Cathblog - Tribalism and the Catholic Spirit

I learnt a lot about tribal narrowness from Des Tuddenham.  His name may not mean a great deal outside of a Victoria of the early ‘60s.  But, for those chosen at birth to life-long allegiances, Des was blessed with a VFL (now AFL)-fuelled notoriety for his exploits for the (rightly) much maligned and hated Collingwood Football Club, writes Richard White.

Des Tuddenham epitomised all that Collingwood stood for.  He was tough, ruthless, less-than-six-foot and a very good footballer.  He was capable of turning a game through his own efforts.  But then Des blotted his copy book.

Firstly, he committed the unforgivable sin, according to my died-in-the-wool Collingwood supporter uncle.  He did an Oliver.  He asked for more money.  It was the initial crack in an edifice of loyalty and tradition.  It was a privilege to play for the Magpies and to don the guernsey.  Money was secondary or third-ary or even further back. 

Then, horror of horrors, he committed the ultimate betrayal.

In the twilight of his career, Des left Collingwood and became captain-coach of Essendon.  Uncle Kevin gave up his Collingwood membership and weekly attendance at their matches.  My mother, born and raised in Moonee Ponds, Edna Everage country, an equally fanatical Essendon supporter, embraced the renegade casually, with hope of Winter success. 

Tradition, loyalties, Weltanschauungs had been severely tested, if not shattered, in one case irrevocably.  But, shifts of even greater seismic proportions were yet to come.

I hesitate to call Des Tuddenham a thug outside the fevered confines of a football crowd.  But this image is stamped into my psyche, whether he played for Collingwood or Essendon.  The crunch came after some dastardly on-field action as we watched a game on TV.  The comment came for one of the family: ‘Des Tuddenham’s a Catholic, you know!’

It was like a combined eureka experience and a Pauline conversion.  All was forgiven.  ‘Even though his sins be as red as scarlet . . . ‘ or, in Des’s case, as black and white, all was forgiven.  He was part of the tribe.  He was one of us.

My mother, a convert to Catholicism, was not impressed.  I do not remember the details, but the impression was indelible and disturbing.  She was not ‘part of the tribe’.  She was known to have passed the odd critical remark about Archbishop Mannix and she had voted for Arthur Calwell after the Labor Split.

Des Tuddenham being a Catholic, or anyone being a Catholic for that matter, was immaterial.  My mother respected, or not, the person or she criticised the ideas and the actions, not the individual.  People were what mattered not their beliefs or lifestyle.  This is why I lit a candle the other day for the recently deceased Bill Leslie.

Bill was a Life Member of the Australian Education Union, an activist on many causes and social issues.  However, for those  imbued with tribal Catholicism of the anti-communist, Right to Life variety, he was also the Ultimate Other.

He was openly, flagrantly, homosexual, a former member of the Communist Party, a died-in-the-wool unionist. I don’t remember seeing Bill’s photo in Newsweekly , skulking, conspiratorial or debauched.  But he was an Enemy of the Faith and of our Democratic Way of Life. 

Bill had stayed with us at Cootamundra for a week or so earlier in the year. He was charming, intelligent, easy company, a good whisky drinker and an even better, or worse, smoker.  He and I would sit out on the porch, Bill in his tam-o’-shanter, me with my Richmond scarf.  I listened most of the time and marvelled at Bill’s dedication and loyalty, along with the dogmatism and tribalism, so familiar.

There were Right Wing Fascists everywhere, with or without their Collingwood guernseys.  But, the brothers and sisters of the Left continued the fight . . . and so on.

Bill talked of his childhood too and of his formative and dis-formative experiences.  We chanced a walk up to the Common, braving the hill and the wind.  Kangaroos were out and the view of paddocks and bush did our hearts good.  He wrote and thanked us and invited himself back.  Now, he is dead.

The candle burns in gratitude for the connection and the meeting.  It burns for Bill, for God’s blessed welcoming of him.  It burns for me and for our community.  It burns in hope, with this Christmas, that the Spirit of Catholicism might again triumph over Tribalism.

Richard White blogs from Cootamundra in southern NSW.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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