Explore the History of australian football


by Elizabeth Brown

A distant rock, a far off land

deeply planted stands

loyal and grand.

Remembrance of timeless years gone by

alone at night, the rock will cry.

Hunger for money, stripped the land

mined the Earth in which she's bound

bulldozed the surface, to graze their beef

​distorting the Earth in disbelief.

Soon the wind will change course

swept in fortune, a powerful force

nature reclaims a desolate mess

reclaims the race, who related best.

Peace, strength, remakes a home

a land once more

​free to roam.

"The new nation was shaped by external threat and internal anxiety, the two working together to make exclusive racial possession the essential condition of the nation-state. The external threat came initially from rival European powers. Spain and the Netherlands had preceded the British into the Pacific in the earlier era of imperial expansion; now France, Germany and the United States staked their claims as the principal powers scrambled to take possession of the last unclaimed portions of the globe." (A Concise History of Australia by Stuart McIntyre, page 140.)

"Racism was grounded on imperial as well as national sentiment, for the champions of the Empire proclaimed the unity of the white race over the yellow and the black. Hence the claim of Charles Pearson that 'we are guarding the last part of the world in which the higher races can live and increase freely for the higher civilisation'. Pearson, a costive English intellectual who migrated to Australia for his health and practised both education and politics with a melancholic rectitude, sounded the alarm in a global survey that he called "Orbis Senescens" - for he was convinced that civilisation was exhausting the vitality of the European peoples."  (op cit., page 142.)

Information about Australia’s stance on immigration probably accounted for more newsprint in 1902 than any other subject. The underpinnings of what would become known as “The White Australia Policy” were rapidly being put into place, although it is important to stress that this was never a discrete, explicitly defined policy as such, but rather a group of measures which, collectively, if a trifle haphazardly, prevented non-Caucasians from taking up residence in the country. Although a handful of politicians endeavoured to make out that the reasons for such measures were fundamentally economic - and it is true, for example, that Japan’s rapid industrial growth made many Australians nervous - the real philosophy underpinning the “white Australian” ideal was unabashedly racist. At its heart lay a somewhat crass misinterpretation of Darwin’s theory of “the survival of the fittest”. For example, Australia’s Prime Minister in 1902, Sir Edmund Barton, adequately summarised what might be regarded as the views of the majority of his contemporaries:

“I do not think that the doctrine of the equality of man was really ever intended to include racial equality. There is no racial equality. There is that basic inequality. These races are, in comparison with white races - I think no-one wants convincing of this fact - unequal and inferior. The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman. There is a deep-set difference, and we see no prospect of its ever being effaced. Nothing in this world can put these two races upon an equality. Nothing we can do by cultivation, by refinement, or by anything else will make some races equal to others.” [1]

The same basic viewpoint was adhered to by Australians of every political persuasion and class, and nor was it restricted to Australia, as whites the world over firmly believed in the innate and unwavering superiority of their race over all others.

The significance of this attitude cannot be overstressed, as perhaps more than any other single factor it shaped both the way Australia viewed the world and, particularly after the Great War, the impact which the world had on Australia. It is for these reasons that it will frequently be alluded to.

As for the impact which Australia had on the world in 1902, this was minimal. Indeed, perhaps the only spheres in which the country was attracting any notice whatsoever were sporting. Australian swimmers such as F.C. Lane and “Dick” Cavill, for example, were utilising a revolutionary swimming stroke, the so-called “Australian Crawl”, [2] to establish a number of world records.

Other sports at which Australians excelled included cricket, tennis, cycling, horse racing and rugby. Surfing too, although in its infancy as an organised sport, was quickly growing in popularity. [3]

In South Africa, the Second Boer War finally ground to a halt, and Australians had good reason to feel proud of their contributions, even if the war itself had, from a global perspective, made Great Britain and her allies rather unpopular, much as the US military involvement in Vietnam during the 1960s and ‘70s would give rise to widespread criticism, indeed condemnation. 

In the four southern states, football was rapidly becoming an obsession. After a dip in popularity during the 1890s more people than ever were involved in the sport. Melbourne in particular had become something of a Mecca for the game, with both the VFL and VFA attracting record crowds. The 1902 VFL challenge final between Collingwood and Essendon would be played before a crowd of 35,202, the highest ever up to that point.

​(1)  These assertions were made during a Parliamentary debate, and quoted in The History of Australia: The Twentieth Century ​by Russel Ward, page 36.

(2)  This was actually a blatant misnomer as the stroke had been practised for centuries by Polynesians and Melanesians.

​(3)  Surfing too had originated in Melanesia and Polynesia.  

1902: “White Australia”