I counted up the time I’ve spent in Australia over the last few years and it comes to roughly 4 1/2 months. Which makes me someone who is very familiar with, but no where near an expert on, Australian culture. But I wouldn’t have to be an expert to get that Australians love sports.
In the four trips that I have made here I have been to 2 Australian Rules Football games (GO LIONS!) and 1 Rugby game. I’ve seen several State of Origin games on TV here (GO MAROONS!) and watched part of a cricket match, part of a soccer game, and a tiny bit of Wimbledon this year. Rugby is generally on TVs here if the interaction is informal, and if it isn’t Rugby it’s some other sport. Most every kid plays on some organized sports team, and everyone knows how to play some sort of football (Rugby or Aussie Rules) and that’s the pick-up game that happens in nearly any venue.
This might be why there are parks on nearly every corner.
I knew before this trip here that a part of Australian identity is found in their sports. What I learned this trip is a little of the history of the sporting venues around Brisbane.
I was told by one of the guys here, whose family comes from the islands of the coast to the north called the Torres Strait Islands, that most of the sports venues were gathering places from before the time the British moved to the land. These were places of great importance for various reasons, either because the location had abundant water or because it held spiritual meaning or it provided the right type of meeting area. One of the locations has gained importance because it marks the site of one of the slaughters of the indigenous people in the area. He explained what each location had meant and what sport is played on the land now.
And along with the sadness I feel with any story of one culture attempting to erase another and write over what was perceived as wrong or bad, I saw that the locations were still set aside as gathering places. The palimpsest in these areas is easier to see through because the purpose remains despite the tragedy and sorrow that has occurred – these are places that bring people together. Because little else in Australian culture brings people together like their sports – even people who go for opposing sides come together in generally friendly rivalry (though occasionally more serious) for the love of the game.
Getting to really understand some of the sports here has been one of my favorite aspects of the trip this time around. And I think that it has been one of the best ways that I’ve been able to get to know people and connect with them, because Australian sports is where we come together.