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The House

“There are no strangers here; only friends we have not yet met.”

So wrote WB Yeats, the brilliant poet and dramatist. One of the pre-eminent figures of 20th century literature.

I ponder these words, and the optimism that encourages people to form connections with newcomers. Those people who, given their various experiences, perspectives and qualities, actively look to embrace and enhance the lives of others.

Mid-December 2023. A sun-drenched afternoon, somewhere south of the Melbourne city centre. Along with my two sons, I join Power House RFC’s travelling horde of Christmas revelers. The club pub crawl is in full swing, visits to various drinking establishments along Chapel Street on the agenda. The Windsor, the Castle, the College Lawn, the Railway and the Union just a few of the ports of call. Every stop guaranteed to swell hotel coffers and put a healthy dent in the beer supply.

It is an eclectic group, a curious mixture of Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, Irish and Fijians. Among others, I meet and chat with TB, Blanno, Mikey, the Pope, Usher, the Governor, the Big Shamrock. Characters all, the wide variety of nicknames matching some of the outlandish holiday garb on display.

Then there is the Director of Rugby, ET, a larger-than-life father figure. He is ably supported by his assistant Luke, an “Xs and Os” wizard as likely to be drawing up a new set play on the back of a napkin as sipping his pint. Finally, I cross paths with Flinn, director of a medical and rehab team the envy of the league.

Evening approaches. Events become something of a blur. Still, it hits home that, in some ways, as I link faces to names, the club and many of its members are not really strangers to me at all.

Indeed, thanks to the wonder of web stream technology, from 10,000 miles away in Canada, I watch enough games to become quite familiar with certain Power House sides and their preferred mode of play. The club’s reserve grades, as well as the Colts, Women’s, Juniors and wheelchair teams, move smartly through their respective campaigns. While the 1st XV battles for the prestigious Dewar Shield, the premier rugby union competition in the city.

The 2022 and 2023 seasons follow a distinct pattern. Forced from its club grounds at Albert Park for weeks on end, due to Melbourne hosting a Grand Prix motor race, Power House inevitably starts slowly. Losses pile up. A mid to lower position on the league table suggests reaching the Shield playoffs will be well nigh impossible.

Then, like a Ferrari tearing up the Formula 1 track, the senior side explodes over the closing stretch of games. Thrilling comeback wins, week after week, feature top performances by key individuals, ambitious game planning, slick execution, gutsy defence, and a never say die attitude. On occasion, perhaps a bit of luck as well. Only by the slenderest of margins does the club fail to add to its eleven previous Premiership titles.

However, it is another tie to the club which, for me, resonates far more.

Flashback to January 2020. My older son departs from home. Heads Down Under, set to study physiotherapy at the University of Melbourne. Little do either of us know that just around the corner lurks the start of a worldwide pandemic.

Covid 19.

For more than a year, the city, desperate to combat the spread of the virus, endures a severe spate of restrictions. Gatherings are limited to just a few designated close contacts. Ongoing isolation wreaks havoc on mental health, leads to anxiety, loneliness, stress and exhaustion. Six separate total lockdowns result in 262 days of boredom and misery. Time drags on, people from all walks of life craving human interaction.

Eventually, against this backdrop, the situation finally eases. Slowly and carefully, businesses, offices, pubs, coffee shops, gyms, schools, recreation centres, fields re-open.

My son, living at that time in St. Kilda, immediately searches for a sporting outlet. While a shoulder problem precludes him from playing, he nonetheless seizes a chance to join the neighbouring rugby club.

Power House.

It proves to be a wonderful decision and opportunity. Put to work as part of the medical team, he bonds immediately with coaches, players and supporters. His social circle grows significantly, the club and all its members unfailingly generous, open, warm and welcoming.

I look forward to our weekly Face Time calls. Can feel his loyalty to the team, sense enjoyment and satisfaction as he puts newly acquired physio skills to good use. We discuss the matches themselves, the key moments. The dramatic shifts in momentum. Rail at perceived officiating injustices.

Still, without question, much of our chat simply involves anecdotes and stories about the players. And so, as weeks turn into months, then months into years, I learn plenty about his new teammates and friends, and his connections with them. Connections that leave a lasting impact, his own life more enriched and meaningful as a result. 

The 2024 Dewar Shield looms on the horizon. Pre season training is already underway. Positivity and a steely determination ripple through the Power House ranks. The club, likely bolstered by some new additions, projects to be stronger than six months ago.

And more importantly, as was and is the case with my son, no doubt these newcomers will also soon realize the truth behind Yeats’ words.

That there are truly no strangers at “the House”, only friends.

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