Australian? As Australian as a Balinese prison! Nah, I’ll tell what Australian is, and what it isn’t. It’s Aussie Rules footy, not AFL, which footified people and soon even Queenslanders will understand, but footy at all levels.
Aussie rules is national, it’s indigenous, it’s Ours! No one else’s. It’s political because when it started to become too popular north of the Murray, the powers that be thought colonial revolution was in the air. So the ruling classes shut it down in schools. Bastard poms. Ironic that its roots are in English/Irish/indigenous games.
It’s not as hard as RL, but more dangerous, not as upper class as Union, more egalitarian, and it is Ours. It requires space, coordinated strategic teamwork, freedom (no offside), athleticism, 360 degree horizons, an unpredictable air conveyance and vertical spring. You can be big or small. It’s Ours! It’s not give each team 100 points and 60 secs to play, but 100 mins of sustained energy consumption with idiosyncrasies reflecting a polyglot peoples. It’s Ours.
One of my favourite ‘tales’ is the root of the term barrack – who knows what validity it has but it works. Apparently during the Maori Wars the English troops were rotated through Victoria Barracks at Albert Park and to keep fit in down periods they entered a team in the local aussie rules comp. Thus the response to “who do you go for?” was “The Barracks.” Which eventually became “I barrack for…” To foil my sensitive pom bashing ways, then is the realisation that the Victoria Barracks side might have become the Cecil St. side, then the Albert Park side, and maybe the mighty South Melbourne Bloods, today’s Sydney Swans! Poms – ouch. It’s mine.
The Poms (and a few others) play soccer. They don’t like it but they do. It’s a diminutive of Association Football. It’s cultural terrorism where I come from. They claim it as the world game – it’s a world game because it requires minimal resources – who gives a Jimmy Hird? Rice could be described as the world food but it doesn’t figure too highly in fine restaurants! A boring staple is what it is.
So they call it the beautiful game. It is not beautiful. It is a round ball with an offside rule that requires skills to bypass opposition and put the ball in a net. And little contact except for diving, a blot that renders it ugly to the spectator and an outcome that has the potential to reverse the run of the play. it’s ugly on the terraces too – it’s boring to watch and appears to attract behaviour of the antithesis of a social contract. Aussie Rules on the other hand is beautiful. A post grad colleague and friend, an American female, was researching gender aspects of sport, and found that our game consists of majority female moves (marking, blind turns, bouncing etc.) and accounted for an enormous female following. Our game is beautiful.
I’ve been to great sporting occasions. Melbourne Cups, Grand Finals, test cricket in England/Australia, All Ireland hurling finals, Baseball Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays, World Cup Scotland v Australia, Olympic Games (1956), CHL games, NFL games (USA), NRL (Go the Storm), Highland Games and International Rules. And while the GF’s make the hairs on the neck stand stiff, and atmosphere at a ‘big’ soccer game lifts the spirit (those Poms and the Welsh can really crowd sing), and pride in the Green & Gold fortifies your jingoism, nothing, but nothing has made me feel more Australian than watching the Aussie Rules inaugural and subsequent International Cups.
No Aussie allowed on the field. Make a jelly fish go stiff watching other cultures play our game, listening to the Samurai Saints screaming in Japanese accented voices “ Ah so refreeesan, wound da nik” or “You a mug umpwire”; watching a Zulu dance in exultation of scoring a goal; hearing French yell “Allez les Bleus” and not mean Carlton; hear Danish talk Australian and not mention Mary but Roosy; marvel at the El Toro fronting the Spanish jumper, listening to Kiwis “kuck fer sucks points”; throw in a quarter time address of “Jangan hati hati, lari lari cepat cepat, SPREAD SPREAD”; and even liking Poms when they run round in Bulldog jumpers and take the name as well: British Bulldogs, you’re OK.
Having been involved in Aussie Rules internationally, with a hand in the Jakarta Bintangs, umpiring the famous Australia Day 1992 Jkt North Wombats draw with the Jkt South Possums, witnessing the fabulous Ottawa Swans), and incidentally having a medal wonderfully but perhaps mistakenly struck in your name for a national team (Vietnam Swans), I conclude ours is the beautiful game, never to be a world game, but as we attract more and more international players to AFL, and Leagues such as AFL Asia develop, and as our attendances out pull all other sports, head for head of population, we will become the World niche game and it is Australian. Wabbit and Wudd, you miss on all sorts of fronts and the saddest is your ignorance of what it takes to be Australian: Aussie Rules. At least Julia is Australian.
Balinese prison, nah. Lillian Thompson, a bit each way, but Aussie Rules, that’s Australian!
Shuffle back: “What’s the score?” I ask from the kitchen on Sat night; “54 to 87” says my wife. “Is that the Woods or Port?” “The Coalition!” Now that’s unAustralian but she’s a Pom!