Aussie Rules-Themed Books for Children

At 7.20 pm on Thursday, 24 March, the AFL Premiership season will kick off at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. As this new season approaches, I’ve been on the lookout for children’s books about Australian Rules football (also known as Aussie Rules).

The Sherrin Australian Rules football

The Sherrin Australian Rules football

Before I get onto the results of my search, I had best make a disclosure: I am a Carlton supporter, born and bred. I was a junior member of the club in the late 1960s. I knitted my own team jumper (dark navy, 8 ply wool) and, using linen from an old bed sheet that was beyond even my mother’s prodigious mending skills, stitched the club’s CFC logo on the front and a number 2 on the back. When the finals series rolled around (and Carlton always featured prominently in those bygone days), I made my own game day ‘floggers’—a combination of wooden dowelling, strips of crepe paper and ludicrous amounts of sticky tape. I was at the MCG in 1970 when Ted Hopkins led Carlton’s mighty grand final comeback against Collingwood. (With the Blues 44 points in arrears, I made the bold and unjustifiable half-time declaration: ‘it’s all right, we’re going to win’. I failed to comprehend why Carlton fans around me looked murderous.)

Anyway, this blog post is about books for children, not my childhood and teenage memories, so … moving right along.

Aussie Rules-themed children’s books come in a variety of guises. There are ‘readers’ designed for the primary school education market and multi-author series commissioned by publishing houses. There are single-author series and stand-alone fiction titles. And there are picture books. (There are also commercial non-fiction books, and promotional books sponsored by individual clubs, but I am not going to look at those in this post.)

Readers

dreamtime-at-the-gStarting with books for the education market, Indij Readers publishes three titles that feature Australian Rules football: Michael O’Loughlin: Inside the Sydney Swans (series one), All the Questions You Ever Wanted To Ask Adam Goodes (series two), and Dreamtime at the ‘G’ (series three).

I haven’t tracked down a series of readers that focuses purely on Aussie Rules; let me know if you are aware of one. Among Australia’s major education market publishers, Macmillan has an excellent series on Rugby League; Pearson has books about Rugby Union; and Oxford University Press (OUP) favours Soccer (a game I, admittedly irrationally, refuse to call ‘Football’), but Australian Rules offerings are modest. Macmillan, Pearson and OUP each publish one Australian Rules non-fiction title—respectively, Australian Rules, All About AFL and Aussie Rules.

Publisher Series

Save Our Sharks_MetzenthenPenguin’s Aussie Bites and Aussie Nibbles series each include an Australian Rules-themed title. Look out forThe Newtown Tigers by Michael Wagner (Aussie Nibbles) and Save Our Sharks by David Metzenthen (Aussie Bites). Both are suitable for ages 8+.

Author Series

Specky MageeSpecky Magee by Felice Arena and Gary Lyon (Penguin Books Australia) Ages 10+

The eight books in Felice Arena‘s series centre on the travails of Simon “Specky” Magee, ‘an Aussie Rules football champion in the making’. (The books are also available as audio books, narrated by ‘Voice of the G’ Stig Wemyss, from Bolinda Audio.)

If you’re not an Aussie Rules follower and are wondering about Simon Magee’s nickname, a ‘specky’ is a spectacular mark. The best specky of all time (well, of the 20th century, at least) was Alex Jesaulenko’s mark in the 1970 Grand Final. (Not that I’m biased in any way.) In case you missed it, or if you just love re-watching it, you can see it here. And if you want to know why Felice Arena became a Geelong supporter, instead of following the family tradition and barracking for Collingwood, you’ll find the answer on his blog.)

Arena has also included a book about Aussie Rules, titled simply Footy!, in his Sporty Kids series.

Crunched_WagnerMaxx Rumble Footy by Michael Wagner, illustrated by Terry Denton (Black Dog Books, an imprint of Walker Books Australia) Ages 8+

The nine books in Michael Wagner‘s series play on children’s capacity for exaggeration. Maxx Rumble’s deeds on the footy field are simply extraordinary—just ask him. Maxx also plays cricket and soccer (how does he fit it all in?) and Wagner has diligently recorded his feats in those sports, too. All the books are illustrated by Terry Denton, a man whose wicked sense of humour can match anything Maxx (and Wagner) can conjure.

Kick it to NickCrawf’s Kick It To Nick by Shane Crawford and Adrian Beck (Puffin) Ages 5+

Former Hawthorn player and Brownlow medallist Shane Crawford has co-written an eight-book series with TV producer Adrian Beck. The series centres on Nick (captain of the beleaguered Cobar Creek Crocs), Bruiser and Ella. All three are ‘massive footy fans’ who ‘live and breathe AFL’. You’ll find the website for the series here.

Other author series include:

  • Fox Swift, written by David Lawrence with Cyril Rioli (Slattery Media). Ages 9+
  • AFL Footy Kids by Lorraine Wilson (featuring one title for each AFL club) (Puffin). Ages 5+
  • Change the Game. Aussie Rules Adventures by Michael Hyde (Hardie Grant Egmont). Ages 9+
  • AFL Kids by Michael Sedunary (one dedicated title for each AFL club) (SportsKids Productions) Ages 5+

The latter two series are apparently both still in print, but neither feature on their respective publisher’s websites. Copies may be hard to come by.

Single or ‘Stand Alone’ Titles

‘Stand alone’ titles about Australian Rules tend to be aimed at older children, those in the upper primary and lower secondary age groups. Subject matter might include social issues such as racism and sexism.

Footy_DreamingFooty Dreaming by Michael Hyde (Ford Street Publishing). Ages 11+

Set in a country town, Footy Dreaming follows the fortunes of Ben and Noah. Besides competing against each other, the boys have to contend with small town politics, family animosities and racism.

Top Marks by Raewyn Caisley (Hachette). Ages 11+

Caisley’s Top Marks is played out against the backdrop of the relationship between Jack and his grandfather (and coach), and the concept of team before individual.

Still Kicking by Cheryl Critchley (Hachette). Ages 11+

Journalist Cheryl Critchley introduces her readers to Sam Scott. Sam is a 13-year-old girl with a passion for Australian Rules football—not watching the game, playing it— and she faces prejudice from her peers and the sport’s administrators alike.

Picture Books

Although not all picture books are written for very young audiences, these Aussie Rules-themed books are suitable for children in the under-six age group.

MarngrookMarngrook by Titta Secombe, illustrated by Grace Fielding (Magabala Books). ‘Based on the sometimes controversial theory of how Australian Rules Football developed from “marngrook”, a ball game played by Aboriginal people in north west Victoria more than 150 years ago’.

Kick with My Left Foot by Paul Seden, illustrated by Karen Briggs (Allen & Unwin)

Jackson’s Footy by Dwayne Russell, illustrated by Donna Gynell (Slattery Media)

I Love Footy! written and illustrated by Matt Zurbo (Windy Hollow Books)

Captain Kangaroo and the Footy Final written and illustrated by Mandy Foot (Hachette)

Why I Love FootyWhy I Love Footy by Michael Wagner, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Penguin)

And if a lift-the-flap book is more your style, try AFL Where’s My Football? by Daron Parton (Penguin).

That brings me to the end of my meanderings through Aussie Rules books for children. If you are aware of any books I have missed, please share them via the ‘comments’ function.

Happy reading, and may Carlton win more games this season than in 2015!

(Note: My football loyalties are now divided between Australian Rules and Rugby League. A blog post on Rugby League books for children will follow in coming weeks.)

Links and Sources

  • The titles I’ve mentioned in this post should be in print and available for purchase. For older, out-of-print titles, check my list on Trove Australia under the following heading: Australian Rules Football_Children’s Literature (fiction). Books on this list may be still available in public and school libraries, or for purchase via second hand book stores.
  • Because I’ve focused on books for children, I haven’t included novels for young adult readers. If you’re interested in YA books, I’ve created a Trove list under the heading Australian Rules Football_Adolescent Fiction. You’ll find titles like Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly Unna?, Nicole Hayes’ The Whole of My World and Michael Hyde’s Tyger, Tyger on this list.
  • For other forms of writing about Aussie Rules (poetry, plays, biographies, etc), try searching AustLit, an authoritative database about Australian literature. As of March 2016, AustLit lists over 500 works with the subject ‘Australian Rules Football’.
  • TheStatsRevolutionAnd if you’re interested in what happened to Ted Hopkins after he launched the Carlton revival in the 1970 grand final: he published a few books of poetry during the 1980s and then, in 1995, he founded Champion Data which went on to became the official supplier of statistics for the Australian Football League. You can read Hopkins’ own story in The Stats Revolution.

Barracking and Bodyline

2015 witnessed a prolonged, divisive and, at times, vitriolic and disabling public debate on issues surrounding spectator behaviour at Australian sporting events. The media firestorm was at its fiercest when commentating on exchanges between AFL supporters and Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes.

Such a conflagration is not a new phenomenon in Australian sport. The 1932‒33 Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) tour of Australia, during which England re-gained the Ashes, lit a blaze that scorched even the diplomatic language of international relations. The bowling tactics that sparked the friction were devised by MCC captain Douglas Jardine and executed tellingly by fast bowler Harold Larwood.  The strategy, involving heavily packed leg side fields and express deliveries aimed straight at the batsman, became known as ‘bodyline’— a shorthand term that was quickly adopted to describe the whole tour. The crowds who witnessed these matches reacted with raucous and aggressive barracking.

Responses to barracking

English players and journalists were appalled at the spectators’ behaviour. Jardine considered Australian barracking ‘offensive’ and ‘thoughtless’, and appealed to cricket’s Australian Board of Control and to the media to take action. His proffered solution was that ‘in the event of any barracking or noisy demonstrations play will automatically cease for the space of half an hour’ (In Quest of the Ashes (1933): 210‒211).

ErectSpecialTowers_Blundell

Source: Bodywhine: A Treatise on the Jardinian Theory (1933).

Jardine’s complaint elicited a wry suggestion from Australian cartoonist R. W. Blundell who came up with the idea of erecting special barrackers’ towers from which crowd members could shout without disturbing players on the field.

Larwood backed his captain. The speed bowler devoted a whole chapter of his book Bodyline? (1933) to barracking and expressed the view that ‘the Australian Barracker … has secured for Australia a most evil reputation as the home of bad sports’ (68‒69). Larwood declared that, if the ‘outrageously unsporting taunts’ did not cease, ‘there will be, sooner or later, so far as England is concerned, an end of Test Cricket in Australia’ (68).

As might be expected, the Australian response to barracking generally erred on the side of sympathy or, at least, moderation. Wicketkeeper Bill Oldfield reflected that while barracking during the 1932‒33 tour was ‘quite abnormal’, so too were the circumstances governing the tour (Behind the Wicket (1938): 207). In Oldfield’s mind: ‘Barracking has always been part of cricket in Australia. Clean outbursts from spectators add interest to the game, in fact at times I have found it to be inspiring. It would, I should imagine, be a very dull affair having to play before a silent and seemingly disinterested crowd’ (205).

The Australian captain Bill Woodfull was more measured (as was his custom) in his consideration of barracking. In his only published book, Cricket (1936), he noted that during the Bodyline tour ‘a certain amount of partisanship’ was ‘voiced by a small percentage of the crowd’ when the MCC team took the field. He was concerned that if the ‘unfriendly attitude is permitted to thrive, the amity between two countries must certainly be impaired’ (6). Even so, Woodfull’s counsel to any player who may be placed ‘in the unenviable position of outspoken ridicule from a section of the crowd’ was: ‘ignore, in its entirety, the outburst of such misplaced zeal’ (6).

‘Leave our flies alone’

What form did this ridicule take? Probably the best known, and most notorious, barrackers were those who occupied ‘the Hill’ at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Chief among them was a man named Sydney Harold Gascoigne, better known as ‘Yabba’.

Yabba at the SCG (bronze), Cathy Weiszmann, 2008.

Yabba’s barracking philosophy, expressed just as the MCC tour was getting underway, was this: ‘I’ve been barracking for 45 years, and there’s no harm in it. The men who can’t stand up to it oughtn’t be in the game. It’s a free country, free comment. If we do chiak them a bit, we are always ready to applaud them, and as for the man who is going to show he doesn’t like it—well, it is going to be just too bad for him.’ (The Advertiser, 25 November 1932: 27).

Examples of Yabba’s chiacking include the barbs ‘I wish you were a statue and I were a pigeon’ and ‘Send ‘im down a piano, see if ‘e can play that!’, and his taunt to Jardine, who had been vigorously swatting flies: ‘leave our flies alone, they’re the only friends you’ve got!’

There was humour in Yabba’s jibes, but this was not the case with all barrackers. Sometimes the crowds turned mean. They ‘counted out’ players who had in some way earned their scorn or derision. And during the Sydney Test, following several complaints by Jardine about bowlers’ footmarks on the wicket, the crowd joined in ‘sustained applause’ when the England captain was struck by a sharply rising ball. ‘Such conduct’, said The Sydney Morning Herald’s writer, ‘was unpardonable’ (‘Hostile Crowd.’ The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 February 1933: 9).

Jeering or cheering?

Where does barracking end and verbal abuse begin? The Australian National Dictionary Centre defines barracking as giving ‘support or encouragement … usually by shouting names, slogans or exhortations’. It notes that in British English ‘to barrack’ means ‘to jeer’, but in Australian English the meaning turns from ‘jeering into cheering’ (‘Meanings and Origins of Australian Words and Idioms’). The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has ‘two bob each way’. It says that in Australia and New Zealand barracking can mean to ‘shout vociferously (for)’ or to ‘jeer (at)’. In the online Australian Macquarie Dictionary, a thesaurus search for ‘barrack’ yields four synonym options (apart from the army-type ‘barrack’): approval and encouragement, and low regard and mockery. It seems we can’t pin barracking down—either as to meaning or legitimacy.

Perhaps an injection of humour steers barracking clear of dangerous shoals. The Australian journalist Reginald Wilmot recounts an incident from the opening match of the 1932‒33 tour in which a provocative jibe was quickly defused with wit. A member of the South Australian crowd directed a question to the Indian MCC player Iftikar Ali Khan, 8th Nawab of Pataudi: ‘Hey Gandhi, where’s your goat?’ Pataudi’s reply, ‘I have lost the string with which I led him; can you lend me a piece?’, was well received and he immediately became a crowd favourite (Defending the Ashes (1933): 88). Counter Measures_Tom Glover

The strategy of giving the barracker ‘a dose of his own medicine’ was captured in Tom Glover’s cartoon ‘Counter Measures’ (at left), first published in the Sydney Sun and reproduced in Glover’s souvenir collection Oz Zat! (1932).

Bodyline is remembered for its uncompromising spirit and angry confrontations—on both sides of the white picket fence. It is encapsulated in the quote attributed to Woodfull during the Adelaide Test: ‘There are two sides out there. One is playing cricket; the other is not’. Did Jardine’s tactics and the crowd’s barracking constitute ‘cricket’? It’s a vexed question.

Links and Sources

Books:

  • Blundell, R. W. Bodywhine: A Treatise on the Jardinian Theory. Adelaide, Rigby, 1933.
  • Corrie, R. T. The Barracker at Bay: An Outspoken Reply to Bodyliners. Melbourne: Keating Wood, 1933.The Barracker at Bay_Corrie
  • Glover, Tom. Oz Zat!: Souvenir of the 1932‒33 Tests. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1932.
  • Jardine, Douglas. In Quest of the Ashes. London: Hutchinson, 1933.
  • Larwood, Harold. Bodyline? London: Elkin Matthew and Marrot, 1933.
  • Oldfield, William A. S. Behind the Wicket: My Cricketing Reminiscences. London, Hutchinson, 1938.
  • Wilmot, Reginald W. E. Defending the Ashes: 1932‒1933. Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1933.
  • Woodfull, William M. Cricket. London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1936.

Online:

Numerous books about the Bodyline series have been published. The most comprehensive is David Frith’s Bodyline Autopsy: The Full Story of the Most Sensational Test Cricket Series: Australia v England 1932‒33. Sydney: ABC Books, 2002. To discover other titles, enter the search terms ‘bodyline’ and ‘cricket’ into a library catalogue (e.g. Trove Australia); you will be rewarded with a list of nearly 100 titles.

Trove is also a rich source of early newspaper articles about barracking. Start at Trove’s ‘Digitised newspapers and more’ page and enter your search term.