The State of the Origins (of Australian Football)

The state of THE origins.


Australian Rules football; our grand game that has thrived across 157 odd winter seasons. Two clubs, Geelong and Melbourne being numbered as the oldest professional football clubs in the world, founded when America was on the cusp of a catastrophic civil war. The games’ beginnings a muddy scrape and scrum raging ragged across an ill defined oval, the rules evolving by committee, happenstance and confusion.  The code eventually demanding the rabid attention of generations stacked upon generations of Australians: the old, the new and the indigenous. Becoming the Antipodes unique sporting code. Played rough and tumble in the back blocks of flush, gold rush Melbourne, then spreading its hot gospel to all corners of the ancient continent. Played initially to build the stamina and fitness of cricketers in the off-season, eventually overtaking the stodgy summer game in popularity and participation.


What a spectacle it has become built on the back of rivalries declared and contested with bloody minded passion in leagues that have formed and thrived across those years. Each generation elevating its best to the summit of greatness, the names legend to even the most casual barracker. Chaz Brownlow, Gordon and Syd Coventry.   Cargie Greeves, Changi Brownlow medallist Wilfred “Chicken” Smallhorn, Kevin Murray, E J, Jack Mueller and his mangled hand. The Geelong flyer Bobbie Davis, Big Nick and the big indigenous  Cat -Polly Farmer. The Duck, Junior and Senior, Norm Smith and his medallists too.  A roll call of names, raised across a continent, that have filled volumes in the old testament of premierships, Brownlows and fairest and bests. Heroes, rogues and “good ordinary footballers,” and for the kids in the here and now, none mightier than the number stitched on a duffel coat, or as important as the club  colors.


I’ve been lucky enough to travel some in my life and have always been keenly aware of the dichotomy of modern Australia and it’s ancient indigenous past. I was recently looking at a photo of the coliseum in Rome, an enduring ruin, guarding the ghosts of the bloody spectacles staged for the Empires’ unruly mob, and found myself wondering about our mob. What history would be written two thousand years from now?  What would someone standing in the post apocalyptic decaying ruins of the MCG, The Gabba or some suburban bog heap make of it all and how would they sort it?  Perhaps the names will have become ancient like Thermopylae or Gaul, the records eviscerated, the deeds done there now forgotten.


When we create something it is usually christened with a name, or sadly in the modern world, branded.  For the most part thoughtfully, but not always, the Children of Frank Zappa and many other celebrity types being a prime example of Parental treachery.  The late John Cash singing “A boy named Sue, how do you do? NOW YOU’RE GONNA DIE!!”   The bureaucratic acronym of NASA. (Which does not stand for “Need Another Seven Astronauts.”) What story is locked up in a name?  I was named after my Uncle who was killed a generation before I was even an itch in my old man’s underwear. I often wonder about who he was, and why Grandpa Arthur named him so.


How did I not become a Septimus or a  Decimus, a  Henry, or a Cadby?  Names all long planted in the Frankston cemetery family plot, alongside my recently arrived Mum and Dad. All sleeping for a long eternity as the rumble of our road, the Wells road Bypass, rushes the commuters to and fro, East to West and back again.  Pioneer of the Mornington Peninsula, Cadby Wells and his enduring tribute, a marble obelisk topped with a hand pointing to heaven; while also giving the finger to the suburbanites obliviously moving along his now bypassed road. And I thought to myself what’s in a name?


I’ve gone by Ron, Charlie, Rory and have been saddled with a couple of others across my years. But never Ronald, no one calls me that. In fact, my name is kind of an amusing mouthful that has sowed confusion with Cops, clerks and people gunning for me across four continents. I mean Ronald Alexander Joseph Charles P Wells. (The P quietly and mysteriously acquired in a California DMV office.) Now that’s a mouthful. For me, my names never were much of a burden beyond being a mouthful. Yet as I type this I wonder how it carries for a Sean Lennon or a Gary Ablett Jnr. Are there days when Junior wishes he was say, Harry Ablett and would that deflect the hulking shadow of his Father and the inevitable comparisons?


Being a little OCD and having too much time on my hands at the moment, I start to obsess about the name thing as I patrolled for news of my Geelong Cats doings.  Maybe it’s the “Belong Geelong” page that sparks my thoughts and curiosity and poses the question. Who, what and why are we Geelong?  I mean, I know why we are the Cats, the name bestowed after a terrible shellacking in the 1930’s when a local smart arse paraded a black cat across the old Corio oval.  The following week the team ran out and walloped Collinwood for the four points, and the Cats were born. Cats were now lucky for Geelong.


But what of Geelong?  Obviously named after the city, but why were we not for example, Timbuktu?  Just who the fuck are we, where did we come from and who are the other seventeen ratty and inferior mobs running around?  I wondered if I asked a Richmond man or a St Kilda supporter, an Adelaide Crow or Heaven help us, a Giant, about the state of their origins: what would they know and when did they know it?  I pondered the Richmond Grog squad, Freo ferals, Joffa the Pie man and the wine and cheese eating yachtsmen basking in the success of a re jiggered South Melbourne. And, truth be told, I felt a little ignorant: a poor state for an enquiring mind.


I wrote down the footy club names, most familiar across my lifetime, some new and foreign, others defunct their statistics a moribund footnote to their history.  I listed them alphabetically, as they had evolved from the VFA through the VFL and onto the billion-dollar juggernaut that is the AFL; twenty-one, in total, all with a unique history and social context.  In a flash I found myself cracking an Indiana Jones like bullwhip across my arse, popped a beer and got to excavating the facts buried deep in the bowels of the Internet.


ADELAIDE CROWS.  Adelaide, the city of Churches, the place Paul Kelly was, cross his heart and hope to die, never going back too. Founded by Colonel William Light in 1836, the surveyor laying out a grid of wide streets by the banks of the Torrens River on the land of the Kuarna people. I conjure a mental image of Geelong legend and general shit disturber Sam Newman baiting the crow eaters as to their colonial origins on the Footy show.  Then smugly informing all in sundry of the tremendous admiration the Colonel had for Adelaide of Saxe – Meniningen . Queen consort of King William the IV.  Then flashing his wedding tackle as the South Australians choked on that mouthful of hamburger with the lot. Sam’s grizzled old parts are not a pretty thought.


BRISBANE: Bears become Lions. With the maniacal zeal of Adolph Hitler the then expansion minded VFL coveted the ripe plum of Queensland’s rugby heartland. With no established local club to, in Bikie parlance, patch over, it fell to a rugged band of pioneers to lay the foundations of the code. The Suits plonking the ill provisioned and odiously named Bears down on what had once been Turbal & Jagera land. The Bears took their thumpings in stride haemorrhaging cash, their early support being almost exclusively Mexican. (Victorians) They toiled at the coalface fruitlessly until they were forcefully amalgamated with the carcass of Fitzroy. The poor old Lions, everyone’s second team, packed off in chains to the shores of the Brisbane River, fittingly a former penal colony named for Scotsman Sir Thomas Brisbane a former Governor of NSW and a keen astronomer.  The QLD experiment finally blooming under the hard-nosed Hawthorn legend, and Collingwood saviour Leigh Mathews.  Delivering three consecutive flags, thus softening the blow for the old time Roy boys, before shrinking like a hard penis in cold water under Michael Voss.


CARLTON: The Blues.  Once a formidable powerhouse, and dependable denier of Magpie flags reduced over recent seasons to a rabble: both on and off the field. Torpedoed by greed and grasp that would make a Wall Street trader blush. Given its pedigree and old boy patronage of high flyers and Captains of industry, the entitled, rorting Carlton man would be tickled pink to trace the suburb that names his footy clubs origin. The little sliver of suburb 2 KM North of the CBD being named for the London mansion, Carlton House. Built as the home of the Prince of Wales and a right royal boondoggle it was, it’s construction marred by overreaching ambition and mismanagement the old BLF couldn’t even fudge. Derailed and adrift until architect Henry Holland, with a bailout from King George the III, finally battened down the hatches and righted the sinking ship.


COLLINGWOOD: The Magpies.  Loved and loathed, yet arguably the AFL’s marquee team, now lovingly cosseted by head office at the Lexus centre just a cakewalk from the MCG and a stuttering two tram ride from Victoria Park.  In 1838 Surveyor Robert Hoddle defined the suburban boundaries of the Magpie horde, snagging a now clogged arterial road and future massacre site for himself and naming the joint, quite fittingly, after an existing pub that bore the name of revered British naval hero, Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood  A hero of the Napoleonic wars, second only to Lord Nelson, who to his misfortune has no big time AFL footy club dragging his name across the muddy bog. Anyone who’s ever drank with a one eyed Collingwood tragic would see the irony of the club being branded after a pub. Maybe head office and Eddie could conspire another “Blockbuster” in honour of Admiral Collingwood’s victory at sea; on what is known as the “Glorious 1st of June.” It has a certain ring to it, not unlike “the last Saturday in September” and is bound to be awash with all kinds of heroic military metaphors. All they need is a French team to get this done.


ESSENDON: The Bombers.  The banned Bombers come crashing back to Earth having melted wax to fix their wings and then gone flying, like Icarus, too close to the Sun: a drama truly worthy of a Reg Grundy production. My maternal family were born and raised in the Essendon area, Mother being from neighboring Strathmore, the roots still deep, a number of her sisters having married Essendon men. Many times over the years I was bussed off to Aunts and Uncles homes stocked with Bomber crazed children who mocked my team, Geelong, as provincial hayseeds. Having never thought to enquire of the origin of the species I was curious as to how the Essendon footy club tracked on the historical radar. Not as grandiose as Carlton House, or as lauded as Admiral Collingwood, the Windy Hill mob sprang from the immigrant longings of Richard Green who pined for the village of his beginnings: Essendon in Hertfordshire, England.  He timed it just right lobbying up on the banks of the Maribyrnong River in 1850 ahead of the frenzied dash to the gold fields to the North, prospering as the wurundder clan of the Kulin nation receded from the Australia’s landscape.


FOOTSCRAY: The Bulldogs.   They’ll always be Franco Cozzo’s  “FOOT-A-SCRAY” to me. No amount of corporate rebranding and negotiation of the Bulldogs name will sway me. A spade is a spade and the Western Bulldogs are Footscray. With the Swans having gotten the Chocolates in 2005, it would be Footscray supporters who are noted as the longest suffering barrackers, having not saluted since 1954 when club legends, E J Whitten and Charlie Sutton roamed the Western Oval. It’s hard to reconcile the hardscrabble Western suburb with the lands of the Kulin nation, once bountiful in fish and game. A community built on successive waves of immigrants that have defined the suburb and footy club that carries the name of Foots Cray on the river Cray in Kent, England.


FREMANTLE: The Dockers.  Freo Dockers, the purple haze, “heave ho me hearties.” Upstarts from the west who’ve been thereabouts since shanghaiing Ross Lyon away from St Kilda’s free fall.  It’s hard to imagine what the Nyungar people made of the English ship HMS Challenger as it “heave ho’d” it’s anchor into the waters of what is now the Swan River in 1829. Disembarking a motley group of surveyors, masons, convicts and a hardy handful of free settlers. For the Nyungar, living in isolation across the centuries as they had, it must have been a jarring experience. I imagine, the modern equivalent being somewhat like a visit to Subiaco for a Collingwood supporter. Taking stock of his new surroundings the surveyor, Lieutenant Stirling, promptly branded the soon to be bustling Port, Fremantle, in honour of HMS Challenger’s Captain Charles Howe Fremantle, without whom the settlement may well have foundered.


FITZROY: the maroons, the Gorillas, the Lions: Roy Boys to old timers still drinking in Brunswick street pubs. Nomadic, lost and bankrupted by a game accelerating to financial pragmatism and corporate rigidity.  A new gob smacking reality, where love of the jumper and staunch parochial support would no longer be enough to compete.  The ghost of Melbourne’s first suburb; namesake of former Governor of NSW, Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy, and the winner of the VFL’s first premiership in 1900. Its raggedy remains sent packing in 1996. Trundled off like a mad Aunt to a nursing home, when head office thought no one was looking and that nobody still cared.  Forced into a shotgun marriage with the foundering Brisbane Bears for better or worse. Yet the records remain. The long history of the Fitzroy Football Club, a foundation member of the VFL, not so easily forgotten by those who still care to remember.


GEELONG: Pivotonians, Seagulls, Cats. A foundation member of the league, snagger of early VFA premierships and for over a hundred years, “the away” game. The team I barrack for. The club I have fretted and fussed over all of my life. Now a modern day powerhouse having been pushed to the brink of insolvency only to recover its’ standing through shrewd management and finally a soul searching rebirth of belief among the playing group. Sponsored by the FORD Motor Co, the arrangement being the longest standing in worldwide sports history. The City and by extension the club, deriving its’ name from the Wathaurong word “Jillong” which translates as “Cliffs” or “land”  It is said, as goes the footy club so goes the city, an equation I don’t think the bean counters at AFL house have ever truly grasped.  When a young kid belts out the club song, all soprano and full of gusto. “We are Geelong, the greatest team of all…”  That whippersnapper, is invested with an almost religious fervour. A part of something that cannot be conjured in a boardroom and plonked down on an oval surrounded by grandstands and corporate facilities.


GOLD COAST: The Suns, an expansion franchise plonked down on an oval surrounded by grandstands and corporate facilities, began competing at the elite level in 2011. No disrespect intended towards it’s budding supporter base. Having eyed the booming QLD market and decided it was worth a punt the AFL committed to the infrastructure and development needed to sustain a second franchise and the hyperbole it would need to survive. Australia’s sixth largest city, the Gold Coast, a glut of gleaming spires shimmering off the sand, lapped by pristine surf.  Hotels, Casinos, resorts and theme parks vying with the Suns for the attention of a ribald bunch of locals.  Surfers, bikies, schoolies, tourists and hedonistic sun worshipers of all ilks. It seems fitting that the AFL having rolled the dice on a long-term future in the region, branded the club after a city named, and aggressively targeted for development by boom or bust real estate developers in the 1930’s.


HAWTHORN: The Hawks. Originally known as The Mayblooms, they should indeed be a happy team at Hawthorn, having risen from the VFA in 1925 to be underachieving, perennial also rans, before John Kennedy Seniors arrival as coach in 1960.  A hard taskmaster, Kennedy drilled his troops into a hard bodied win at all costs outfit, that has lived and thrived across more than 50 years. Various aggregations of “Kennedy’s commandos”  delivering a staggering eleven premierships, having contested seventeen Grand Finals. Some numbered amongst the most legendary games ever played.  It’s a little murky as to how the toney, upscale suburb acquired its handle in the Melways of history. The first crediting a conversation involving Charles La Trobe who was overheard to remark that the native shrubbery (assuming pythonesque voice) reminded him of Hawthorn bushes.  Alternatively, the The Hawks hood may have originated by way of the bluestone Hawthorn House, built by the toffily named James Denham St Pinnock which stands to this day.


The MELBOURNE’s: The Demons. The Kangaroos and The Swans (North and South).  Melbourne, once stodgy and Victorian.  The land of the six o’clock swill, multiple seasons in one day and rattling trains that never ran on time. Rebirthed as a rock n roll mecca and regularly touted as one of the  most livable joints in the world. Its vibrant heart an urban agglomeration, sprawling into a quirky patchwork of suburbs, spread across all compass points.  John Batman, having decided it was a bonza place for a village, sat himself down on the banks of Merri Creek, with eight elders of the Wurundjeri people and signed a treaty for use of the land that would become the City.  The treaty was later annulled with much ado and fuss in New South Wales, with bitter ranco0r to the validity and understanding of the wurrundjeri as to the ramifications of such an alien document.  Formalized in 1835 and named by Sir Richard Bourke in honour of the British Prime Minister of the day, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount of Melbourne and finally declared a city by Queen Victoria, who jagged herself a whole State in 1847.


The parklands on the edge of the Yarra River being the site of the evolution of the code under the aegis of Tom Wills, H C A Harrison and others, evolving out of meetings at the Parkland Hotel in 1859. Wills making vigorous arguments for the nurturing of strength and stamina that would help sustain the youth of the colony, while developing hearth and home. It must have been a grand time to be a young Melburnian in those years. Propelled by the explosive growth of the Gold Rush, the city rose to a place of prosperity and promise that would endow generations not yet born.  Alright, moving right along, having established Lamby as the namesake of a few footy clubs that have competed in the big leagues that became the AFL, one asks. How now brown cow?


The once proud Demon’s foundering, seemingly bereft of hope, having fought off a merger and retained the 2nd Viscount’s identity, remain perilously placed. It will be interesting to see what the suits at the old Harrison house have in store for the grand old flag of the Melbourne footy club. Me? I’d be sharpening my pitchfork if I was a member.


Sydney’s absorption of the South Melbourne footy club in 1982 left a hole in a lot of hearts. People like Harry Hill, my good mate Tony’s (RIP Brother) Grandad. He’d followed The Bloods from the get go in the VFL. His bloodstained Angels playing out of the Lake oval, last saluting in the 1945 bloodbath defeat of Carlton. The ghost of The Bloods rise as Sydney, especially their gutty win in 2005, warmed a lot of old South Melbourne souls. Sadly Harry Hill having been staunch to his club for 80 plus years never lived to see the high powered success of the modern era. I hope him and me old mate Lumpy Hill are enjoying a couple of cold cans, perched high in the celestial grandstand, as the 2014 Swannies try to salute in the weeks ahead. Crack a cold one for me Lump, I’ll see you in a while mate.


I was noodling about on Facebook a few weeks back in the wee California hours, and rolled over a photo of an old friend and her Daughters down in Hobart. They were all set up in anticipation that their club, The North Melbourne Kangaroos, might prevail for the four points. All buttoned up in their club colours they looked really happy. Happy, and lucky to still have a club. North Melbourne having been batted to & fro in the AFL’s mad expansion and rationalization gold rush.  Surviving by the skin of their teeth and the emotional investment of their members.


Unfashionable from their beginnings, the Shinboners, a name thought to have come from the 19th century abattoirs in and around the suburb, and considered an appropriate nickname for a club from a tough working class part of town. The last team in the VFL to bring home the premiership bacon. Handsomely coached by Ron Barrassi on field and superbly administered off field by Allen Aylett. As I write this and think of the tribulations of The Melbournes, the words of the North Melbourne  motto; “Victoria Amat Curam” resonate. (Victory Demands Dedication)


PORT ADELAIDE: The Power. Like The Crows they were handed the moniker of the city that also bears MS. Adelaide of Saxe – Meniningen . Queen consort of King William the IV’s name by Colonel Light.  Unlike The Crows, they were not a construct of a rabid AFL, insistent on Uber Alles domination across the wide brown land. No siree. They were the dominant monster in the charged, and highly parochial SANFL. Wearing black and white vertical stripes on their guernsey, the then magpies as Port Adelaide was long and proudly known, racked up an impressive 36 flags, notching 6 in a row and in 1890 whipped VFA premier, South Melbourne, for the title “Champion of Australia” Something I would surely stick up Sammy Newman’s arse if I was a South Australian. In 1990 when the club wanted to marry into the AFL their application was branded as treacherous and after a rancorous legal battle that forced the immaculate conception of The Crows, the soon to be rebranded Magpies were left to stew. Finally rising in 1997, their heritage and colours locked in Eddie McGuire’s gunsights.



RICHMOND: The Tigers. The Richmond footy club. While scratching around for the dirt on the early Richmondites, later known as The Wasps, I was surprised to find they were considered a pussified lot early in the business. Being led, as they were, by influential parliamentarians who pushed sportsmanship, fair play and a sort of “Tally ho, old Chap” approach to the game. Once firing a player for using a gob full of cuss words on the playing field.Not the harden the fuck up, shirt front hard at the ball, Tigers of Jack Dyer and Francis Bourke that I thought I knew. Although, God rest him, Tom Hafey was known for his civil teetotaling ways. Formed a couple of long punt kicks to Punt road on the land of the Wurendjeri.  The former Parish of Jika Jika, morphed into Richmond. The name being co opted for suburb and footy club by way of Richmond on Thames. Palace and home digs of Tudor King Henry the VII. Tagged in honor of his early honorarium, The Earl of Richmond.


I must concede a soft spot for the Tigers and give a shout out to my mate Wobbly Warwick Brown and his long suffering boy Arlo, whose 15 years of life have been spent barracking in vain. Their Tigers having rocketed into finals contender as I type and in line for a tilt at the silverware. May you sing Jack Malcombson’s grand song “Oh, we’re from Tigerland” with gusto.  That is unless you play Geelong, at that point you can go to buggery for all I care.


ST KILDA: The Saints. God bless their little cotton socks. It truly must be a hard road to “Go the Sainters !!”  I almost felt sorry for them when my Cats bushwacked them in the 2009 Granny. Almost, being the key word, having drunk from a cup of dust six times in my own life. The club, founded in 1873 in the land the Kulin People called Euroe Yroke, is a foundation member of the VFL, and bar Barry Breen and a sly point in 1966 they’d be 118 years- nil for the silverware. A truly wretched road to hoe for long suffering barrackers. The Saints carrying a lonely burden for their seaside suburb and namesake Lady Grange. Once imprisoned by her scumbag Husband on Hintra, the largest Island in the St Kilda archipelago west of Scotland. Her name being carried to the foreshore, of what was at that time known to early settlers as the village of Fareham, on the sloop Lady of St Kilda which lay moored offshore in 1841. Admired as a thing of beauty by Charles Latrobe and James Ross Lawrence over a few ales, they conferred the name St Kilda on the future suburb and football team. This suburban rebirthing probably also worked out pretty well for the great Australian magpie of song, Paul Kelly. “From the village of Fareham to Kings Cross” not having that je ne sais quoi.


The SYDNEYs:  Swans and Giants. On a summers day, January 26th, 1788, Captain Arthur Philip came ashore and ran up the British colours on the lands of the Cadigal and Eora people: their home of 30,000 years. He is to be commended for his impeccable timing, arriving as he did on the back end of the future cricket season, guaranteeing a summer public holiday to all Australians. Now a freshly minted Governor, he decided on the name Albion, before swerving and deciding on honouring Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney. It could have been worse. He could have knocked it for six and out-going the Earl of Sandwich.


It took the Sydneysiders a long time to get with the program and embrace real footy, having long preferred rugby, and its ugly rolling mauls. It was a brave punt by the then VFL to shunt the flailing South Melbourne to the lonely North, to convert the non-believers. Rebranded as the Sydney Swans and adding an Opera House to the blood stained angels guernsey it required the patience of Job.  Thirty two years down the track beyond pink helicopters, Dr Edelstein and Warwick Capper, the bones of the bloods thrive as the Sydney Swans. I hope Harry and Tony Hill are smiling from that celestial grandstand.


Andrew Demetriou, whose judgement forever saddled the Punt Road end with, The Meatloaf pocket, was on a roll. Pocketing a seven figure executive salary from the peoples game, a number that would leave Tom Wills and H C A Harrison numb, embarked on further expansion to Sydney: now a viable “market.” Conjuring with his suits and bean counters The Greater Western Sydney Giants. I live in America and it’s been obvious to me for years that AFL House has long looked to American sports and its franchise properties, now long beyond the supporters influence, as the great games future blueprint. There’s not a lot out there on the origin of the Giants nickname. Maybe it came by way of the storied San Francisco Giants, who left Gotham and went west young man. Perhaps Andrew was watching Abbott and Costello in Jack and the Beanstalk and fancied the two fools at large in the Giant’s lair.


WEST COAST; The Eagles. The first national push to the continents western fringe, established 1987, were a pretty successful mob from day one. What’s to say of them having claimed an entire coastline, eschewing a city, heaven forbid a humble suburb. Maybe the folks in the WAFL were taking it easy, smoking some pot, digging the soft west coast rock of The Eagles and a light bulb exploded. As to the nickname, I’m gonna say it’s a wedge tail eagle. I have a tattoo of one on my back, I’m going to compare it to the logo. Well, it looks a bit like the tattoo so I’ll stick with a wedgie.


UNIVERSITY: The Professors, The students, The Shop. Organized out of the University of Melbourne, they could arguably have been whacked in with the other sprouges of Lord Melbourne, but they’re a unique proposition. They got cracking early in the piece in 1859, playing all the clubs that would congeal into the VFL, eventually being inducted by unanimous vote with Richmond in 1907. Their tenure was a slog to the bitter end. Playing only seven seasons for a wretched win loss ratio, losing their last 51 games on the trot. Arguably the earnest scholars were done in by the first push for professional player payments, leaving them undermanned at the coalface. They played seven seasons never making the finals, disbanding in 1914, with war in Europe raging. Yet the club lives to this day, competing in the VAFA, and its records are still counted in VFL/AFL history.



Well that was a great gob full. If you’re still with me, onya and congratulations. As I write this I’m dealing with a severely broken ankle and the down time has allowed me to look back at the names, places and times that shaped the great game. Fondly and with whimsy for simpler times.  I learned a lot about footy, history and Australia’s past and future, and feel edified by the effort. Yet my effort is but a sketch. The shadows of the stories grow longer by the year and there are so many others to be told. The Grand Final will soon be upon us and I’ll truck on off to the San Diego Lions pie night, as I do each year. I’ll pony up a few bob to support the Lions as they confront the game with all the vim and vigour that has been mustered across 157 Antipodean winters. I’ll smile knowing the love of the game lives at the grassiest of roots. And if your ratty mob makes it through to September, then good luck. Carna Cats, um… Pivotonians,er…Seagulls.



  1. I would be remiss not to include this in something called The state of THE origins. As we ponder our place in an angry, often confusing world, where music, art, sport and mateship unite and bond communities, hearth and home.


Extracted from Wikipedia’s “Origins of Australian football.”

Some historians, including Martin Flanagan, Jim Poulter and Col Hutchinson postulate that Tom Wills, who was the son of a politician and a squatter and was educated at Rugby School in England in the 1850s could have been inspired by indigenous Australian pastimes involving possum skin “ball” games (sometimes collectively labeled “Marn Grook“).

Anecdotal evidence of such pastimes appears in the 1878 book, The Aborigines of Victoria, in which Robert Brough Smyth relates that William Thomas, a Protector of Aborigines in Victoria, had witnessed Wurundjeri Aborigines east of Melbourne playing a “football” game in 1841.

The account appears to fit the general description of the traditional game of Marn Grook. This appears to be the earliest record of Europeans observing such pastimes. William Blandowski‘s 1857 sketch of indigenous Australians in Merbein clearly depicts children playing a form of “football”. Further research has established that this may have been a separate game (possibly Woggabaliri). Written record of such traditional pastimes is otherwise scant and as there is no known record of these pastimes in traditional Indigenous Australian art it is not possible to trace its history further.

The Marn Grook connection is argued as follows. Wills arrived in Victoria’s western district in 1842. As the only white child in the district, it is said that he was fluent in the local dialect and frequently played with local Aboriginal children on his father’s property, Lexington, in outside of the town of Moyston. This story has been passed down through the generations of his family. The tribe was one that is believed to have played marngrook. However the relationship of the Wills family with local Djabwurrung people is well documented.

Jim Poulter has argued that there was a direct link between the Australian rules football and sports played by some members of the indigenous Australian population. Poulter argues that Tom Wills had knowledge of Aboriginal oral traditions and language. However, when the rules of Australian rules football were codified, the status of Aboriginal culture in Australia was such that Wills may have been disadvantaged had he mentioned any connection, and as such “had no reason to mention this in discussions”.Col Hutchinson, former historian for the AFL wrote in support of the theory postulated by Flanagan, and his account appears on an official AFL memorial to Tom Wills in Moyston erected in 1998.


  1. Love it! Don’t know a lot about the formation/history of quite a few of the Clubs in Melbourne. Being from Adelaide, the commentary about Sam Newman has me bemused – I think most of us here really don’t give a toss about him, nor what he thinks about us. Oh, and Sam, that sound was me yawning at yet another of your childish ‘pranks.’

  2. A true student of The Game, that Almanac McAdmin bloke/sheila. (Never can be sure with these 21st Century names)

    Ditto Sam Newman. An evolutionary branch of the Human Experiment we could have done without.

    They make a good red down there at Moyston too.

  3. Barkly St End says

    That people continue to pronounce the suburb Franco Cozzo style is actually an excellent reason for a name change, and I speak as a true son of the scray in every sense. Trust me, it was never funny, and moved beyond absolutely tedious over 30 years ago (sparti ca ju stissu sugnu nu figghiu di sicilianu).

    Footscray does have a name sake in England, and from the very start it was considered a club with British roots, catering for working class Protestants (as opposed to the Catholics of North, Collingwwod and Richmond).

    I can recall as a kid in the late 60s there were still many recent English immigrants, often working in the nearby Ammunition factory.

    they were replaced first by Southern Eurpoeans, then Vietnamese, and then from the Horn of Africa.

    For at least 100 years, Footscray has accommodated the newest arrivals.

  4. Thanks for the comments. Nice to see Sam getting a serve. A point of clarification. @ Barkly St End. I have a deep and abiding love for Footscray, as i do for all our Victorian clubs that are the guts of the game in Victoria. The Dogs will always be Footscray to me, no corporate re branding will sway me. Sorry if the lame joke was a bit obtuse. ( Basically a riff on how Franco very effectively caught our attention.)The foundations of the great game were laid down and prospered in immigrant communities all across Australia, and in a troubled world, sport unites us all. And that my friends is what makes Australia great, and as my life has demanded of me, what i miss every day.

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