I live on the edge of a Village Green. Well it's not really a village green, it's
an inner suburban primary school playground that offers the same recreation and
livestock facilities that were offered by the traditional English common.
The area is broken into 5 main sections. The equipment, the barbeque area, the shelter
shed, the big stretch of grass and the main green itself.
The main green is a petroleum based ever-green mat. It's a sort of inferior rebound-ace
laid across asphalt and marked out in different colours for a number of indeterminate
games that probably include basketball and netball. I was a bit doubtful at first,
but the "green" has proved to be very popular.
On any evening, this area is usually dominated by the ball game players. The games
vary from time to time and generally reflect the most recent sporting event on TV
rather than the traditional meteorological based seasons. I liken the activity to
a sort of migration zone with the migrants driven from their homes by social events.
They generally colonise the space in waves but never really take over completely.
Like a true multi-cultural environment, the arrival of a new wave merely adds to
the diversity with the previous dominant group leaving behind its stragglers when
they go home to dinner, homework or TV.
After dinner, the ball games generally make way to individual pursuits although
the one-on-one basketballers are often still going at midnight. Ba-doom, Ba-doom
On one afternoon last week, the activities began with soccer games but as the evening
progressed a particularly vigorous and noisy group developed a game of cricket.
Most players seemed to be from the sub-continent but included one obvious anglo.
I don't know if they all knew each other beforehand, why they decided to meet, who
coordinated the event or who brought the cricket bats. The wickets were just rubbish
bins but other than that the game was a pretty serious affair, with form based pick
up teams chosen at the start of each innings. The basketballers kept testing each
other while the cricket ball flew around their heads
The cricketers were replaced by a young woman with a cassette player who proceeded
to choreograph a dance routine. Step, step, twirl, step, step, bend, - no, bend
down, rewind, play, again ... After about 10 minutes she was joined by a couple
who she coached as they rehearsed a dance routine. My daughter reckons they are
rehearsing the bridal waltz for their wedding. (Let's not ask, it's more fun to
The cricketers were back again at the same time next night and one fast reaction
catch from silly mid on brought roars of delight. The sledging of the batsman indicated
that he was probably a tall poppy cut down to size. When I later walked the dog
home across the green I noticed that there were no dancers but two young men and
a woman padded up and kicking each other. Hmm!
During the last ashes series, there were lots of kids playing cricket in the cold
and drizzle, preparing themselves for a call up to save the national pride. The
evening after the Socceroos won their place in the World Cup, there was frantic
activity with soccer balls flying everywhere. Even the basketballers had retired
from the field or had they just joined in with the other round ball?
Based on my observations, the AFL should be a bit concerned about the future of
the local game. While there is a lot of end to end kicking during the finals, aussie
rules is generally limited to the father and son skills training that sometimes
develops into a two-way competition.
The green's livestock is generally limited to dogs and children. The dog owners
tend to be younger pre-child adults and empty nesters who allow their charges to
run and gambol together while they discuss their workmates, the stock market, pension
options and the grand children. The dogs do forage for food but there are very slim
pickings amongst the chip packets and the occasional discarded play lunch.
The shepherding of children is a serious business with parents and grandparents
comparing notes. One very regular group of shepherds is the after school mothers
club. Membership changes from day to day and while a grandfather is welcomed to
the fringe, I have never seen a father join them. The dads are really missing out.
One day while Boy Wonder II sat in his imaginary castle talking up a battle between
a rubber dinosaur and F1 car and Noodle tried to break her personal best for rings
skipped on the monkey bar, I talked to a young mum in overalls and blunstones about
child care centres, maternity leave, vehicle building quality control and the latest
bastardry done under the brave new IR laws.
The equipment is about measuring. From that first step up the ladder to the backwards
walk up the edges of the slide with a ball in one hand, the cry of "look at me"
is pretty superfluous. The shepherds have already experienced the mixed emotions
of fear and delight.
The grassed area has a hillock or grassy knoll at one end. The steeper side is great
to roll down and the flatter side is a good take off point for those bike riders
who have progressed from the plastic green. My heart jumped into my mouth the first
time my grandchildren hared off down the steep side on their bikes, but I'm much
easier with it now. They have to keep testing and measuring their progress.
Weekend mornings are about skills transfer with carers teaching their kids how to
ride their bikes without training wheels, how to shoot goals, how to dribble and
how to get a bat, racket or foot to move a ball back in their general direction
while showing delight and encouragement. Sundays appear to be about Dads and access
visits. In some busy families, even if Dad still lives at home, quality time might
be restricted to Sunday mornings.
A regular Sunday group are the Tongan teenagers who have escaped from their parent's
nearby church service to engage in less traditional pursuits.
People generally cope with the other players. Preschoolers weave their bikes between
players on the basketball key and the mums showing their sons how to kick a footy.
I could only just contain myself one morning as the dad from hell demanded another
10 shots for goal before his 7 year old was allowed to go and play on the equipment.
On one Saturday afternoon, all activity almost came to a halt while a particularly
bossy dad attempted to get a battery powered helicopter to stay airborne. Dad positioned
the helicopter and manipulated the joystick while the shepherds and basketballers
smirked at the failures. A 3.5 second flight was considered successful by the Wright
Brothers on their first day - so "OK James you've seen the helicopter fly we're
going home now." James had not touched helicopter or controller. My wife says that
men are lucky - they can play with toys all their lives.
The barbeque area is often used on weekend afternoons by family and ethnic groups
sitting around and undoubtedly discussing their aspirations while occasionally allowing
their kids to goad them into some sort of competitive activity - any sort of activity
to get Dad's attention - any sort of activity for Dad to show he's not getting any
Not all activities on the Green are fun and at night, there is sometimes an appearance
from the dark side. Walking home from the footy one night, I noticed a bloke on
a mobile phone lurking in the shadows while his spotter hovered somewhere nearby.
This happens less often than you would think although one idiot dealer set up shop
on the school steps one Sunday morning during skills transfer. A few mobile phone
calls from the shepherds saw a prompt response from the police. Unfortunately the
dealer escaped while his spaced out client tried to convince the young constables
that he had no more drugs in his shoes. He could not get them off and kept falling
Former pupils occasionally come back to the school and have noisy all night drinking
parties and the shelter shed sometimes resembles a poor mans Byron Bay during schoolies
week. The bored teenagers sometimes break bottles and leave the shed a mess, but
this is usually cleaned up before the first kids arrive for Monday school.
One afternoon, a group of angry teenage boys started to destroy the shelter shed
by kicking off the weatherboards. While chasing them off, I acquired one of their
rucksacks and gave it to the police when they arrived. It had in-line skates and
a phone. The kid was back a couple of hours later with dad, a couple of hammers
and some nails and they worked together and repaired the damage. Pretty smart cops.
Pretty smart dad. The faster kids who didn't get caught missed out.
While there is sometimes talk about putting a security fence around the Green and
limiting out of school hours access, wise heads have prevailed. Only the good people
would be locked out and the baddies would break in and go about their activities
The Village Green is an important community resource and its ongoing use during
out of school hours keeps the community healthy while generally protecting the school.