Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

"Australian (football) for the Australians"

This is from the Football Record 30 June, 1923. It is a preview of the Victoria v NSW game held at the MCG. It speaks of footy's brittle confidence and uneasy sense of right in relation to Australian rules taking off in Sydney. It also has a nice little cameo/parody of an Englishman who, though he has been to many cup finals, sees Australian rules as the greatest of spectacles.

The piece also articulates a disturbing sense of nationalism that seems to be a growing part of footy's rhetoric. "Australian for the Australian" is the slogan and it's not all that far from some fairly right-wing white-Australian notions of what might be appropriate behaviour in this country.
Those who are battling so determinedly for the Australian game in Sydney say that the time is coming when it will be as strong in the favour of the public of the Harbour City as it is in Victoria. It will be a long time, however, but as long as it does find the proper recognition from the Australians right through this glorious continent of ours we shall all be satisfied.
Let us all hope that we shall be in the land of the living when the matches between all the States are as full of importance as are those of the present times between the flower of South Australia and Victoria.
The fight has been carried on in Sydney against a good deal of opposition. Perhaps that was only natural, for those who have the interests of Rugby League at heart were doubtless afraid that once the wonderful Aussie game caught the public fancy the true Australians in N.S.W. would be like the baby in the soap advt.—they would want no other.
I noticed some weeks ago that a counterblast had been tried in Melbourne. Some of the Sydney people were, endeavouring to educate the people of Melbourne in the Rugby League game, but there is not the slightest possibility of weaning away from our own code any of the lads who have once played it, or any of those whose pleasure it has been to attend week after week, in season and out of season, the matches in Victoria. Here the slogan in regard to football is "Australian for the Australians."
So it should be in every other place in Australia. I see that the boys of the village at Canberra are going in for it. Consequently those citizens of the capital city will be able to enjoy themselves in the proper Australian style. Many Pommies who played Rugby or Soccer in Great Britain before coming to Australia, and who are too old to continue football, are regular attendants at our League matches, and they have been heard to declare that "there's nowt beat t' Aussie game as a spectacle, and Ah can tell thee, choom, that ah've seed manny a Coop Fahnal where I coom from."
If a bit more pep were thrown into he management of the Australian game in Sydney the progress of it would probably be more rapid. Federal M.P.'s who are thoroughly Ausralian in principle might be expected to interest themselves more in its welfare and advancement, and the Australasian Football Council might do mnore than it has been doing. It has a good deal of money to its credit, and it would be a more reasonable way of spending it by propaganda business in Sydney than in carnivals in the big capital cities where it is so strongly rooted.
They tell me that the game has never been so well received in Sydney than this year. Good! How are they progressing in play? We have the opportunity of judging for ourselves this afternoon. The Sydney men have to meet a powerful side. Perhaps it is too much to expect them to win, but I earnestly hope that the Victorians will be fairly and squarely beaten. A licking on the merits of the encounter will do a power of good.

This letter below is from the Record in 1965. There's a special prize for the correspondent who finds every one of the 18 things wrong with it!


  1. As ever, great detective work. Wish we had Trove when I was doing historical research. What strikes me about the article is that much of the Sydney-Melbourne discussion is still relevant today. Not sure you can pigeon hole "Australian for the Australians" as symptomatic of right-wing propaganda. It obviously brings to mind the Bulletin's masthead of "Australia for the White Man", but there is nothing in the text here beyond football as "Australian for the Australians". So it's a long bow to infer any link to white supremacy or right-wing agendas.

  2. Not from TROVE (it's down today). The Footy Record is on-line at the SLV.

    Yes there is a kind of eternal recurrance of the same isn't there. Also the Victorian commentator is happy to see his team lose to further the interests of the game - again not far from Vlad the Impaler giving a leg-up to Northern teams.

    Footy's rhetoric from 1905 on was about its being the 'national game'. The original nationalsitic slogan was ‘One Flag, One Destiny, One Football Game’, adopted by the Australasian Football Council in 1908. I see this as pretty xenophobic and exclusive, especially when we know the practical implications of such slogans.

    I did say though that the rhetoric was "not all that far from" rather than was "linked to". Nonetheless I'd suggest that footy's rhetoric has since the e. 1900s been one which assumes right of place as well as the right to exclude and rebuff other codes.

    The figure of the 'converted Englishman' is also interesting. The footy record has a number of examples of these in the 1920s. It was as much wishful thinking as it was actual reportage.

  3. Wow - Footy Record online! Couldn't have imagined that when I was a student. Great innovation.

    The fake English guy is pathetically amusing. In terms of ‘One Flag, One Destiny, One Football Game’ and the question of xenophobia. Well, obviously this was the era of the White Australia Policy, so pretty much every civic institution was influenced by that, though some were more liberal than others. What historians are obliged to do is explore to what degree a particular organisation (i.e. a church or a sport club) was symptomatic or otherwise of the broader xenophic malaise. In other words, what were the nuances of policy and practice at work here? Simply saying that an organisation has a xenophopic and exclusionary slogan doesn't take us far. In one sense the focus on promoting one footy code is inherently exclusive: where it becomes anti-social and disruptive is in an intolerance for others (as with denying Aboriginal involvement or with soccerphobia). I realise that this is merely a clip you've shown for interest, not a study you are undertaking, so we're no doubt splitting hairs. It is much more benign, for example, than a Rebecca Wilson column!

  4. All good. But the problem is that footy is as much an 'introduced game' as any other yet it has assumed a 'born from the soil' status. Just because it took root in the southern states doesn't mean it's any less introduced than other football codes. It's the assumption and assertion of indigeneity that is the problem here. On this basis footy was intolerant of others in Victoria, especially when grounds were the issue. Of course the other codes were capable of similar attitudes in their headquarters.

    And don't worry, the footy record could outdo Wilson from time to time.

    1. It was certainly considered indigenous in Vic, SA, WA, Tas and NT - elsewhere obviously not so. The problem then comes with it not being viewed in the same light in NSW, Qld and (to some degree) the ACT. It therefore needed to be introduced into those other areas, and was an "outsiders" game for sure. The early history of cricket vs baseball in the US makes for an interesting comparison. One considered "foreign", the other indigenous (although, like Aussie Rules, borrowed from British sporting customs). I think what you are finding in Melbourne will resonate in other parts of the world, such as with the GAA in Ireland, which opposed all British sports. Needless to say, there's bound to be stories about discrimination against rugby league in England, particularly in regions south of Yorkshire. None of this makes the Australian story any less interesting; it will have its own contexts and nuances.

    2. Yes. And the assertion of indigeneity is merely one set of newcomers asserting their rights over another set of newcomers. It's all introduced. There are no 'insiders'.

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  6. Here's a goodie from 1950

    A.B.C. Broadcasts.—It is to be hoped that the Australian Broadcasting Commission devotes the same broadcasting time, commensurate with its importance and significance in our national life,. to the Australian Football Carnival to be held in Brisbane in July this year as they gave to the cup tie final of the British Soccer Association. Last Saturday night they adopted the unprecedented policy of staying on the air from 11.30 p.m.-until 2 a.m. Sunday morning to broadcast in full this soccer match, -which could nave had appeal only to a very minor percentage of Australians. In the past it has been found difficult to obtain a full coverage of Australian football, and with the nation-wide interest that will be focussed on the Brisbane Carnival' the A.B.C. should, judging on the time they devoted to the soccer final, allot hours of broadcasting each day and considerable time each night to comments. After all, our game is truly national, and should be recognised as such by our national broadcasting station. Even Davis Cup matches, in which Australia has been vitally interested, have never been given the great coverage accorded this English soccer game.

  7. Presumably this is the Record again. Goodness knows why they would fret over a radio broadcast of a soccer match in a completely different time zone and late at night! This seems a case of envy. I doubt there'd be many listeners interested in an Aussie Rules football carnival in Brisbane! Indeed, one thing to remember is that Victorians were, by and large, fairly disinterested in the game beyond their own borders. Attempts by SA and WA, in particular, to form a national sporting body for the game were poo pooed by the VFL until it was financially imperative for them to nationalise the game by reinventing the VFL as the AFL and charging non-Victorian clubs licence fees. Although the AFL is today in a very strong position - financially and operationally - this was not the prognosis of many in the early 1990s when the AFL came to be.

    1. Yes. The Record. And they keep on banging on about it as well throughout the season and over the next few.

      The VFL are upset because the reporting of the FA cup final will keep recently arrived migrants in contact with soccer and will also attract new people to the game.

      In 1965 (soccer's high point) the Record argued that elite soccer games in oz were only attracting 6000 people. They suggested that more migrants were attending individual VFL footy matches.

      The Footy Record produced propaganda of this sort constantly throughout the century. Only now am I starting to understand the bitterness of some older soccer aficionados in Melb. They were relentlessly bombarded with this stuff.

  8. I've just added a jpeg of a letter to the Record in 1965 to the bottom of the post. I shakes me 'ead . . .

  9. I wouldn't be surprised if the letter you showed is bogus. In other words, the Record is doing what a lot of journals and newspapers did (and still do); namely, manufacture a letter to suit their interests. In my PhD thesis I came across so many letters of this kind (though on a different topic) that were - it seemed to me - beyond belief in their crudity. They were laughable. This is not to say that they were all fakes. The more important point is that some were probably genuine and some probably 'made up' to suit what the particular publisher wanted readers to hear. At the end of the day, they all ended up in print. Thank goodness the soccer followers were not buying or reading the Record! Though this would hardly make them immune from such sentiments beyond that. Incidentally, 6,000 people at a soccer match is a very decent crowd for the 1960s, a time when the population of Melbourne was much smaller than now.

  10. If it is bogus then it points pretty directly to VFL policy at the time. Also a way of saving Phillip Morris 200 Alpine!!

    The 6000 number was from Sydney and they assumed a comparable number in Melbourne. In truth in the mid 60s games in Melbourne could push and sometimes exceed 20K.

    This is from South Melbourne's wikipedia page: Best Regular Season VPL Crowd: 23,000 vs George Cross at Olympic Park 05/08/1962

  11. My PhD thesis was on the staging of huge (non-sport) public events, 1901-38 in Australia, be they royal visits, military processions, St Pat's parades, state funerals, religious events, etc. What I soon realised is that EVERYONE was engaged in propaganda (or something like that) depending on the event itself and whose interests it served in terms of either glorifying or denigrating. The churches were particularly rabid - Catholics and Protestants at each other's throats. They had publications with letters by "a concerned citizen" claiming that the local Prot or Cath parish was full of infidels who worshipped a false God. In a pre-televison and pre-Internet age the publications they put out were vivid statements of what they stood for, and what they stood against. So the sport and politics scenarios you are finding are, in a way, symptomatic of a society that was struggling to tolerate difference and diversity.

    The multiculturalism we have today was a world away in the 1960s. Of course, this is not to say there are no problems now - as with Muslim radicals in Sydney holding signs up about "beheading" those who mocked the prophet. But that's another conversation.