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The story behind Rupert McCall's Ode to the Wallabies

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By ARU Online & Digital Team

What do you think of when you watch the Qantas Wallabies take the field?

What do you feel inside as you watch the 23 men dressed in gold sing the anthem as one, preparing to take on the might of an all conquering All Blacks or the guile of the flamboyant French?

Is it pride?

Is it confidence that your team will give their heart and soul to each other and put their bodies on the line for their country?

Or is there a little part of you that wishes that it was you out there, that remembers when you were a child and dreamed of representing your country? A part of you that flinches at every hard hit or involuntarily makes your muscles tighten when a player, YOUR player, needs a final push to get him over the line?

Because these are the kind of people the Qantas Wallabies should be playing for. The kind they do play for. For all of us.

“Being a fan and watching the Wallabies and the pride that you take in the performance of the Wallabies, I think it is very symbolic of the emotions that you feel.” - Phil Waugh

In the modern, professional, age, criticism is often aimed at sportspeople that they sometimes don’t seem to WANT the jersey enough, that the desire to BLEED for their country is not evident.

However it is hard to believe that players representing our nation have managed to get to the top through skill alone. These are men who have put in the hard yards from an early age and forever dreamt of wearing the gold jersey and representing their country. More than anything, they use this desire as motivation when that last hill needed climbing or the last tackle needed making.

Commissioned by the ARU, author and poet Rupert McCall was asked to write a tribute honouring ‘The Golden Thread’ of the Wallabies jersey. McCall’s tribute captures the feelings of pride felt by those who have been given the privilege to don the celebrated uniform worn by only a few, on a stage that represents so many.

“Every time I put on the jersey, I thought about the DNA that is still on that jersey from other players that had worn it before I’d worn it.” – Tim Horan

Playing Rugby at an early age, McCall was inspired as a boy by the feats of those wearing gold. Having lined up alongside players such as IRB Hall of Fame inductee John Eales in his youth, McCall has direct insight into what makes a champion tick. He saw firsthand what it meant to those who played for Australia, and, for a player, “that realisation that, here you are, you’ve fulfilled that dream, but you remember back to that kid who was doing his best in the backyard in those dew-soaked, grassroots, Saturday mornings playing footy. The Mums and Dads who went above the call of duty to get you there”.

“Your first jersey, you don’t realise that you are going to play again, so you cherish it, and it’s a bit surreal to be honest, because a lot of work goes into getting to that position. You can dream of it, but when you actually get the jersey, in the change room with players that you’ve watched on TV and now you are rubbing shoulders with, it’s a pretty special moment.” - George Gregan

Having followed the “trials and tribulations of the Wallabies sides over the years”, McCall was confident in finding his own inspiration but understood the importance of his role, “I felt honoured to be asked in the first place.... and humility of being asked to pay tribute to something that is close to the heart, but a responsibility to do the job and do it well.”

“More importantly, when you put it on, you want to go and perform the way it should be performed in when you put on that jersey.” - George Gregan.

And of how he went about writing it? A question he is commonly asked. “With any writing challenge there is a lot of thinking involved to start with so you need a game plan before you unleash,” McCall explains. But at the very beginning, the first words written on paper came whilst on a plane with the recognised writer simply scripting words and concepts that he thought were important.
McCall depicts his realisation of the theme of the Ode as parallel to the opening stanza of The Golden Thread, ‘there’s a moment when it dawns on me, when instinct intervenes’, and after weeks of thinking and reading and writing, all of a sudden, “you unlock it.”

With luck, ‘unlocking it’ is something this years’ Qantas Wallabies will be inspired to do. And when they take the field, their fans need only one thought....