30 for 30 Australia

30 for 30 Australia


In 2009, Bill Simmons of ESPN began producing the station’s 30 for 30 series. 30 filmmakers were asked to create a documentary about a sporting moment, personality or event of their choice that had occurred in the previous 30 years.


The series was incredibly successful – some of its films appeared at the Sundance, Toronto and SXSW film festivals, others received widespread critical acclaim, and all of them were worthy of discussion throughout the sports media world. Indeed, 30 for 30 was so successful that ESPN are currently half way through a second series.


Unsurprisingly for ESPN, even though it refers to itself as ‘The Worldwide Leader in Sports’, most of its documentaries are focused on events that have occurred in the US.


As Australian athletes and events aren’t represented at all, I thought it only reasonable to put together a list of 30 suggested documentaries from the same time period related to Australian sport. Anyone wanna call Mr Packer and see if he’ll get-a-funding?


1) As an homage to Kings Ransom, the first in ESPN’s series that focused on the trade of Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles, the first film in the Australian series will focus on the 2010 move of Gary Ablett from Geelong to the Gold Coast and the effect it had on Ablett, the fans in Geelong and the popularity of footy in southern Queensland.


2) The difficult, controversial choice presented to athletes prior to the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which the Australian Government encouraged athletes to boycott. The Australian Olympic Committee voted 6-5 in favour of sending a team and Australia competed under the Olympic flag with 120 competitors attending.


3) The NBA career of Luc Longley, the first Australian to play in the league and also the first to win a Championship. Longley was the starting centre on the Chicago Bulls for the second of their three-peats, including the best and second best seasons ever recorded by an NBA team: 72-10 in 1995-96, and 69-13 in 1996-97.


4) The 1998 Sydney-Hobart yacht race, in which six lives were lost.


5) Prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics, four legends of Australian sport had won 3 Olympic gold medals at a single games: Betty Cuthbert and Murray Rose in Melbourne, Shane Gould in Munich and Ian Thorpe in Sydney. In Athens, two much less renowned female swimmers achieved the same feat: Petria Thomas, who battled depression for much of her career, and Jodie Henry who competed in Athens but was injured before the Beijing Olympics, so never swam in Olympic competition again.


6) The two days in 1995 when rugby league players were encouraged to sign a contract with News Corp’s breakaway Super League competition. The players were not permitted to take contracts away with them or consult with managers or families, but their often huge sign-on fees were handed to them immediately.


7) Darrell Hair calls Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing at the 1995 Boxing Day Test.


8) The boom in the Fantasy AFL industry that has become so successful that the Herald Sun based much of their move to having a paywall on their website on the economics of forcing fantasy footballers to pay for access to their fantasy leagues.


9) The life of Arthur Tunstall, a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame for his sports administration, particularly his contribution to boxing and the Australian Commonwealth Games team. He is perhaps best known for controversy, though, including when he threatened to send Cathy Freeman home from the 1994 Games for carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags on her victory lap.


10) The life and death of cricket commentator Peter Roebuck, one of the sport’s most revered writers and radio analysts. Roebuck was a philanthropist who helped students from cricket-playing developing countries to undertake tertiary education. He was followed by controversy, though, being given a suspended jail sentence in 2001 for using corporal punishment on cricketers in his care, and in 2011 he committed suicide after being asked by police to answer questions about allegations of sexual assault


11) Australia’s response to insta-celebrity Kay Cottee who was the first woman to sail single-handedly, non-stop around the world. After her journey, during which she didn’t have physical contact with anyone for 189 days, she was suddenly bombarded with interviews, press conferences, civic receptions, meetings with heads of state and the Australian of the Year Award.


12) In 1995, Ian Roberts became the first high-profile Australian sportsperson and first rugby league player in the world to come out as openly gay during his career.


13) The Fine Cotton scam that saw six people banned from horse-racing for life and Bill and Robbie Waterhouse banned for 14 years. Fine Cotton was a fairly ordinary horse, and its owners attempted to win big by replacing him with a better horse who was far more likely to win.


14) In the 1998 US Open final, two Australians played against each other. Pat Rafter won his second, and what would be his final, Grand Slam on his way to becoming one of Australia’s most beloved athletes who has the centre court at Brisbane’s tennis centre named after him. Mark Philippoussis lost his first of what would be two Slam finals, on his way to becoming an athlete that many Australians point to when looking for someone who didn’t live up to his potential.


15) The ‘yips’ experienced by two successful Australian sportspeople. After winning the 1991 British Open, Ian Baker-Finch’s golf game utterly failed him and never returned while he was a professional. In 1995-96, he missed the cut or pulled out of all 29 events he entered. In his final professional round, he shot an extraordinarily poor 92 in the first round of the 1997 British Open and decided he couldn’t bear to return the next day. Some years later, World Champion and Olympic Gold medal winning pole vaulter Steve Hooker completely lost the ability to compete, saying “the confidence I require to stand at the end of the runway and then charge down, land my pole and soar almost 6m into the air has left me for the time being.”


16) In 2014, the Melbourne Tigers basketball team changed their name to Melbourne United. The hope was that a name change would encourage Victorian basketball fans who had previously supported rival Melbourne NBL teams would now support Melbourne United as they were no longer the Tigers.


17) In 2010, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission forced the makers of the Power Balance wrist band to – amongst other things – cease claiming that their product would improve the user’s balance, strength and flexibility by working “with the body’s natural energy field.” They were also forced to offer full refunds, plus postage. The bands were worn by many famous athletes across the world, including Kobe Bryant, Drew Brees, Victoria Azarenka and the St.Kilda football team.


18) At the Sydney Paralympics, a member of Spain’s intellectual disability basketball gold medal team was also an undercover journalist who revealed that most of his teammates were not disabled.


19) The 1985-86 and 1986-87 Australian rebel cricket tours of South Africa.


20) The rivalry of the Australian and New Zealand netball teams.


21) The life of Jobie Dajka, track cyclist and 2002 World Champion in the keirin. He suffered from depression, alcohol-related stress and was banned for three years following an assault on the Australian track coach. Dajka was found dead in his home in 2009, having never attended an Olympics.


22) In a letter to all National Soccer League clubs in 1996, Soccer Australia explained that to participate in the following season, “All clubs shall be obliged to remove all symbols of European nationalism from club logos, playing strips, club flags, stadium names and letterheads.” Arguments for and against the move were immediate, including from politicians and most Australian soccer players and commentators.


23) Sally Robbins lays down in the boat during the 2004 Athens Olympics. She quickly gains infamy and is destroyed by the media. Eventually, the fact that she had done this more than once prior to the Games is recounted by her teammates in court as witnesses in a defamation case brought against Alan Jones by Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates.


24) The residents of Benalla, Victoria and Bunbury, Western Australia reminisce over the visit of the great West Indies cricket team of 1984 visiting their towns to play against the local state country team.


25) The findings of the federal senate select committee inquiry into animal welfare in 1991 that concluded that jumps racing should be phased out on the grounds of cruelty. New South Wales responded by banning jumps racing in 1997, while Victoria still hold jumps races including some that are worth over $250,000.


26) The St Marys Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League, arguably the most successful local AFL team in the country. The Saints won 6 Premierships in each of the 80s, 90s and 00s, producing many indigenous AFL players including Maurice and Cyril Rioli and Michael Long.


27) In 2006, Peter Brock skidded during the Targa West rally, hit a tree and died instantly.


28) The career of Jelena Dokic, semi-finalist at Wimbledon and the Sydney Olympics, along with the rocky relationships between her, her family, Tennis Australia and the wider Australian sporting public.


29) The Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal that saw the team stripped of the 2007 and 2009 NRL Premierships.



30) Australia’s reaction to the cult hero of Olympic mascots, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat.

About Edward P. Olsen

EPO is equally passionate about sport and sports writing. While others toil away at the local indoor sports centre re-living their futile childhood dreams of being one of the best of all time, he types away at home re-living his futile childhood dream of being one of the world’s great columnists.


  1. Skip of Skipton says

    Love your rose-coloured spin doctoring at #10.

    #26 -St.Mary’s Football Club do not play ‘AFL’.

    Something about the Melbourne Cup/Spring Carnival attracting International runners might be in order.

  2. Great idea, EPO. A couple of other nominations:

    1. John Landy stopping to help up the fallen Ron Clark at the ’56 track championships.
    2. The career of squash champ Heather McKay.
    3. While I’m on squash, maybe the rivalry between Geoff Hunt and Jahangir Khan.

  3. Great idea. Magnificent mix.
    The 30/30 series is superb – the Yanks do docos so well.
    Not sure re 20/25/30
    20 seems tokenism and not really important, though I’m obviously missing something.
    25 would have limited interest and hopefully the story still has some legs to grow
    30 confuses me. Who or what?

  4. Tony Tea says

    Steve Bradbury, Melbourne Hawthorn merger, Essendrug.

  5. Daryl Adair says

    Something about Bradman’s last innings, Phar Lap’s ‘poisoning’, Rod Laver and others going pro, Dawn Fraser banned from Olympics, the white bloke during the black power salute in ’68, the Johnson-Jeffries fight of 1908, Bodyline, the 1868 Aboriginal cricket team, Cliff Young, the first Aboriginal Australian of the year (could also box a bit), World Series Cricket Revolution, Black Caviar unbeaten, Crisp carrying the grandstand against Red Rum, the winged keel. Hope these sound okay too.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Shane Warne banned for a year , Ben Cousins , , SANFL being forced away from
    Ad oval and now begged back , Bradman great batsman diabolical administrator ,
    Nicky Winmar and Maurice Rioli re contribution towards removal of racism ,
    South Melbourne being moved to Sydney , Greg Chappell under arm delivery ,
    Fine Cotton substitution re racing and of course the legend , Bob Neil

  7. Andrew Starkie says

    1989 VFL season.

  8. Kane Felthouse says

    Nice list EPO, and great concept. The 30 for 30 doco’s are brilliant!

    Couple of suggestions:

    – Warne’s 1st Ashe’s delivery and his career.
    – Wayne Carey fall out at North Melbourne and his ‘tarnished reputation’, despite being possibly the best centre half forward in history.
    – Something around the Ablett legacy in AFL football. It’s vague and spands almost all three of the ’30 for 30 decades’, but there’s so much drama and at the same time brilliance surrounding that family!

    Just wanted to mention to, Daryl Adair – Great suggestions, but the 30 for 30 concept is events of the past 30 years.

    Let’s hope Mr. Packer is reading!

  9. Maddy Usher says

    About time there was an Australian equivalent. There are some great suggestions here, I’d agree Stephen Bradbury should be on the list, especially as he’s entered the vernacular “Don’t worry I’ll just Stephen Bradbury it”. Maybe the socceroos in 2006 and the penalty that broke a nations heart. Not sure which ones I’d leave out though.

  10. craig dodson says

    Love the 30 for 30 series. How about the Hawthorn Essendon rivalry of the 80s. So many interesting sub plots

  11. Dennis Gedling says

    -Definitely Bradbury.
    -The curse put on the Socceroos in Africa decades ago.
    -Lisa De Vanna. From working in a 24 hour servo and had just lost her father to almost getting the golden boot at the Women’s World Cup in 2007.
    -The Iran debacle.
    -The nationalization of the VFL to the AFL.
    -Ted Whitten’s battle with cancer and the death of State of Origin.
    -Damien Oliver winning the Melbourne Cup after losing his brother.

    Plenty if you want to take it from the American dramatic angle.

  12. Daryl, Johnson fought Burns in Sydney in 1908.

  13. The 1987 Cricket World Cup.
    This was the beginning of Australian cricket’s renaissance and the springboard for the historic 1989 Ashes victory.

    The life of Gary “Gus” Gilmour.

  14. Buff Tyrell and the ’76 win by Woodville v Port Adelaide
    Malcolm Blight
    The effect of National Service on sport careers
    Dean Lukin

  15. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Death (Murder) of Fitzroy.

  16. Glen Potter says

    Well done on prompting this, Edward.

    #18 is astonishing – I’ve never heard that story before!

    How about:
    *The famous O’Toole family of woodchopping fame
    *W.K. (Ken) Treweek’s Stawell Gift
    *Keiren Perkins’ amazing gold medal finale
    *Steve Waugh’s Sydney test 100 at the end of his career
    *’Whatever Happened To Univeristy F.C. Club’
    *The nutbag parents of Aussie tennis prodigies
    *Malua – winner of the Oakleigh Plate, Melbourne Cup and Grand National Hurdle
    *Les Murray – Magyar who became an Aussie icon
    *The Unpaid Leigh Colbert mark in the ’97 semi (Sorry, forget that. Too personal)

    Glen Potter

  17. Daryl Adair says

    Sorry. Jonson vs Burns in 1908. Jonson fought Jeffries afterwards in Nevada.

  18. Mick Jeffrey says

    The story of the 1995 Queensland state of origin team, how a bunch of so called rookies, rejects and reserve graders coached by a former Qld great turned TV star claimed a clean sweep (oh, and how Billy Moore became set for life thanks to yelling a single word down a tunnel)…

  19. The career, life and times of SANFL footballing iconoclast Grenville Dietrich. Suggested cinematography to include late night sessions at various drinking holes then cutting to GD the next day kicking languid bags of ten or more goals. Both Jarman brothers on same field showing sublime skills. More recent footage of GD applying considerable finesse on fetching suburban bowling greens. Essentially a When We Were Kings minus the boxing, tension, and Congolese setting.

  20. Grenville Dietrich says

    Could we have some smaller words next time please Mickey so I can understand what you are writing…..lol

  21. Patrick O'Brien says

    Plus 1 to: Australia’s reaction to the cult hero of Olympic mascots, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat; The nutbag parents of Aussie tennis prodigies; the rivalry between Geoff Hunt and Jahangir Khan; the white bloke during the black power salute in ’68; and Cliff Young.

    To which I’d add:
    – The Shark’s regular yet unfortunate forays into the car park on the final hole of majors.
    – My 52* against Windsor State School on Lutwyche Road in Grade 6. An innings that combined graceful finesse with pure almost frightening power in a way I’ve yet to match since.

  22. Paul Young says

    Good topic. 30 for 30 covers serious issues.
    Most of those in your 30, I agree with.

    Spanish para team (#18) is maybe more of a Spanish matter rather than covering an Australian sporting controvsery or issue.

    Sporting mascots (#30) is quirky but hardly worthy of a 30 for 30 format.

    & Patrick – 1968 Olympic siver medallist Peter Norman has already been covered in “Salute”

    Here’s five I’d like to see:
    1)I’m surprised no one mentioned Black Caviar’s extraordinary unbeaten run and the controversy surrounding the win in England.

    2) John Coleman’s career ending injury & subsequent death (that appears may have been avoidable)/

    3) Lester Ellis v Barry Michael – the Junior Lightweight world title grudge match of 1985. (And maybe some reference to Alphonse Gangitano).

    4) Ted Hopkins, his 4 goals in the 1970 GF and subsequent rise to he stats guru of the AFL world.

    5) Jean Lous Ravelomntansoa – the first man to win the Stawell Gift from scratch. (And was so for another 30 years) If nor for Ravelo, we’d have never heard of Madagascar until Dreamworks made it a household name in 2005.

  23. The Black Prince says

    Kieran Perkins flu ridden 1500m free style gold medal at the ’96 Atlanta games from lane 8 must surly rate a mention!
    Wasn’t there a yacht race in the West around ’83 that was rather noteworthy….my memory is somewhat vague as I was only 5!

  24. Yep it’s the best 30 but that’s why they started a second season and a third.
    If u want it to happen Eddie McGuire is who u need to appeal to and that means at least 3 of 30 on Calling wood in season 1. (I go for Richmond so unbiased but know where the coin and pull is at)

    1. The colliwobbles with the 90 win as the ego trip for Eddie
    2. Drawn GF’s – doesn’t happen in any other sports (I think) the most recent one a win for colingwood
    3. The Darren Milane tradgedy.

    Could go others but these will be brilliant for season one. Season 2-10 could be Australian TV GENIUS….

Leave a Comment