Across the River with Geoff Goodfellow | May 17

"HOW do they get the bloody horses into the pool when you play water polo?" asked Dudley when I mentioned to him at the pub that the game is very popular around these parts.

1999 PREMIERS: Miles Lochhead, Nick Merriman, Mark Douglas, Greg McFadzean, Ian Kite, Glen Wright, Geoff Hicks, Chris Pankhurst, Ian Thompson and Dave Chandler. Photo: supplied.

1999 PREMIERS: Miles Lochhead, Nick Merriman, Mark Douglas, Greg McFadzean, Ian Kite, Glen Wright, Geoff Hicks, Chris Pankhurst, Ian Thompson and Dave Chandler. Photo: supplied.

Luckily, experienced water polo player Miles Lochhead quickly cleared up any misconceptions.

Miles explained that water polo began on the Southern Highlands at Bowral Pool in 1978. Since then the local association has hosted at least six country championships, had a few national league warm-up games, as well as running what was once the biggest junior competition in New South Wales. Their patron is Burradoo resident Ray Smee, who was a dual Olympian, representing Australia at Helsinki, then captaining the national side at the Melbourne Games. Other Australian representatives to play in the Highlands competition include Gary Grant, Heather Rouen and local sisters, Kelly and Erin Douglass.

Apparently a lot goes on under water in the only contact sport where you end up cleaner than when you started. Unfortunately, us blokes have a piece of our anatomy that makes a perfect handle for opponents to grab onto, with many a lad subjected to the dreaded squirrel grip to slow him down, even in mixed matches.

"I have played against some top women and let me tell you nothing is off limits underwater," recalls Ian Kite.

Before global warming and heated pools, games were played on some nippy Highlands nights with the chilly water often three times hotter than the air temperature. 

When the council decided to heat our local pools in around 1996 we did a survey of pool users to come up with the preferred water temperature. Older people wanted the water tepid like a bath and lap swimmers preferred it cooler.

I remember Nick Campbell-Jones telling me the water polo players couldn't care less about water temperature as long as the pool was deep enough and they could get a cold beer after the game. A decent farm dam at the back of the Briars or the Burrawang Pub would have been perfect, according to Nick.

A FEW years ago my good wife Barbara and I met a lovely lady in Hungary called Edith. She was born in 1956 – the year student demonstrators demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops from their country and were then fired upon. Soon after, Soviet tanks rumbled into Budapest to crush the uprising, killing 25,000 people in a couple of weeks and starting a series of barbaric reprisals resulting in 20,000 people being arrested, 2000 being executed and 250,000 fleeing to neighbouring Austria.

That was just weeks before the Melbourne Olympic Games, where Australian crowds won the hearts of the Hungarian nation by loudly cheering for them against the USSR in that famous 'blood in the water' water polo match, where the Hungarian players let their feelings spill over into the pool, in one of the most brutal sporting fixtures held outside a boxing ring. 

Hungary won that spiteful match to a standing ovation from the Aussie crowd and then went on to win the gold medal. Edith told us the Hungarians couldn't believe they would get such encouragement from Australians and have never forgotten what that support meant at a time in their history when they felt totally isolated.

NOW for a laugh. A couple of old timers from the retirement village, including Old Dud, were invited to the local nudist colony for a day out. The three old blokes were sitting beside the swimming pool, watching a water polo match. While they sipped on a cup of tea, an absolute stunner appeared before their eyes. Stark naked, 18 and beautiful. The first bloke trembled a bit and said, “My goodness, I’d like to give her a kiss.”  

The second bloke looked long and hard before suggesting, “I’d like to give her a big hug.”  

Old Dud nodded in agreement, but looked a bit vague.

“I’d like to take my clothes off and….what was that other thing we used to do?”

 – Geoff Goodfellow