It’s an unfeasibly warm day in mid-September. 12.20pm on a Tuesday.
In the pub, the commentary is turned up loud, and there’s a small collection of strangers in the front bar. A bloke in a suit picks a table and sits down. He’s got a schooner and a bistro order. A lady, who looks to be from the post office down the road, picks a table. A young guy sits down near her.
We sit in the middle of the room, where we can see both of the big TVs. We order PBRs because it’s funny.
“He on yet?,” someone asks.
“Not yet. Or, well, I couldn’t see him,” the lady says. “Boys, he on yet?”
“Not yet,” we reply. “But the Vikings are about to punt, so he should return it.”
The Vikings do punt. Jarryd Hayne drops the catch. His first touch in the NFL is a fumble.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh….” There’s a collective sigh of disappointment.
“Bugger, he dropped it didn’t he?”
Hayne has a few more touches before the half. He makes some respectable yards on one, there’s a whoop. The front bar share smiles.
Another fella walks in, in Kangaroos shorts, holding a paper. “He get another touch? Looking alright?”
“Yeah, he looks alright.”
We look at the television.
“Pack the stadium out over there don’t they?”
“I don’t know anything about the game, I just want to see Jarryd run!” the lady tells the room, happily. Beyond the guys who pretend to know what they’re talking about, beyond the ones who do, beyond any sort of commentary about the game, she’s landed on the truest point of the afternoon.
A room full of strangers collectively shares the undulations of emotion prompted by a kid from Minto trying to play a big American sport for a big American team in a big, packed out, American stadium.
It feels a peculiarly Australian thing, the circumstances, and the familiar feeling of recognising those circumstances. Being an other, a proud other, but in a familiar place. It could be the unique deracination that all Australians feel to a degree, no matter where they are, but its equally a bonding thing. Sport is the catalyst, and in the breezy front bar of a pub in Redfern, some strangers just get on with each other because another bloke is playing football for all of us.
Alex Vitlin is an editor at New Albion.