We’ve made it through the long winter, spent hours braving cold winds on the sideline of football fields, returned home and rewarded our resilience with a hot meal and more football on our TV screens. But the end is nigh, finals have come. Congratulations to those who have emerged triumphant, for those who didn’t quite make it, better next year, we’re sure you gave 110%.
Football is a cornerstone of Australian culture. From metropolitan hubs to outback towns, you can always find someone kicking a footy around. Every town we’ve visited, from Murray Bridge to Rajaampat, we always manage to find one football fanatic, though the code sometimes varies.
Nothing can keep footy fanatics from the fields. Not rain, not thunder, not even gravel. In Queenstown, where we will be heading for a residency in a few weeks, the football field has a gravel surface. Far from encouraging a more upright, less physical game, the playing field has meant the local Queenstown teams have developed thick skins, and are used to a gravel graze or three.
But football isn’t just a fun, albeit sometimes painful, pastime, indulged to pass the time on the weekends. And we’re not just talking economics either. Sure football is a billion dollar industry that provides thousands of jobs in Australia alone, but it’s social impact is what really makes football such an important part of Australian culture. And we’ve been lucky enough to experience this first hand.
During out time in Raukkan, the local football club competed in the State Aboriginal Football Carnival, and emerged as champions! It was a fantastic day filled with excitement, sporting triumph and community spirit.
Raukkan Football Club is an important part of the small town, providing a community meeting point, a celebration of Indigenous members of the community and developing a sense of identity and pride for individuals and the town as a whole.
It’s not surprising that in Australia, football registering pretty high on our national priority list:
But this isn’t just some sentimental post, no sir. Here at Big Stories, we’re all about backing it up. We don’t just spearhead a nation-wide community online documentary platform, we write a PhD thesis about it (we’re looking at you, Martin!). So when we talk about the role of football in rural communities, you can be sure we’ve got the goods to back it up. And we do. We’re not making this stuff up: a few years ago, Victoria ordered a Parliamentary Inquiry into rural football, that’s right, a PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY. If that alone doesn’t tell you how important football is in this county, then the outcomes certainly should. The report states that football contributes substantially to Victoria’s ‘social capital’ which ‘connects and sustains’ local communities. The Chair of the Committee wrote that:
Football/netball clubs are ‘community hubs; a place where the community can gather and interact. Those clubs that have actively sought to develop family-friendly policies and which have created an environment that is inclusive and welcoming for the whole community have reaped the benefits, both on and off the field.
But don’t just take his word for it. The report interviewed hundreds of people throughout rural Victoria, and the sentiment was the same.
Country football is more than a game […] The football club provides a source of local pride, meaning and relevance to hundreds of thousands of Victorians. The footy club is a meeting place and provides a venue for fun and entertainment. It teaches family and community values…[i]t provides a continuity of tradition, history and a sense of belonging. It teaches specific skills and in turn self esteem and worth among individuals. It promotes participation which in turn promotes health and fitness and it provides an economic boost through direct and indirect spending.
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Just as we found in Raukkan, football clubs provide a supportive rallying point and facilitate individual and community growth, which can in turn help both individuals and communities deal with other social issues. Football isn’t just a fair-weather friend. Visiting areas affected by bushfires, the inquiry found that sporting clubs played a significant role in ‘maintaining a sense of community identity during times of adversity’.
From adversity to diversity, football is an important part of promoting a diverse and multicultural community. It is described as a ‘medium through which cultural identity is expressed, formed and maintained’. This is evident throughout regional Australia, exemplified by carnivals like the one we saw in Raukkan, but also at the higher levels of the sport, with the Multicultural and Indigenous rounds of the AFL.
So football, and other sports but I’m going to say mainly football and just blame it on my terrible case of finals fever, is a very significant thread in the social fabric of our nation.
But most importantly, it’s a lot of fun.
Best of luck to those playing finals this week! And best of luck getting through the summer months, counting down the days until the football season starts again.
At least there’ll be cricket.
Check out more of our Raukkan football carnival photos.
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