When I was 10 years old, Transworld Sport was shown on TV at 8am on a Saturday morning. It would show clips of Buzkashi, a popular game in places like Afghanistan and Mongolia where men on horses attempt to drag a goat carcass to a goal, and the Indian-Pakistani game of Kabaddi where a player has to go into the opponents half, tag an opponent and get back to his/her own half without being caught, all whilst chanting “kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi”. The chanting is to show the referee that they have not breathed in the opponent’s half.
Transworld Sport would also show a weird game where men wore singlets and a referee pointed fingers when somebody kicked a ball through posts – Australian Rules Football. One of the intriguing things were the names of the teams playing – Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon, Richmond, St Kilda, Fitzroy. The names obviously represented places but they were places that I had never heard of – where was Sydney, Perth, Canberra, Adelaide, or Brisbane? On arrival here, I understood why I had never heard of these cities, because in fact they were all suburbs of the one city – Melbourne.
The State of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, was where Australian football first started and the Victorian Football League began in 1896. Although Australian football (Australians just called it football by the way) was also played in other states, it was in Victoria that football became the dominant sport attracting the best players from around the country to its’ league. Foreigners, like myself, find it slightly strange that the game known to us as Australian Rules Football, didn’t even have an Australian league until 1990 – just 25 years ago.
As well as in Victoria, the sport was also popular in the west coast and in South Australia, but less so in places like New South Wales (Sydney’s state) and Queensland. If the game isn’t really played in the capital, can the game be national enough to call it Australian football?
The Victorian Football League sought to remedy the lack of enthusiasm outside of Victoria by expanding the Victorian Football League to teams from the west coast and Brisbane in 1987, although it was still called the Victorian Football League. It was only in 1990 that the name of the league changed and more teams from other states joined during the 1990s, including a team from Sydney. However, even today, half of the teams in the league are in Melbourne and another is from a city just outside.
In New South Wales and Queensland, the most popular game is rugby league, and sports like soccer, golf, and basketball all enjoy varying popularity in different states. People here have told me that the one truly national game is cricket, which is a game invented by the former colonial ruler. I wonder whether the lack of a unique national game indicates that the nation of Australia is still forming.
It was only on the 1st January 1901 that six separate British self-governing colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia. States today still have strong identities and governments within a federal system. And it is not just in sports that you can see differences amongst the states.
In Sydney, people drink schooners of beer (425ml), whilst in Queensland, people drink pots of beer (half pint) because it is so hot and you don’t want your beer to get warm. In Darwin, a pot may be called a handle, and in Perth you can even get a pony (150ml or something tiny sized), whereas Melbourne is cold enough to have pints.
Newspapers also differ amongst states. In Victoria, the Herald Sun and The Age are the two most popular papers; the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald are most popular in New South Wales; the Courier-Mail in Queensland; The West Australian in Western Australia and so on.
Now the same two companies publish all but one of the top twenty newspapers so it is likely that they are not radically different from each other. But the fact that these publishers see the need to have papers with a regional/state identity indicates and focus on state news does indicate that a national identity may not be so predominant.
I am becoming aware that the combination of youth and size means that it may not be possible to generalise across the whole of Australia. When talking about life in Australia to friends or family, I find myself thinking that it is really life in Victoria that I am describing; the Australia of Queensland or the Northern Territory could be vastly different again.