Almanac Book Reviews: ‘Celestial Footy’ – Patrick Skene









CELESTIAL FOOTY  – Patrick Skene


To lovers of the history of our own game author Patrick Skene has produced another link in the chain that deserves full points and is an important edition to Australia’s sporting history.


As the title suggests this book introduces us to the part people with Chinese background have played in Australian rules football since the gold rush of the 1850s and the wider influence across the football loving states of Victoria, South Australia and West Australia.


Skene has meticulously researched each an every nook and cranny, particularly in Victoria, to uncover the depth of participation of people since those early days at the gold rush and pearling in Northern West Australia.


Of all the nationalities in the world China was the first to embrace our game other than Anglo-Saxons from England.


At the gold diggings in central Victoria they took to the initial days of football with passion and zest both on and off the filed and one can imagine the excitement of Chinese supporters shouting encouragement in both Cantonese and English.


Of course there where prejudices back then but descendants of the first players said that ‘our people just wanted to be part of the community’. That they did and there have been some notable stories of some of the pioneers.


The matches between the Chinese Gold Miners and the Chinese Market Gardeners became legendary with proceeds going to charity and special causes. This tradition continued with Young Chinese Football League in Melbourne.


And what about the Golden Point Rice Eaters (1905 – 2000)? Now there’s a story.


Some players were so talented they coached, captained and won Best & Fairest awards and as we know greatly admired in their own communities.


Of the women who have been involved in aussie rules many of us would be aware of Darcy Vescio the young woman from just outside Wangaratta who has become an Ambassador for the AFL with her Italian-Chinese heritage and one of the first players to step onto the field before fifty odd thousand people in the historic first match of AFLW.  Little do we know of Sarah Loh who went to her first game of VFL in 1977 as a seven-year-old and has been involved in football at all levels ever since.


What struck me was that not only did these people play aussie rules they then became administrators, trainers, umpires and of course supporters of various clubs. There is, today, even a player agent Jamie Pi, who called the first competition game of AFL in China.


The story of William Lung, aka Billy Butterfly is a delightful insight of one such supporter who has an area at Eastern Oval, Ballarat named after him.


The list goes on and on.


Whilst not many players with Chinese heritage have made the big-time in the VFL/AFL there are clubs throughout Victoria in particular and the gold mining areas of Ballarat and Bendigo stories abound in this publication of the Chinese stars.


Since the book was printed Skene has found that West Coast captain Luke Shuey has Chinese heritage whilst I can add Crow and Bluebagger Sam Kerridge to the list. Kerridge’s  great-great-grandfather was Captain Egge who plied the Murray River from Mannum to Mildura.


There are probably  more stories out there and Patrick Skene has given us a wonderful three-quarter time address that should make us all delve further into our game. He has set a high-bar for people with interests in the role of other nationalities in Australian Rules and he is to be congratulated on a fine publication replete with photographs through the ages.



Celestial  Footy – The Story of Chines Heritage Aussie Rules  by Patrick Skene (Hardie Grant Media)  can be purchased from the publisher HERE, and is available in all good bookshops in early July. 


My copy for review was courtesy of the AFL.



More from Citrus Bob Utber can be read Here.



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About Bob Utber

At 84 years of age Citrus Bob is doing what he has always done since growing up on a small farm at Lang Lang. Talking, watching and writing sport and in recent years writing books. He lives in Mildura with his very considerate wife (Jenny) and a groodle named 'Chloe on Flinders' and can be found at Deakin 27 every day.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab review as always CB. I don’t think many of us realise how great the involvement of the Chinese has been in our great game. Thanks Bob.

  2. CITRUS BOB says

    Thanks Col for those comments.
    I know we have made a lot of Jesaluenko, and other from the European countries but never was there the influence that the chinese had. An Italian team of the century was named and I think a Greek team as well. Perhaps this is an opportunity for soemone to research further and look at the influenc of those nations off the field as well. This where, in my opinion theChinesewere outstanding as adminstrators etc.

  3. Glenda Brick says

    where can I buy celestial footy book , my husband coached the young chinese league football club and my uncles and cousins all played for the team and so did my husband. Wonderful memories

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