A Travellerspoint blog

September 2005

Aussie Rules

An outsiders perspective

Australian Rules Football, it kind of makes sense doesn't it? For a nation that defines itself by the little differences, i.e. hopping mammals and red soil, it's only natural that they have a unique national sport. Aussie rules is played solely in the land down under. This is of course excluding a small town in the USA , my source on this latter fact is again somewhat questionable, but allegedly it's true. The only other sport in the world which is similar to aussie rules is gaelic football, played in Ireland. I have always thought that Australia's national sport was a direct descendant of the Irish version of football, but apparantley aussie rules is more a mixture of many different versions of football, brought to the country by those fine, founding settlers (even if they were in chains). However, due to the similarities between Australian football & Irish football, an international match is played each year between the all-Australia team and their Celtic chums. The outcome of this match, according to any Australian you ask, is a thorough spanking of the Irish. In defence of the Celts though, the aussies use a rugby style ball whilst the boys of the four-leaf-clover use a real football. Each year it is taken in turn which ball to use. So imagine the poor Irish lads trying to bounce this egg shaped ball in front of them, only to find that it boings back in the direction of their nether-regions.

Anyhow, the fundamentals of Australian rules footy are that their are 18 players on each side, with goals at either end of a large, grassy oval. The goals are 4 vertical poles, two long poles in the middle with a stumpier one at either side. The attacking team can use any part of their bodies to get the ball between the two largest poles for six points or if they get the ball between a large post and a stumpy post it's called a "behind," and they are given a consolitary one point. Both sets of players appear to be allowed to beat the shit out of each other, all in the name of a good game, whilst the umpires look-on. The only time when a player can get a hold of the ball without the possibility of a knuckle in the eye-socket, is when they catch a kicked pass from a team-mate. This being called a "mark." These appear to be the main rules of the game with the rest being a bit of a free-for-all. There are guys who dash on and off of the field dressed like road-workers that are called "runners," relaying messages and instructions from the coach. And there are also a few randoms who walk on with water bottles for the players and just hang about a bit, watching the match from a players perspective I suppose.

After my many months roaming this land from one end to the other, I have adopted the Adelaide Crows as my team of choice for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the first ever aussie rules game I saw was at AAMI stadium in Adelaide, between The Crows & The West Coast Eagles. The game was a fairly dire affair compared with some of the games I've seen on the TV since and Adelaide played so bad that I just had to support them. I mean it's not as if they need anymore fans as the stadium was packed, but it's just that any team I support is normally as successful as any tropical nation at the winter olympics (for proof, see Dundee United's results over the last 10 years). I'd better add here that I have since been proved wrong on the Adelaide Crows front, what with them finishing top of the ladder this year and making the finals, but I would just like to say that I decided to support them at the start of the season when they were being tipped to finish bottom and am therefore exempt from any glory-hunter jibes. My second reason for supporting them was even more unorthodox. Whilst at the Crows-Eagles game, a young boy in front of me kept on shouting, "C'mon Shirley, get into them Stiffy!" And I just knew that any team, whose fans who could shout these players names with a straight face, was the team for me.

Going to a live game is both a good and bad way of getting to know what aussie rules is about. In my experience at the afore-mentioned game, because the pitch is so large, I couldn't actually see what was going on at the other side of the field. And when the match actually started with the bounce in the centre of the pitch, it was, from where I was sitting, like watching a 20-man wrestling match in the middle of a cricket oval for 10 minutes. It was just chaos. Although despite struggling to keep up with some of the game I actually found that I picked up the rules very quickly watching it in real life. A few days earlier I had been at a BBQ at a friends house and a pre-season friendly match was being shown on the TV. This was my first experience of seeing an aussie rules match that didn't end with the Neighbours music. I just could not understand what was going on. I did my best to make sense of the basic rules but I think I'd had one too many of the Barossa Valleys finest by that point and the game just flowed over me without making any sense. So it was perhaps because of this lack of understanding that I found myself in the burning afternoon sunshine at AAMI stadium, devouring a Mrs Macs beef pie and Farmers Union iced coffee, soaking up the match like a thirsty sponge. Determined to learn the intracacies of this fine game.

Aussie rules matches have two other notable good and bad aspects. The good thing is that there is no supporter segregation in the stands and despite beer flowing freely from the kiosks, there never seems to be any trouble whatsoever. Compare this to any European football game where crowd violence is rife and it's a small miracle. Imagine if beer was sold at a Rangers-Celtic match in Glasgow, there would be even more stabbings after each game than there already is. The bad point of a live aussie rules game is, however, probably what keeps the crowd harmonious. Everyone is unified by the hours of advertising crap that they have to sit through before kick-off. From the mascot driving around in the "Noodle-Box" wagon to the "Farmers Union" walking iced coffee doing the live "Foodland" lucky dip, or whatever it might have been. This conitinual advertising bombardment of the fans in the stands must keep many AFL (Australian Football League) clubs in the black. At the same time the mutual boredom felt by the supporters must create a more communal atmosphere. Perhaps I've destroyed my own argument here by saying that the advertising might actually add to a more peaceful environment but I think that if you were to ask an average fan at a game to sit through another 3 hours of the advertising, he would probably choose to be stabbed in a supporters brawl outside the stadium instead. To experience the commercial overdose is at first almost comical, but to put up with it every week must be mind-numbing.

From an outsiders perspective, Australian Rules Football is at first a confusing experience. But once you master the finer points of it you realise it's just another branch of the beautiful game.
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Posted by scotsman 20:30 Archived in Australia Comments (4)

Backpackers Make The World Go Round

Well, kind of....

Every year the Australian government issues around 100,000 working holiday visas to travellers between the age of 18-30 and who come from a country which isn't Iraq, North Korea or Afghanistan (well it might be a bit more specific than that but you get the gist). This means that at any one point the ratio of working-holiday backpackers to Australian residents is 1:200 (based on the fact that there are roughly 20 million Australians, give or take a few for those lost in the bush). One in every two-hundred! And that's not including the hardy-rucksack transporters who visit on a 3-month tourist visa.

The majority of backpackers here are however on a working-holiday. And it is this group of travellers who contribute the most to keeping Australia running smoothly. For example, if the various Europeans, and a few North Americans, who slave away in vineyards, orchards and various other places of greenery all stopped, the shelves at Woolworths & Coles fruit & veg departments would be bare. Albeit there might be a few nitbits about, picked by the Vietnamese, but the majority of the work is backpacker, back-breaking stuff. I have to admit that when I first experienced fruit picking work and saw the Vietnamese workers toiling away, I was seriously impressed. I thought if ever there was a nation that should export fruit-pickers, it should be Vietnam. I wondered to myself whether there was a university of fruit-pickery in Hanoi, founded perhaps by Ho Chi Minh himself in honour of the many fruit trees lost during the American war!? Unfortuneately not. Although excellent workers, my oriental horticultural heroes didn't quite turn out to be the superstars of fruit that I had envisaged.

As a result, backpackers fill thousands of fruit-picking and packing jobs each year all over Australia. The government run job-search website even has a specific "harvest-trail" section, aimed at backpackers looking to earn a few extra dollars. However, it's not just in agriculture that backpackers are the essential workforce. In almost any job that doesn't appeal to the average Australian you'll find a backpacker slaving away. Working in roadhouses, helping out on a cattle station, kitchen-hand work or various other jobs that involve cleaning a "dunnie." It's the humble backpacker that keeps things running smoothly. And the Australian government know this! A few months ago, Canberra decided to change the rules so as to make more use of the backpacker labour. Formerly, a working-holiday visa was a once in a lifetime affair, but now you can have a second visa if you did 3 months of harvest work during your first stay. Perhaps if we hang on a bit longer, John Howard and his cronies will offer a residency visa to anyone willing to pledge allegiance to the fruit trees?

Anyhow, despite being a sought after labour force, the traveller still has to give up 29 cents in every dollar that he or she earns, to the Australian tax coffers in Canberra. Although technically you are entitled to claim the tax back, in nine months travelling around this fine country I have only met one couple who actually knew how to go about claiming it back and were actively pursuing their cash. Most people can't be bothered with the bureaucracy. So backpackers are contributing thousands of dollars to the Australian government and the only service they get in return is a Medicare card and maybe the possibility of a free stay at the Woomera detention centre if they overstay their visa? Free accommodation!

Aside from ploughing cash into Peter Costello's pocket, backpackers aid the economy in a more simple way. The money they earn in Australia, is spent in Australia. The obvious beneficiary is the tourist industry. Thousands of young nomads roaming the country with cash to burn means that hostels and campsites have a steady supply of customers, even in the quiet seasons. The national park services also get a steady cash flow. Uluru Kata-Tjuta national park alone could probably clear a sizeable chunk of third-world debt, what with its $25 a head fee. And mechanics all over, benefit from backpackers who travel in cars that should have been turned into tins for baked beans years ago. Only a traveller on a tight budget would look at a Holden or Ford with saggy axles and bald tyres and think, "She's a beaut!" Then willingly hand over several notes of large denomination, believing that their new tin can will safely get them around one of the largest countries on earth. Only to find themselves 3 weeks later standing in a mechanics in a backwater town called Woolyrooballs, speaking to some guy called Bruce about the complexities of having an engine that is essentially buggered.

Where would Australia be without the backpacker? It's a question worth thinking about...
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Posted by scotsman 00:46 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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