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The colts of Traralgon.

In Traralgon, the football club's "Colts" inspired a ride that turned a young player into a legend.

Feb 16, 2023

Words: Shane Reid

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Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old time is still a-flying

Ride boldly… and never fear the spills

As a year 12 teacher, I work with those precariously on the cusp of adulthood. It’s grand to be witness to their final moments, just before they step into their destinies – for good or ill. Whether they be future ballerinas or boilermakers, I get to be engulfed and revitalised by their energy, year after year. Unfortunately, Covid muted their dreams somewhat. But, there’s something innately optimistic about ‘colts’ in the early days of spring. They can’t help but to hope and believe in even their most ambitious dreams. With the ink still drying on their final exams and the future only temporarily beyond their grasp, it’s time to let the pony have its head and gallop freely into the future.

The Traralgon Football Club thirds once bore the moniker ‘Colts’. It’s an apt term. Banjo Paterson’s colt from Old Regret, apocryphal or not, inspired a ride that turned the older riders from near and far into adventurers again and a stripling into not just a man, but a legend.

Legends don’t just exist in quintessential verse; they’re also born in our own backyards. 17-year-old thoroughbred Bernie Quinlan, a premiership colt for Traralgon, arrived in the VFL and was immediately spoken of with a reverence only reserved for the best. This year, one of my students completed not just her VCE, but also her SATs, with a view to qualifying for a volleyball scholarship in America. Like Quinlan, she’s undeniably the finest athlete of her graduating class. Unlike Quinlan, her gender and chosen sport could keep her to the periphery of the acclaim and recognition he fittingly received, and she rightly deserves.

Forgive my mawkish teacher sentiment, but if I see her on the Olympic dais in years to come, which is likely, I’ll pause and remember how lucky I was to be the sole audience for her incisively profound essays, before I then too join the rest of our nation in cheering her on. I can’t speak for the Marist Brothers, who nearly 60 years ago taught the stripling Bernie at our school, but I’m sure they recognised the same badge of gameness in him that our latest class is brimming with right now.

Late last year, I finished my daily jog with a lap around the Traralgon Showgrounds Oval as the current thirds team were finishing their training. It was one of those soupy early spring evenings with a thick warmth to the air that hints at summer. The sun was setting low over to the west. Long and distorted shadows, made by the team as they trained, spilled across the length of the entire oval and beyond: today’s colts, reigniting themselves and our town as the day departed. Covid lockdowns disappearing and the dawning of a new footy season.

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I love this part of my town. The road from the bush that once sustained our entire economy runs into the showgrounds like a critical artery to the very heart of Traralgon. The home of the Maroons, where future VFL/AFL stars Jack Scott, Kelvin Templeton, Bernie Quinlan, the Cordy brothers, and Tim Membrey once learned how to gallop and soar – as their contemporaries were on this particular night. But it’s also where lawyers, doctors and industry leaders once played junior netball and football. It’s the place where we’ve watched the yearly Apex club bonfire and fireworks, and exhibited in the annual show. It is the heart of our town.

VCE teachers ride the bumps and troughs with the students. But at this time of year, as their results start illuminating their futures, you step back and feel a sense of awe at their potential. The impossible becomes possible when you’re a coltish young adult.

Think 17 is too young to make a mark on the world? Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein as a 17-year-old, and Mozart had composed several operas by then. Boris Becker won Wimbledon before his 18th birthday, and even though he had a mighty career afterwards, the game seemed to become somewhat laborious for him after that. Alexander the Great was beginning to conquer distant lands. Champions, all of them, but there’s more to it. They accomplished the extraordinary in part because no one had yet told them that these things were difficult. Their accomplishments arrived before they started considering the inherent difficulties they’d face. And, the glorious thing about being 17 is, they wouldn’t have cared anyway.

Most of the current colts of Traralgon don’t know of Bernie Quinlan. There are many who don’t even follow the footy; its cultural stranglehold over our town and our lives seemingly loosens with every generation. But I like to hope that when life leaves them 65 metres out from their own goals and their dreams, perhaps with some metaphorical wind and rain bucketing into their faces, they don’t look for someone else to pass off the ball to but instead go back and take the shot themselves. Princesses and princes of Traralgon, queens and kings of Gippsland, good luck in 2023. Your goals are closer than you think.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 25

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Gippslandia is a community, non-profit publication. We curate an ever-optimistic take on regional, national and global issues, in a local context. Leaving you feeling like a Gippslandia local, no matter where you’re from. Read more

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