150 Years of Australian Football Conference
July 15 2008
Up There Cazaly and The Myth of Icarus: An exploration into the narrative of freedom and failure in Australian Rules football.
By Phillip Dimitriadis
The Myth of Icarus is a story about defying gravity, escaping imprisonment and overcoming fear. It is also about remaining cautious while having to throw caution to the sun. Flight is the only way to escape from a prison for Icarus, ironically built by his father (coach) Daedalus.
The song and film clip of Up There Cazaly by Mike Brady works within a similar mythological narrative. The recurring image of freedom in AFL footy is the high mark. It defies gravity and symbolically differentiates from British games like Rugby and Soccer. The spirit of the mark could be viewed as a symbolic escape from British rule and colonial imprisonment.
Up There Cazaly also offers escape to fans from the drudgery of work, another metaphor for a prison. The lyrics capture the rapture of the moment of flight in the Icarus myth and the temporary defiance of gravity. Hope and freedom are symbolically glimpsed in the ephemeral moment of the ‘Screamer’.
Icarus and Cazaly fly in the face of the sun and prescribed earthly experience. The footy ground is a metaphor for the sea that Icarus falls into, depicting a battle with an underworld of antagonistic forces. Brady sings “Fly like an angel” and in the next verse urges “Fight like the devil”, both followed by “You’re out there to win”
The song uses mythological language to depict the constant struggle between hope, fear, freedom/flight and reality/ gravity. The Myth of Icarus has often been used by football authors as a metaphor of hope and failure.
The pictures are from the art gallery in Ikaria, which is an Island in the Aegean named after Icarus. He was said to have fallen near this Island. Most of the images were painted during the Byzantine period after Ovid discovered the story and reprised it almost 2000 years ago.
It is striking how the poses are more akin to taking speccies than flying headlong into the sun. Put footy in their hands and perhaps Ikaria could vie as the spiritual birthplace of Aussie Rules.
Up There Cazaly
Roy Cazaly played for St.Kilda and South Melbourne between 1911 and1927 and was heralded for his ability to leap high and take gravity defying marks. According to Ross, “Cazaly was a non-smoker and non-drinker, and says that a lung full of air at the moment he leaps for the ball gives him added levitation” (In Ross, (ed), 1996, p.125).
Apparently, Cazaly’s aerial feats inspired some diggers on the battlefields during world war two where Australian Rules football seemed to be a popular diversion from being shot bayoneted: “News too of other games around the battle fronts, where the cry ‘Up There Cazaly’, is often heard as the boys go into action.” (In Ross, (ed), 1996, p.168).
One has to wonder if the Rugby League or Union soldiers engaged in the cry with the perceived flippancy depicted here as they contemplated possible death or permanent disfigurement. And yet it is the expression of this hagiographic mythology and the description of a clean living and conservative Cazaly that camouflages the brutal facts of war and helps boost morale among young wide-eyed men.
They weren’t chanting Up There Smith or Smallhorn so there is some substance that separates Cazaly’s deeds from those of other footballers.
Singer songwriter Mike Brady penned arguably the most recognizable song about the game when he released ‘Up There Cazaly’ in 1979. Brady puts music to the archetypal themes that seem to rivet many fans. The chorus of the song says:
Up there Cazaly
In there and fight
Out there and At em’
Show em your might
Up there Cazaly
Don’t let em in
Fly like an angel
You’re out there to win (Brady, 1979)
An interesting contrast to the final line of this verse is when Brady recognizes the duality of the hero who is not whole by exhibiting purely angelic qualities. He balances ‘fly like and angel’ with ‘fight like the devil’ in the following verse and this is an interesting paradox because it exalts demonic behaviour in a context where muscular Christianity and the imagined good must prevail.
Brady is expressing a mythical and real agon in this song.
There can be no angels if they have no devils to contend with. Brady, with these two lines has possibly expressed one of the more earnest truths about the consciousness of the game, its players, supporters and writers.
He is saying that in reality we want our game to exhibit both extremes of the myth. There is no middle ground. You can either be an angel or a devil but we don’t care as long as you win.
Paradoxically, there is not a single image of a goal in the entire clip and this signifies a celebration of ‘playing’ rather than solely winning.
Perhaps is safer to fantasize about Cazaly, Coventry, Coleman and Haydn Bunton because their deeds provide palliative entertainment. They will not become tyrants that send Collingwood fan’s to the gas chambers or turn Carlton into a Stalinist gulag.
Football fantasies must be predominantly childlike and therapeutic because reality undermines their power to instil hope and innocence. However, an element of failure must also be lurking in the background so that experience retains an earthy realism.
This is why a mythological figure like Icarus seems to figure prominently in much football literature. Icarus depicts the brave, yet immature archetype that flies into the face of the sun and plummets to his death into the sea.
Gravity and antagonists always intervene. In Footy the ground can be a metaphor for the sea that Icarus falls into. Fight like the devil depicts a battle with the underworld on the field, ie, Taking hits, showing courage and fighting injustice from umpires.
The Footy ground is both a labyrinth and an altar. Victory and Flight symbolize temporary escape from the labyrinth.
The oval shaped ground and ball are symbols of fertility, rebirth and hope. Yet they can also be seen as symbols of frailty and danger, exposed to human and unseen forces wanting to control their destiny.
The line: “In there and at em, don’t let em in”, I interpret as not letting fear and gravity interfere with courage and spiritual hope.
The song uses religious mythology Angels/Devils which depict the constant struggle of hope vs. fear, imagination vs. reality and flight vs. gravity.
It is interesting that the moment of death in Icarus’ story is rarely referred to in football literature. It is mostly about the moment of flight, the defiance of gravity, of human bondage, the possibility of attaining the freedom and powers of a deity. In his poem High Mark, Dawe captures the rise and the fall. He writes:
- tensioning for the upward leap,
god’s hooks, hungering
for the leather dove, the run
among mere mortal men
in time, in place, become
the leap into heaven,
into fame, into legend
-then the fall back to earth
to the whistle’s shrill tweet. (In Fitzgerald and Spillman, 1988, p.225)
So why is the example of the archetypal influence of Icarus predominantly in ‘flight’so popular in Australian Rules literature?
Footy allows the ‘flier’ to fight like the devil when he lands. This crucially transforms the myth. Life continues. In Icarus’ case it doesn’t.
Martin Flanagan also uses the analogy to characterize Tom Wills. Wills did fly high to help invent the game and in the process establish himself as a great sportsman, but he also fell into the sea of alcohol that contributed greatly to his death.
Should Wills to be portrayed as a demi-god, a martyr or a human being who was good at sport but could not deal with his personal demons?
Perhaps it is the contradictory nature of some football heroes that makes them much more interesting as historical figures through literary representations. Would Flanagan have been compelled to write The Call had Tom Wills lived to a ripe old age and died feebly in a nursing home at the age of ninety?
Possibly not because Wills’ story may have become sanitized, there would be little mystery to one of the fathers of Australian football who was buried in an unmarked grave at a Heidelberg cemetery in Melbourne at the age of fourty-four, childless and penniless. The tragedy helps give the story balance by eliciting curiosity and intrigue.
If football re-animates archetypes, then Tom Wills could be seen as the flawed hero whose innocence and youth betrayed him in his personal life. His legacy as a ‘play hard, party hard’ archetype can still be seen today.
Ben Cousins, Gary Ablett , Wayne Carey and Brendon Fevola have been the most recent public examples of carrying on the legacy of ‘flying too close to that metphoric sun’. If Tom Wills had lived in Melbourne today I think he would he have sympathized with Gary Ablett snr? Flanagan writes:
A young man does what young men have always dreamed of doing. For an instant, he stands alone in the sky, all others beneath him….The crowd’s delight is a wild surge of sound. At that moment all else is forgotten. (Flanagan, 1998, p.181).
Flanagan may have been influenced by what has been marketed by its publisher as the classic Australian football novel: A Salute to the Great McCarthy, by Barry Oakley. Oakley predates Flanagans sentiments in The Call when he writes:
‘Flight!’ he says, waiving the air. ‘It lies deep in the mind of man McCarthy, the diver flies and the vaulter of poles, we fly in our dreams, your Christian heaven. The footballer, yes, you in your own extraordinary national game, I see you in the pics up there on their shoulders. I lie me down to sleep and I fly in my dreams – sailing, arms out over the town, swooping and climbing, I go where I wish!’(Oakley, 1971, p. 101)
Stats In Up There Cazaly clip:
Bread Rolls: 1
Kicks: 1 (Kevin Murray fighting like a devil)
Handballs: 1 (Bob Skilton)
I heard ‘Up There Cazaly’ before I knew anything about the Myth of Icarus.
Therefore a slice of football culture has been responsible for inspiring me to revisit and appreciate my own cultural heritage.
How does footy do that for you?