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Aussie Rules at 150 -

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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

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

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.