My Path to the Brownlow by Paul Depasquale

A note by Judith about a small memoir by Paul not long before his death.

In his autobiographical memoir ‘My Path to the Brownlow’ Paul Depasquale begins at the end. He tells us that he is a man who is terminally ill (he was, in fact, dead within a year of publication) and that he is about to retrace a journey which ended ten years before, in 1999, in Melbourne, Australia, when, to the continuing astonishment of some in Victorian football circles, he, a middle-aged South Australian second-hand bookseller, purchased the first Brownlow medal offered for sale at public auction. The Brownlow medal is awarded to the Best and Fairest Australian Rules footballer of the season, and this medal had been awarded to Len Thompson in 1972.

This book tells the story behind that purchase, a memoir of growing up, Italian-Australian and unhappy, on an Adelaide western-suburb market-garden. A confused child, alienated from both his family and the wider community, (an Australia at distant war with Italy and her allies), he seeks and finds comfort in a solitary devotion to Australian Rules Football. These are days of tears and rage and a sense of impotence, but this is not a sombre account. As an outsider, and later an adolescent ‘consciously garnering memories’, he becomes able in his final year to recreate in lucid prose a past made eidetic by the intensity of his feeling and the details of its remembered realities. The passage about pumping up the footballs in the school store shed, an account almost numinous in its recall of rituals observed, concludes with this delight, but one of many profoundly recognisable episodes:

‘In early boyhood the football was taken to be the ideal, the real thing, the only thing. It was necessary to clap one’s hands when it was passed fit to play with and Rogers (or some other god) walked out of the store shed bouncing it on the asphalt, casually, with one hand, as though his mastery had been doubted and he felt the need to re-establish it.’

And thus is mapped out for his childhood and adolescence the escape route – along suburban streets to the Ovals, and a life-long love affair with Australian Rules (begun at a time when champion footballers were also ordinary blokes). Leavened with touches of dry humour, the narrative carries the reader, digressions aside, from the child’s initial enchantment to the apotheosis, more than half a century later. This memoir defies categorisation. Part elegy for the sorrows of twentieth-century Italian diaspora, part confessions of a troubled mind, part reasoned disquisition by an authority on a national sport, it is above all a celebration of the human capacity to escape the intractable problems of real life through the exercise of the imagination.

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