Winter in Canberra has ground everything to a halt. That’s what it feels like, anyhow. July has come early and July is Canberra’s bad month.
When the bad month hits it doesn’t matter how much there is to write about, the brain says “Nup, not going there.” There are so many political controversies and my brain is saying “Had enough of Folau” and “Don’t want to think about Morrison” and “Ash is great, but we knew that already” and even “Yeah, it’s footie season, so what?”
That last is a serious problem. Australian Rules football is important. More important than almost anything else if you come from the right State. Not more important than cricket. Possibly just as important as cricket. Probably just as important. No, quite definitely just as important. Yet I don’t know who’s playing this weekend.
That’s very wrong.
The only code in the world that is very similar to Aussie Rules is Gaelic football. I don’t know the rules, but the interwebz tells me that the combined code is called “International Rules.” And I’ve seen it in snippets, for Ireland and Australia come together and play the equivalent of World Series Baseball from time to time.
I had a conversation with a Dominican monk about Aussie rules in Toronto once. Fr Boyle wanted a poster for his collection. Someone listening in asked me afterwards “What’s different in a picture of your football to real football?” I had my answer ready, for I used it a lot when I lived in Toronto. “Australian Rules is real football – everything else may be great sport, but it doesn’t reach perfection.”
Let me make it very clear – I’m not a sports’ fan. I’m simply from Melbourne, and Aussie Rules used to be dominated by Victoria. The best player in the 60s was a guy called Peter Hudson and he played a short walk from my primary school and he talked to us once and was so very nice. He bent and shook my hand and gave me a postcard and chatted with me. This cemented my loyalty for my local team. It was never really about the game, it was about the niceness of an adult towards a young child.
I was very lucky in where I lived. Real footie fans have shaken the hand that Hudson once shook with an odd fervency.
I was visiting Melbourne a few weeks ago and got off a tram with a guy. It was night and I have no idea what he looks like, but we started chatting, for we were walking in the same direction. (He was the total perfect example of how not to be a creeper at night when getting off at the same stop as a woman, by the way.)
He had just come from Tasmania where he had seen his old friend Peter Hudson. I told him my story and he promised to pass it on, for, he said, it would make Hudson happy. I admitted I was not a follower of football. He laughed and will pass that on, too, that I followed Hawthorn because of Hudson, rather than being strongly sportive. The guy told me about his own sport interest and then we went our ways, for I had to cross the road.
The adult moments that arise from childhood moments can be wonderful.
Recently, I gave my Hudson postcard to a good friend who is a genuine football fan. I decided it needed a home with someone it would make even happier than it made me. In return, the friend gave a donation to a cause we both cared about. And so that moment is out of my life (alas) but it gave joy to several people along the way.
Anyhow, back to football.
My father sent me a poster to give Fr Boyle and I showed it to the asker-of-questions before I delivered it, for they needed to know what footie looked like
“You can’t give that,” I was told.
“The men are half-naked. You’re giving it to a priest.”
“They’re wearing short sleeves and shorts. Standard football gear. Very decent. It’s a really good shot, too.”
“It’s wrong in so many ways. Look how they’re jumping up into the air. That isn’t sport. That’s ballet.”
I admitted that one of the things I and certain of my friends (some female, some male) love is the sheer human beauty in this sport. Aussie rules has much grace, much leaping, and visible limbs. It also has moments where players will literally use each other as stepping stones – there is a definite aerial element. When I watched a Korean historical drama the other day, two of the characters were using trees in the same way and their fighting reminded me of Aussie Rules.
The friend found me pictures of American football and I asked, “How can they play if they can’t see the ball? Also, why are they wearing padding? So much padding. So very, very much padding.”
I watched a game and in an hour it seemed as if the ball moved two metres.
“It’s wonderful,” my friend said. “Look at the play.” They analysed it for me and explained it.
I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t nearly as fast nor as exciting as Aussie Rules and it was terribly decent. Like a group of children planning in the playground then running for a few seconds to execute the plan and then planning again. Football to me is all movement and grace. Art, not science. Except that there’s art in the US form and science in the Australian form. They’re much closer than they appear from posters, I later discovered.
Still, my childhood hero wasn’t rugged up. The child who shook his hand in the playground one recess and whose face he looked directly at while we were talking, could see that his face and the same big (unpadded) shoulders on the playing field. She could wave and think “I’ve met him.”
That’s one of the strengths of Aussie Rules and why it lasts despite all the international ball games that Australia now plays – it remains personal.