Of Bread, Circuses, Small Towns and the Coo-ee March 

i happened to sit down at the breakfast table this morning and glance through the Herald Sun (having found my glasses, I can only make out the headlines these days). What probably struck me most was the front page headline screaming out about an exclusive interview with the woman involved in the affair with Wayne Carey that caused so much drama down at North Melbourne Footy Club over 10 years ago. Somewhere about page 10 was some reports about the refugee crisis in Europe and somewhere in the middle of the paper a short report on a massive Tsunami and earthquake that hit Chile and Santiago in the last day or so.
My first reaction was to condemn the Murdoch rag for the rubbish that it is but thinking further I think this speaks more to who we are than we would like to admit. My Dad used to say that there was nothing new under the sun and one could learn all one needed to know about the world today by studying history and the bible. I'm beginning to think he was right (at least with the history bit anyway). 
The Roman poet Juvenal decried the decline of Roman heroism and accused the Roman population of selling their freedom for "bread and circuses". It's not hard to see the same tendencies with our own society as we bang on about celebrity cooks and sporting heroes rather than taking on the tough questions of our time. And it's understandable too, really, how much can we really do about the endless tales of agony and horror coming from every corner of the world? It's all too much.
So, we scurry for our comfort zones and one of the places we feel most comfortable is in our village...
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a few different places so I got to see the big city as a youngster but also grow up in, and understand, life in a small country town. After an early childhood in the cultural melting pot that was North Carlton we moved to Torquay on the surf coast and then to Drysdale on the Bellerine Peninsula. I spent grade 4 at Torquay and grade 5 onwards at Drysdale. Drysdale was a small town in those days, a population of about 1000 and everybody knew everybody's business. It didn't take me long to develop the country town wave where you wave at every car that passes by without even looking because you'll know the occupants and they'll give you a hard time nest time you see them at Church or at the football if you ignored them. 
I thrived in the small town. Suddenly I wasn't one of the anonymous masses. People knew who I was and had a role for me, either in a sports club or the church choir or in the Scouts. I was still a bit of of an outsider (being the new kid in town) but I was "the outsider", that was my role along with my brothers and sisters. My youngest sister Liz was so young she was never an outsider. She was what they call "old Drysdale". Eventually I had to flee life in the small town. There wasn't much opportunity for a wanna be singer songwriter / guitar maker in a town where the main money maker was potatoes (these days it seems to be tourism and boutique wines) so I had to go to the next size up, Geelong, and eventually to Melbourne.
But I still identify with life in a small town which is why I was so struck by the story of the Coo-ee March of 1915. Captain Bill Hitchen and his brother R.G.Hitchen set out from Gilgandra in October 1915 on a march that became known as the Coo-ee March. They marched from small town to small town eventually finishing up in Martin Place, Sydney where they joined up and headed off to the great unknown. Of course many of them never came back and I wonder had they known what they were heading into, how many of them would have gone. I suspect most to be honest. There was a strong sense of civic duty and pride of King, country and empire that is hard to understand today. I still remember leaning over the boundary fence watching Drysdale footy team vs Portarlington and seeing out local motor mechanic running down the steps onto the ground all shiny with rubbing oil and ready to give the Port boys a bit of biffo. This is what it would have felt like watching those young boys falling in with Captain Bill as the Coo-ee March came through and heading off to give the Hun or the Turks a whack.
So, how do I tie all this together? Well, the front page of the Herald Sun is pretty much like the gossip that spread around Drysdale like wildfire when one of the local lads bogged his Dad's car in the bunker of the local golf course while doing burn outs (unbeknownst to his Pa) and the Coo-ee March reflects the  pride and commitment of small town people (and maybe the mistaken belief that putting in will make a difference, even on a global scale). 
Lastly, I wrote a song about the Coo-ee March and I was rapt to hear it played by Macca on Australia All Over last weekend.
I thought I'd post it here so you can hear it again if you missed it on Macca.
Cheers
Patrick

1 comment

  • James Henry

    James Henry Frankston, Melbourne

    Enjoyed your blog and lovely song Patrick! - telling this story, feels very true, and melody makes me want to sing along especially the chorus!

    Enjoyed your blog and lovely song Patrick! - telling this story, feels very true, and melody makes me want to sing along especially the chorus!

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