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Sport 7: Winter 1991


Several months after I had returned from a short holiday in Melbourne where I was visiting and staying in the house of my older brother, I received a phone call which I had, on the fifth day of my holiday, imagined receiving upon my return.

It takes a little over three hours by plane to reach Melbourne from Wellington, where I was then living. I was aware when I wrote just now of travelling by air, that the writer who is the subject of this story has referred to air travel as insulting the earth. The writer made this comment partly in explanation of the fact that he himself has never travelled by air and that he has travelled out of his own native city only on the rarest occasions, making perhaps three or four or five trips in a lifetime of more than fifty years and all of these by road. I heard the writer speak on this and other topics in a documentary film which my brother and I saw together in Melbourne. I am also aware that pinned now to the wall in the room in which I am writing this story is a small poster advertising the film. The writer who is the subject of the film and of this story is pictured in the poster bending down on his haunches in a leafy backyard and staring into a race-track made of sticks, as if there is something buried there. Having seen the film, I understand that this is a photograph of the writer as a man revisiting the site of his boyhood, and although the scene over which he presides is, of course, only a reconstruction of the original one, it occurs to me that perhaps the boyhood racetrack has been reconstructed thus in the actual backyard of the house in which the writer now lives as a man.

I am remembering a boy-actor who played the writer as a boy moving stick-horses around the racetrack, looked over not only by the film camera, the film lights and the film people, but also, perhaps by the writer, standing in his own backyard, as if the boy-actor was the writer's own son playing, quite naturally, in the backyard of the house in which he is growing up. Sometimes I have thought of myself as that boy.

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Shortly after I arrived in Melbourne my brother and I were sitting in the backyard of his house, drinking from gold-coloured cans of Castlemaine beer. The woman with whom my brother was living at the time was also sitting and drinking in the backyard, though not quite with us, but rather a little way away from us. Since one may suppose it natural for two brothers normally separated from each other by a stretch of water of some fifteen hundred miles—the Tasman Sea—to have personal things to discuss, it might then be supposed that the woman's distance is a mark of her understanding of fraternal relations. However, the real reason the woman was sitting a little way away, a reason known by myself and the woman, if not by my brother, whose deafness and blindness in this regard have been remarked upon by other members of my family, was our mutual antipathy towards each other.