David Fyfe speaks of his second son, Nat, with a quiet pride that never tends towards bragging. He says kids from the bush ”get a few opportunities”, and Nat has always been happy to give anything a go.
”He’s pretty skilful at what he takes on,” David says. ”A truck, a tractor, a car, a horse … if there’s a challenge he’ll have a go at it.”
Like steering the school rowing eight at Perth’s Aquinas College, which Fyfe did in year 11 when, just four years ago, he couldn’t get a game in the school’s first XVIII football team.
”We’ve copped a bit of flak that this kid has gone on to be a possible All-Australian,” Aquinas head of sport David Gault said this week. ”But he did only weigh 55 kilos. Coxes aren’t known for their size.” For perspective, Gault says this year’s coxswain is in year nine, and they are often younger.
In between sitting at the back of a long, skinny boat and becoming the best teenage footballer in the land, Fyfe walked into a strong Aquinas tennis team, swam times that would have pushed interschool honours had he been training long enough to be selected, and represented his school in triple jump. Such feats are exceptional only to mortals who stand outside the circle of the youthful athletic elite, yet it’s what fills out the Fyfe story that really sets him apart.
”I’ve never come across anyone who’s got a road train licence,” laughs Fremantle’s development coach Simon Lloyd, when asked how many 19-year-old footballers he’s known who are equipped to drive the monsters of the outback. David Fyfe offers a correction; actually, Nat won’t have his full multi-combination licence for another month or so, and for now can only command the 18 wheels of a B-Double when driving alone, and needs a chaperone when behind the wheel of a road train. Lloyd says Fyfe has a great appreciation and love of country life, and admiration for how hard his family has worked to build its business. Fyfe Transport operates out of Lake Grace, a town of barely 500, four hours from Perth and halfway to Esperance. This is where Nat Fyfe and his footy dream were born.
”My boys have been helping me do things like rolling bales of wool around since they were eight or nine, because that’s how we work,” David says. ”They’ve got a pretty good understanding of what happens out here.”
Lloyd recalls the passion and excitement in Nat’s voice when he has spoken of him and brother Liam joining their father on weekend road trips, ushering cattle and sheep onto the road train. ”You can’t show any fear in that sort of situation,” Lloyd says, ”you’ve just got to get in and do it.”
David Fyfe says his sons have been on the road with him ”forever”, that their nights away sleeping in the cabin were just like any other family’s camping trips. He credits their mum, Christine, with the qualities and character Nat’s football club and old school laud. ”Their upbringing, I must say I wasn’t around for a lot of it, being on the road. [But] they know the rules, they know how to respect their fellow man. Both my boys are probably my best friends, they’re very savvy about what goes on. Now Nat’s teaching me this journey that he’s on.”
He says Nat ”sort of demanded” to be sent to boarding school when he was 13, with a football career firmly in his sights. Gault says the skills on both sides of his body was always there, only his size and, for a brief time, a tendency to play the clown held him back.
With their games starting at 8.45am, the school seconds footballers were genuine dew-kickers, and Fyfe struggled to impose himself. To see his command of body and ball in the wet at the SCG three weeks ago is to know this string has been added to his bow.
Having watched 10 of his classmates make the first team ahead of him, Gault says a tour to Melbourne at the end of year 11 was a turning point. Fyfe had nagged coach Jamie Lockyer to be given a chance, met the demand of greater application to win selection, and five minutes into the opening game against Xavier took the sort of mark that is becoming his signature.
”He wasn’t in the contest at all, but he just drifted in from the side and took a massive pack mark, he was almost horizontal,” Gault recalls.
He won the Aquinas award for consistency in year 12, having shot up during another summer, and his draft-year season with Claremont Colts was met the sort of reviews Gault remembers receiving by text message one weekend from a football-connected mate: ”Fyfe 34 possessions, 12 marks, eight goals four, so many goal assists … he will be your next Aquinas draftee.”
Lloyd remembers a respectful kid who did a lot of listening in his first year at Fremantle, and displayed a willingness to work hard, and an innate football intelligence that unravels the next passage of play before his eyes like a road map. And another trait football coaches love.
”He’s very, very competitive. I saw him get beaten in a contest when he first came down to the club, he went to the back of the group and you could see it gnawing in the pit of his stomach.”
As if he hasn’t got enough tricks up his sleeve, Fyfe is studying to be a helicopter pilot, and recently passed his first exam on aerodynamics, which Lloyd thinks is amusing ”given the way he plays the game”. He says you can’t teach the gift of anticipation that marks Fyfe’s marking.
”It’s one of those things, he’s just got great judgment and sense of when to take off, of what’s around him.”
Lloyd lives only a few hundred metres from Fyfe in North Coogee, and will often be driving to work or the shops when he sees a familiar figure in a nondescript reserve down the street, little more than a patch of grass wedged between suburban houses.
”It was raining not long ago, and there was Nat, in his boots, kicking the footy up and down, playing with the footy in the rain,” Lloyd says. ”I asked what he was doing, and he said, ‘Just wearing in my new boots, just playing footy.’ ”
Lloyd says Fyfe’s goal against Sydney, after paddling the ball along the waterlogged turf, epitomised his assiduously honed control.
”It’s exactly what I saw him doing when I drove past the park.”
Lloyd thinks speculation of possible All-Australian honours in just his second season isn’t a stretch, recalling a coach saying that once you’re on the ground, football takes no notice of your birth certificate.
David Fyfe wonders if it might have been nice for Nat to fly a little more under the radar, to grow into a man without the inevitable attention. But he’s happy to have found something other than work, and scarcely notices another few hours on the road every other weekend when he and Christine head to Perth to see their daughter, Sheridan, and watch Nat do his thing.
”I’m pretty impressed with how he handles this new career that he’s forging,” David says. ”Good on him, he’s got himself a job for a few years by the look of it.”