VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism • www.cpaml.org
Round 13 of the Australian Football League (AFL) from 21 August marked the Indigenous Round of the "Aussie Rules" football season in 2020.
The game at the top league level has featured many outstanding footballers, especially from the 1960s to present times. Since the 1990s the AFL was taken over by corporate interests with games programmed to maximize the interests of corporate advertising around the grounds, on players’ clothing and particularly for the TV audiences. Teams in the AFL searched the land for the best players to pick at the national draft each year.
The teams' corporate backers realized that First Peoples players attracted spectators and therefore profits to the game, so recruiting First Peoples players from far and wide became a top priority.
However, First Peoples football players had to struggle for recognition as footballers many, many years ago. Sports historian from Melbourne Roy Hay's new book "Aboriginal People and Australian Football In The Nineteenth Century - They Did Not Come From Nowhere" collects evidence to show how in the mid-1800s First Peoples in regional Victoria, SA and WA ( the three mainland Aussie Rules states) on Missions and stations learned the game and brought their own skills to it.
In the 1860s the game of Australian Rules football was characterized by slow position play and congested play which suited the heavier European born players. The First Peoples brought to the game "speed at ground level, rapid hand movement and brilliant hand-eye and foot-eye co-ordination". They also introduced the kicking of the ball to space, anticipating where the receiving player was running to. Roy Hay argues that this skill was similar to their ability to bring down wild animals with a woomera or throwing spear.
Despite the injection of exciting new skills into the game, First Peoples' top players found it near impossible to play at the top level. An example of this discrimination was at Corandeerk Station in the Upper Yarra Valley about 60 km from Melbourne.
One player from there, Dick Rowan, also played for Healesville and played so well that he attracted the attention of the South Melbourne Football Club who played in the top league in the Victorian colony from as early as the 1880s. Rowan played one game for South Melbourne against Williamstown. He applied to play a full season for South Melbourne but the football governing Board "feared that the granting of the application might lead to numerous other similar requests and refused it"!
In other words, the white authorities were quite happy for First Peoples to play football in regional teams but went out of their way to exclude them from playing in the top league. In the local regional leagues across Australia, the First Peoples players formed their own teams and won local competitions.
As Roy Hay says, "they were prevented from reaching higher levels by the gatekeepers of the domestic game until late in the twentieth century".
Like in most areas of society, Roy Hay displays to the reader of his brilliant book stories to be told about attempts to deny First Peoples equal opportunity and stories to be told about their skills and knowledge not only about football but their contribution to local communities.
His book is well worth a read as football fans among us marvel at the brilliance of modern day First Peoples players in many sports.