I popped in this week to see it for one last time. I heard this special place was about to be demolished. It would be great to get one last photo sitting in the mighty Merewether Municipal Pavilion. But I was too late. The humble structure was no more, but the memories still run deep.
I can still smell the mothballs as I handed out the jerseys from the old green kitbag to the first-grade team, standing proudly by my Dad’s side, the team’s manager. I can still smell the deconrub being lavishly applied. I can still hear the coach’s last-minute roar to the players as they lined up to walk through the small dressing shed tunnel. I can still remember lapping the oval with my grandfather as he called out “get your doubles on the main game”. I can still taste the pre-game corn beef and pickle sandwiches, cut in four and packed by grandmother in a plastic container, washed down with lime cordial. [Later in life, when I found myself back at the oval in another season of life I would graduate to a beer or cheap red wine and chorizo and coleslaw roll. Now that’s living!]
Yes, so many simple, but lasting memories from a special place my life.
We all have them – those special places from our past; those rites of passage spaces that evoke wonderful memories and as we dig a little deeper they teach us some valuable life lessons. I wonder what places and spaces come to mind for you?
Like a camping ground or holiday unit we may have ventured to year after year and beyond being a favoured family holiday location, it became a place that represents community, friendship and the benefits of sabbatical rhythms and simple rituals.
I have many memories of my time with family at Townson Oval and in particular sitting in the humble 1927 constructed pale green Merewether pavilion.
Looking back now, I see they got it right then they named it a pavilion. With just eight small timber rows of seats, a few small dressing rooms and a meeting room, which would become the legendary “Green Room” at the top, it was certainly no grand arena.
I’ve sat in some great sporting grandstands around the world – sat with huge crowds at major sporting events – but my memories aligned with the Merewether Municipal Pavilion have gone the distance.
My attachment to this little pavilion was birthed in family. My grandfather Thomas Harold Butler served the Lions for an amazing 70 years, many of them as the club’s faithful, hard-working voluntary club Secretary. My Dad upon marrying Tom’s eldest daughter Pam became part of the Lions’ fraternity and in the 1970s served as first-grade manager. My grandmother was a one-eyed Lions supporter, who never learnt much about the game, but ensured the family’s football catering needs were well and truly met.
Funnily enough as kids, my brother Brett and I lived with our parents in North Lambton in Newcastle and back then you had to play junior rugby league for the club in the area you lived. So, we played on Saturday mornings with the Lions’ arch enemy the West Rosellas, seen by the beachside Lions as the “silvertails”. We would wear our red and green in the morning and then quickly change into our red and whites as we walked into cheer on Souths in the afternoon.
With my grandfather – a Lions’ legend by my side – I felt big and tall. I felt a sense of significance. I mean I got access to the dressing room, the commentary box and the scoreboard. Maybe even a free pie and can of coke and the chance to be in the sheds after the game. And when a game got dull and my brother and I had the opportunity to be up in the scoreboard we would change the score to say Souths 122 – Opposition 0 and see how long it would take for others to notice.
In the early to mid 1970s the South Lions’ players seemed so big and strong through my childhood eyes. In days well before Newcastle played in the National Rugby League and you could view sport from around the world via pay TV, these men were the stuff of legends in my mind. I can still see the tears in my grandfather and father’s eyes as the Lions beat the arch enemy Rosellas to win the 1976 premiership.
I can still remember some of the star players’ from the seventies, the likes of Ricky Griffiths, Gary Banks and this big, tough Englishman Terry Clawson who ended his international career as Captain Coach at the South Newcastle Lions.
As I stood and looked again this week at where the pavilion once stood, it was good to catch my breath and celebrate good memories and allow my mind to ponder some of the deeper life lessons that have stayed with me from days sitting in the little green pavilion.
I was reminded that my memories from this place are etched in simplicity and connectivity. My Merewether memories are shaped by simple pleasures and those I shared these times with, primarily my much-loved family.
As I took a brief stroll around the oval on Wednesday night I was struck by how my memories of this place are connected to these four valuable aspects of life.
Yes, I smiled as I thought about going back to Melbourne to write a blog about a small, aged timber pavilion. There’s no grand story to tell here. This story is wrapped up in ordinariness and simplicity. Memories aligned with simple family rhythms, weekends cheering on a footy team, cold Winter midweek nights playing with my brother as my Dad was at team training, simple meals shared in the sun, the chance as a kid to stand tall and look up to big men and get their autograph after the game.
In a busy, fast-paced world; in a world so full of choice and options. In a world of instant entertainment and in a culture that woos us to pursue the extraordinary, I am reminded again this week of the importance of celebrating the ordinary; of reminding myself as a parent that so often what lasts are memories etched in simplicity.
As my mind ran back to memories from many years back it was good to be reminded that what I cherish is integrally connected with who I was with at the time.
I was there with my grandparents, my parents, my brothers, childhood mates. As I reminisce on an old pavilion, I celebrate connectedness and the memories we carry with us, based on who we shared these experiences with.
Thirty years after the Lions’ 1976 Grand Final win I found myself back at Townson on a regular basis, sitting in the humble stand again. I was navigating my way through separation and divorce and life was hard. I felt stretched. I lived with uncertainty. And in this challenging season I had a wonderful mate who spent every second Saturday at Townson Oval cheering on his beloved Merewether Carlton Greens. [For the uniformed the Lions play rugby league and the Greens rugby union and both clubs have a rich history at Townson Oval.]
Steve had been through a similar experience in life and he knew the one thing I most needed at the time was connection. I needed community. I needed to be with a mate – who didn’t need to ask lots of questions – but who would be there for me; solid, standing by my side. Over a beer and a chorizo & coleslaw roll we would watch a bit of rugby; mostly we would talk. They were simple Saturday afternoons, but so important to me. The Merewether pavilion had become a therapeutic space.
We live in a world where people yearn for connectedness, where people yearn for authentic community, for open, honest, transparent relationships – that go the distance – in all seasons of life. We live in a world where many are doing it tough, crying out on the inside, for companionship and kindness. This is a beautiful gift we can give to others on a daily basis.
The mighty Merewether Pavilion is also a shrine to service for me. It was a place where as a child I saw my grandfather and father model the value of humble, giving community service.
My grandfather turned up at Townson Oval as a 16-year-old but it seems he soon discovered that rugby league wasn’t for him as a player, but he asked could be volunteer to help at the club. And so he did – for an amazing 70 years. Day in, day out, week in, week out, year after year, he passionately gave of himself for the benefit of others, for the Lions team, fans and local community.
My Dad would go on to serve at Souths and then Wests footy clubs as well as Newcastle Junior Rugby League for more than 50 years.
I lived with service all around me. I breathed it in. It was a core value in the family and it has rubbed off.
You can enter Townson Oval through the Mitchell Park Memorial Gates. They are a stone’s throw from the old pavilion.
At the Memorial Gates, local Merewether residents who lost their lives in the service of their country are remembered. Among them – my great grandfather Private Harold Stanley Butler – who was killed, while fighting with the 35th Infantry Battalion. Harold was a young married greengrocer. He loved the local area and was a keen sportsman. Had he made it home from the horror of WWI I imagine he would have run on to Townson playing for the Lions or the Greens.
My grandfather, who spent so much time at Townson, never got to meet his father. He never got to forge memories of time with his Dad and so it has always seemed appropriate to me that as Tom did the rounds week by week at Townson, his father was honoured in this same place. His memory lived on this special space.
I have visited the Memorial Gates often in my life – now with my own kids when I can – to remember sacrifice; to affirm there is “no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends”.
Thank you Harold Stanley Butler. Thank you Tom Butler. Thanks Gran. Thanks Dad. Thanks Brett. Thanks Steve.
Thanks to all those who made this simple space a special place in my life – a place to celebrate and remember the importance of simplicity, connectivity, service and sacrifice.
Today what are those special places and spaces you can celebrate? What memories do they evoke? What lessons might they still have to teach you?
Have a great weekend! Cheers.