A young Englishman came into "The Argus" Magazine office the other day and rather diffidently offered us a typewritten manuscript. "It's an article about Australian Rules," he said. "Oh, you mean football," we prompted him. "No," he said quite firmly. "Not football. Australian Rules." Candidly, we weren't enthusiastic, but we read the article, dutifully, after he'd gone. It was an experience we would like you to share. True or false, we thought, these views possibly reflect those of thousands of English people now living among us, And that, you will agree when you've finished the article, is a chastening thought.
"A RACE of humans living in the south-eastern corner of a south-eastern continent: passionately addicted to a ball game that other men tend to find confusing and dull."
That's what an anthropologist might report on the people of Victoria.
As enthusiasts of this game you call Australian Rules Football, you are more rabid than any other State.
It was In Mount Isa, up in North Queenland, that I first made a real acquaintance with Victorians. Two young fellows from Melbourne: sensible, well-balanced fellows, with a sense of humor, too - until one day I asked, rather casually, "What's that funny sort of game you play down in Victoria - Australian Rules, or whatever you call it?"
Eyebrows shot upwards, pupils dilated, then features froze into a mask of supreme indifference. I was made to feel like a man who had strolled into the Kremlin and asked "Who was Karl Marx, anyway?"
I was a man among strangers; the unbeliever within the temple. As one who did not know the first thing about Australian Rules, I was given to understand that my universe was necessarily limited.
A couple of years later, picking grapes in the Murray Valley, the fruitgrower's young sons asked me if I were interested in football. When I asked them what they meant by football, they said, rather puzzledly, "Australian Rules, of course."
By then I had passed through Melbourne, and walking across a park one afternoon I had seen a game of Australian Rules being played by two local teams. Thus I was able to inform my young friends on the fruit block that there was only one true game of football soccer - and that their interest in such an unworthy and perverted offspring as Australian Rules could only be explained by the fact that they had never seen a well-played game of soccer.
When I returned to Melbourne, however, I resolved to see a game played by two big name teams. Perhaps I had missed something in that scratch game on the park. After all, there was the democratic maxim that a million people can't be wrong. A game which could hold such sway over such numbers must have something to recommend it.
The other Saturday I went to see one of these big games.
Having inquired the way to the football ground, I began walking across a pleasant parkland, studded with trees, fringed by old sedate looking houses. Suddenly a mighty roar and screaming rent the quiet weekend air, a thunder of human noise. The game had obviously started.
As I neared the ground I got involved with a stream of other late-comers, who were rushing forward with Intense and urgent air, as though on the brink of a revolutionary uprising.
Inside, the tiered stands were full of men and women shouting, gesticulating, muttering following the fortunes of the game with a rapt and unswerving absorption, as though the muddied and panting young men on the field were Olympian gods tumbled among us mortals for one precious hour.
The pitch seemed all wrong to begin with. It was kind of circular in shape; not the rectangle that one expects all proper football pitches to be.
BEHIND the odd-looking goalposts, two portly gentleman with flags waved to each other at intervals in some weird and outlandish semaphore; then two men In spotless whites, presumably referees, would scamper halfway down the pitch with the ball, like two ageing aspirants for the Stawell Gift.
The players were everywhere; far too many of them. Wherever the ball went, a pack, a ruck, a veritable mob would follow, reducing the game to a perpetual melee.
However could this continual jumping and kicking and booting and jostling and pushing, this bewildering flurry of arms and legs, arouse such passion in the breasts of civilised men and women?
Thinking, perhaps, some subtle chess-like precision of the game was escaping me I climbed some steps to watch from a higher level - but the game preserved its overwhelming and uninspiring pointlessness.
It began to rain, a slow, grey drizzle, which made the spectacle even more depressing. People retreated back to the covered stands, but the unfortunate players continued in defiance of the elements, slithering about on the greasy turf.
The one redeeming feature of the game was that It went fairly quickly. There had been a short Interval; they had changed ends.
The final blast went.
As I made my way, not unjoyfully, to the gates, I could not help but notice that most people were not moving. Inquiry elicited that it was only half-time; unlike proper football, they changed round four times in the course of a game. People were looking forward to seeing yet more.
When I left the ground, the screaming, the groanings, the commandings, the exhortations were on again.
I felt like a sober man among a crowd ol happy drunks; like a wise man among idiots who were thankful for their idiocy.
It was when they said. "You'll never be at home In Victoria if you don't like Australian Rules" that I started looking up time-tables back to Queensland.