The success of Brisbane and West Coast in the last two games of Round 9 (against Hawthorn and Richmond respectively) – and the fact that half of the top 8 currently are non-Victorian teams – made us pause and think about the national nature of our game.
This sent us back 110 years, reflecting on the 1908 Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival. The event marked 50 years of the game and was hosted by the Australian Football Council (whose motto we admire Populo ludus populi trans. the game of the people, for the people – just a shame most of ‘the people’ aren’t fluent in Latin these days). Teams from New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia competed over ten days.
The New Zealanders travelled to Melbourne on the s.s. Moana. A crowd of over 1,000 people ‘gave the team a hearty send-off’ and the team responded with a Maori war cry. The New Zealand team wasn’t ‘[expected] to beat the two Strongest States’ (Victoria or South Australia) but ‘[hoped] to make a good showing’ as ‘the touring team [was] a strong one’ (New Zealand Herald, 4 August 1908).
The carnival began on Wednesday 19 August at the MCG where it was reported by ‘Follower’ that 7,047 spectators entered the ground and the gate receipts were a ‘satisfactory aggregate’ of 250 pounds ($34,000 in today’s money) (The Age, 20 August 1908, p 11). Detailed game schedules and results are available, but needless to say Victoria emerged triumphant, the only undefeated team.
As part of the opening day, at 3pm inbetween the two scheduled matches a ‘novel’ event with ‘startling effect’ was held. The teams were all in their uniforms and stood in a formation of ‘a hollow square’ to be greeted by the State Governor and other dignitaries. A feature of this inspection was ‘the Maori war cry’ which was ‘given with great zest by the New Zealand team’, and in response was an ‘equally stirring … [A]boriginal battle cry of the Queenslanders’ (The Age, 20 August 1908, p 11).
The Queenslanders also featured in play on the first day against Tasmania. Tasmania was ‘much too good for the Queenslanders who never had a hope of success from start to finish’ and the scores of 22.22 to 2.2 does seem to reflect a somewhat one sided match (The Age, 20 August 1908, p 11). Something that might seem familiar to current day Lions fans!
The Western Australian team was noted as ‘a very strong one, composed of the best players from the coastal and gold fields clubs’. In addition to the players ‘a large number of Westralians are accompanying their footballers to see them through the competitions’ (Leader, 8 August 1908, p 19).
The preparations of the Western Australian team was followed by the Daily News in Perth. The writer, known as ‘Half-Back’, reported that news of the team had reached the west and confirmed that they ‘[were] training steadily’ and cancelled invitations for the week ‘so as to render themselves fit to meet the cream of South Australian football’. ‘Half-Back’ also noted the large number of ‘ex-Westerners’ who were playing in other teams (The Daily News, 18 August 1908, p 8).
A ‘profusely illustrated souvenir and programme’ was published for the carnival, and amidst the illustrations (and advertisement) H D Newby wrote about the state of the game, which in part focused on the speed. Newby noted that ‘The whole policy of football legislation … has been to make the game faster by bringing everyone into full play’. The introduction of boundary umpires had ‘immensely improved the game from a spectacular point of view’ and another success was to ‘discourage purely individual efforts’ and ‘to encourage combination’ (pp. 18-19). In 1908, it was said that skill was more important than strength, judgment and resource more significant than force and weight; ‘so that nowadays the lightest and physically weakest player on the field has an equal chance with the heaviest and strongest to turn the tide of victory in favour of his club’ (p 20).
Another great improvement was the introduction of systems – and praise noted for the ‘almost invincible and inimitable Collingwood “system” with its passing and exchanges’ (some of which was on show last Saturday night too). Teamwork was understood as vital: ‘Nowadays, to do his part as it ought to be done, every members of the team must work in harmony with the rest’. This was about more than football (of course): it was ‘an object-lesson … in that spirit of co-operation’ which ‘the progressive Democracy of Australia manifests in some of its more advanced communal aims and ideas’ (p 20).
We’re really hoping Newby was referencing the Invalid and Old-Age Pensioner Act 1908, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 or the Harvester Judgment 1907, rather than the somewhat less democratically progressive Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901, Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and the Post and Telegraph Act 1901.