REVIEW: Down and Under, by Dave Hadfield

Neil Barraclough

Ever considered the differences between hoons, larrikins, lairs, boofheads and bogans? Dave Hadfield gets to the bottom of this – and some of Australia’s other most pressing mysteries – in Down and Under, the exceptionally entertaining follow up to Up and Over.

Had things been different, this might have been a book about rugby league that included some titbits on Australia.

As it was, England’s 2008 Rugby League World Cup campaign was so bad that Hadfield had little choice but to write about his travels instead.

Who can blame him?

From an English perspective, it was difficult enough to sit through that tournament in the first place. Who wants to read about it all over again? The recurring nightmares of Newcastle and Melbourne have only just stopped, thanks very much.

But following the trail of England in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup meant that Townsville, Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and Brisbane were all on Hadfield’s destination list, with Dreamland remaining stubbornly out of reach – even when England do reach the last four and people begin to believe that maybe, just maybe, they can sneak their way into the final.

“Rugby league is a small world. You get to know most of the prominent players on the scene… and to like them as people. There are exceptions, of course, but there aren’t many out-and-out ratbags in rugby league; the sheer rigour and intensity of the game has a way of knocking that nonsense out of you…

So you want them to win… Objectivity be blowed; let’s get this damned game (against New Zealand in the semi final) won. I think of the wise words of a local correspondent I met in my early days covering the game. ‘I’m a Batley bloke,’ he said, ‘writing about Batley players in a Batley team for Batley folk in the Batley paper. Neutrality be buggered.'”

Alas, it was England that were to be buggered.

So Hadfield, in his own inimitable style, instead concentrates on bringing to life Australia and its people.

There’s the tale of an Australian icon’s meeting with a Chinese pig-farmer called ‘Ah Fook’, plenty of jokes about Irish pick Wayne Kerr, and intrepid stories from a pub called The Duck’s Nuts.

For those who were unfortunate enough to lavish big money and huge hopes on England’s 2008 Rugby League World Cup campaign (and I was one of them), this book is almost akin to some kind of antidote.

And for those who did the sensible thing and watched it all unfold on the TV, it gives some idea of what it was like to be on a wonderful trip watching woeful rugby.

Hadfield’s own dedications at the front of the book sum it up best. “In memory of Dave Topliss, who would never, ever have let bad rugby spoil a good trip.”

Down and under’, by Dave Hadfield, is out now. ISBN 978-0956007575, published by Scratching Shed Publishing. It is available to buy here.