Almanac Rugby League – Forza Inala!

They say politics and sport don’t mix. I say they don’t know what they’re talking about. Let’s take a trip …

In the early 1980s, Brisbane’s school rugby league competition was divided into four zones. You win your zone and you play the winners from another zone. You win that match and you’re in the big one, you’ve made it all the way to Lang Park! Not a bad bit of carrot for an 11-year-old.

We had a good team that year, driven by our flamboyantly jinkin’ and jivin’ and pirouettin’ five-eighth, who also kicked for goal and thus scored roughly 100% of our points. So probably not so much a good team, but we didn’t care, especially when we (he) won our zone. Our joy soon turned to despair, though, when we learnt who we’d be playing in a week’s time: Inala.

Inala has been tough since the get go. The suburb, in Brisbane’s south-west, almost literally sprung out of the ground after the Second World War thanks to a large Housing Commission building program. Then came the all too common story of a disadvantaged community being left to fend for itself with the predictable entrenching of its problems, none more so than among the Indigenous community. Unemployment, family breakdowns, substance abuse, violence … you know the story. That story was Inala.

Like much of Australia the suburb has also been home to a huge number of different nationalities, somehow all living together in what at times has been a community seemingly deliberately isolated from its better serviced surrounds. One of those groups came from Holland and in 1957 a group of Dutch immigrants formed the Hollandia–Inala Football Club. That club is now known as the Brisbane Roar, or ‘The Orange’ in honour of its Dutch roots. Brisbane has won three A-League Championships and, from its magic time under the spell of Ange Postecoglou, holds the record for the longest unbeaten run at the elite level of any football code in this country (36 matches). Brisbane Roar is also the first and only club to win back-to-back A-League Championships. (Thank you, Sydney. And Melbourne, very kind of you to say. Sure, take a few more of our players, whatever you need.)

In that long, long week leading up to our match against Inala we convinced ourselves that we were in big trouble. The talk went through the whole team: they were big, they were tough and they were gonna kill us. We may have even practised crying at training. Kids who had nothing to do with the game came from miles around to speak with that frankness that children specialise in, no intent of sparing us the bad news.

“Man, I just heard you’re playing Inala next week. You’re dead, man, they’re rough. A mate of mine played them once and they just punch and trip and spit the whole match.”

I didn’t sleep much. I knew it was true. Sure, I had never even been to Inala, but I didn’t have to, its bad reputation preceded it.

As it turned out, the Inala kids weren’t that big (lack of proper nutrition will do that to a child) and they didn’t try to kill us. But they sure smashed us. Sporting psychologists will surmise that we had beaten ourselves days before we even ran on the field and that’s probably true, but it’s not the whole story. Truth be told we were simply outplayed by a very good team.

Mind you, one part of that reputation was definitely spot on: those kids, a dazzling hybrid of New and First Aussies, were tough. When they tackled us we knew about it and I reckon I’ve still got one or two bruises just about settling down now. But they didn’t punch, they didn’t trip, they didn’t spit, they just came to our neck of the woods and beat us because they were better than us.

Afterwards we all shook hands and smiled and said well done and talked about how much we hated school and wasn’t ET awesome and gave that three cheers thing that still makes me feel great when I watch kids playing sport. Then we went back to our separate and very different homes.

For a middle class kid from the placid northern suburbs Inala may as well have been pure myth, like something from the Iliad or the Odyssey, a Hades of unspeakable danger populated by vicious half-human creatures. Here’s an example of the sort of people that Inala has produced.

In 1992, Henry Palaszczuk was elected as the state member for Inala. Henry is the Aussied-up diminutive of Heinrich, which hints at his German background where he was born to Polish parents. (Of course, Germany and Holland haven’t always seen eye to eye when it comes to the world game, but that’s another story for another day.)

Henry’s family moved to Queensland when he was a young boy. Henry learnt English, did well at school, completed a Diploma of Education and became a teacher before joining the Labor Party and entering the Queensland Parliament. Along the way he met and married Lorelle, who also had German DNA, and they started a family.

The current state member for Inala, Henry and Lorelle’s daughter Annastacia Palaszczuk, has represented the area since 2006. She is also the recently elected Premier of Queensland, knocking off that demented Tory Campbell Newman in an ‘unwinnable’ election. As such, she will forever be known as the first woman in Australia to become Premier from opposition – something no bastard can ever take away from her, no matter what gets thrown in her way.

Annastacia also holds degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Queensland (where, by the way, as a student she fought the good fight against young Tories with undemocratic ideas in the infamous 1989 Battle for 4-ZZZ), a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice from the Australian National University, and a Masters of Arts from the London School of Economics.

It seems safe to say that, as was the case with another immigrant’s daughter and strong female politician of recent times, no one in the Palaszczuk family will be dying of shame anytime soon.

Nor do I feel ashamed of the prejudices my naïve 11-year-old held, prejudices I’ve surely long since shed. Still, I can’t help feeling a little sad that such prejudices exist, created and nurtured throughout Australia by loud-mouthed buffoons with microphones of gold but hearts of coal. Mostly, though, I wonder how many of those smiling kids I played against that day became victims of that suffocating disadvantage.

Thankfully, this sadness is tempered by a quiet joy that over a period of just a couple of generations Inala’s much maligned streets have nurtured the roots of one of Australia’s most thrilling round ball teams as well as given us one of Australia’s most stirring political victories. Maybe just as it was wrong back then to think of those kids as barbarians, it’s wrong now to convince myself that there are no happy stories in areas like that tough suburb in Brisbane’s south-west. Maybe I’m not as clear of those old prejudices as I’d like to think.

They say politics and sport don’t mix. I say Inala begs to differ.


  1. Bob Speechley says

    Great reflections for an Irishman on St Patrick’s Day. Irish storytellers and poets have contributed so much to our own literature through the generations the latest being Richard Flanagan. Your insights into Inala tell a story of childhood perception which can be translated into other capital cities across the country where individuals have striven through adversity to succeed beyond expectations. When we observe our national government behaving in such a demeaning way one can only hope their are more strivers in the pipeline to deliver respect to our community in the future.

  2. Patrick- Brilliant. Although I’m married to a Queenslander, I learnt much from this. No surprise really!

    Many wonderful lines and passages, but I especially liked this

    “For a middle class kid from the placid northern suburbs Inala may as well have been pure myth, like something from the Iliad or the Odyssey, a Hades of unspeakable danger populated by vicious half-human creatures.”

    I’m judging from afar, but I find their new premier as likeable as the previous one wasn’t.


  3. Peter Fuller says

    Great read Patrick. When I was a child, we didn’t begin playing organised sport until our early teens, but we did occasionally have one-off matches against other schools. The way in which adults could create a fear of the “other” – the kids from down in timber country, from the other side of the hill etc. – which was then exacerbated by the fears expressed by the more imaginative and suggestible of your own mob, is evoked brilliantly by the reputation that the Inala community had for you and your mates.
    Btw, iirc Wayne Goss was also an Inala boy.

  4. I love this piece Patrick. It is in a style I particularly enjoy and favour. That is, taking a personal anecdote and observation and making broader sense of it. And you have done it in such an engaging way. It’s no coincidence that your piece has prompted comments from three of the Almanac’s Group most experienced readers.

    Many thanks.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I grew up in an Inala equivalent. I never thought about what others thought about us back then. In hindsight, they probably didn’t give us a second thought, to their detriment.

  6. I grew up about 5km geographically from there, although in terms of social scale the divide of a few bends in the river was much greater. Many years later, my uncle went in as a ‘fixer’ principal at the primary school. What was a reward job, (as in if you take the job, we will give you extra bonuses because it is such a troubled area…), had lead to poor management with no future planning and a mentality of painting over cracks so that the leaving principal could pass on the problem to the incoming. (Quite literally. One outgoing principal got the school re-painted, while emptying the coffers to the point there was no money left for things like chalk, paper, pencils and other sort of important things for actual teaching).

    Uncle Dave was the first to actively engage parents in the school future direction. Ownership begat pride, begat a significant change in the school. It’s not perfect, there are still many issues, but there is hope. Sport has always been an opportunity that the area has grasped at, and hopefully now will continue to offer at least a better choice than ever before.

  7. Great story, thanks Patrick.
    Although at an emotional level I only understand AFL, being brought up in Melbourne as a diehard Magpies fan, I’ve worked as a doctor in Inala for the past eight years, in Aboriginal health.
    You elicit some very genuine feelings in your story, and certainly I’ve seen from the other side how important footy is to the kids and younger adults in the Inala community. The footy club serves as a social centre – a place of fun, sport and community. And a significant effect on health, too – often the main exercise for Inala lads in those all-important younger years.
    Good on you for writing the tale.

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