The Aboriginal football ethic: where the rules gets flexible

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Butcher, Tim
Judd, Barry
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IN HIS HIGHLY influential history of Australian rules football, Geoffrey Blainey promoted the idea that the sport constituted a ‘game of our own’. In making this claim, Blainey suggested the sport was the outcome of Anglo-Australian cultural innovations. In raising the prospect of an Aboriginal football ethic we question this assertion and ask who is really taking this indigenous sport forward today.

Come on Haasts Bluff! One more goal. You still have a chance to win. Not much longer now. From the boundary line, we felt sure this clarion call through the public announcement system signalled that match officials were holding off calling an end to the game. Though played on Papunya’s oval, with the home team, the Eagles, ahead and the ball in their hands, the local opposition from nearby Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) was being given a chance to come back. Despite a berth in the next round, prize money and personal pride at stake, the Papunya elders who organised the event were less concerned about their team winning and more about ensuring each community got a fair go.

The sentiment expressed in this moment at the Papunya Sports Weekend held in September 2015 was repeated throughout the four-day event, and is mirrored at remote community sports weekends across central Australia. The meaning and value of Australian rules football to people with few other activities in their lives that are regarded as having value in non-Aboriginal society is fundamental to their wellbeing. Families travel vast distances along treacherous roads to take part in these highly significant celebrations of sport, culture and country that embody their Aboriginality and sense of place in the world. Sports weekends are where family connections are sustained, and culture is infused into Australian football games played on country.

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© 2016 Griffith University & the Author. The attached file is reproduced here in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. For information about this journal please refer to the journal’s website or contact the author(s).

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