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Footy with the territory touch

Mick O'Regan: Hello, and welcome to The Sports Factor.

We're off to the northern frontier of the AFL code, where it keeps growing; in fact as people may
know, last night the AFL Commission gave the thumbs-up to yet another team on the Gold Coast in the
next few years.

And later in the program, we'll be considering a big, new, glossy book on the 150th anniversary of
the Australian game of football.

But first this week, we're interested in how the game is played in the Top End, where the grounds
are red, the ball is yellow, and most of the players are black.

This weekend marks the high point of footy in the Northern Territory with two Grand Finals, one in
the Darwin-based competition and the other on the Tiwi Islands.

Commentator: Stand by, Tiwi Islands football Grand Final; Tuyu versus Tapalinga, a ball up in the
middle, Tuyu with the first tap, but it was knocked on a little further that time ...

Ted Egan: The day of the Tiwi Grand Final, which is always the day after the Darwin Grand Final, is
the biggest traffic day for Darwin Airport of any year, because hundreds of people go over there on
charter aircraft, it's only a half-hour flight of course, and the charter flights just run like
Melbourne trams across the ocean, and land at Nguiu and one lot get off and they come back and pick
up the next. And it's a great day, and they are very hospitable and vehement barrackers for their
teams, and the women especially, 'Go for it, boy!' and they're all standing up and roaring and -

Woman: Absolutely fantastic. I don't think the crowds in Darwin have seen this style of football
for a long time.

Woman: Fantastic!

Woman: This has certainly brought the crowd back to NT football and it is just fantastic. Makes me
proud.

Man: When you're weak, when you think you can't kick the goal or you can't make the tackle, you
think back, 'What would this mob do?'

Man: It's in our blood, and the first thing these kids do when they start walking, is they want to
kick a football, they want to be like their Dad, they want to be like their grandfathers. It's what
brought us together, the squad game, made us stop fighting each other.

Damian Hale: You know I suppose it's similar to watching Brazil play soccer or the West Indies play
a 20/20 game. It's fast, furious, action, it makes for a very exciting product.

Mick O'Regan: And he should know. That's Damian Hale, the new Federal Member for the Northern
Territory seat of Solomon, who's had a long career as both a player and a coach in Top End Aussie
Rules.

Now this weekend is the Big One for footy fans in Darwin and the Tiwi Islands. It's Grand Final
time. In fact for the Tiwi Islanders, the past 12 months have been quite historic on the football
front, because apart from their local competition, they also had a team in the Northern Territory
Football League, the Tiwi Bombers, who like their more famous namesake down in Essendon, wear the
famous black and red.

Now as we'll hear in a moment, the inclusion of the Tiwi Bombers has had an impact beyond the goal
square. But first, Andrew Farley, the NTFL Commercial Operations Manager, explains how the team
came about.

Andrew Farley: Look it's been a really interesting and exciting story over the last 12 or so months
for us at AFLNT. I mean it started in late 2006 basically with a seven-week trial of the Tiwi
Islands team in the NTFL, they won six of those seven games, so it was very successful, we got
enormous focus by the community and attendance at the games, and things like that. And they played
a mini Grand Final against Southern Districts, which was actually the one team that beat them in
the trial and actually beat them quite well.

So what it enabled us to do, was some fantastic corporate support from a number of organisations
and government, and we raised a significant sum in a very short period of time to actually, if you
like, bridge the moat that exists between Darwin and the Tiwi Islands, and it's about a 10-minute
flight to get here, that's always been a barrier, and that money and corporate support enables us
to bridge that mode and fly the team in for those seven trial games and that mini Final.

Mick O'Regan: Who came up with the idea of bringing a team from the Tiwi Islands into the Northern
Territory Football League competition?

Andrew Farley: Look, it's been about a 30-year dream in the Tiwi Islands, Mick. It's been something
that they've always wanted to happen and for whatever reason it just hasn't worked out that way. I
mean the response to that on the Tiwi Islands was amazing. I mean we were fortunate that ABC-TV
covered those trial games, and the take-up on the Tiwi Islands and the support and the following,
it's been absolutely fantastic. I guess the key selling point for us was the chance to make a
difference on the Tiwi Islands. I mean football's a very strong social vehicle, and that's the way
we position it in the fundraising, is to indicate to people that if they got on board and assisted,
then it wasn't just about football, it was actually about the people in the Tiwi Islands, and
making a difference there, and that's really the basis that people came on board, was to support in
that way from probably a philanthropic sense, as opposed to a purely commercial perspective.

Mick O'Regan: And the fact that the team has done so well, that actually got through to the semi
finals in their debut season in the competition, was that a surprise or were people anticipating
that a Tiwi Island team would do well?

Andrew Farley: Look I think there was always an expectation that they'd do well and probably a hope
that they'd do well from the public's point of view and certainly the League's point of view as
well, that it's a great result for any team to get to the finals in their firsts year, so we're
just rapt that they managed. The key point of it as well is it's managed to lift the League; I mean
our attendances have been up over the season, and I mean the Tiwi Bombers, we have the first
full-time General Manager in the NTFL which is great. So it's set a benchmark for other clubs to
aspire to, and we've seen other clubs now looking at increasing their staffing base on top of their
volunteers, which is great to lift the standard of our League, and the off-field administration.

Mick O'Regan: So that the players who have become stars with the Tiwi Bombers, have they had a role
in basically taking back messages about public health or harm reduction or living better lifestyles
back to their communities?

Andrew Farley: That's certainly been a big part of it. I mean one of the initial partners was the
N.T. Government, who basically had a message on the back of the jumpers in the trial, 'Tiwi for
Life', and it was all about addressing those suicide rates and sending back those healthy messages.
There's still a lot of work to do there in terms of converting that at a grassroots level, and
everything else, but it's certainly created an inspiration for kids to aspire to, after coming to
that team. There's a very strong feeling over there that people want to go on and do that, so it's
a bit of a diversionary tactic as well, I think, from some of the problems that exist.

Mick O'Regan: Andrew Farley, from the Northern Territory Football League.

The impact of football on the social problems which exist on the Tiwi Islands, has been studies by
Dr Gary Robinson, Co-director of Charles Darwin University's School for Social and Policy Research.
Through a series of interviews with a selected cross-section of the Tiwi Island community, Dr
Robinson and his colleague, Gary Reilly, focused on whether the entry of a local Tiwi team into the
Darwin-based competition, might have beneficial social and health outcomes.

Gary Robinson: The initial project was to look at how we might get a handle on the health impacts
of the entry of the Bombers into the competition and really, it's one of those things it's very
difficult to measure. So we decided to spend a little bit more time just exploring the kind of
social pathways, the social impact it might have, the health impacts are something that it's very
difficult to attribute to one thing, like the formation of a football team and so on.

Mick O'Regan: Were you able to draw conclusions about the impact of the Bombers' inclusion in the
competition?

Gary Robinson: Yes, in the sense that this is part of a process of development that's occurring on
the Islands. The Tiwi football's a remarkable phenomenon. There's probably only a few places in
Australia where a sport has just taken off to the degree that it has. It's genuinely
self-sustaining on the island, it's not propped up by all sorts of outsiders coming in, they have
Tiwi coaches, you know, there's some administrative support from Sport and Rec. offices and so on,
but generally this is a genuine Tiwi kind of phenomenon, the way football's played out on the
islands, with six Tiwi teams and a flourishing competition that's in the news, the people fly out
to the islands to the Grand Final every year and so on, that's just the weekend, by the way, on
Sunday.

So there's been a long development of football on the Tiwi Islands. It's really part of Tiwi
culture, and in some ways the formation of the Tiwi Bombers to play permanently and full-time in
the Darwin competition is a culmination of that process of development. So it really says something
about Tiwi society. Their out-goingness, their love for football, and the fact that they really see
themselves as having the capacity to kind of move on to the big stage. So in that sense it's a very
positive kind of sign of the way this group of people engages with the outside world.

Mick O'Regan: As far as your study is concerned, are you seeing positive improvements in areas say,
of public health or public participation or a reduction in issues to do with self-harm and suicide,
as a possible causal factor form the inclusion of the Tiwi Bombers?

Gary Robinson: Look I don't think you can - suicide and some of those sorts of serious social
problems, they draw on difficulties in childhood, they draw on a whole range of causal influences,
which you wouldn't expect simple formation of a football team to just influence overnight. There
are a lot of factors that influence the suicide rate, so I don't think that's the place to look.
Longer-term, yes, this is going to be one of those factors that add to self-esteem of young people,
that gives them purpose and direction.

When the Bombers were formed, I mean I asked the teachers actually to get some of their Grade 7
children to write stories about football, and what they were saying about the Bombers was, you
know, that they love them, they're part of Tiwi, 'they make us feel proud, they make us feel
strong'. I had young boys that were visiting me in town or that I saw on the islands, you know,
they were just full of it. The idea that they could emulate their older peers and think of
themselves as having real futures in football.

The Tiwi have had people playing in national competitions, the SANFL and the AFL over a number of
years that everyone will know. But this kind of makes it much more of an accessible pathway. I
think it was announced the other day that some of the players from the Tiwi Bombers are going to be
invited to try out with South Adelaide down in the SANFL, so it's going to boost the numbers of
young people who see this as a genuine pathway for them.

So the effects socially will percolate through a number of these kind of avenues in a sense, young
people who see opportunities, young people who kind of can then use football more as a stepping
stone to get involved outside of Tiwi society to learn about living in Darwin and set their sights
even further in terms of participation and so on. So I think there's a number of pathways where it
can provide people with learning experiences, where it represents positive kind of role models for
what young people can aspire to. And you'd expect that over the next few years to just continue to
build.

Mick O'Regan: Dr Gary Robinson from the School for Social and Policy Research at Charles Darwin
University.

The Tiwi Island Grand Final is on Sunday, but tomorrow in the NTFL decider, St Mary's and the
Waratahs will battle for premiership honours.

One of the better informed spectators will be Damian Hale, as I said, the Federal Member for the
electorate of Solomon, but also last season's coach of St Mary's, and the man who guided the club
to three premierships.

Damian Hale argues the key to understanding Territory footy is realising the importance of family
connections.

Damian Hale: It's very family-based I think, that the big families of the Darwin-based clubs have
had a lot of success. St Mary's I suppose are the most obvious, with the Longs and the Riolis and
Dunns and Figonas, and those type of names that have played at St Mary's and generations of players
that have come through. Buffaloes with their Bonsons and Ahmats, and their connections to their
families as well. So it has always been a very family-based competition, and the clubs that have
done well over the years, I think Buffaloes have one 16 premierships and St Mary's 25, so when you
look at that, there's, what's that? 41 Premierships out of about 90 have been won by those two
sides.

So it's been that connection and certainly probably more highlighted in recent times with the Tiwi
Islands, and we understand, and most people know of the social issues that were occurring on the
Tiwi Islands, and through the football, it's a vehicle to lead kids to a better life. And the great
example of that would be Austin Wonaeamirri, who played for St Mary's, I coached Austin, I coached
Austin with the Northern Territory Thunder, and he played for the Tiwi Islands, he played for
Norwood, and now he's been drafted to Melbourne. So he's a real success story of a guy that got on
the pathway and has done very well.

Mick O'Regan: So what's it like in Darwin in the lead-up? Now I realise Damien, that you're in
Canberra as a Federal MHR, but what's it like to be in Darwin in the lead-up to Grand Final Week?

Damian Hale: Well it's the only time I actually miss coaching. I coached for about 13 years, and I
sometimes get a little bit regretful that I'm not still coaching, but I remember all the hard stuff
you do, and the thing about the Grand Final, and Brett Hand and Rick Hall will know this, that
they'll have five minutes of glory to make up for the eight months of misery as a football coach,
and the amount of time and effort you put into it, and don't get me wrong, it is rewarding, and the
friendships I think that you make out of the game are the things that keep you going.

And I felt Saturday night at the St Mary's presentation night, I dropped in, and going to the Grand
Final on the weekend, will be about the only time that I'd really miss not being involved, and of
the guys playing for Saints on the weekend, 12 of them I've coached in Premierships. I've got that
bond with them, and certainly the new coach has been fantastic. No, I wish them all the best, but
also I think that Waratahs are a very worthy opponent and Rick Hall's been fantastic in his first
year. Both guys are first year coaches, and to get their charges through to a Grand Final is a
great effort.

Mick O'Regan: In your mind's eye, how do you imagine this Grand Final; I'm presuming you think St
Mary's will get up?

Damian Hale: I think St Mary's will win. I think it will be a very tough game though, and Waratahs
have had a pretty solid three weeks. They had to get over the top of Palmerston, then they put the
Tiwi Islands out of business, then they've beaten Southern Districts in what was a very heavy game,
last week, and a very physical game, so I think that would have been taxing. St Mary's, on the
other hand, have defeated the Tiwi Islands, defeated Southern Districts and have had a week off to
freshen up, which is at this time of year, which is a great bonus for you. I think the key is
Waratahs hanging in there, I really belief that if St Mary's get the jump early Mick, and play the
sort of footy they did against Southern Districts where they got out to that 4 or 5 goal lead, and
just kept Southern Districts at arm's length, they're not the sort of side that you can really run
down a St Mary's side from behind, they're very fit.

If there were two players I could single out, Mick, that I believe hold the key in regards to the
ground level battle in the forward line, will be James Porter Jimmy, Jimmy Porter Jimmy, and Ross
Tungatalum, and I really don't think Waratahs have got that Tiwi element; they haven't got any
Tiwis in their side this year. They haven't got that dash and somebody that can pinch that great
goal on the siren at three-quarter time that put you in front.

Mick O'Regan: Federal MP and former footy coach, Damian Hale.

And later this year, ABC-TV will screen a documentary series on the Tiwi Bombers produced by Tony
Collins and Carmel Young. And I'll give you more details on that closer to broadcast date.

Aussie Rules at 150

The success of Australian football in the Northern Territory is an another indication of the game's
inexorable spread from its Victorian heartland right across the nation.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Aussie Rules and to mark the event, the AFL has commissioned
publisher Geoff Slattery, to produce a book detailing the game and its history.

For Slattery, it's been a labour of love but squeezing 150 seasons into one volume must be tricky.

I asked him how it's done.

Geoff Slattery: The basic model of publishing a history book incorporates three Cs: it has to be
Culturally correct, it has to be Comprehensive, and it has to be Commercial. But in this case the
first two for the AFL are the most important. It had to be culturally correct, it had to represent
the entirety of the Australian game of football and not the AFL game, all parts of the AFL game in
all parts of the country. It had to be comprehensive, it had to cover States, grassroots footy,
elite level footy, the decades, the winners, the losers, the media, the illustrations, the whole
lot. And as a back end, I suppose this is me being the commercial part of an independent
organisation, we wanted a book that was so proudly produced to be commercial and to be successful.
So that's what we needed to do.

The first model was to be Culturally sound, the second was Comprehensive, the third was Commercial.

Mick O'Regan: Take the listeners into the rooms where you had discussions with the writers and the
photo editors who worked with you on this book. Were there big arguments about what should be
included and what should be left out?

Geoff Slattery: Well the way we run publishing, Mick, is that the Managing Editor makes those
decisions, so any arguments were stopped by me. We had conversations, but I had a very clear
picture of what needed to be done with this book, and the two key elements that needed to be
without question unambiguously correct, were the genesis of the game, how it began, who was
involved, why it happened, where it happened, how it grew, who were the key players directly
involved, and not directly involved, the way Melbourne was in those days in the 1850s. So that
became the No.1 priority, to get that right and to get that right we needed the right person to
write that chapter.

And that person is a girl called Gillian Hibbins, I'm sure she'd be happy to be called a girl, born
in the '30s, whom I came across in the 1980s when she edited a book written by Calden Harrison who
was one of the Fathers of Australian Football, who wrote his memoirs in the 1920s when he was in
his late '80s, early '90s. She edited it in the most fantastic way; she made a comprehensive
analysis of that book, she created an essay in that book about the game in its beginnings, and it
was clear to me that she was the girl for the beginnings of the game.

So the second point that we had to cover with an unambiguous manner, was the development of the AFL
as a national game. So they're the bookends of the book, the beginning and the nationalisation of
the game. The rest is pretty simple to put together, as long as it was connected to those three Cs,
Culturally correct, Comprehensive, and Commercial.

Mick O'Regan: Right, and of course the third section of the book is the passion. Now anyone who
knows anything about Australian Rules football knows that the crowds at a big AFL game say, if
Collingwood's playing Carlton or even these days I suppose, if the West Coast are playing one of
the Eastern Seaboard teams, the passion's electric. The ground comes alive. But of course that
leads to that very subjective assessment of what's truly great, what's just an also-ran event. How
did you prioritise the images and the events that you would look at in detail?

Geoff Slattery: I think the images are fairly self-explanatory. We had access to the resources of
News Limited who's an AFL corporate partner, and resources of the AFL archives themselves. As the
publisher for the AFL for all its commercial publishing, we've had a lot of access to a lot of
great photos for many years. So we had a sense of what was around, what hadn't been seen in recent
years, and what can make an impact in a book of this nature. But at the same time, there are many
photos that have popped up in our research that we've never seen before; in particular in the
opening of this book, there's a photo from 1896 of a match at Fremantle, and around the boundary
there are, I think, 50 people that you can identify as observers of a match and of those people
there are 17 women with parasols. And I found that a most stunning photograph, representing the
game as it was and as it is and it always will be, a game represented by an array of people with
prominent positioning of women, with long dresses and parasols. Now the costumes might change, but
their involvement in footy remains exactly the same.

Mick O'Regan: So in that sense it becomes like a social history as much as the history of a game?

Geoff Slattery: Absolutely correct, and that was the cultural point. Football has always been a
component of the community in which it's played. And last night at the AFL official launch, Andrew
Demetriou made that point. He drew from Kevin Sheedy's foreword in this book, and said that this
game can be the architecture of change, of the way we relate to communities, the way we relate to
each other as individuals, and he drew on four points in the beginning of the game which remain the
same today. It's about representing the game in the community, it's not being aloof from the
community, it's being part of the community. So I wanted this book to represent what I know the AFL
Executive and Commission believes is an important part of football. It has to be a member of the
community.

Mick O'Regan: Indeed. Earlier in the program Geoff, we've looked at the two Grand Finals that are
occurring this weekend in the Northern Territory in the NTFL, but also on the Tiwi Islands, and of
course football in the Northern Territory is overwhelmingly indigenous, I think it runs at about
60%, and Kevin Sheedy makes the point in the foreword you mentioned where he talks about 'to make
our game the architecture in human relationships.' That next frontier of equality and inclusion,
that's really being expressed in the way the game's gone to the north, hasn't it?

Geoff Slattery: It has, and later in the book, Mick, there's an essay, a beautiful essay written by
Adam Goodes, explaining what it's like to be an indigenous player, and an indigenous person in
Australia. And his last paragraph says, 'I know that when Aborigines play Australian Football with
a clear mind and total focus, we are born to play it.' I haven't had the privilege of being in the
Northern Territory to watch footy up there or to live the culture, but I've had millions of
conversations with Michael Long who's such a leader of indigenous football and indigenous
communities, and the love of the game just comes out of these guys; it's just unabated love of the
game. And you can see it also in the photo in this book connected to the Kevin Sheedy essay.

We sent a photographer and two journalists to the middle of Australia to Wanarn, to look at a
carnival of indigenous sport in the middle of 2006, and the photo just shows people involved in the
game, players in bare feet, a red, sandy ground, which none of us in the Eastern States would ever
understand what it's like to play in, no doubt heat, but just people's involvement, a band playing,
just a fantastic photo. And Kevin Sheedy took that photo and wrote that essay in a plane coming
back from Perth. It's such a beautiful essay and it's so Kevin Sheedy; and I'll tell you one thing
about it, an AFL Commissioner said to me, 'Oh, Kevin didn't write that, did he?' because he just
didn't believe that Kevin was capable of those expressions. I said that to Kevin, he said, 'What
did he think I am, a plumber or something?' So Kevin is an enormous thinker about the potential of
the game and the way it relates to not just Australia, but to the world.

Mick O'Regan: Well look, another thinker, a great thinker about the game of Australian Rules
Football is, of course, Mike Sheahan. Now he was charged with the very onerous responsibility of
distilling all the players who've played the game down to right the top 50, and he basically
acknowledges it's one of the highlights of his professional career. I'm not proposing that you go
through who are the top 10, or the top 50, because I think people who buy and read the book should
be given that pleasure. But can I ask you as a final question, what was it like talking to Mike
Sheehan about that process of whittling back all the names, and all the great stars of the game,
back to that top 50 and that top 10?

Geoff Slattery: Mick, it was a fantastic experience. Mike Sheahan is pure passion about football
and journalism and the representation of the truth. And to go through that list with him over many,
many meetings, when he started with about 70 players, we discussed it; I was the person in the
street, I took the role of the talkback caller after the list had been published, and put on voices
and attitudes and the like, and said to Mick, 'Are you sure you want this player in there? Are you
going to be able to cope with that, Michael?' And we went through that, and we changed 45 to 33,
and 33 to 38, and we added 60 and took out 42, and all those sort of things. But I suppose in the
end, Mick, this comes down to that component of commercial.

Mike is a very commercial person in a commercial newspaper called The Herald-Sun in Melbourne, and
has access to the News Limited resources across Australia. This has a commercial component, but we
also felt that it was the best way for people to engage with 50 champion players of our game over
time, to have a list, to have an individual to belt if they wanted to, but to get a narrative, to
get a conversation going about who was better than whom, where they should be, should John Coleman
be in the top 10 or the top 20 or the top 30 or whatever? Is Voss better than Hird etc.? To get
that people engagement with individuals who are photographs or memories. That was the point of the
Mike Sheahan top 50.

Mick O'Regan: Well look, the point of the book I think, is a fantastic celebration of both the
history and the significance of the game. Geoff Slattery, congratulations on the book, and thank
you very much for being on The Sports Factor here on ABC Radio National.

Geoff Slattery: Thanks, Mick, a pleasure.

Mick O'Regan: And before I go, a quick pointer to Radio National's Background Briefing program
after the 9 o'clock News on Sunday morning: when Ian Townsend investigates the state of elite sport
and government spending in the lead-up to the Beijing Games.

In fact, in Britain, the funding body UK Sports, has adopted the strategy of 'No Compromise' in its
bid to oust Australia from fourth spot on the overall Medal tally.

Peter Keen: In simple terms, we're spending about 100-million pounds a year on our entire elite
sports systems for both Olympic and Paralympic sport.

Ian Townsend: How will you measure your success then, after spending this money and getting to
2012, what would you achieve at the Olympics that would make you say 'Well, we've spent the money
well.'?

Peter Keen: Well there's a number of ways of looking at success. I mean the most simplistic and
easily explainable is obviously where we finish as a nation in the Medal table. And in that sense
we aspire to be the fourth nation in 2012.

Ian Townsend: But that fourth spot on the table's our spot, Australia's spot at the moment.

Peter Keen: It is, but I don't think you have a unique claim on it, so I think it's there for the
taking, and I suspect we're not the only ones looking to take it off you.

Mick O'Regan: Yes, right, in his dreams. Look, you can hear the whole story of that wretched
British ambition in Background Briefing, Sunday morning, at 10 past 9 here on ABC Radio National.

And just on Geoff Slattery's book, it's called 'The Australian Game of Football since 1858'.

Thanks to Andrew Davies and Costa Zouliou for producing the show, and to Sabrina Lipovic in the
Archives Department.