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Oz Musings: Aussie Rules

Peter Clarkson, feeling more and more at home in Melbourne, becomes an Aussie Rules fan.

Emma is now amongst us in not so sunny Melbourne. She has the unenvious task of finding accommodation for her and Duncan who is due to make the long trip down by road in a few weeks. Actually I want to get up there and make the trip with him. A road trip through several hundred miles of highway and freeway, sounds like a blast. Better watch my speed though as we got caught doing 108 in a 100km zone and the Police have requested a small donation from me.

Anyway if anyone has read my blog form the beginning they will remember the weeks we spent looking for somewhere to stay in Melbourne. The endless trips round to estate agents who really don’t care about the customer. They have 30-odd customers for every property. This means they act as though they are doing you a favour just letting you look round the property. In England you walk into an agent and they ask you what you want. Then they try and sell you lots of places which are near to what you desire. Constant streams of options are showered over you and you are asked how many you want to see in the next week. All good really, as you get to see what is on the market and make informed decisions.

In Australia you see a property and ask to see it. If it is available they may let you take a key and view it otherwise they will take your name and then forget to phone you to let you know when the viewing is taking place. If it isn’t available then they will tell you so, and that is it. No sales pitch, no other options. From the Estate agents’ point of view it is your job to find the property you want and theirs just to show it to you and then take your application. It is very hard work hunting for a flat over here and something I do not envy Emma as she is also trying to meet the expectations of Duncan who, not being with her in Melbourne, does not get a sense of what is and what is not available within their price range.

Anyway, it’s been nearly six months since we arrived and I have to say I am feeling more Australian the more I stay. The biggest Australianism I have adopted is the sport. The Aussie Rules season just started and, as a result of being in a workplace where the whole department are ardent fans of various different teams, I have had to choose a team to support. Initially I looked for suggestions but found very quickly that everyone has their own team and they all have excellent reasons as to why their team is the best, usually along the lines of “They are the best!” After realising I could insult someone for not choosing the correct team based on suggestions, and wary that I did not necessarily want to just choose the same team as my boss, the easiest option, I decided that maybe the team that plays in my favourite colour would be a good choice. Unfortunately no teams play in Orange! Scuppered by my first selection plans I now had only one option, choose the team that plays for where I live, St Kilda – The Saints! Right, choice made I am now a Saints fan. Step one is not to find out how they play or if they are a decent team. No, step one is to buy assorted St Kilda branded items to drape around my desk to show the office I have a team to support. Teddy bear in colours, check, scarf, check. Right now to find out what the rules of the game are.

Usually to support a team in a spectator sport it is vital to know the rules of the game, this generally prevents a person for cheering at a completely inappropriate moment in the proceedings. So how do you play Aussie rules?

First find an oval pitch, there are no corners in this sport so no need for a rectangular pitch. Luckily the other Australian sport, Cricket, is also played on a similar shaped pitch and as a result the same arena can be used for both sports. Next set up a goal, this consists of two large sticks placed in the ground to act as a goal like rugby posts, then add an additional two sticks further apart to act as a nearly a goal marker. After all Australians like to reward someone who tries..

So then send 36 men, 18 a side, onto the field. Four of each team stand inside a box in the centre whilst everyone else can go wherever they like, although the bar is considered out of bounds for players during a match. The ref then bounces the ball as high as he can and steps out of the way. The game is on.

Basically the players get the ball however they can and try to place it between the opposition’s inside goalposts. They can pass by kicking, tapping and punching the ball to each other but not throwing. If they run with the ball they must bounce the ball at least one every 15 meters, a lot harder than it looks.

When the ball is kicked the recipient can claim a free kick, during which they cannot be tackled, or play on. Usually the opposing team will call the free kick if they catch the ball and the same side will play the advantage. As the only time the ball is out of play is during a free kick then the resultant skirmish to get the ball to the oppositions goal is full on. There are rules about where you can tackle but I am not too sure anybody knows them. Scoring between the inner goals gets six points and the outer posts earn a single point.

This game is quite special in that they reward and encourage, a little and only where necessary, home goals. If a player thinks there is a danger of the opposition scoring a six pointer he can play the ball into his own goal to give away a single point instead. Now as someone who was always a defender at school soccer matches, couldn’t run or kick the ball accurately and my tackles only resulted in personal disfigurement 50% of the time, I was renowned for my ability to place the ball into my own goal on every contact with it. I could have been a superstar in Australia.

Four quarters of 20 minutes and any extra time before the game is over. Quite a long match for anyone really but plenty of time to down a few tinnies.

So I chose St Kilda and they have turned out to be quite a lucky choice, winning their first five games of the season by some spectacular margins. In fact against Freemantle the captain of the Saints scored more goals than the whole Freemantle side, final score 111-28. So they are top of the league for a while and I am most pleased with my selection of team. Go the Saints!

Now all I have to do is call Sausages snags, cans tinnies and pronounce Data Darta…Don’t think I will ever do the last one.

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