Hockey training takes place on an oval in Fremantle. It is a multi-use oval with cricket nets and clubrooms shared by both the cricket and the hockey fraternities. For the cricket families it would be a refuge from the heat. Somewhere to get a cool drink and away from the sun. For the hockey mums it offers warmth and dryness.
The building is made from dark brown brick from the seventies or eighties. A building made when we watched Countdown and listened to ABBA. The textured masonry makes you think of a thick slice of chocolate sponge cake. It makes you long for a hot cup of tea. Inside old wooden honor boards with names in gold lettering line the walls. An asterisk beside a name signals the person is deceased. There are the ubiquitous stacks of stackable plastic chairs. Many families have spent hours huddled in here while young ones take to the turf. Already I can imagine being inside when it is cold out and the Juniors are playing, regardless of the weather.
Parents drive up with kids who exit high cars like horse-riders leaping off steeds – gripping mesh bags with their armour (shin pads and mouth guards) – hockey sticks like lances brandished by jousting knights. (Do you sense already I have sat here too long?)
Most parents leave. They have stuff to do. So do I. I could grocery shop. At least I could get toilet paper. I could clean my house. Instead I stay to watch. The children must run down the steep embankment to the field. It’s the kind of steepness you can’t walk down. It makes you run, like you are falling over yourself. The field is marked up with hula-hoops and cones for dribbling and pushing a hockey ball around. I watch from the upper bank by the car park and the charity bins, by the side of the chocolate sponge cake wall. An old swing set waits to be swung on.
Other cars pull up and dogs pile out. They are as exuberant as any child. Some dogs come to the park with owners on foot from nearby houses. It’s that time of night – dog walking time. Some owners bring plastic tennis ball throwers while others bring a tug rope. Some bring just their pooch (and a pocketful of yellow poop bags).
In one afternoon – a puppy dachshund, a Siberian husky, a newfie, two bostons, a bunch of poodles, a border collie, a blue stuffy, two whippets, a pit bull.
The dog walkers take to the perimeter. These are dogs used to the hockey. They don’t go for the ball. They’re not spooked by hoards of teenage girls, ponytails bobbing, running up and down the banks for fitness. The dogs have eyes for one another and perhaps their own ball. Politely, they sidle up and do the nose to tail greeting. They prance off. They ask another dog for a game of chase. A play bow is offered. Invitations are made. There is zooming and frolicking of the most infectious kind. Smile-inducing dog play. In a corner of the park a man flies a kite and the poodles are off and over; launching themselves into the air, barking, necks arched backwards and noses pointed up, wondering what that strange bird in the sky is doing so damned high.
As the sun begins to dip the swallows are out flying low across the grass hoping for an insect. They make for good chasing. They are, of course, uncatchable. It has never stopped a dog. If you have the energy to run, then run. If your legs hold out, keep running. Never give up, no matter that thing you are aiming to catch is a bird. Ceaseless trying – is a dog’s great attribute.