Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, May 16, 2008


It’s that special time of year once more. I am of course speaking about the annual Rugby League State of Origin series between New South Wales and Queensland.

Now as a ‘good’ expatriate Victorian, I have virtually no interest in rugby league, or thugby as we followers of Aussie Rules refer to it. However equally as a ‘good’ expatriate Vic from the right side of the Murray River, I love to see NSW get beaten. At anything. J Consequently I do pay some attention to the State of Origin, always in the hope of seeing Queensland beating those upstart New South Welshman.

I vividly recall having a rather furious debate one time with two rabid followers of Rugby League. “Aussie Rules,” they insisted, “is nothing more than Gaelic Football played with a different type of ball. League however is a uniquely Australian game, invented here.”

Sadly these people, while passionate in their belief, were in fact quite mistaken. While Australian Rules does have distinct similarities with Gaelic Football, it also has some genesis in Rugby Union.

They were also mistaken about Rugby League’s origins. Once upon a time, there was only what we call Rugby Union. However this was considered more of a gentleman’s game, coming as it did as a product of the English public school system, ‘public’ of course meaning ‘private.’ Consequently, common or working class individuals were not especially welcomed to the game, despite whatever skill they may have otherwise brought to the game. A revolution however developed in the Yorkshire dales. Whilst much of Yorkshire was still very much gentrified, with estates and farmlands, there was a highly industrialised belt. It was players from that industrialised belt that eventually rebelled, broke away from the ‘Union’ to form a League. Hence the creation of Rugby League.

Historically, Rugby Union continued to be dominent in the UK, particularly England. However the migrations to Australia in the nineteenth century, especially during the gold rushes, brought many of those working class devotees of ‘the League’ to Australia, finding a home in the colony of New South Wales.

For reasons I am not yet aware of, the miners on the Central Victorian goldfields experimented with developing a new code of football that became Australian Rules, and the first Aussie Rules club, Sandhurst, is still in existence today in the Bendigo Football League. Even that club’s derogative nickname, the ‘slagheads’ is a reference to its mining origins referring to the piles of discarded rock etc disgorged by the smelters and crushers processing the output of the deep mine shafts around Sandhurst (Bendigo). In Sydney however, the locals favoured the working man’s game of League.

In time, Australian Rugby League officialdom, based of course in Sydney, NSW, came to dominate the game including rule changes etc. Nonetheless, Rugby League was not an Australian invention as such but was a product of social revolt against the English upper class.

Go the Maroons. Here’s to hoping that the Cane Toads will stomp on those godless Sydnerian philistines.

Here endeth the rant.

No comments: