Aborigines Rule Football

In an interview on SEN yesterday, NMFC CEO Eugene Arocca revealed that North are exploring adding an Indigenous dimension to the Arden St project.

After extensive community consultation, it was discovered that the Arden St site and it’s immediate surrounds are of special significance to the traditional custodians, the Wurundjeri people. With a Life and Learning Centre on the cards, which includes a community classroom, Arocca has seized the opportunity. Forming a steering community with representatives of NMFC and MAYSAR (Melbourne Aboriginal Youth, Sport And Recreation), Arocca is exploring the possibility of  developing a program to put into the community classroom to highlight the significance of Melbourne, and North Melbourne in particular, to the Wurundjeri people, adding that “it doesn’t hurt that we’ve had close to 20 players play senior football for North Melbourne that are Indigenous.” The Life and Learning Centre will have a strong focus on engaging new migrant communities in the North Melbourne area.

Indigenous involvement in Australian rules football is a fascinating microcosm of white-Australia’s relationship with the traditional custodians. Here’s my brief exposition:

The (Football) History Wars

The exact origins of Aussie Rules Football are still unclear and remain a topic of debate. Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar played the first known game of Australian football on 7 August, 1858 in the parkland around the present day MCG. But what inspired this unique ‘game of our own’? Some say it has Irish origins, some say it is distinctly English, while others claim it is based on the Indigenous game of Marngrook. Unfortunately, the Indigenous influence on the game is subject to a history war, which reached its zenith last year during the 150th anniversary celebrations of Australian Football.

On one side, historians such as Gillian Hibbins and Greg de Moore argue that there is no evidence to link Indigenous games, Marngrook or otherwise, to the origins of the game. Martin Flanagan, one of football’s great writers, takes issue with this approach. While he does not contend that Marngrook is the definitive game upon which Aussie Rules is based, he staunchly opposes Hibbins refusal to accept that Indigenous games played any role in influencing our game’s evolution, just because she cannot find any evidence (for the full rant check this out). Ultimately, Flanagan’s states:

‘My view on the origins of the game, as stated in “The Call”, appear on the second-last page:  “Whose game is it, you ask. The blackfellas say it’s theirs. The Irish claim they invented it and poor old HCA Harrison went to the grave swearing it was British. If you want my opinion, it’s a bastard of a game – swift, bold and beautiful – for a bastard of a people”.  I stand by that view.’ (Full rant available here)

I must say, I find it by far the more compelling argument; and not simply for its romanticism. Yet commentators have taken issue with it, often singling out Flanagan as proporting a ‘seductive myth’ that fits nicely into his world view (including local shit-stirrer Andrew Bolt down at The Hun – check out the comments to get a glimpse of the crude arguments used against the Indigenous people). It almost directly parallels the arguments of the broader history wars played out during the Howard era of Australian politics. Like Howard endorsing Windshuttle, the AFL has chosen to officially endorse the Hibbins view, without allowing for any real discourse or alternative. I remain hopeful that one day this will change.

A Change In Attitude

As a teenager in the mid 90s, I recall going to many a match at the MCG and seeing first hand the racial abuse heaped on Indigenous players. Chris Lewis of West Coast copped as much as anyone. Spectators of all classes would have no hesitation in yelling incredibly offensive racial slants, or even spitting at the Indigenous players. I didn’t know any better, and at times got carried along by the herd mentality.

Astonishingly, this all changed in less than 10 years. First Nicky Winmar Nicky Winmar took a stand against the One-Eyed-C**ts at Victoria Park. Then Michael Long took Damien Monkhurst to AFL HQ and won, setting the ball rolling for the creation of a racial and religious vilification code. This effectively silenced on-field racial abuse to little more than a whisper. But more importantly, this filtered through to the masses, who now treat Indigenous players with a special adoration. Watching the likes of Aaron Davey, Adam Goodes and North’s own Matty ‘Flash’ Campbell set crowds alight all over the country  fills my soul with pride and hope. It is, undoubtedly, the AFL’s greatest contribution to Australian society.

North’s Boys

Arocca points out that North’s contribution may be the as significant as any Victorian-based club (based on the number of senior games Indigenous boys have played for North).  My first memory of North is watching the Krakouer brothers bring a touch of brilliance to Victoria in the 80s – something which all VFL/AFL clubs envied, setting in motion recruiters’ fascination with Indigenous players. (Interestingly enough, the Krakouer’s ancestry dates back to a Theodore Krakouer, a Polish Jew from Krakow!)

Here’s the honour roll of Indigenous players’ at North:

  • Percy Johnson – 1951-55, 52 games, 4 goals
  • Bert Johnson – 1965-68, 31 games, 5 goals
  • Barry Cable – 1970, 1974-77, 115 games, 133 goals
  • Jimmy Krakouer – 1982-89, 134 games, 229 goals (also played for Claremont and St Kilda)
  • Phil Krakouer- 1982-89, 141 games, 224 goals (Claremont, Footscray)
  • Andrew Krakouer – 1989-90, 8 games, 1 goal
  • Derek Kickett – 1989, 12 games, 12 goals (Essendon, Sydney)
  • Adrian McAdam – 1993-95, 36 games, 92 goals
  • Warren Campbell – 1994-95, 19 games, 17 goals
  • Byron Pickett – 1997-2002, 120 games, 81 goals (Port Adelaide, Melbourne)
  • Winston Abraham – 1998-2001, 72 games, 102 goals (Fremantle)
  • Gary Dhurrkay –  1999-2000, 21 games, 20 goals (Fremantle)
  • Shannon Motlop – 1999-2003, 54 games, 31 goals (Melbourne)
  • Daniel Motlop – 2001-05, 47 games, 53 goals (Port Adelaide)
  • Daniel Wells – 2003 – , 123 games, 66 goals
  • Eddie Sansbury – 2004-08, 40 games, 21 goals
  • Djaran Whyman – 2006-07, 5 games, 5 goals
  • Matthew Campbell – 2007 – , 35 games, 42 goals
  • Lindsay Thomas – 2007 – , 35 games, 42 goals (uncanny similarity with Matty Campbell!)


Filed under Off Field, On Field

2 responses to “Aborigines Rule Football

  1. Pingback: Indigenous Round « Roo Beauty

  2. An awesome post, and one that players such as me welcome month in and week out!

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