating Fran, never realising at the time that she would one day be his wife. Roger never thought that far ahead.
It was also a momentous year for me. It was the year that I had my first serious boyfriend. His name was Ian Bevvinson, so of course everybody called him Bevvo. I found him ridiculously hot, but failed to believe that anybody who went by the name of Bevvo could be queer.
At least, I believed that until one night at a uni party I found myself shoved up against a wall with Bevvo’s tongue in my throat and his hand down my pants. There had been no questioning of sexuality, and once it began, I made no effort to pull away but responded just as eagerly. Alcohol helped the little courage I had. My first sexual experience with another guy was frenetic, bewildering, and over way too soon. Weak from the expelled energy, my knees could no longer support me and I slid down the wall, trying to pull my pants back up at the same time. Laughing, Bevvo joined me on the floor and finally told me his name.
I was sure this was it. I knew so little about the social etiquette of this world I was now entering. Strangely enough, once the euphoria ended my first thought was of my parents and what they would think if they knew their son had just had his brains sucked out through his dick in a stranger’s hallway. That thought faded as Bevvo started kissing me again, and his strong lips, which when parted, gave way to a tongue that tasted of beer and… well, me.
So it was only polite that I returned the favour.
We quickly slipped into seeing each other on a regular basis. And I was heartened by the fact that it wasn’t just about the sex, although it was great whenever we had it. It was just that I was extremely lucky, falling into a first-time relationship with someone who wanted the same thing I did. It was what helped me become the person I am today—that I won’t put up with anybody else’s crap. Sure, you have to sometimes, but I really try not to. I knew what I wanted, and Bevvo knew what he wanted, and neither of us were going to endure any sleeping around or drama queening. This would lead to Roger often accusing me of being too picky and Fran countering that just because she settled for less, it didn’t mean that I should.
If it hadn’t been for Fran, it may have taken Roger longer to accept the truth about me. It took me ages to work up to telling him. I didn’t really believe he would turn on me; we had been friends for too long, but you always have that fear in the back of your mind.
Alcohol also helps in the spilling of secrets. And when you say it, it always sounds kind of lame. In the movies and in books there is always some flowery speech and swelling music. For me, it was the sounds of Crowded House playing in the background, beer and nausea fighting for the right to make me vomit, and me slurring, “Hey, Roger, just so’s you know, I like guys.”
And his reaction?
“Crap, you’re in love with me, aren’t you?”
I think my laughter at that topped even his disdain at the thought of supporting Richmond.
Of course, that offended him. But once he got over it, he became a little quiet. And things were funny between us for a couple of weeks as he readjusted his perception of me and determined whether our friendship was really now any different than what it had been five minutes before I opened my stupid mouth. Fran, of course, made the comment that now she had a man to shop with. But I was useless in that regard, although my formerly secret love for musicals meant she could leave Roger at home and have a date regardless whenever one rolled into town.
But first loves never stay forever, so Bevvo and I were doomed, although I never thought so at the time. There was no big reason for our breakup, just an eventual drifting apart which probably wasn’t helped by both of us being reluctant to tell either of our parents.
You’re probably wondering why this is all important. I’m trying to give you a little background information about myself before we get to the meat of this story. To know why I did some of the things I did or why I reacted in certain ways. I’m not hinting that there’s some big secret tragedy ahead, just to let you know. But let me fast-forward over the next few years.
I came out to my parents about a year after Bevvo and I split up. My parents had varying reactions, none of them too bad. I was pretty lucky. They still skirt around the issue at times, but I’ve learnt to live with it. My brother Tim was fine; he’d always thought I was a bit of a freak anyway, and I’d just confirmed it for him. He said that having a gay brother made him seem cooler to some of the girls he was interested in. I don’t even want to know if he played that fact up to them so he could get laid in the interest of “proving” his own sexuality. Best excuse ever.
Roger and I continued going to our shared games and still met up on weekends to watch the televised matches. But where there had been our usual manly punches and spontaneous hugs when one team scored on the other, there was now an aloofness on both sides.
To tell you the truth, I think I exuded the standoffishness more out of the two of us, as if, in desperation, I was showing Roger that I wasn’t attracted to him by keeping my hands off him. It’s funny how coming out makes you repress yourself in other, newer ways. When I finally asked him about it in a fit of drunken self-pity I was surprised to find out he felt my new coldness and reacted accordingly each time.
So, it took a while for us to return to our old selves. I don’t think I could even hazard a guess as to when it started getting better. It was all so gradual and in baby steps.
But you know your best friend has entered the stage of über-acceptance when he tries setting you up with other gay guys he’s met—no matter how wildly inappropriate for you they are.
After completing my totally clichéd Bachelor of Arts degree with the intentions of writing the greatest Australian screenplay that would revolutionise the entire industry, I soon became realistic and ended up taking a job with one of the various Melbourne film festivals while pledging to write on the side. As of now I’ve completed twenty pages but had more success publishing film reviews and theoretical essays. A man can dream, though.
Through luck and fortuitous circumstances I ended up becoming the manager of the Triple F Film Festival after a few years. It’s not a huge one, catering mainly to independent films (and when I mean independent, I mean really independent: you have to have nerves of steel to sit through some of them), but it’s amazing the amount of work you have to do all year just to produce a two-week festival in October. Roger says I’m lucky it falls when it does or else it would seriously impede my enjoyment of the final AFL matches and therefore impede his own as well.
So there we all were. Roger and Fran officially had settled down; we had the photos of the wedding and everything to prove it. They despaired of me being fruitlessly single, although it wasn’t really through any fault of my own. Okay, scratch that. It was my own fault. I tried telling myself that I was busy with work, too busy to have a love life; deep down, I was really a little scared. Roger told me that I was well on my way to becoming the eccentric bachelor uncle who all their kids would think was cool until they became teenagers and discovered I was actually a little bit pathetic.
As you can tell, Roger really knows how to put things in perspective.
But I was happy. Or at least I told myself I was happy. And I probably was really good at fooling myself with that despite the little stab of jealousy rearing its ugly head occasionally as I would see that look pass between Roger and Fran—you know, that look. I wanted someone to look at me that way, and I wanted to look at them in the way. But I would brush it off and bury it deep, deep within me. The best way to deal with things is to repress them, that’s my motto.
I likely would have continued on in that fashion if it hadn’t been for one night and one party that I didn’t want to go to but Roger and Fran forced me to anyway.
And here is where Declan Tyler enters the story.