Every Sunday afternoon, we picked up Nan and rumbled along to watch the local Aussie Rules football game. Our team was the Tigers, captained by my eldest cousin with his younger brother a rising star in the team. They played around the local fields, but apart from the different grandstands in which we sat ourselves among the other couple of dozen supporters, the routine was to sit alongside my Aunty to cheer the boys on.
We’d normally be running late, so the game would have started and we’d be craning to watch the action, ducking to stay out of the way of other spectators, and catching up on what we had missed. We filed into an empty row and sorted ourselves along the bench seat. Out came the cushions to sit on, then the blankets for over the legs. Winter sport spectating is no laughing matter in Canberra; Mum had been known to bring along a hot water bottle when temperatures were particularly biting. Beanies in place and hands warm in fingerless gloves, out came the knitting and the clicking began, eyes firmly on the game, fingers deftly working away, nattering away between themselves all the while. My younger cousin and I would take off to hang out behind the goals, or agitate the poor guy on the score-board.
The waft of sausages and onions on the Barbie permeated the stands, with parents sending their kids for a snag or a pie, offering an extra 50c for a lolly or a pack of chips. The supposedly luckiest kids were seen hanging about the place with a can of soft drink at their lips, savouring the fizzy sweetness in every swig. Not us, though. We knew there was better coming our way soon enough. Mum would pack a thermos, a cup for each person, a teeny bag of coffee and teabags. She had a couple of miniscule jars for the milk and sugar, almost perfectly measured out for what was needed. As soon as that siren blared for the break, we kids bolted back to the stands.
The ladies would set aside their knitting, and put out a little spread on the seat in front, first fixing the hot drinks and passing them around. The steam rose from the drinks as the aroma of coffee filled the air, each woman relishing the temporary hand-heaters their hot drinks provided. My cousin and I weren’t interested in those, though. We were racing back to see what Nan had brought for afternoon tea. As her wrinkled hands reached into her bag, we waited. Would it be custard tart today? Or her speciality, chocolate eclairs? Perhaps today a cake would be on offer, the one with passionfruit icing we so adored. Our mouths would begin to water as her eyes flicked over to us, as her fingers took hold of the prize and laid it on the makeshift table. Whatever it was, it was a victory. Then we would have to hold it in…be patient…wait to be offered until after the adults had been served. Watching slices being carved and served. Silently willing the next piece to be mine, judging the serving size every time. That was the hardest – and perhaps the best - part of all.
We would exclaim our thanks, give Nan a much-deserved peck on the cheek, and sit for a moment to savour the sweets. You could have offered me a tenner to spend at the tuckshop, but I wouldn’t pass on Nan’s treats for all the lollies and Fanta in the world.
And then, having often scored a second helping, the half-time ritual was complete. The food containers were replaced, the teeny-tiny jars stowed back in bags alongside the scantly-rinsed mugs. Back to their hands came the knitting, and eyes back on the adored Tigers. Off my cousin and I would run, knowing we were free again until the full time siren and, with any luck, a chance to belt out the Tigers song in victory.
Meanwhile, the ladies gathered their bags, their rugs and cushions, commenting on the game and their favourite players, then heading back down the stairs of the grandstand to wave at the lads and wrangle we young ones home. Until next week.