Almanac Life: ’30 for 30′ – Who’d make the Aussie cut?

An unforeseen consequence of the Covid-induced lockdown has been the increase in the number of hours I have spent in front of the television. Apart from sport, I am not a big watcher of the idiot-box, so the opportunity to binge on whatever takes my fancy without feeling guilty about putting other stuff on the backburner, has been revelatory. A self-confessed news junkie, I recently made the conscious effort to steer clear of the nightly bulletins and their ever-depressing content. Instead I have consumed movies, docos, comedies, murder-mysteries, and Netflix shows.


However, I inevitably find myself drifting back to old favourites, one of which is ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of sports-themed documentaries. As is to be expected in any long-running series, the quality can vary and the appeal can wane when it involves a sport in which I am not necessarily too invested. But the series has broadened my sports education. I have learnt about Reggie Miller and his rivalry with the New York Knicks, the poignant basketball tale of Yugoslav basketball teammates Petrovic and Divac in Once Brothers, the aftermath of the 1988 Olympic men’s 100-metre sprint final, the life and times of wrestler Ric Flair, and the amazing story of Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman, amongst many, many others.


Overall, the docos are entertaining and often intriguing. The whole idea is excellent, particularly for those of us who enjoy a sporting backstory. But the themes can be overly American-centric, and this has had me pondering what stories might make the cut in a local version of 30 for 30, for Australia has a rich sporting history which would easily lend itself to a series of this nature.


Historically, there is the story of the indigenous Australian cricket team which toured England in 1868. Perhaps this story could be told using photographs, in Ken Burns fashion, including the team photo which I regard as one of the greatest in Australian sports history. There is the story of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, but has too much of this been already told? Surely more people should know of the life of one of Australia’s greatest female cricketers, the late Betty Wilson? And what about the Socceroos of 1974, the first football team to qualify for the World Cup finals?


From Australia’s storied Olympic campaigns, more could be learnt about Edwin Flack, our first ever gold medal winner. There is the more commonly discussed tale of Keiran Perkins’ winning 1500-metre swim in Atlanta in 1996, or what about the ‘Mean Machine’, or the ‘Awesome Foursome’ rowers? My personal favourite Olympic yarn is that of Peter Norman and how he was treated in the aftermath of his part in the famous 1968 Mexico city ‘Black Power’ salute protest (a story which has been told in the 2008 film Salute). Often told, but no less inspiring is the story of Cathy Freeman’s gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. How about some winter Olympics, and the most unlikely of all Australian gold medal winners in Steve Bradbury?


The rugby league stories which would pique my interest are Roy Masters and his Western Suburbs Magpies of the early 80’s and the Melbourne Storm salary-cap scandal, which resulted in them being stripped of the 2008 and 2009 NRL pennants. Basketball might provide us with the full Luc Longley story, or better still that of Lauren Jackson, arguably Australia’s greatest ever player. How about the Gaze family, and their dedication to the basketball cause?


In Australian football, there is the tragic – and still raw – passing of Adelaide coach Phillip Walsh. The story of Jason McCartney, and his return to footy from the horrors of the Bali bombing is more uplifting. ‘Polly’ Farmer’s life would make for an interesting viewing, as would the story of the Krakouer brothers and the two Gary Ablett’s. The story of Adam Goodes’ career finale has already been covered particularly well in more than one documentary. How about Susan Alberti and the story of the birth of AFLW?


Lesser-known sports might have a light shone on them through the dominance of Heather McKay and Geoff Hunt in squash, Robert Fahey in real (royal) tennis, or Dylan Alcott in wheelchair tennis. How great would it be to watch a documentary about the Stawell Gift and all of the history which surrounds that time-honoured event?


Where would it end? In sailing there is the triumph of Australia II, and the magnificent feats of endurance of Jessica Watson, Kay Cottee, and Jesse Martin. The boxing story I would like to see is that of Lionel Rose. Surfing could provide us with historical yarns about the likes of Tom Carroll, Pam Burridge and Midget Farrelly, or maybe even Mick Fanning and his brush with a shark. There is cricket (the 1987 World Cup win, the 1989 Ashes, or the tragic passing of Phil Hughes), horse-racing (Makybe Diva, Michelle Payne), cycling (Cadel Evans, Anna Meares, Russell Mockridge, Hubert Opperman), tennis (Laver, Court, Barty). The possibilities are endless.


It is now over to the producers. And the financiers. And others with the gumption to do it. Call it what you like. But, please, just bring it on!


And just as importantly, what would you like to see??



More from Smokie Dawson HERE


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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. G’Day Smokie,

    Love the concept! Back in 2014 for this fair website, I put together a list of 30 Aussie ’30 for 30’s I’d like to see… All from the post-1979 era as that is when ESPN began – the original 30 for 30 involved the 30th anniversary of ESPN’s inauguration.

    Keen to hear what you think of the list!

  2. The long and agonising path to Queensland finally winning the Sheffield Shield in the 1994/95 season.

  3. Golf – the Shark story. The amazing golf boom of the 80’s and 90’s with crowds lining all the fairways and greens. 50 different ways to lose Majors. Tway from a bunker. Mize impossible chip. Generously running second to old man Jack at the 86 Masters via a 30 yard block on the final hole. Don’t mention the 5 shot lead over Faldo in 96.
    Cricket – the 72 England tour and World Cup under IM Chappell will always be the dividing line between attacking modernity and stodgy tradition. Massie at Lords. The emergence of Lillee. Gus Gilmour swinging them sideways. Ross Edwards at cover. Then the magnificent Windies under Clive Lloyd at Lords in the final that went long into the night with Australia never in the hunt to win but refusing to lose.
    Horse Racing – Kingston Town for me. The long unbeaten run against real opposition (unlike Winx and BC). The 3 Cox Plates – “Kingston Town can’t win on the turn” (the Accurate One eating his words). The 82 Melbourne Cup agonising loss carrying the grandstand to Gurners Lane when Miracle Mal lairised and went for home on the turn. Tommy Woodcock and Reckless is the other great racing yarn. Phar Lap’s strapper finding a good one 40 years later. Nurturing Reckless from a long term maiden to win Perth, Adelaide and Sydney Cups in one year then fall agonisingly short at Flemington in November.
    Swimming – Kieren Perkins in Barcelona from Lane 8 when he only scraped into the final and then went out to a half lap lead in the final over 1500.
    Cycling – Cadel TDF is an all time high for me.
    Soccer – Aloisi’s penalty in the Uruguay qualifier; Aussie Gus; Timmy; cheating Italian Tom Papleys. The 2006 World Cup had it all.
    Olympic Equestrian – Gillian Rolton remounting with a broken arms and ribs to help Australia win the teams event in 1996. The Aussie teams history would be a great story starting with Bill Roycoft having a similar fall in the 1960 win in Rome.
    Improbable Heroes – Jon SIeben; Stephen Bradbury; Bulldogs 2016; Dandy Andy at 125/1 beating Bonecrusher and Vo Rogue in the Australian Cup.
    My criteria was events that made me sit on the edge of my chair and the hair prickle on the neck. Preferably post 1960 with decent video available and a compelling narrative arc.
    Great idea Smoke. Who would be the Goodens and Strawberry of Aussie sport? Ben Cousins is too out of it to make an insightful commentary on the giddy heights and low lows.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Brilliant idea Smokie. Like you, I find 30 for 30 fantastic but would much prefer an Australian version. So many stories to tell in this country.

    Some great ideas in your article and in the comments. Like PB said, post 1960 with good video and narrative would be important, as well as interviewing as many people involved as possible.

    Some other ideas-
    Cricket: Simon O’Donnell, from World Cup winner, to cancer, then his return to International cricket
    The sorry tale of the death of David Hookes
    South Australia’s epic winning of the Sheffield Shield in 1995/96 (hard fought draw, Gilly’s
    innings etc.)

    Golf: The fall of Ian Baker-Finch’s game
    Karrie Webb’s dominance

    Athletics: The marathon men Moneghetti and De Castella
    Sally Pearson’s reign at the top
    Emma George totally dominating pole vault before it became an Olympic sport for women,
    then being injured/past her peak when it became one

    Footy: Port Adelaide’s attempt to enter the AFL in 1990
    The Edelston/Hafey/Capper era of the Swans

    NBL at it’s mid 1990’s peak and it’s decline

    Just the tip of the iceberg.

    Despite the sometimes overt channel nineness and the odd cringeworthy guest paying tribute, the recent shows honouring the lives of Bill Lawry and Ian Chappell were quite good.

    And looking forward to seeing the new Netflix doco this weekend on the recent Women’s Twenty20 World Cup.

  5. DBalassone says

    You bloody beauty Smokie! I’d never heard of ’30 from 30′ before (I’ve never had foxtel), but I just found the Ric Flair episode on kayo. It looks like compulsory viewing for the wrestling tragic. Thanks mate.

  6. Matt Zurbo.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Eric ‘Fritzy’ Freeman, Johnny Watkins, Bedrooms of Glenelg FC, The Adelaide Sports Store Wars, The Contax v Garville rivalry of the 80s and 90s, Williamstown CYMS and the yellow shorts

  8. Boxing – the rise, fall and redemption of Lionel Rose is the great story of Australian boxing. All the racial overtones of the Adam Goodes story but with an international dimension. Indigenous Australians had only just won full voting/citizenship rights in the 1967 when Rose beat Fighting Harada for the World Bantamweight Title in Tokyo. There was only one world title in each weight division so he really was World Champ. Defended the title several times over 2 years before losing it in a KO in the USA. After a period in the wilderness came back to fight for the WBC Junior Lightweight title in 1971 – losing in 15 rounds. Had a #1 hit record “I Thank You”.

  9. Matt Zurbo says

    Good one Smokie! Great piece.


    In true Aussie spirit, some no-name bush footy team hat went from near extinction to a flag. Those stories are more golden, richer, just as passionate, as a dozen high profile ones.

    Cliff Young.

    (Ease up Micky Randall!)

  10. Kevin Densley says

    William King, Sydney’s “Flying Pieman”, a phenomenal 19th century athlete who was capable of amazing feats.

  11. Steve Baldwin says

    The 1970 Carlton Collingwood Grand Final, Barassi ,Jezza Hopkins , Bobby Rose
    The Demons amazing run & tragic finish to the 1987 season Robbie Flower, Jim Stynes , Buckanara etc

  12. Fabulous idea Smoke. Les Darcy would be at the top of my list. And Dave Sands. A world beating boxer who has never been widely recognised.

    The extraordinary emergence of Australian female surfers should be documented. The last 10-15 years have been remarkable.

    Rod Laver’s and Margaret Court’s stories During our golden age of tennis would be fabulous.

    So many tales.

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