Kick it Long: John Molony’s foreword to the Keith Miller’s History of the Eastake and Manuka Football Clubs 1926-2012

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This year Malarkey Publications (The Almanac) worked very closely with Keith Miller of the Eastlake Football Club to produce Kick it Long: A history of Eastlake and Manuka Football Clubs 1926-2012. 

Keith Miller played, coached, managed, administered and did just about everything else at Eastlake. He produced a terrific manuscript based on the historical record, documents he uncovered, newspaper reports, and many, many interviews.

This is much more than a club history as celebrated Australian historian and footy-lover, John Molony, explains in his fine introduction (which follows). It’s the story of the place of these two rival clubs from the time they were established in the work camps (tents!) of the men who were building Canberra and Parliament House.

Keith is able to bring the narrative to life with profiles of so many of the key characters, and the stories of their on and off field exploits. Jezza started life at Eastlake (to name one of them).

Just as Canberra draws people from around Australia and has a genuinely federal feel to it, so did Eastlake and Manuka.

Keith also explains how demographic changes to Canberra’s inner-south forced the amalgamation of the two great rival clubs.

Congratulations to the author Keith Miller. This terrific book, beautifully designed by the Almanac’s John Kingsmill is available through our online shop.

Here is John Molony’s foreword

My introduction to Canberra football was auspicious. In early 1964 I joined the staff at the Australian National University and thus I became aware that we fielded a footy team in the local competition. Soon afterwards I went along to a game at Kingston Oval where, during the fleeting moments in which he deigned to change up a gear, a youngster was running around for Eastlake wreaking occasional havoc on the students. I ventured to ask an old-timer near me on the boundary to tell me the player’s name. He replied, ‘He’s going to be a bottler. He’s called Alex. I can’t say the rest.’ Alex Jesaulenko wrote his own script as a true champion of our game. Keith Miller has written Eastlake’s script, combined with Manuka’s. Both Alex’s and Keith’s stand up and read well in the annals of Aussie Rules.

After Federation in 1901, Melbourne became the midwife of the youngster eventually named Canberra. From the opening of the Old Parliament House in 1927, and gradually over about forty years, during which the Commonwealth Public Service moved to the nation’s capital, the city grew largely on sinews shaped by its origins. Among them was the native game, Aussie Rules. The men and boys from the south, together with their womenfolk, knew nothing of alien sports. Footy was their winter game.

Based principally at Duntroon, the game had been played sporadically in the local area since 1911, before Canberra was chosen as the site for the capital in 1913. After a Federal Territory Australian Rules Football League was formed in 1924, Eastlake joined it in 1926 and Manuka followed in 1928. Queanbeyan, an outlier like Geelong, was there from the beginning. With five teams in the league the game had arrived.

And it all fitted in perfectly. Canberra, like Aussie Rules, had to adapt, experiment, discard the unworthy and grow in the Australian way. Even the weather sang in unison. Cold winters, muddy playing fields, windswept outers – when there were no inners, much less grandstands and change rooms for the players – combined to welcome the players and their game. The spectators, rugged up in overcoats and hats, fended for themselves.

To an admirable degree Keith unfolds his narrative within the society in which his subject was shaped. Thus he gives us a living narrative in which the life of Aussie Rules in Canberra ebbs and flows with the life of its matrix. Beginning in the 1970s, suburbs that nurtured the growth of the Eastlake and Manuka clubs became more and more a reflection of urban life in all big cities as they develop. Young people, as they married and had families, could not sustain the expense of buying homes in the inner city. They moved to the periphery, while the more moneyed classes, as well as the elderly and single young people, remained in the centre.

The expansion of shopping malls and trading hours did little to enhance the attraction of spectator sport. The feeder schools that had been the lifeblood of such clubs changed their nature. Television became the medium for, and of, major sport in all forms. Crowds diminished at games, receipts from gates dwindled while write-ups of games in the local press almost disappeared, except perhaps for a fleeting line giving the results of games. Above all, other forms of sport were able to field teams in national competitions often attracting thousands of spectators, while a game of Aussie Rules drew only family members, girlfriends and a dwindling number of diehards. Ironically, the greatest blow to local football throughout the whole of Australia was dealt by the expansion of the AFL with its accompanying festival of almost unceasing and repeated games on television.

Keith does not bewail all of this. What he set out to do and do well was to tell us the story of his two chosen clubs in the kind of detail demanded by the historical record. He gives us an account of their finals games, especially Grand Finals. Throughout the book personalities abound and Keith brings them to life with accuracy and discretion. But, to him, it is still the game that matters. The players and officials make it happen. As is always the case in books on sport, the umpires get little press although, without them, there would be no game.

He tells us of the loyal, long and devoted contribution of the clubs’ officials, notably Jack Dorman and Ken Macdonald, as well as of families including the Pinis and Quades. Those of us who can look back to Jesaulenko, Michael Conlan, Guy Cannon and many others- including Keith himself who makes light of his own illustrious career- will rejoice to see them remembered here. I can never forget the pleasure and, being a supporter of another club, the pain I so often experienced as I watched Edney Blackaby gather in the ball unerringly and invariably with devastating effect. He was able to do so in a manner completely out of proportion to the seeming frailty of his body.

As is fitting the heart of Keith’s book is the story of two honest, passionate and exemplary clubs, of their glory days and of their days in the desert. Neighbours and unflinching rivals, 1991 saw them come together with a new name and a new jumper. One old timer called it an ‘Almost unholy alliance’. Six years of mixed fortunes saw Eastlake back in name with flourishing premises. Manuka left a lasting stamp on the life of the game in the ACT and lives on in the red and black playing jumper.

It is often the case that writing on sport results in a tedious recital bulging with statistics of wins and loses. But statistics have no life in themselves; they merely tally the things that make our lives. Our author has gone beyond that to write a fine book, replete with dignity, decency and a touch of creative artistry. His prose runs smoothly, he has an ear for good stories and he tells them all well. He never stoops to meanness and he instinctively knows when to leave on the field matters that belong only there. Above all, he brings to his readers the men and women who made Eastlake and Manuka, the city in which they lived and the game they honoured by their unstinting contribution to it. To read Kick it Long is to be enriched.

 

John Molony

Professor Emeritus

ANU

 

Comments

  1. Thanks John. A great read. Canberra will always be a special place.

    Cheers

    Giles

  2. Wonderful writer, John Molony. Did one of the best books on Ned Kelly, I am Ned Kelly’as well as writing a superb book on Eureka.

    Glen!

  3. Rod Gillett says:

    Wonderful to read the foreword to this book by John Molony.

    We were fellow delegates to the NFL in the 1980s – John for the ACT and me for NSW when the AFL didn’t totally run the game – and for administrative purposes it wasn’t AFL NSW-ACT… we had our own separate entities.

    John had a rebellious streak as befitting his Irish heritage and he would take on the big boys from the major footy states if there was a slippage in standards on their part towards the game. He is a man of great integrity and sense of fairness.

    I also had the great fortune to be involved with his brother Brian aka Muncher who was a long-serving VCFL president and ex St Kilda and Carlton player. Both were great footy leaders in an age where the volunteers ran the game, not the AFL’s apparatchiks.

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