Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian SportAustralian IdentityAustralian animalsCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries

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Indigenous Australian Sports and Australian Sporting Innovations

Like most English speaking nations, Australians have invented numerous sports and been innovative with pre-existing sports so that there fundamental character has changed. Some of these sports have subsequently gained a sufficient following to support paid professionals.

Pre-history –Marngrook

Many Australian Aboriginal cultures had a ball sport that involved jumping and kicking and each had its own name and rules. The Gunditjmara of western Victoria had a game known as Marngrook (Game of Ball), which has become a contemporary reference for the various ball games.  In 1841, Robert Brough-Smyth, an Aboriginal Protector, used marngrook's focus on kicking to distinguish it from the English codes that focussed on handling.

 "The men and boys joyfully assemble when this game is to be played. One makes a ball of possum skin, somewhat elastic, but firm and strong. The players of this game do not throw the ball as a white man might do, but drop it and at the same time kicks it with his foot. The tallest men have the best chances in this game. Some of them will leap as high as five feet from the ground to catch the ball. The person who secures the ball kicks it. This continues for hours and the natives never seem to tire of the exercise."

Marngrook

William Blandowski's illustration of Woggabaliri (Never let the ball touch the ground) played by the Wiradjuri.

Pre-history - Coreeda

Most ancient cultures around the world had a form of wrestling and pre-colonial Aborigines cultures were no different. Aside from being fun, wrestling had an important social role to make peace and keep peace between different tribes.

Like Marngrook, different tribes had different names and rituals associated with their versions and the term Coreeda has emerged to refer to them collectively.

A contemporary version of Coreeda

1788 - Two up

Transported Convicts developed a gambling game known as Two-up. This involved a designated 'Spinner' throwing two or three coins into the air. Players then gambled on whether the coins would fall with both heads up, both tails up, or with one coin a head, and one a tail.

Two-up was quickly banned by the authorities, but still it continued and became a favoured method of Diggers to pass the time in World War 1 and 2.

Two-up

In the above cartoon, Two-up is positioned as a national pastime that crosses the generations.

 

1850 calisthenics

The word 'calisthenics' is derived from the Greek words kalos, 'beautiful' and sthénos, 'strength'. True to its naming, calisthenics is an artistic sport that combines dance, gymanstics, singing, ballet, and apparatus. In addition to the physical attributes usually cultivated by a sport, calisthenics aims to build emotional and social attributes. A team of participants practice a routine choreographed to music and subsequently present the routine at competitions.

Calisthenics was invented during the Victorian gold rush as a way of helping people stay healthy. Initially, it focussed on the apparatus with exercises being designed to keep joints supple and muscles strong. Over time, clubs and music were added as the sport took a turn towards the thearter and domination by females. Public classes began in the 1880's. By 1903. the Royal South Street Society had introduced calisthenics to its Eisteddfod in Ballarat. In the 1930s, calisthenics was introduced into Victoria's state schools. (There are different version of calisthenics in America that focus more on gymnastic skills and appeal more to men accordingly.)

Although calisthenics is a competitive sport with regular competition between states, there are also non-competitive versions for participants who are attracted to the performance but shy from the competition.

Somewhat of a fusion sport, Calisthenics combines elements of different sports to create something new.

 

1858 Australian Football

In 1858 Tom Will and Henry Harrison wrote the first ten rules of Football, thus becoming the first people in the world to codify a kicking-ball game. These rules predate those of Rugby, Soccer and Gridiron. Football may have been inspired by the Aboriginal jumping/kicking game of Marn Grook.

Australian football promotion to the music of the great AC/DC

1884 - Crouched sprint start

Sprint races used to commence with runners in a standing position. In1884, an Aborigine man named Bobby McDonald took inspiration from kangaroos and started in a crouched position that was later adopted by runners the world over.  

1897 - Butterfly stroke

At the age of 16, Sydney Cavill invented the butterfly stroke. From a western perspective, Cavill was also credited with inventing freestyle, which was originally known as the Australian crawl. The freestyle stroke had actually been use in multiple non-western cultures for unknown periods of time.

1907 First international ski tournament

Australia doesn't have much snow and it is isolated from most countries that do. Even so, in 1907 Australians somehow organised the first fully documented International Alpine Ski Carnival. The downhill event was won by Charles Menger (Denver, USA), second was R. Paterson (Australia) and third was Earl Prince (England).

1907 - Surf life saving

Due to concerns about public morality, from 1838 to 1902 it was illegal to swim at Australian beaches during the day. Once the law was relaxed, surf life saving clubs were established in Sydney out of concern for a population that wanted to swim, but didn't know how.

The first living saving clubs were established in 1907 at Sydney's Manly, Bronte and Bondi beaches. Such was the competitive nature of the Australians, surf carnivals soon attracted volunteers who wanted to test their life saving skills against others.

In 1964, the Ironman was invented to combine the four main disciplines of surf lifesaving, swimming, board paddling, ski paddling and running, into a single race. As Ironman requires both strength and endurance, participants develop more muscular bodies than other endurance sports such as triathlon. The desire for a muscular body combined with the sports social aspect helps explain its growing popularity around the world. Surf lifesaving has now expanded to the US, NZ, South Africa. Minor competitions are held Spain, the UK and Canada.

Aside from the individual races, surf life saving includes the surf boat which incorporates a team aspect. The surfboat is an oar-driven boat designed to penetrate through heavy surf. They have four oars manned by four different people. A fifth person controls a rudder and decides on a time to attack the surf, and catch the surf on the way back in. The sport requires endurance, strength, strategy, as well as team synergy.

Surf life saving in the Ironman and Ironwoman series

1930s- New Vogue Dancing

There is a stereotype that Australian men dance like Frankenstein. Their lack of rhythm and stiff knees has many of them resembling a chicken or jack in the box bouncing from side to side. Other men just watch over the dance floor, beer in hand, as they perhaps beat their chin to the music.

Bearing the stereotype in mind, it may surprise many people to know that away from the techno nightclub, Australia has created a unique dance genre known as new vogue. In Australian dance sport, new vogue dances carry equal standing to the international competition dances of ballroom (tango, foxtrot, waltz) and Latin-American (tango, rumba, cha cha, salsa.)

The dances are based on ballroom and latin dances, but they have a sequence of steps that are continually repeated throughout the dance. Each routine lasts for either 16 or 32 bars of music, and is then repeated. This prescription of sequences makes new vogue dances quite easy to learn. In a very short period of time, new dancers can feel confident with new vogue dance and are able to change partners very easily. On the other hand, the latin dances have an assortment of steps that the man needs to spontaneously choreograph into a sequence as the dance goes on.

Even though new vogue dances prescribe sequences, dancers can still be expressive through the shape and styling. In competition, dancers are required to have more refined beauty and feeling in their arm and torso movements. Consequently, the focus is less on the sequence of steps, and more on the overall expression of feeling and beauty. As the dances have open positions, they have ample opportunities to show these beauty and feeling, which in turn makes them very attractive to watch.

New vogue dances originated in the 1930s and 40s. One argument about their development proposes that Australian dancers rebelled against the dreary foot work of the old time English dances and started to choreograph their own sequences. The old time English dances used turned out foot positions, which limited the amount of movement that a good dancer could get. Another possibility is that is that Australian dance teachers wanted a range of dances that would be easier to teach, and less intimidating for men accustomed to dancing like a jack in the box.

New Vogue dancing

1938 - Polocrosse

Polocrosse is Australia's contribution to the world of horse sports. As the name implies, it is a combination of the English sport of polo and the American sport of lacrosse. Like polo, it's played outdoors on horses, but it uses a stick with a loose thread net. Goals are scored by throwing a sponge rubber between goal posts.

Polocrosse was invented just prior to World War II. In 1938 a Sydney couple, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hirst, visited the National School of Equitation at Kingston Vale in England. There they found a training exercise that could best be described as a mix of squash, polo, lacrosse and basketball. Two riders from each side used a netted squash racquet to pick up a ball, throw it against walls, and to each other, with the aim of eventually dropping it into a basketball net.

The Hirsts were impressed with the training exercise and decided to develop it as an outdoor sport. When they returned to Australia, they sought the assistance of a polo player named Alf Pitty and started experimenting with rules. After many hours of practising, and constant revision of the rules, they finally settled on the final product.

In 1939, polocrosse had its first public performance at the Ingleburn Sports Ground. It sparked such interest that the Ingleburn Polocross Club was formed shortly later as the world's first polocrosse club.

In 1950s, polocrosse became an international sport when it was established in South Africa and Rhodesia. In the 1970s, it was established in England, and soon got a boost with an influx of migrants from Rhodesia and South Africa wanting to keep playing it.

Today, polocrosse is played in France, Germany, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Uruguay, and Zambia.

1950s - Touch Football

Touch football was invented in the 1950s by Robert Dyke and Ray Vawdon, both members of the South Sydney Junior Rugby League Club. They wanted a game that would help rugby league players further refine their passing, catching and stepping skills. They also wanted to broaden the social appeal of rugby league.

The training technique proved so popular that touch football spun off into a sport in its own right with no association with its rugby league parent. The first official game was played in late 1968 and the first official competition was held in 1969.

1976 - World Series Cricket

Today, cricket is a professional game and is run and marketed as such. Fans expect television coverage to include a range of camera angles, audio and insightful commentary.  Fans of one day cricket also love seeing teams in coloured clothing and the white ball in the night sky. These aspects of the game only exist because of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket revolution.  

In 1976, Kerry Packer made a $500,000, five-year bid for the exclusive rights to televise international cricket played in Australia. The Australian Cricket Board fobbed him off and sold the rights to the ABC for considerably less money. Meanwhile, the Australian players were becoming increasingly strident in their complaints about low salaries, especially as their time commitment increased.

Packer envisaged that a new competition could satisfy both his television interests and the monetary requirements of the players. He subsequently signed 50 of the world's leading players as his partners in crime for World Series Cricket.

World Series Cricket featured players in coloured uniforms, white balls, batting and fielding restrictions, day/night games under lights, motorcycle helmets, body armour and best of all, the fans got a result before leaving the ground. The cricket purists were outraged and in England, the concept was criticised as a "Stupid pyjama game".

The television coverage was also revolutionised. In one giant leap, Australian TV cricket broadcasting went from mediocre, one camera, once-in-a-while coverage to full-on, multi-camera, microphones-in-the-stumps, multi-replay and super-slowmo.

Cricket In Australia - The Historic Story

1979 - Indoor cricket

Cricket can be a good sport for people who like standing around doing nothing. Fielders can stand around for hours on end as batsmen let the ball go through to the keeper. A batsmen can stand around doing nothing after their contribution to the game ended first ball. Bowlers can stand around doing nothing after being hit out of the attack. Both teams can stand around doing nothing as rain washes out play. Indoor cricket was the perfect invention for those who liked cricket but didn’t like standing. It was invented in 1979 in Perth,v a city with without a shortage of summer sun. Each team has 8 players and each player must bowl two overs and bat in a partnership for four overs. If a player is dismissed, the team and player's score is reduced by 5. The player will remain to bat out the four overs.

The game is played indoors within a rectangular netting. As batsmen hit the ball, it can fly off the netting in a way that can bring multiple fielders into play. As batsmen only need to run half a pitch, runs are almost always being taken. Consequently, all fielding players are involved in almost every passage of play, or need to be prepared for the likelihood of some involvement.

The indoor cricket ball is much softer ands lighter than the traditional cricket ball. As a result, it spins and swings more, and rarely inflicts damage on batsmen or fielders. Although a box is still a necessity for male players, pads are not.

Rugby league innovations

Rugby league did not originate in Australia; however, the way it is played today is largely due to Australian led innovations.

1967 One point field goals - field goals were limited to one point in order to stop people like Souths Sydney's Eric Simms winning matches single handed.

1971 Limited tackle rule - coaches believed that possession was the key to victory. In order to minimise the chance of losing possession, most coaches instructed their players to run from dummy-half and take a tackle. Due to the unlimited tackle rule, it was a risk free way of wearing down the opposition. The winning team was generally the least daring team. The negative style of play naturally bored Australians. To address the negative play, Bill Buckely, the president of the NSWRL, collaborated with officials in England to develop a limited tackle rule that would force teams to make some decent territory with each tackle.

Instead of being a war of attrition with one side holding possession of the ball by minimizing risks, rugby league became a game of flair where teams took risks to set up attacking moves, and kicked for territory if the attacks didn't work.

1981 The Sin Bin - The sin bin was a temporary send off in rugby league. It allowed the referee to penalize defensive teams that intentionally committed fouls in order to counter attacks but not destroy the contest by removing a player from the game.

1983 More points for a try - teams were given more incentive to attack with the points awarded for a try increasing from three to four.

1992 the 10-meter rule - Attacking teams were given more space to set up plays when the defensive line was required to start ten meters behind the play the ball instead of five. Initially it was implemented in Australia without global sanction, but it soon proved so effective at speeding up the play that it was embraced internationally.