AFL Round 18 – Greater Western Sydney v Geelong: Vale the Australia Network

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The Australia Network has long provided a valuable social service to forlorn footy fans and homesick expatriates in remote lands. It was launched by the Keating government in 1993, known then as Australia Television International.

I first discovered it in its present guise on a cycling tour of Vietnam. It’s been a ‘sporting’ foreign aid since. I watched, among others, Americain win the 150th Melbourne Cup in Phnom Penh, and in Ubon Ratchathani, north east Thailand, I saw the Cats celebrate in football style by kicking a record score against the Demons.

Recently, I found decisions about its demise hadn’t yet led to a ‘tombstone’ test pattern or blank screen, and watched the Cats fight to put away the Bombers in a sports bar in Sukhumvit Soi 23 – not my preferred part of Bangkok, but I was getting the fangs treated.

Given the recent Network sackings it must be broadcasting on auto-pilot. Perhaps political imperatives have ensured it only, and quietly, dies away after the footy season. But, in the meantime, it’s televising six games each weekend. No doubt the AFL’s overseas subscription service will relish the loss of competition.

Now, I’m in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Geelong is about to take on GWS. Not a game of great import, except for percentage hungry Cats, but I don’t feel like doing as the Romans do today. Unfortunately, I moved from a guesthouse that had the Australia Network to one that doesn’t. And the weather is a bit iffy interfering with the WiFi signal, so the AFL website is iffy too.

Dark clouds loom and seemingly head in this direction, but there’s only light precipitation now so I grab the umbrella and venture off thinking I’ll find somewhere with the game on.

The guesthouse receptionist says: “Only little rain.” I hope that’s a forecast.

But about a hundred meters down Sok San Road it starts teeming down with a gale blowing rain-pellets horizontal and propelling me forward against the flow of tuk-tuks, motorbikes and cyclists more preoccupied with dodging puddles and mud than pedestrians; but the four wheel drives are the worst taking up just about every available space along this narrow road.

The first port of call is not far, Party House. I enter with a waterline below the shoulders demarking wet from dry. A Philippino women married to a Dutchman, running a cafe that’s rarely open, previously told me this bar is owned by an Australian. It had the Blues V North on when I passed yesterday evening, but now has a German news program. I hear the words ‘Tony Abbott’, but that’s as Aussie Rules as it gets. I could probably ask them to change the station, but the bar’s deserted anyway and the beer not good, and at this early time of day needs to be palatable.

Their WiFi eventually, intermittently works and I get a score update – not much happening in that regard, either, with both sides a goal apiece and pouring on the points.

The wind dies and the rain reduces to a trickle so – on with the tour. An Irish theme pub broadcasts the match on a small screen with a dodgy picture and no customers. Can’t report on their Guinness. In Pub Street, venues that also had the footy on last night now have soccer.

But around the corner, the Warehouse bar has it on a big screen with other customers and a spare seat in a prime possie, so I settle in. They can even play good music here, though the Aussie performer in hippie gear had a fairly standard repertoire the other night.

The TV is on mute, but the silver lining is that Brian Taylor’s digressions are too. Maybe the small occasion and it’s smattering of spectators is making the Cats flat because it’s well into the second quarter and their lack of intensity is evident, most notable in the half-chases.

Just below the TV screen sit two smiling, attractive girls that could be from anywhere between India and Israel, who probably think I’m viewing them rather than the footy. I must admit eyes lower occasionally (otherwise I wouldn’t notice them looking at me looking at them).

Geelong picks up the tempo and ends the first half with their noses in front. The dusky maidens make an exit, and take with it their distraction.

Early ascendancy in the third quarter is halted by Steve Johnson directing non-existent traffic, and distracting himself in the process – he kicks a sloppy pass to Jared Rivers that results in a turnover and a Giants goal.

My viewing is again sidetracked as I try to explain the difference between Aussie Rules and rugby to one of the bar staff. He knows enough to draw a diagram of the goal posts of both codes on the back of a flyer promoting their karaoke night. I explain how goals, points and tries are scored.

I look up to see a promising thrust into our forward line thwarted by a string of indecisive handpasses that end up with Hawkins having to make an awkward left foot snap that misses, as if replicating the diagram lesson.

GWS are making it hard for us. Why do these teams always do that? Is it a backhanded compliment or do they sense vulnerability?

Though, sometimes you just hit a lower team that has its act together.

The bell tolls at 6.30pm – two beers are served for the price of one. Not that I need it, but…

In the last quarter, a strong mark by Bartel is followed by a lightning handpass to Johnson who’s second option is the right one this time and he goals. A great, long-bomb pass to Selwood results in his kick being crumbed by Hawkins for six more points.

Another forward pass from Selwood sticks in the memory because it epitomises his ability to stand up under immense pressure and deliver accurately using a sped-up kicking motion.

GWS get one back, and then another after breaking free from our crowded forward line.

We’re trying to do the right things, attempting to achieve best form – is it too late in the season? Some great passages of play don’t bear fruit. Millstones are more easily made than milestones, and the Cats have made one of second halves this year.

Resting on worthy reputations?

The defensive game has been exemplary, but forward thrust often lack urgency, too much inclination to go sideways or backwards, too many habitual handballs, too much trying to finesse ways to goal.

A great mark by Taylor is brought undone by a turnover that results in another Giants goal.

Is Chris Scott being too easy on these guys?

Selwood comes good with yet another captain’s goal.

We’re playing percentage catch-up, but it’s not going to happen tonight.

GWS let us off the hook with two missed set-shots. Steve J. is penalised for kicking in danger (it was ‘there’ in slow motion) which is followed by a mark and another Giants goal. This is serious now. Seven points in it, 2.46 minutes on the clock, and a look of worry and frustration on Chris Scott’s face.

The outside world of temples and hawkers is an eon away.

A great mark by Enright saves the day.

We won, but looked the GWS gift horse in the mouth.

Ling interviews Sel. I can imagine the conversation.

Lingy: “GWS put up a great fight, but you managed to get over the line”

Sel: “They made it hard for us. They’re going to be a good side. We need to be better than that.”

Siem Reap is, of course, the city servicing tourists flocking to Angkor Wat and the many surrounding temples built by the great Khmer empire. That dynasty reigned for centuries, reportedly brought to its knees by environmental factors – and likely bouts of complacency.

The Cats ruled for a few years, but are, if you believe dispatches, in decline now, falling victim to biological whim, equalisation, desire and intense competition. Who knows? Sometimes empires bounce back. Retrospection will tell.

But one thing is more certain, political upheaval aside, the Australia Network is about to disappear into history. Vale. It was good while it lasted.

About Paul Spinks

I have writing published and performed in various mediums, but usually not enough of it to pay the rent. Had many jobs, travelled a lot, so I think this experience allows a broad perception of society. I'm not an academic, though did complete a BA as a mature-age student. Below are links to some published written pieces. https://newmatilda.com/2017/07/30/its-time-for-our-baby-democracy-to-walk/ https://meanjin.com.au/blog/the-elephant-in-the-chamber/ https://overland.org.au/2017/11/australias-workplace-laws-a-narrative-tragedy/ https://newmatilda.com/2019/05/16/the-green-blind-spot-on-australias-expanding-population/ https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/is-ashleigh-barty-the-saviour-australian-tennis-has-been-waiting-for-20200108-p53prl.html https://spinksytravelworld.com/pirate-of-padstow/ https://overland.org.au/2020/10/the-slow-death-of-a-public-institution/ https://overland.org.au/previous-issues/false-documents/fiction-paul-spinks/

Comments

  1. Dr Rocket says

    Just heard from a well placed snout at ABC International that the Australian Television Network will televise this year’s AFL Grand Final. Then it will be kaput.

  2. Paul Spinks says

    Dr Rocket – the cynic in me suggest that’s so it can fade away with minimal fuss. A more favourable view says they’re playing out the season.
    Of course the A.N. was meant to be about promoting an Australian presence as much as serving the interests of Aussies abroad. Though I’m guessing the latter were its main audience. Some of the drama programmes were a bit obscure – don’t know how much the commercial networks supported it or were obligated to.
    Apparently, the AFL had to give the okay re the footy, so credit to them for that.

  3. The government’s decision to cut the Australia Network comes at a time when other, enlightened nations are increasing their use of media as a soft diplomacy strategy.

    I have no doubt that within six months of the Australia Network’s demise, Rupert will be given a gift-wrapped opportunity to offer something Fox-themed as a replacement. After all, we are, each and everyone of us, indebted to Murdoch, who has made Australia, no, the world, the magnificent place it is.

    Thanks Paul. Hope you’re enjoying Cambodia.

  4. Paul Spinks says

    Enjoying Cambo, Mickey; for the people mostly. If anyone deserves a better shot at equity it’s this lot.
    Share your concerns about the short-sightedness of the decision, not to mention its ideological motives. And similar thought crossed my mind about Rupert (with A. Bolt at the helm?).
    I’m hoping the government won’t be as blatant at that in the end, though it hasn’t held back so far.

  5. chris Murray says

    Boys, Paying any taxes for this service or just expecting aussie taxpayers to pay for it.? it was good while it lasted but the radio is just fine.

  6. Paul Spinks says

    Chris: presume you mean internet radio because that’s the only way you’ll be able to listen abroad. Though, I think Radio Australia still exists in some form if you have a shortwave tranny.

    Sorry, I’m a bit dumb – didn’t get your point about taxpayers at first. Everyone pays taxes. I would happily pay more. It was tax cuts that largely brought about our funding shortfalls. Rudd has to cop a whack for that as well. Though, in my opinion it’s a bit more than about whether taxpayers should fund the network.

    If I’m not mistaken, or being too cynical, The A.N.’s axing was another of those little things not mentioned before the election, but always intended once legitimised by a somewhat questionable audit committee.

    And I’ve allowed what was mostly a piece about the joys and frustrations of being a footy fan to digress.

    Today I’m heading off into the wilds of Mondulkiri: don’t expect to encounter the Australia Network, but who knows?

  7. KNOW what it’s like to explain to outsiders the niceties of Aussie Rules, Paul
    In a not over-flash Red Sea pub in Egypt in 2009 tried to explain our game to some bar staff and chefs.
    Drew the oval on a sheet of paper, then the 4 sticks at each end and explained there were 18 players on the park.
    “What. Only 9 players per side,” said they, anxious for me to get on with it and use the idle iPad to check England EPL scores.
    “no, we have 18 players and your team will have 18,” I said — to loud chuckles.
    Then when I explained we’d get six points for kicking it thru’ the 2 big sticks but — wait for it — one if we missed, they started fading away.
    I didn’t even get to the stage, explaining we had another 4 players extra on the sidelines waiting to come on. And they another four, too.
    No one was left.
    Cuppla days later one guy in the bar asked me: “why did you make up that story about the silly football game, sir!!”

  8. Paul Spinks says

    Just updating re the overseas footy vacuum left by the Australia Network’s demise. Expats and travelling fans may be interested in the below article that recently appeared on the AFL website. Am not entirely sure what it will mean in practice, but it could at least mean any bar with a significant Australian patronage will subscribe.
    http://www.afl.com.au/news/2015-02-26/australia-plus-to-broadcast-matches-in-asiapacific

  9. Thanks Paul. Following the announcement that the Australia network would close there was much fear and anger across the region.

    Australia Plus is the replacement TV channel, and while I believe it doesn’t have the broadcast reach, its programming is not so different.

    I was happily surprised that it carried three pre-season games across the weekend, and we’ve been told it will show multiple matches from each round of the season proper.

    So, in Singapore, at least, AFL coverage is actually better than before as pre-season games haven’t been shown in recent years.

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