A Good Time To Reflect


Football is a pretty reliable mirror. The many ways we express our passion for the game reveal us. The industry that has grown around the game  also tells us much by the way it chooses to operate.

All manner of issues regarding indigenous footballers have arisen lately. In the case of Liam Jurrah, the circumstances provide an opportunity for discussion and engagement about matters that could go right to the source of Australian history and culture. Footy has the chance to look at the bigger picture.

So naturally we have spent much of the week talking about Eddie McGuire. Let it never be said that modern football lacks irony.

If recent events are meant to be football’s version of a culture war, we seem to be having trouble identifying the target, let alone hitting it.

I can perfectly understand that the Collingwood President’s mere existence acts as a provocation for many. I concede that parochialism, contest and conflict are the bread and butter of footy talk. And that numerous commercial subtexts and agendas can’t be ignored in all this either.

But I can’t help thinking that, yet again, a story about blackfellas is being turned into a story about whitefellas. Wasn’t it supposed to be a journalistic sin to bury the lead? Or is it only a lead if a whitefella gets involved?

The facts of the Jurrah case are only sketchily known, though the back story has been discussed in more detail, by those who bother with context. The incident that led to charges is sub judice in any case. But the fact that he is a footballer means the story has a high profile. And the fact he is the first AFL footballer from the central desert region opens a window on a part of the country that is little known or understood by most of us.

I personally think that lack of knowledge says a lot in itself. One of the great Australian paradoxes is that we have successfully absorbed many different cultures into our society since World War II, yet remain largely at a loss when it comes to matters concerning the original inhabitants of this land. Even the best of our intentions have often yielded dubious results. The governments and bureaucracies who claim to represent us have produced no end of learned findings on indigenous issues, yet indigenous people continue to suffer disadvantage that would be unacceptable for any other group in our society.

The causes of this failure are widely discussed and dissected. If we lack answers, we aren’t short of opinions. I claim no special insight in this regard, but if I was to venture a citizen’s opinion on one cause of failure, it would be the reluctance to move beyond many long-held cultural assumptions regarding indigenous societies. By and large we continue to identify problems and recommend solutions according to our values, whilst the very different values and priorities of indigenous culture often elude us. Intervention without understanding is presumption, no matter the motive.

That issue of cultural assumptions brings us back to recent football debates. We certainly haven’t lacked for various assumptions during the summer. When the focus has remained on blackfellas the results have been decidedly mixed.

An innocuous discussion of substitute benches led two very prominent football personalities to make sweeping statements about the endurance capabilities of indigenous players as a whole. This was made even more curious when we remember that one of them – Paul Roos – coached Adam Goodes, who would seem ample contradiction of this theory on his own.

When Majak Daw got into strife with his coach, a relatively minor issue of club discipline became cause for rampant front page speculation and innuendo. Having taken a factual inch and run the proverbial mile, the footy media then justified the beat-up by blaming his club’s inept media management. It, of course, had nothing to do with Daw being the first player of Sudanese descent.

As if to provide comic relief, we’ve had earnest speculation in various quarters that the modern game is now too complex for players with an educational or personal background deemed lacking. Mysteriously, those who administrate or coach, or who write or comment, are apparently exempt from this problem. Those inclined to accuse the professional game of taking itself too seriously probably rested their case at this point. No further witnesses your honour.

Now we’ve had the dubious benefit of hearing the views of some with influence on the recruitment of players to the AFL ‘industry’. Kids from particular backgrounds are too unreliable an investment, according to these gentlemen. Football’s too important a business for that kind of dodgy investment, apparently. This rather overlooks the fact that many Really Serious Businesses have had considerable difficulty steering clear of dodgy investments in recent years. The whole of Europe is still preoccupied by the previous bad investments they’ve undertaken. It would seem it might not be so easy to identify risky investments after all.

I am confident many footy fans would join me in wishing the forensic insight of these recruiters was more consistently reflected in  the quality of their draft choices.

AFL HQ has left no doubt about its thoughts. If others have been inconsistent, or worse, Andrew Demetriou has remained adamant on this issue. The AFL’s modern determination to lead on matters of cultural inclusiveness is welcome; all the more so because the game doesn’t have a long history of sensitivity to cultural difference. Though the way forward will inevitably be imperfect, it is to be hoped they can keep their focus on the ball. This is an important one to win.

If anything positive is to come from the difficulties of a few players, maybe it will be that we all take the opportunity to consider our assumptions. A bit of reflection never hurts.


About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Dave Nadel says

    Excellent post JB.

    This is why I kept insisting on Catherine Durkin’s thread that Liam Jurrah was the issue and Eddie’s conflict of interest was a third order issue of interest only to media jukies.

    Liam Jurrah’s story is a football story but it is a lot more than a football story. Even without his football career Liam would be forced to inhabit two worlds with different and often conradictory values and laws. Indigenous people in the Territory and North Western Australia can live in remote communities under traditional laws, but Australian Law is there as well (particularly since the intervention) So are Australian alcohol, drugs, petrol etc. – even when the community bans them on the actual settlement.

  2. John Butler says

    Dave, I didn’t have any issue with Catherine’s piece as such. I just think there are more important conversations to have about all of this.

    Indigenous players will have to find a way to inhabit both worlds if they want to play AFL. The dominant culture sets the rules, like it or not. But the smart clubs will continue see the value they offer, and attempt to understand what’s involved.

    I think most already have some idea. What we’re being reminded of now is that old attitudes die hard.

  3. JB,

    no doubt there will always be issues with AFL and other sports participants personal lives. I accept that and with Liam Jurrah issue I have an understanding of the complexity of the matter. My opinion is irrelevant. The matter will be addressed through appropriate channels.

    Having studyied Australian land management and underlying cultural principles at a high and thorough level I understand the sensitivity of some of the dominant contemporary internal politics of a country that was invaded by a brutal foreign power a couple of centuries ago with consideration to the fact that that invading force is still here and in power. That is not the issue for me and I do not wish or need to discuss Jurrah’s actions.

    My concern is the double standard of Eddie with respect to his interview to get the scoop.

    I put the question.

    What would have Eddie’s response have been to a similarly broadcast fireside chat with Alan Didak, by the president of another club in a position of high profile, economical and footy evangelical power after Didak’s involvement in the drive by shooting incident, no matter what mitigating circumstances prevailed?

  4. John Butler says

    Phantom, I think Eddie has obvious double standards. His many hats go on and off to suit. Although I doubt Eddie would ever concede that. With his President’s hat on he would obviously go ballistic at that scenario. He’d do everything to stop it.

    The discussion last week was largely about conflict of interest, which is a different thing. On that matter I reckon Eddie is of the Packer opinion -‘ if you haven’t got a conflict of interest you probably haven’t got an interest’.

    Many of us might disagree with that. But Eddie has many ancestors and contemporaries in this regard when it comes to football history.

    But I reckon that’s enough about Eddie. He doesn’t need the publicity. :)

  5. Phil Dimitriadis says

    In fairness to Eddie, last night he interviewed Martin Flanagan and Adrian Anderson on EMT. The gist was highlighting ways to find solutions to the problem. Flanagan called for former players like Michael Long, Michael McLean, and Nicky Winmar to play a more active role in dispelling the myths and informing the broader community.

    JB, I know how much you dislike sweeping generalizations and stereotyping. This article reinforces the idea that we need to think beyond convenient categorizing of groups and people, regardless of race or class.

    I fear that if enough people like yourself don’t speak up, the game may just become a battle between the fittest and the smartest. The clubs have a responsibility to lead the way here and implement programs for kids to learn how to learn as they enjoy playing the game. The ‘too hard basket mentality’ will cost the game its humanity if ruthlessness holds sway over empathy and the bigger picture of getting young people from all walks of life to participate in our unique sport.

    ps. JB, I really think that you are far too much of a humanitarian for a Carlton fan.

  6. John Butler says

    Phil, I hope the cause has someone with more influence than me to help it. :) Otherwise it’s in strife.

    Anyway, there are many people who can speak with more direct knowledge than me on these issues. Which probably puts me in the same boat as 95% of footy journos.

    But I don’t think there’s any shortage of good will in these matters.

    Regarding Eddie (oy vey! He won’t go away!) – I think his heart is in the right place on matters of disadvantage. As he will be quick to remind you, he IS a boy from Broady made good. But I also think he has blind spots when it comes to his many cakes, and the eating thereof.

    PS: as a Carlton fan I think I’m contractually precluded from wanting ruthlessness removed from the game.

  7. JB, articulate as ever. It’s either ironic or insightful (on your part) that comments on your article prove your point.

    Maybe it is as you say, “The dominant culture sets the rules, like it or not.” And the dominant culture may only be interested in issues that affect that dominant culture.

    With respect to the following:

    “One of the great Australian paradoxes is that we have successfully absorbed many different cultures into our society since World War II, yet remain largely at a loss when it comes to matters concerning the original inhabitants of this land. ”

    The “many different cultures” came here looking for a new start and as such, were prepared to make the necessary adjustments.

    And those adjustments were unlikely to be the chasm in culture that confronted, and still confront, indigenous Australians.

    The cultural values of indigenous peoples (globally) versus those of westernised peoples are polar opposites. Integration of those cultures, without those cutures losing their values, is the dilemma that is resisting resolution.

    Compromises have already been made (mainly by indigenous Australians, and mainly through force). But it would appear that more compromises will need to be made before positive outcomes become the norm. Who makes these compromises? It is rarely the “dominant culture” that does, but given the political, ethical, and social climate we find ourselves in, at least the dominant culture is now more aware of its responsibilities and more adverse to riding roughshod over the less dominant culture.

  8. John Butler says

    Pete, that’s an excellent question.

    In the case of footy, I think clubs will need to understand what’s in it for them. I don’t think that is too hard a sell. Many already seem pretty sold. There are a hell of a lot of good indigenous players to provide incentive. Self interest can be enlightened.

    In any case, if the clubs can’t work it out themselves, the AFL seems determined to persuade them.

    Outside of footy, much more complicated again.

  9. Richard Naco says

    I think applying principles arising from a contemporary social conscience are quite possible, provided that the potential fiscal benefits are highlighted. If this is done appropriately, the benefits are equally obvious regardless of whether one is approaching the issue from a capitalist or humanitarian perspective.

    Everybody wins. (And some, whether they know it or not.)

  10. Tony Robb says

    Well constructed piece on. A Subject area that too many people touch on a superficial level or walk on eggshells. I believe that the focus of all dealings with indigenous peole tend to be one of integration and the adoption of European values as being a good thing and a mutually desired outcome The problem as I see it is that Indigenous culture has never developed in way that that other indigenous culture have. They basically have always been hunter gathers nomadic people who never developed agriculture,permanent housing or utilised animals for transport etc. This is not a bad thing but reflects a culture that will always struggle to fit in with European expectations about behaviour and compliance with norm and societal structures. Sorry for the generalised nature of my comments. But I believe that we miss the point on the most basic of levels not least being that footie can be an means of changing and bettering Indigenous outcomes. It can but its not the sole reason these boys want to play In an elite competition even though the media loves the rags to riches story line that feeds off a US sports mentality . Football clubs will recruit any person that they think can win them a game of . Fevola is the perfect example. Their obligation to the players background and personal lwellbeing is lip service and feel good hollowness. If a kid doesn’t get a
    kick see ya later

  11. Back to the core issue basic interclub rivalry, the culture that defines knackery JB. How was your pre-season?

  12. Dave Nadel says

    Pete, Yes “we have successfully absorbed many different cultures into our society since World War II, ” But the point is, whether these immigrants came as refugees (as my family did), as economic refugees from starving villages in Southern Europe or as ten pound Poms (as my wife’s family did), what they have in common is that THEY CHOSE TO COME HERE. Apart from a relatively small number of convicts in the late 18th and early 20th century all white and Asian Australians are descended from people who came here by choice and therefore were reasonably willing to make adjustments to the dominant culture.

    But indigenous people did not chose to come here. They were already here and the dominant culture was an alien force which invaded and which they certainly did not chose. They may chose to adapt to the dominant culture for its material benefits but it should not be something to which we compel them to do. (This is a 21century view of morality – for much of Australia’s history Governments, administrators, police and missionaries felt they diid have right to destroy Aboriginal culture and that is a major reason for the current state of Aboriginal disadvantage)

    Australian Aboriginals are virtually the only conquered Indigenous people that have no treaties relating to their rights as a conquered people. The Americans may have broken every treaty they made with the Native Americans but the facts of the treaties still gave the “Indians” a level of respect that has never been shown to indigenous Australians. The Treaty of Waitangi has not always been honoured but Maori have far more power and respect (including on the football field) than white Australia shows to its first people.

    I don’t care whether we are talking football, substance abuse, family breakdown or educational disadvantage. I don’t believe Australians will ever get it right with indigenous people until we acknowledge that the British stole this land and that modern Australia has to treat with Aborigines from a position of honoring Aboriginal self determination and prior occupancy.

    There, isn’t that a more interesting subject for discussion than endless rabbitting on about Eddie?

  13. Right on Dave.

    I play Kev Cormody’s classic ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ very loudly every Invasion Day (26th Jan). It should be our national anthem.

    Seventeen eighty eight down Sydney Cove
    the first boat people land
    said sorry boys our gain’s your loss
    we’re gonna steal your land
    and if you break our new Brittish law
    for sure you’re gonna hang………………………..

  14. John Butler says

    Thanks for the comments gentlemen.

    Phantom, I must break out a Kev C album. It seems apt.

    As for pre-season – personally fine. Though I read in the papers that Carlton are gone already.

    Who was it they were saying that about last year?

  15. Dave, that’s exactly the point I was making, but obviously not clearly enough.

  16. watt price tully says

    Phantom noted:

    “My concern is the double standard of Eddie with respect to his interview to get the scoop”.

    Eddie was invited to interview Liam & his family at the behest of Liam & his supporters/ mentors/friends. It is a conflict of interests & he probably would go red as a betroot if the shoe were on the other foot.

    However, this is not a first order issue, far from it. I think too many are making an issue of the tissue, a melon of the melonin. Eddie wins this either way. He wins because his new show gets a scoop, he wins because no matter how pissed off you might be about Eddie, he provides an avenue for the Jurrah’s to voice their perspective having (hopefully only temporarily) lost their supports at Demonland & this will blow over in a very short time.

    Does it then change things because we are talking about a conflict of interests as a matter of degree – that we can be so righteuos about this? For me, there are bigger issues than this one.

    Dave Nadel hits the nail on the head. This is stolen land, no ifs, buts or maybe’s. We need to acknowledge that. The sooner we acknowledge Aboriginal soveriegnty, the better off we all will be.

    I’ve got a wonderful CD by Kev Carmody bought some years ago that gets a regular run: Bloodlines.

    Lyrics from a song BDP by Kev:


    They come over from their landscaped
    Northern richlands
    To drop out in our wastelands on the south
    Project their leftist leanings on the radio
    Their upperclass attitudes eminate from
    Their mouths

    He got a Phd in his-story
    She an expert in Marxist ideology
    Joined alternate groups at university
    They don’t see we see the same old story

    Bourgeois, drop-out progeny
    Still tryin’ to construct our baseline reality
    Like their generations before ‘em
    Still operates these gates here on our pig-pen

    Espousin’ Liberty, Fraternity, Equality
    Equal rights, Latin American solidarity
    They choose to drop-out and change their course
    Not realizin’ the baseline don’t have a choice

    From progressive avante-garde bands in the city
    As artists’ they dictate what’s best
    Seizin’ every chance in their alternate advance
    We just see they’re featherin’ their own nests

    Sometimes the needle hits the hammer
    The body and the brain take heavy blows
    They purchase drop-out fashions from our
    Eat organic food from land their forebears stole

    Go PIes!

  17. watt price tully says

    (Mea culpa for my selling mistake at the end. I don’t know how to go back & rectify this).

  18. watt price tully says

    ^ I give up!!

  19. John Butler says

    Perils of posting in the wee small hours WPT? Cracking song choice BTW.

    A couple of thoughts on last night’s Footy Classified: I see a connection between this piece and Richard Arrowsmith’s. Also Peter Baulderstone’s.

    The urge (rush?) to punish is over the top. I don’t think it ends up doing anyone much good. Do you more effectively change attitudes with dialogue & discussion, or with the stick?

    People accused of something deserve a right of reply.

    I’m interested in other’s thoughts.

  20. Rick Kane says

    This is an excellent discussion thread, lead by an essay that speaks honestly to, as Dylan might put it, “a mixed up confusion and man it’s killing me”. I don’t profess to have ideas any more than what has already been stated. However, taking the cue from a quote in the discussion above about a conflict of interest at least demonstrating an interest, I would like to make some observations.

    As muddled as the Media led discussions and analysis has been, I have been heartened that there has been a genuine attempt by the Media to understand, analyse and report with a noticeable degree of empathy. While the Media’s engagement might be indicative of tiny steps, and some may wish the steps could be bigger and quicker, they are nonetheless, steps in a generally well-meaning direction.

    The Almanac Forum and this discussion show off parties with an interest, respect and articulation above what might be found on talk back radio. However, language entraps us still. There is one too many references to “we” and “us” and “them” and I’m not sure what exactly is meant. But I feel uneasy. One of the most striking points of this discussion is when JB writes “Jurrah is the first AFL footballer from the central desert region opens a window on a part of the country that is little known or understood by most of us”. I would think that a Central Desert blackfella and his country would be as little known to me as it would be to a blackfella from East Arnhem Land. I would like to think the referent, “us” applied to both me and my East Arnhem Land colleague similarly but I don’t think it does. This is not meant to slight JB (at all) but to demonstrate that even the best of us are still using rusted on language tools to think and talk in what are post colonial times.

    Post-colonial theory would assist greatly. Again, it is not an area that I have any deep academic background or knowledge, so I apologise to those who know better if my reference is slight. The quote that follows is a far better summation than I could conjure. It is about a particular theorist and a seminal monograph he produced on Post-colonialism. I include it to suggest that the subject matter discussed above take into account the context of such historical overpowering and distorted relations to allow the debate to breathe new understandings. I include it also to suggest that there is hope (great hope) that we (that’s the whole bloody lot of us) will breathe in new understandings to how we live and love and play together.

    “In Provincializing Europe (2000), Chakrabarty set himself the ambitious task of critiquing the “methodological Eurocentrism” that dominated global historiography. The unreflected use of concepts, theories and methods that emerged in the West and were shaped by its particular regional conditions is so problematic because it sees Europe’s historical genesis as “natural”, elevating it to a blueprint for the entire non-European world. The expectation that “the rest” would have to follow the West allows only a little room for alternative structures and developments; it leads to the establishment of a hierarchy which permanently relegates the regions of the periphery and the semi-periphery to the “waiting room of history”: only when the stragglers – through the diffusion of Western knowledge and Western values – could reach the developmental level of the metropole would they be accepted as an equal partner”.

  21. Rick Kane says
  22. watt price tully says

    Consdered opinion Rick, I like what you wrote.

    John B also loved what you wrote.

    With respect to Footy Classified:

    It was a really moving interview last night.
    Usually I find Footy Classified far too contrived.
    It was heart rending stuff.
    Rendell has been publicly executed IMO

    As I understand it, it wasn’t Mifsud per se but the 3rd man (??I think the ex CEO of the NAB) who allegedly was a witness. The piss weak & self righteous newspapers have blown & amplified this way out of proportion to the actual words uttered.


    Further, (again as I understand it) Rendell was saying that if nothing is done now, if we go down the current policy direction (in context of also reducing the interchange to 2) then the outcome may produce some unintended consequences, that is having to consider for example using less aboriginal players or indeed those aboriginal players with a mixed European heritiage. (Mind you this is based on an untested assumption that Aboriginal players do not have sufficient stamina).

    Rendell was clumsy & he ought not have used those words. They are racist no matter what way you cut it. Rendell is not a racist. However, the punishment, shame & ridicule is disproportionate to his clumsy choice of words- I feel like this is 2GB/3AW stuff going on here in terms of the punishment meted out to Rendell (we found a witch may we burn her?)

    Rendell did apologise (again clumsily) & he did himself no favours by saying there is no racism in football – I think he meant to add: like there was 20 or so years ago.

    Rendell wants the AFL to invest in big time preparation in the early & teenage years to assist those type of players to more successfully transition to the life of an AFL footballer. This was lost in translation IMO & OTT outrage.

    I was distressed last night watching Matt Rendell being a voyeur of a man who should not have been in this position regardless of the few ill chosen (yes they were racist) words.

  23. John Butler says

    RK, city dwellers might have been a better choice of words. Or several other options.

    But as to the general intent, I think that’s clear. Of course ‘the whole bloody lot of us’ are included.

    But your point is a good one. Words have meanings both explicit and implicit. Especially when we talk about assumptions.

    Words count. But I think intent counts for more. If we worry too much about exactitude of language I think it will inevitably hamper broader discussion and understanding.We’ll tie ourselves up in knots.

    The passage is very pertinent to the underlying theme of this discussion. Let’s test assumptions.

  24. John Butler says

    WPT, it was compelling last night. And confronting.

    Hard not to feel for a man so impassioned. But there was plenty of assuming in what he said.

    Everything seems hasty with this matter. There are several contradictions in what various parties have said. Until they’re reconciled a taint of doubt will remain. Conducting investigations through newspaper headlines will never help.

    Richard Arrowsmith’s post on wowserism is timely. Too much reflexive punishment going on.

    At the very least, people deserve the right to answer accusations.

  25. Excellent discussion & article. I took a lot from it.

    Thanks all

Leave a Comment