Jock: You did some nice things last week. Not one of your best games but you did some nice things. Glorious mark you took in the second quarter. You just seemed to go up and up.
Geoff: I felt like Achilles.
Jock: Who’s he?
Geoff: A Greek guy who could really jump.
Jock: [nods] Some of our new Australians could be champions if they’d stop playing soccer and assimilate.
The Club, Act 1. David Williamson – 1977
I’ve used this quote before, it is one of my favourites because it encapsulate very well a lot of the attitudes towards migrants, who the 1960’s were termed ‘New Australians’. A term that was implicitly assimilationist. You come to Australia, leave your culture behind and become assimilated in our culture. And of course Australian Rules Football was part of that. Especially in Australia Rules Football states, where the game was an expression of ‘Australianness’.
If you haven’t seen the play this scene is between Jock, the vice-president of the football club, who I would guess is in his 60’s representing the ‘Old Australia’ of post war picket fences and white bread, and Geoff a young star recruit who goes to University and is questioning the ‘old traditional’ values of the Club and football in general.
The play uses the football club to expose the changes occurring in Australia at the time. The late 60’s early 70’s were a great moment of change in Australia. The Vietnam war radicalised many young people. The Whitlam government reflected the change after years of conservative government with progressive policies.
The exchange between Jock and Geoff has a comical dimension when Jock doesn’t know who Achilles really was, but I thought of the last sentence in this passage when I heard Kevin Sheedy’s comments linking the immigration department to the success of the Western Sydney Wanderers.
I suspect that Sheedy is more read and knowledgeable than poor old Jock, and would know who Achilles was, but ultimately share the same opinion about football and the place of migration in Australia.
Sheedy was born in 1947, and would have experienced in his childhood the first wave of post-war migration. He went to de La Salle College in Malvern, Melbourne which I don’t know would have had many students of Non English Speaking Background (NESB) in those days. I think he has a strong sense of fairness from his Catholic background, and this has influenced his efforts in being inclusive with Aborigines and also NESB players.
Therefore, unlike some twitters, I don’t believe that Kevin Sheedy’s statement is in any way racist or even xenophobic. What it does show however, is that his world view hasn’t kept up with the developments in Australia over the past 20 years.
I think the main source of anger is that Sheedy again has slotted football in the ‘foreign game for migrants’ category. I can understand why football fans in general, but Western Sydney Wanders ones in particular object to this view. Sheedy explained his comment with this tweet.
What he has shown is that he fundamentally completely unaware of the person who supports the Wanderers and the links towards the team. He is ignorant of the social make up of the area that his team is representing in the AFL. I haven’t done a survey, but I would venture that most fans did not go anywhere near any ‘Immigration Department’ having been born and bred in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. They may not have an Anglo or Celtic background, but does that makes them less of an Australian?
Sheedy seems to have this idea that Western Sydney is full of fresh arrived migrants that are unaware of the game of Australian Rules Football. He should have been informed that that Western Sydney has a large proportion of Australian born, who are probably very aware of the AFL, but it is not part of their tradition which is football and rugby league. As a Victorian I know that there seems to be this messianic urge about Australian Rules football, that it is such a good game so why anyone wouldn’t want to play it or watch it? I love footy, but you can’t ignore the culture of the area which was founded on generations playing other codes.
Sheedy should also be aware that as a Victorian, he’s also an outsider in Western Sydney. In the parlance of headline sub-editors everywhere when they deal with football, Sheedy did a spectacular own goal. Mis-representing the potential fans for your team is not a good strategy.