Friday, March 2, 2007

Want to kick the old possum skin around? - levremance

I saw Australian Rules Football described as a “Redneck” game in the hurly-burly of the Ashes cricket blogs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is really not a white mans game at all, but an adaptation of the black mans game of Marngrook. Marngrook, meaning game ball, was observed by white settlers in western Victoria in the 1840’s who described it thus:

"The men and boys joyfully assemble when this game is to be played. One makes a ball of possum skin, somewhat elastic, but firm and strong. The players of this game do not throw the ball as a white man might do, but drop it and at the same time kicks it with his foot. The tallest men have the best chances in this game. Some of them will leap as high as five feet from the ground to catch the ball. The person who secures the ball kicks it. This continues for hours and the natives never seem to tire of the exercise."

Tom Wills, who in 1858 proposed the radical concept of “a game of our own”, spent his formative years in western Victoria. He was friends with the local indigenous kids, learnt their language and played their games. At 14, his father sent him to Rugby School for an education. However, his passion was for sport and he would go on to captain the school at Rugby and Cricket. On his return to Victoria, Wills became a champion of the colony at Cricket and Australian Rules and would later coach the Aboriginal Cricket side that toured England in 1868. These were Djabwurrung men from western Victoria too.

Wills crossed over between white and black Australia like few did at the time. When others were rounding up the indigenous population into reserves and worse, Tom Wills was teaching them a whitefella game in their own language and adapting a blackfella game which serves as his and their legacy today.

Some historians say there is no evidence to support the view that Marngrook spawned Australian Rules, and point to some written evidence that Australian Rules derived from a Rugby heritage. Wills himself referred to his Rugby football influences in the early rules committee meetings, but the rules he drew up were not Rugby’s rules. The rules Tom Wills wrote allowed for no offside rule, no throwing of the ball, and the ball could be picked up, kicked in the air and marked. All this in the name of following Rugby’s rules? Or a gentle subversion to create a game of our own.

In 2008, the rules Wills wrote will be 150 years old, but the game that is played is much older than that. The indigenous representation in the Australian Football League is around 12% as against 2% of the Australian population. Adam Goodes, a star indigenous player with the Sydney Swans, summed it up best for me when he said that he felt it was “our game”.


andrewm said...

Levremance, glad to see you got an honourable, although based on what they printed this week there's no doubt you should have won. I now know far more about the sport than I did when I began reading.


bluedaddy said...

Really liked this piece levremance. It's a pity it didnt make the final three because I think it provokes thought (colonialism in sport's origins, innate human need to kick a ball/play sport) and therefore discussion, and it would have been nice for you to be able to add to the original piece in response to posts. Best of all I learned something. Cheers

MotM said...

Lev - this is lovely stuff and really informative about a key issue in Australia (I recall Ashley Mallet's anger at the lack of aboriginal players' promotion to the national cricket team for whatever reason).

How can this not win over the Hero piece and Henman stuff (good though they are)? I thought this about Ebren's piece and I expect I might think it about all the posts as I work up the blog.

levremance said...

Andrew, Bluedaddy, Mouth - thanks for the praise. It would be a tough job being a selector on Big Blogger. Thanks to Ebren for publishing this here.

On the aboriginal cricketers, its amazing the talent has been neglected, when Tom Wills built a team from nothing that performed well all those years ago.

When I was writing this article I couldn't help thinking about what was lost when we whitefellas came to Australia. What was just looked past or dismissed out of hand. As I age I get the more interested in the indiginous culture in Australia and the wisdom they developed.

MotM said...

Lev - Colonialism wasn't very pleasant anywhere, but as an Englishman from a port city, I console myself that it would have been preferable for the Locals to see the red ensign flying from the strange boat as it hove into view than be greeted by Snr Cortez for example, but I doubt that the Aboriginal people of Australia thought (or think) that.

And I suspect I'm wrong about the Brits being relatively benign colonialists - they certainly didn't do too badly out of Empire back in Britain!

levremance said...

Mouth - Australia's indigenous people call Australia day "Invasion Day" so I guess that sums up what they think of it.

But if it wasn't the British it would have been the French and who knows how that would have gone.

Most of the 1868 Aboriginal cricket team eventually succumbed to diseases they had no resistance to.

Nowadays Australia is a very wealthy land but we still seem to struggle to provide health care and education for a lot of remote communities. Partly thats tyranny of distance, partly not trying hard enough.

The AFL is actually a shining light in providing opportunity and does it better every year.

MotM said...

Lev - Pleased to hear it about the AFL. Haven't seen much Aussie Rules, but 20 years or so ago they showed some on British TV and all I can remember were a couple of young, slight aboriginal lads who looked like they had come directly from the set of "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith". Two things stood out about them: when one got hit with an elbow or knee, the other one was there to wade into the assailant (I cheered them on); and that they were the quickest players in a very fast game. Were they famous, or did I just pick them out amongst all the Paul Hogan lookalikes?

Lev - after yout triumph in the Fantasy league and your writing here, I do hope you look like Darren Lehmann and not Damien Martyn.

mimi said...

I love reading stuff about Aussie Rules: here and on the official GU blogs. It reminds me of years ago when C4 used to show the games on a Saturday morning and I with my Aussie house-mate would sit with a slab of VB and get quite raucous. I've always thought it a strange coincidence that 2 gods of 2 very different types of football should share the same name. Raise a toast to the Garys Ablett.

MotM said...

And, if I'm not mistaken, the two Kevin Sheedys!

levremance said...

Mouth - The Aussie K Sheedy is Essendon and thus an arch enemy of Collingwood. However he is a good man who's done more than most for indigenous football development.

Mimi - Indigenous players are renowned for their speed and skill so its hard to say who you saw, maybe the Krakour brothers at North Melbourne.

MotM said...

Lev - It was me who was asking about those brothers and I think you have hit it! Was one called Jimmy Krakouer? I'll google it in a minute, but I'm sure your suggestion is right!

Good to hear that both Kevin Sheedys have done good for their games.

Lev - I've just googled Jimmy Krakouer and (a) it was definitely him as his brother I was dredging up from 20 odd years back; and (b) what a story there is to tell! I'll say no more as you may want to tell it as a Big Blogger piece or here. I would love to read your take on it. If you don't want to do it, I'll google through the clips and read more.

From the other side of the world, it seems Jimmy has paid a high price, but I wish him, Phil and Jimmy's lad well as they brightened up England briefly at a time it needed brightening.

MotM said...

Lev - Just read a little more about the Krakouer saga. It's not a 500 word limit piece is it! More like a tragedy from Ancient Rome.

I'd be interested in how this story is playing out in Aus. They must have faced a lot of difficulties and one cannot excuse the conduct proved or alleged, but how do Aussies see the context in which all this has happened and is happening?

Ah, I'm asking too many questions - sorry.

I think I'll check youtube and see if there's footage of the brothers playing.

MotM said...

Lev - Just read a little more about the Krakouer saga. It's not a 500 word limit piece is it! More like a tragedy from Ancient Rome.

I'd be interested in how this story is playing out in Aus. They must have faced a lot of difficulties and one cannot excuse the conduct proved or alleged, but how do Aussies see the context in which all this has happened and is happening?

Ah, I'm asking too many questions - sorry.

I think I'll check youtube and see if there's footage of the brothers playing.

MotM said...

Apologies for double-post. Perhaps andrewm or Ebren might delete one.

levremance said...

Mouth - Sorry I'm still getting used to reading blogs in this set up.

Jimmy Krakour did 9 years (I googled) for trafficking speed as I recall. He's out now. His son debuted for Richmond last year and Jimmy was there. The commentators and the crowd seemed to give him a good reception. Personally, the talent he and his brother had forgives a lot. He's done his time.

Terry Jenner did time too and has now rehabilitated himself so Jimmy is not the first sports hero to go to the big house.

Aussies tend to be forgiving of indescretions such as these for some reason.

MotM said...

Lev - The Jenner comparison is a good one as is the remark that talent can promote forgiveness (SK Warne springs to mind). Good to hear that the crowd welcomed him back.

I have noted with a heavy heart a diminishing of the generally admirable trait of Brits (and Aussies I take it) to let a man / woman serve their time and be acknowledged as having paid their debt for their crimes.

Some of it is linked to the Press whipping up frenzies against released paedophiles - while this is a special case, it's deeply unpleasant to see screaming crowds outside a released prisoner's home. The 24 hour News Channels also need ever greater volumes of material and kicking a man while he's down is always easier than writing the good news story.

Finally, whilst a healty dose of scepticism is promoted by satire etc, constant harping back to past misdemeanours has become a way of life for some journalists and politicoes. Just wait for the orgy of hate which will be unleashed on Hillary Clinton by the Republicans if she runs - most will refer to ancient history given that a week is a long time in politics.

Rant ends.

levremance said...

Mouth - I couldn't really do an article on Jimmy Krakour, not on the negative aspects of his nature anyway, its time to let the guy be. I hope he comes back like TJ did and coaches because he has a lot to offer.

MotM said...

Yes - me too. A fine sentiment on which to end this interesting digression.

Any news from the Doc re the Fantasy stuff?

Mondor said...

Good piece Mance.

Nice to see the bloke I went to school with has matured into a thoughful champion for our indiginous peoples. Love your work.

MOUTH, Lev best described as a mix of Carl Rackermann, Boof Lehmann and Paul Hogan. No oil painting :)

MotM said...

Mondor - I am gratified to hear that!

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