AFL Round 11 – Melbourne v Port Adelaide: A game for points, or the point of the game


Paul Fitzsimons Alice Spring Port v Melb 2014



Melbourne v Port Adelaide

Traeger Park


by Paul Fitzsimons

It is the Indigenous round, May 31st.

Premiership points are up for grabs in Alice Springs, a venue virtually unknown to the stronghold of Australian Rules supporters living along the sea board from Cairns southwards and eventually to Geraldton.

The Lazarus of the AFL, May premiers in 2014, Port Power is scheduled to play the true struggle-streeters of recent times, Melbourne.

The bookies have Power at $1.03 and Melbourne at $10.

“Fair enough,” say fans in the heavily populated inner suburbs of our cities. Follow the example of Priscilla and seek some fun in the desert, “It won’t be a blockbuster!”!

And duly the game was played with Power exerting their ascendancy early, only to see Melbourne bounce back ensuring that armchair TV experts around the nation stayed tuned for the second half. And to their credit Melbourne showed cheek and kept their opponents honest until the dying minutes of the match, when Power consolidated to take home a 20 point win.

Pats on the back were shared all round, and the ambience of the AFL Indigenous round was no doubt embellished.

A week later the AFL circus rolled on in mainstream venues.the game in Alice Springs was last week!

As with life, though, hindsight is a marvellous thing. In reflecting on the Alice Springs festival of the boot there was much more gained and much more learned. And the memories are enduring!

For the uninitiated, a few statistics came to life. From a town population of 27,000, 5700 passed through the gates, so 21 % of the good citizens of the Centre attended. Imagine such a proportion of population trying to pass through the turnstiles at Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, or Perth, let alone at the hallowed MCG?

Talking of the G, the G of the Alice – Traeger Park – is in fact longer than the MCG and, in area, as large as the MCG. The year round dry and hard surface makes for a fast and skilful game for the two hundred plus matches played on it each year. Traeger Park does not require the playing surface to be doctored with green paint for TV perfection. It is a carpet hewn for performance, with a staff of two maintaining curatorship, and it is set in a truly spiritual context, dwarfed by the ancient MacDonnell Ranges.

It was in such a setting that the folk of the desert then added their touch of humanity to the occasion. From the CBD a local version of the Long March symbolically led the populace to the local colosseum. How fitting to have the home of Michael Long celebrate. Long, who’s family were original Centralians, played a pivotal role with the Pioneer Club, winning the coveted Minahan Medal ( the Central Australian Football League’s Best and Fairest) before stepping up to legendary heights with Essendon.

At the ground local Arrente men welcomed one and all to country, and in particular to Traeger Park.

By game time the crowd created the football atmosphere seldom known to AFL patrons of today. With steamer chairs, rugs and canvasses, fans lined the pickets and covered the mounds with colour. The days of being able to smell the Liniment, had returned.

Here in Central Australia where cheap shot journalism has created an image of Alice Springs the “murder capital of the world”, the true nature of a dynamic yet harmonious community was displayed – at an AFL footy match.

There was no need for a Gold Jacketed attention seeker, stirring up a so called army; no need for offensive vocal screamers (the screamers had their place on the field); and no place for those who only know the sound of “Boo”, or even those who need to ejaculate excess saliva.

The game was played without malice and the paying public celebrated, acknowledging the skill and achievement of all combatants. Hand-clapping replaced jeering. Friendship and respect replaced emotion and hostility.

In turn coaches of both visiting clubs praised the day! The AFL could hold their head high. And most significantly the peoples of the Centre had a chance to identify with and be seen as part of the fabric of Australia’s marvellous game.

Michael Long has delivered on behalf of Centralians both on and off the AFL field. From Traeger Park also came the MacAdam Brothers – Greg, Gilbert and Adrian. The Bowden dynasty plied their trade, as youngsters here; as did Darryl White. Liam Jarrah showed his potential; also Tom Logan, and Jake Neade, from nearby Elliott (700 kms north), developed on this hallowed turf.

The fixture at Traeger Park as part of the Indigenous Round of the AFL was more than just a game. It allowed some of our most deserving citizens to engage live, with an Australian game that seeks to accommodate a range of cultures. Conversely it assisted in having mainstream Australians become a little more accepting and understanding of people who come from much more than simply spinifex and bulldust. It maybe also, opened the eyes of many young local people to the benefits of achieving one’s potential beyond the home patch, on the national stage!

AFL these days is far from a simple game. It is now most corporate, and with this has come the formal recognition of its role as a game changer off the field, in a social context. Footy is no longer simply a game for Premiership points; there is a responsibility and a cultural point to the game.

At Traeger Park on May31st history was created in that it was the first game for premiership points played in Central Australia. Just as historical was the AFL’s decision to, on that day open the doors of opportunity for all Aussie Rules fans to learn and grow, through the love of a  bag of leather and those chasing it!




  1. E.regnans says

    Good one, Paul.
    There’s a lot to admire about staging games in Alice.
    Alongside the West MacDonnells…!
    Your story holds a strong perspective, coming after the playing of the next round, when you point out the rolling circus nature of the schedule.
    Walking from Alice town to the ground for a game is now an ambition for me.
    Brilliant part of the world.

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