By Blair Paterson

Yesterday afternoon I ventured round the corner to Pratten Park. The weather forecasts predicted summer temperatures in winter and once my morning housework was done I had to get outdoors.

Yesterday was a Sunday, and I was well up for some parklife! I set out with an array of items for a tea party including my Trangia cooker, cups, a canteen of water and some sugar and milk. But when I stepped outside the balmy weather dictated the occasion required cool beverages instead of hot, so I called into the bottle-shop along the way and bought a couple of bottles of beer.

I arranged to meet Garry at three o’clock, at which time we stumbled upon one another near the park entry. Garry had set out with Emily, his nearly-2-year old daughter, and judging by the cheeky smiles on the faces of both father and daughter, they seemed up for some parklife too.

After saying “How do you do?” and “What a beautiful day?” the three of us ambled through the Arthur Street gate, past the old ticket house, between the bowling greens and lawn-tennis courts and around Thirning Villa. We found a nice, shady patch of lawn on a hill next to the scoreboard; Emily was unhitched from her baby backpack carrier; Garry and I sat down and twisted the tops off our bottles of beer.

“Cheers big ears”

“Same goes big nose”

As could be expected on such a pleasant Sunday afternoon, all manner of parklife activities were underway and there was plenty of glorious, free entertainment to fill our senses.

The day before, on Saturday, I played my last ever All-Age soccer match – next year my team and I move to the Over-35s – so with my melancholy turn of age along with my usual post-game aches and pains I was obviously attracted to a soccer match in full swing on the oval.

Encircling the oval is a white picket fence, around which are rows of old timber bench seats up to seven rows deep. Between the first and second rows a man I guessed to be in his sixties slowly shuffled along in his afternoon jog. Overhead a noisy minor pursued a crow. The crow seemed unperturbed.

These days Pratten Park is an excellent setting to watch and play sports and enjoy the outdoors in a social, laid back manner just as Garry, Emily and I were doing. Sitting among the established trees, old buildings and high brick fences, I could feel the park’s history.

Pratten Park lies on the land of the Wangal and Cadigal people. Between 1855 and 1904 the area was part of the ‘Ashfield Land’ of surgeon and parliamentarian Arthur Martin a’Beckett’ and his wife: Emma Louise. In 1911 the park was first proclaimed by the Crown as a ‘recreation reserve’, in the same year the Western Suburbs Lawn Tennis Club was formed.

Formerly, the park has been a home ground to the Western Suburbs Rugby League Club and to Sydney Olympic during the arguably infamous National Soccer League days. (Pratten Park has an unsavory snippet of history too: in 1985 it was the venue where an ethnically charged riot broke out between fans of rival Sydney soccer clubs. The inglorious event was one of many on grounds throughout Australia in the ‘80s which led to the demise of the NSL.) Among a myriad of sporting and social functions, the park now hosts the Western Suburbs Cricket Club in summer and the Canterbury District Soccer Football Association in winter.

Pratten Park, yesterday, was a ‘parklife’ park. I think parklife should be a word in the dictionary. Here’s how I would define it:

Parklifen. colloq. utilise open public lands and gardens for recreational acts of frivolity and merriment through active or sedentary pastimes.

Back on the oval, the referee blew his whistle. The ball had been kicked high over the goalpost and picket fence and into the construction area across from us where an underground stormwater tank was being built.

“Not the best shot on goal” I’m sure the player who kicked the ball would have admitted.

“Keep your head over the ball” I quietly muttered to nobody in particular before my soccer instincts from the day before kicked in – I hoisted myself up and ran over to fetch the ball. I wanted to touch it, to feel its pressurised round mass in my hands; I wanted to launch my left foot through and punt the thing as hard as I could.

The temporary wire fence around the construction area posed more of a problem to climb over than expected. I felt as though I was an over-eager, ball-crazed dog with a barrier to negotiate – I wanted that ball at any cost! I got over the fence after a couple of failed attempts and picked up the ball and in front of all the players and officials and a smattering of spectators in the grandstand opposite, I kicked the ball sideways across the construction area. Embarrassingly, I traipsed across the dirt and ditches and building paraphernalia to have a second kick and to a very small cheer from those watching, I finally booted the ball out and back over the picket fence. I should have heeded my own advice: “Keep your head over the ball.”

As we nestled into our surrounds the referee’s whistle blew to end the first half. From conversations I gleaned while fetching the ball a semi-final was being played between Balmain (gold shirt and socks and black shorts) and Leichhardt Parklife(red and white striped shirt over navy shorts) – both were clubs I’d regularly played against. I wasn’t aware of the score but it was a tense, vocal, competitive game between evenly matched female teams.

What might happen next? What were the coaches and players talking about in their halftime huddles? To where in the world were the referee’s thoughts wandering? He poked the whistle in his mouth and blew the players back onto the field for the second half.

I thought I had déjà vu but the shuffling man definitely shuffled by once more. A couple of galahs were disturbed from their perches on top of the scoreboard by three young boys kicking a football against the shutters drawn down over where all the numbers would otherwise be displayed.

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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