Now that’s Australian

Australian? As Australian as a Balinese prison! Nah, I’ll tell what Australian is, and what it isn’t. It’s Aussie Rules footy, not AFL, which footified people and soon even Queenslanders will understand, but footy at all levels.

Aussie rules is national, it’s indigenous, it’s Ours! No one else’s. It’s political because when it started to become too popular north of the Murray, the powers that be thought colonial revolution was in the air. So the ruling classes shut it down in schools. Bastard poms. Ironic that its roots are in English/Irish/indigenous games.

It’s not as hard as RL, but more dangerous, not as upper class as Union, more egalitarian, and it is Ours. It requires space, coordinated strategic teamwork, freedom (no offside), athleticism, 360 degree horizons, an unpredictable air conveyance and vertical spring. You can be big or small. It’s Ours! It’s not give each team 100 points and 60 secs to play, but 100 mins of sustained energy consumption with idiosyncrasies reflecting a polyglot peoples. It’s Ours.

One of my favourite ‘tales’ is the root of the term barrack – who knows what validity it has but it works. Apparently during the Maori Wars the English troops were rotated through Victoria Barracks at Albert Park and to keep fit in down periods they entered a team in the local aussie rules comp. Thus the response to “who do you go for?” was “The Barracks.”  Which eventually became “I barrack for…”   To foil my sensitive pom bashing ways, then is the realisation that the Victoria Barracks side might have become the Cecil St. side, then the Albert Park side, and maybe the mighty South Melbourne Bloods, today’s Sydney Swans! Poms – ouch. It’s mine.

The Poms (and a few others) play soccer. They don’t like it but they do. It’s a diminutive of Association Football. It’s cultural terrorism where I come from. They claim it as the world game – it’s a world game because it requires minimal resources – who gives a Jimmy Hird? Rice could be described as the world food but it doesn’t figure too highly in fine restaurants! A boring staple is what it is.

So they call it the beautiful game. It is not beautiful. It is a round ball with an offside rule that requires skills to bypass opposition and put the ball in a net. And little contact except for diving, a blot that renders it ugly to the spectator and an outcome that has the potential to reverse the run of the play. it’s ugly on the terraces too – it’s boring to watch and appears to attract behaviour of the antithesis of a social contract. Aussie Rules on the other hand is beautiful. A post grad colleague and friend, an American female, was researching gender aspects of sport, and found that our game consists of majority female moves (marking, blind turns, bouncing etc.) and accounted for an enormous female following. Our game is beautiful.

I’ve been to great sporting occasions. Melbourne Cups, Grand Finals, test cricket in England/Australia, All Ireland hurling finals, Baseball Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays, World Cup Scotland v Australia, Olympic Games (1956), CHL games, NFL games (USA), NRL (Go the Storm), Highland Games and International Rules. And while the GF’s make the hairs on the neck stand stiff, and atmosphere at a ‘big’ soccer game lifts the spirit (those Poms and the Welsh can really crowd sing), and pride in the Green & Gold fortifies your jingoism, nothing, but nothing has made me feel more Australian than watching the Aussie Rules inaugural and subsequent International Cups.

No Aussie allowed on the field. Make a jelly fish go stiff watching other cultures play our game, listening to the Samurai Saints screaming in Japanese accented voices “ Ah so refreeesan, wound da nik” or “You a mug umpwire”; watching a Zulu dance in exultation of scoring a goal; hearing French yell “Allez les Bleus” and not mean Carlton; hear Danish talk Australian and not mention Mary but Roosy; marvel at the El Toro fronting the Spanish jumper, listening to Kiwis “kuck fer sucks points”;  throw in a quarter time address of “Jangan hati hati, lari lari cepat cepat, SPREAD SPREAD”; and even liking Poms when they run round in Bulldog jumpers and take the name as well: British Bulldogs, you’re OK.

Having been involved in Aussie Rules internationally, with a hand in the Jakarta Bintangs, umpiring the famous Australia Day 1992 Jkt North Wombats draw with the Jkt South Possums, witnessing the fabulous Ottawa Swans), and incidentally having a medal wonderfully but perhaps mistakenly struck in your name for a national team (Vietnam Swans), I conclude ours is the beautiful game, never to be a world game, but as we attract more and more international players to AFL, and Leagues such as AFL Asia develop, and as our attendances out pull all other sports, head for head of population, we will become the World niche game and it is Australian.  Wabbit and Wudd, you miss on all sorts of fronts and the saddest is your ignorance of what it takes to be Australian: Aussie Rules. At least Julia is Australian.

Balinese prison, nah. Lillian Thompson, a bit each way, but Aussie Rules, that’s Australian!

Shuffle back: “What’s the score?” I ask from the kitchen on Sat night; “54 to 87” says my wife. “Is that the Woods or Port?”  “The Coalition!”  Now that’s unAustralian but she’s a Pom!

About Rick Trewavas

Grumpy retired Bloods supporter with two grand daughters who are 5th generation swannies. VicLander into Broadbeach Cats; International member of Vietnam Swans, and passing interest in Jakarta Bintangs and Ottawa Swans.


  1. Cat from the Country says

    You are so right. No “riveting, exciting, nai-biting” nil all draws in Our Game. I grew up in a Central Victorian town with a great footy club and the snell of linament. Well I love it! It is Our Game.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Article agree 110 Per Cent you have put a lot of Passion and Eloquence in to this Peice I was surprised checking Brett Northey article on this site at how many
    Countries Play Aussie Rules Football
    I think you have captured it Perfectly at how The Game binds People together of all Ethnic Origins
    I Love How The Footy Almanac covers ALL Aspects and ALL levels of Footy

  3. Neil Belford says

    Brilliant Rick. When I was 6 I lived in Geraldton, I barracked for Brigades and Subi in that order and through my lens the whole world played footy. By the time I was 8 one of the great mysteries of life, never adequately answered by my father was why the game wasn’t played in NSW and Queensland. I have been a lifelong supporter of any development of the game in these states. It is why I also struggle with the myopic view of many Victorians on this topic.

    There is no other single thing we have that is uniquely ours and as culturally important as Australian Rules. Nothing even close.

  4. Neil Belford says

    Another comment on this fantastic article. It was an act of treachery on the AFL’s behalf to let the term ‘football’ go and focus on describing what a 10 year old does with 18 other kids as playing AFL.


    In my Australia there is Football, Soccer, Rugby (parts 1 and 2), GridIron, and if someone means soccer they should say soccer. As for Rugby colonising the diminutive ‘footy’ – I can only wince at the wannabe-ness of it. (I guess that makes me a bigot :) )

  5. I remember idly tuning in to a World Cup telecast a few years back, and they were showing a package of the highlights of the entire first group phase of the tourney. What’s that, 24 games or so? Is it?

    Anyway, there were acts of grace and courage, tremendous moments of skill and cunning, strength and precision. God it was impressive.

    About as impressive as a highlights package of the first half of an average game in the AFL..

  6. Notxenophobic says

    What I don’t understand is why the crop of “Anti-Sokkah” fans refuse to accept that if we, who enjoy the sport, can find a draw unbelievably entertaining then that is a bad thing? It’s a sport, it’s all about deriving entertainment. Not to mention that a draw is a point and still important in the league. For some teams, a draw against their opposition is an almighty effort where they’ve defended for their lives and earned an invaluable point. For other teams, a draw against there opponent is just like a loss, disappointing and a poor effort. In competitions where there aren’t points (such as knockout Cups), then there aren’t draws and games go to extra-time… attacking the sport for having draws makes absolutely no sense. Personally, as someone who doesn’t enjoy AFL, I can’t understand the mark rule what-so-ever. It breaks up the game and ruins any free-flowing aspect to it, making it ridiculously stop-start to an unbearable point.

    Why is this article so defensive? Who is taking AFL away from you who enjoy it? Why is the majority of the world finding soccer the best sport, and not thinking as much about AFL, such a problem to you?

  7. Tony Persoglia says

    it would appear that being a xenophobic bigot is Australian too.

    My football may not be your football, but I won’t let some fool tell me what’s Australian. I have a few million mates who are with me on that front too.

    Crack open another tinny, put on a wife beater and throw another shrimp on the barbie, your Australia is a thing of the past.

  8. They are the two best sports in the world, but to dismiss one – a sport that is the most popular in the world is just ignorant. Football is the most accessible game in the world and that fact goes a long way to making it the most popular. But to say it isn’t beautiful just shows that you don’t know what you’re on about. Millions play it around the world, so it’s fair to say those at the top of the game have mastered the craft better than participants of any other sport in the world. There is no other sport that displays such pure, artful skill in every form. That alone is worthy of admiration.

    Footy is a spectacular sport as well, it has perhaps the best mixture of skills of any. Its momentum shifts I believe are one of its great strength, not to mention the huge crowds it attracts. But this article, like the arguments of a lot of ‘Australian’ folk is laced with the same southern-cross-tattoo-wearing, us-against-them, bogan mentality we simply don’t need.

  9. Neil Belford says

    Hey Soccer chaps – no offence intended from me about the merits of the game – I watch it a lot – I go to Heart games – I was just talking about the use of word football in ‘my Australia’. Soccer is definitely winning on that front, unfortunately from my point of view, if you choose the Football link on the ABC or sites you will get stories about soccer. On the ABC at least, 4 or 5 years ago that used to take you to Australian Rules Football. So there is a struggle going on for ownership of that word no doubt. I was making the point that the AFL should not have conceded the ground that it did there. Still none of this is as important as anything that is remotely important.

    As to the merits of this article, it is talking about being Australian and to do that it didn’t need to denigrate soccer, but the central point is that Australian Rules Football is our Game, uniquely our game, and there is not much else of the scale of Australian Rules postdating 1788 that has much claim to being culturally unique.

  10. As a ‘soccer chap’ who prefers the term ‘soccer’ I agree about the AFL ‘giving’ the term football away too easily.

    However, if ‘soccer chaps’ want to call soccer ‘football’ then there is little anyone can do about it. The Australian game was officially called soccer for an 80 year period (1920s-2000s). The decision to resume the name football is entirely up to the ‘soccer chaps’.

  11. daniel flesch says

    the way i see it .. there are 4 football codes played in Australia : Australian Rules , Rugby Union , Rugby League and Association Football (Soccer ) So they need differentiating to make it clear which one we’re talking about. For one code to assume the generic ” football” in this context is arrogant . But they’ve managed to suck in both the ABC and Fairfax papers . If the beautiful game (sic) afficionados were truly accurate they’d call it foot- and -head- ball. Always looks funny to me when they go for it with the noggin. Yeah , ok , in Aussie Rules football we use hands too , but in American”football” they hardly ever kick the thing, just for goals alone and they have a specialist player to do it. Truly bizarre. And all Americans call soccer “soccer.”…And another thing i dislike about soccer is the so-called “passion” which means opposing teams’ supporters have to be separated by fences because if they weren’t they’d be at each others’ throats. Here, we go to matches with our friends who support the other side and chat to rival- supporting strangers. The nearest we get to violence happens on the field . On the field in soccer there’s no violence but plenty of ” diving” and fake writhing in pain. Pathetic. Thankfully the nearest we get to diving is Angus Monfries and Lewis Jetta’s staging and Joel Selwood’s knee-bending free-milking. But that’s another topic.

  12. Daniel Flesch, not just the ABC and Fairfax calling soccer ‘football’- see also the Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail sites. The rest of your post, without meaning to be condescending, is a case of ‘heard it all before’ for this soccer and aussie rules fan.

  13. Don’t see a need to denigrate another sport, chaps. Aussie rules needs not prove itself superior to other codes or more Australian than other codes. It just needs to keep being attractive and wondrous as so far has. Claims that it puts other sports in their place can come across as being inflammatory for me. Lets just enjoy it and live and let live.

  14. daniel flesch says

    Paul Mavroudis , how DARE you suggest i “see” or go anywhere near the Daily Terror or Curious Smell sites. I retain some sense of awareness of what constitutes matter worth reading and Murdoch rags don’t cut it. And though you responded “without meaning to be condescending ” it kind of looked like you were. We all see and hear things we already know . Does that mean that everyone knows them ? And is it so painful to endure a spot of repetition ?

  15. Still find it interesting that they are called the socceroos.

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