An aerial view of the Melbourne Cricket Ground with the city skyline
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Aussie Rules

Aussie Rules

The Big Game: History and Highlights

From its origins as the Victorian Football League to becoming a national competition in the 1980s, AFL is arguably the nation's most popular sport.

In this curated collection you will find the earliest known surviving footage of a game (from 1909), some footage about the Indigenous game 'Marn Grook' and excerpts from an oral history by sports commentator Dennis Cometti, who for many of us was the voice of the Australian Football League.

Goalkicking legend John Coleman
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1223446
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Sixty years after the career of one of Australian Rules football's greatest players came to a sudden end, rare footage of Essendon champion John Coleman has been re-discovered, preserved and released by the NFSA. This silent colour 16mm film of action at the Melbourne Cricket Ground from the 1953 Victorian Football League (VFL) First Semi Final between Footscray and Essendon features the forward contesting marks against perhaps his toughest opponent, Footscray Full Back Herb Henderson.

The footage commences with an Essendon-supporting child wrapping up his guernsey for another season. Then follows both teams entering the ground with a blink and you'll miss Coleman, as vice-captain, leading the Bombers out on the ground through the banner.

Captain Bill Hutchison, enters last through a team guard of honour in recognition of his Brownlow Medal victory, won earlier in the week. Then the action commences as the two teams battle out a hard fought close, low scoring contest marred by the nearly 100kph gale force winds which made conditions particularly difficult for marking forwards.

Despite kicking an early goal in the first quarter (not captured on film), Coleman's poor physical state, combined with the heavy wind and pitted against arguably his toughest opponent, Footscray/Western Bulldogs Team of The Century Fullback Herb Henderson, would see him held goalless for the rest of the game. A shadow of his usual energetic self, The Argus' match report would describe Coleman's appearance as "ashen and gaunt [and] palpably unfit". It is with some sad irony that this unearthed film captures Coleman's worst performance of the 1953 season.

Coleman aside, the discovery of the reel is also memorable for Footscray/Western Bulldogs supporters. Having lost all 6 of their previous final's appearances since their first in 1938, the Bulldogs, lead by charismatic captain Charlie Sutton, would taste their first finals victory on this day, winning the low scoring contest by 8 points, 6 13 49 to 5 11 41.

Several passages of play feature young Bulldogs recruit and future 'Mr Football' Ted Whitten (wearing his famous no. 3) and in what might be considered in today's football parlance a 'gang tackle', Sutton (no. 6) and defender Angus Abbey (no. 30) win a free kick in bringing down speedy Essendon winger Lance Mann. The resultant play leads to Bulldog Lionel "Nappy" Ollington (no. 8) -- the legendary 'two-up' proponent - kicking towards the Footscray forward line, upon which the film abruptly ends.

Notes by Simon Smith

The Final Quarter Q&A
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In July 2019 the NFSA hosted a screening of director Ian Darling’s documentary The Final Quarter, about the events that provoked heated public debate and the retirement of champion AFL player Adam Goodes.

Following the screening, the ABC’s Fran Kelly talked with Darling, ex-footballer Michael O’Loughlin and AFL Inclusion and Social Policy Manager Tanya Hosch about the film, Adam Goodes and racism in sport.

You can listen to the full panel discussion here.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Marn Grook: The Game
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302424
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Thomas Wills and his cousin, HCA Harrison, combined elements of soccer, Gaelic football and rugby union to come up with a concoction that incorporated all the codes and founded AFL in the 1860s. An overview of various codes of football over the years is shown through a montage including: historical photographs of Indigenous players; contemporary AFL match footage; stills of men playing various codes – soccer, Gaelic football and rugby union; and a re-enactment showing Indigenous men playing 'Marn Grook’. Voice-over from narrator Ernie Dingo explains that in the 1840s, Aboriginal Protector Mr Thomas noted that he observed Indigenous men playing a game very similar to what became AFL, and the name of this game was 'Marn Grook’. Summary by Romaine Moreton

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Up There Cazaly by The Two-Man Band
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NFSA ID
290258
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An unofficial anthem of Australian Rules football, ‘Up There Cazaly’ was written by Mike Brady to promote Channel Seven's coverage of the Victorian Football League. It was performed by the Two-Man Band, a duo consisting of Brady and Peter Sullivan.

The title references Roy Cazaly, an early 20th century South Melbourne and St Kilda footballer who was known for his high-flying marks. Cazaly’s South Melbourne teammate, ruck rover Fred ‘Skeeter’ Fleiter, was the first to call ‘Up there, Cazaly!’ when Cazaly flew for the ball. The call was adopted by South Melbourne supporters, later used as a battle cry by Australian forces in the Second World War and became a common Australian phrase of encouragement.

The recording was released independently on Fable Records, and quickly became the largest-selling Australian single released at the time, selling over 250,000 copies.

Cover image: Mike Brady. NFSA: 476474

Haydn Bunton Rare Lacquer Disc Recording, 1937
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NFSA ID
1659051
Courtesy:
Nine Entertainment, News Corp Australia and Estate of Bruce Andrew
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A rare audio recording from 1937 on lacquer disc of Australian Rules footballer Haydn Bunton interviewed on Perth radio 6PR. 

The audio is accompanied with footage from 1936 of Bunton performing training drills in an instructional film titled How to Play Australian Rules Football.

Earliest known footage of Australian Rules Football
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NFSA ID
15855
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Moving image coverage of the 1909 VFL Grand Final, the earliest known surviving film of Australian Rules football action. In 2009, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of this precious sporting film, the NFSA produced this new digital video master from 35mm film.

Played on Saturday 2 October 1909, Carlton and South Melbourne fought out a tough, low scoring contest at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. South Melbourne, chasing their first premiership in the Victorian Football League (VFL), held off a desperate Carlton, looking to win their fourth consecutive flag. In front of more than 37,000 fans, despite being held goalless in the last quarter, The Bloods triumphed by two points. South Melbourne 4 14 38, Carlton 4 12 36.

This near-complete surviving silent film runs to a little over ten minutes and offers a remarkable insight into long-forgotten aspects of the game: place kicks, 'slap' passes, numberless guernseys, players chaired from the field post-match by excited spectators -- relics of the past thankfully captured by film exhibitor Charles Cozens Spencer's production.

1970 VFL Grand Final: first-half highlights
Courtesy:
Seven Network, Nine Network, Vera Kinnear, 3AW and and Cinesound Movietone Productions
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First-half highlights from the VFL Grand Final between Collingwood and Carlton, 26 September 1970. 

This NFSA highlights compilation utilises our digitised film, television and radio holdings of the game.

These include choice moments from the iconic HSV7 and rarely-seen GTV9 broadcasts, unseen angles of the game from both The Big Game (1970) and Barry Thomas’ unused camerawork for Movietone Productions, and memorable excerpts from the radio commentary boxes of 3KZ and 3AW.

Please note: the commentary in this clip contains language that is reflective of the time it was made but may be considered offensive today.

Read more about the 1970 VFL Grand Final.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
1970 VFL Grand Final: second-half highlights
Courtesy:
Seven Network, Nine Network, Vera Kinnear, Australian Radio Network, Cinesound Movietone Productions
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Year

Second-half highlights from the VFL Grand Final between Collingwood and Carlton, 26 September 1970. 

This NFSA highlights compilation utilises our digitised film, television and radio holdings of the game.

These include choice moments from the iconic HSV7 and rarely-seen GTV9 broadcasts, unseen angles of the game from both The Big Game (1970) and Barry Thomas’ unused camerawork for Movietone Productions, and memorable excerpts from the radio commentary boxes of 3KZ and 3AW.

Read more about the 1970 VFL Grand Final.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Dennis Cometti : AFL sports comentator
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143169
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Legendary AFL commentator Dennis Cometti retired at the end of the 2016 football season. Famous for his ‘Cometti-isms’, spur-of-the-moment sporting quips, Dennis was the only commentator to have covered AFL from its inception as a national game. In his oral history interview, he shared insights from his 40-year career in sports broadcasting. Dennis Cometti started his radio career in Perth in 1968 as a Top 40 disc jockey for radio station 6KY. In the first clip from his oral history, Dennis discusses what radio was like in the 1960s. Then he talks about the chance phone call that led to an opportunity to commentate a state VFL game between Western Australia and Victoria at Subiaco Oval in the 1970s. It was his first foray into sports radio broadcasting. In the next segment Dennis discusses how he prepares for an AFL broadcast. Finally,  Dennis discusses humour in sports broadcasting and also his opinion that we often take AFL, and sport in general, too seriously.

Football High Fliers in Australian Rules Carnival
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
273191
Courtesy:
Cinesound Movietone Productions
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Who was the greatest Australian Rules football full forward of the pre-Second World War era? Victorians – even the many non-Collingwood loving footy fans – would find it hard to argue that Magpies sharpshooter Gordon ‘Nuts’ Coventry stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries, creating a goal-kicking record unsurpassed for more than half a century in the VFL/AFL. South Australian football fans however contend that North Adelaide spearhead Ken Farmer and his unequalled, decade-long run of annual century tallies in the SANFL had his Victorian counterpart covered.  A recent 35mm nitrate film find from a long forgotten 1933 football carnival would remarkably reveal rarely-seen footage of both AFL Hall of Famers, playing at opposite ends of the ground, in the same game.

Life In Australia: Melbourne
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NFSA ID
55538
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This film was made by The Commonwealth Film Unit in 1966 and Directed by Douglas White. It gives a picture of life in the Victorian capital of Melbourne in the mid 1960s. The Life In Australia series portrays Australian cities and rural centres as happy, lively places where good homes, abundant jobs, schools, hospitals and amenities provide the foundation for a relaxed lifestyle where sport, shopping, religion and even art combine to create a homogenous and prosperous society.

The footage of the Australian Rules match is an excerpt from Life In Australia: Melbourne.

General Motors Holden: John Fisher, Another Holden Driver
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
264098
Courtesy:
General Motors Holden
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This is a vox pop style interview with Hawthorn winger John Fisher about his Holden. 'Fish’ is interviewed by TV sports commentator Tony Charlton in a parking lot outside an AFL venue prior to a game.

Summary by Poppy De Souza

Rules of AFL
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1480933
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Ten hand-written rules displayed in a museum in the heart of the National Heritage-listed Melbourne Cricket Ground hold the key to a great Australian sport.

If Australian Rules football was a religion, these rules would be its bible.

Driven by champion sportsperson and sporting administrator Tom Wills in 1859, the rules established a football code to help cricketers keep fit in the off-season. While several rules remain the same today, some – such as allowing defenders to trip a person in possession of the ball – have been scrapped.

The Australian Football League is now a multi-million dollar business and one of the most popular sports in Australia.

Did you know:

  • Australian Rules football was played for the first time on the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1859.
  • In the first 18 years of Australian Rules football only nine matches were played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, because preparations for the cricket season began as early as July, in the middle of winter. Footy was played outside the ground at Yarra Park.
  • Tom Wills, who was one of the founders of Australian Rules football, also coached the first-ever Australian cricket team to tour England. The team was composed entirely of Indigenous Australians.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Marn Grook: the football clinic
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302424
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Footage shows Indigenous children playing football in a remote country, watched by Michael Long. Indigenous player Gilbert McAdam is seen working with young children. Voice-over narrator Ernie Dingo explains that, to help with racism in football, the AFL employed Indigenous players to run football clinics. Gilbert McAdam tells us about an incident when a child used racist language.

Summary by Romaine Moreton

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Earliest known footage of Australian Rules Football in Tasmania
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
11747
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These film fragments represent the earliest known surviving moving images of Tasmanian Australian Rules football action, filmed in 1911.

This film documents the clash to decide the 1911 Tasmanian State Premiership between the premiers of the Northern (NTFA) and Southern (TFL) leagues. Cameras were present along with nearly 6000 spectators at Hobart's Tasmanian Cricket Association (TCA) Ground on Saturday 9 September 1911 to witness Cananore and North Launceston battle for the state's top football honours. The contest was a one-sided affair with southern champion Cananore victorious by 104 points, claiming their third consecutive State Premiership. The final score was Cananore 16 18 114, North Launceston 1 4 10.

The surviving three minutes consists of four brief segments located within two reels of 35mm nitrate film. These segments were not in their correct chronological order and had been spliced between sequences from other Tasmanian events such as a religious service, an athletics steeplechase event, a group of motoring enthusiasts and a soldiers' march. The footage presented here is therefore an attempt to edit the four isolated film fragments back into an approximation of their original correct running order. The original duration of the film of this match remains unknown at present but is likely to have been 6-10 minutes.
 

 

Sport in Australia: AFL
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
19864
Courtesy:
Cinesound Movietone Productions
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According to this short newsreel segment from 1962, 'the biggest football crowds of over 100,000 flock to Australia's own special brand of football'.

And it remains true today that Australian Rules Football attracts the largest crowds of any sport in the country.

While the narrator says it is strictly a national sport without any opportunity for international competition, there has been since 1967 a variation of AFL and Gaelic Football played between Australia and Ireland called the International Rules Series.

Patriotic Football
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72338
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Playing and watching sport became contentious issues in Australian society during the First World War. The middle and upper classes believed that, although sporting activities taught useful social values, sport was less important than the ‘greater game’ being played in Europe. However, the working class saw sport more as entertainment and a way to escape the daily grind of work. These opposing viewpoints often came into conflict. 

Sport’s (and especially football’s) ability to attract spectators who were eligible for military service meant that the football codes were often accused of lacking in patriotism and subverting the war effort. Once it became apparent that the war would not be over quickly, and as the casualties of the Gallipoli campaign became known, the middle and upper classes saw sport as frivolous. As a result competitions associated with these classes, such as rugby, cricket, tennis and hockey, were suspended for the duration of the war.  

In contrast, working class sports such as rugby league continued, and the Victorian Football League (VFL) maintained a reduced competition from 1915. This match between the 1915 VFL premiers Carlton and an Army Camp side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was part of the patriotic war effort. The Camp team, wearing the Collingwood strip, was made up of current and former AFL players who had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and were drawn from various military camps around Melbourne. A number of reserves played for Carlton as some members of their premiership team elected to play for the Army Camp team. Carlton won this exhibition match 13.11.89 to 10.9.69 

The match raised 248 pounds for the Wounded Soldiers Fund and attracted 6000 spectators. In contrast the Grand Final a week before had gate takings of 1469 pounds and attracted 39,211 spectators.

 

Australian Rules Football: Personalities of the 1920s
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NFSA ID
9687
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This clip is an excerpt from a promotional 1929 Victorian Football League film, featuring players from St. Kilda, South Melbourne, Footscray and Melbourne teams.

The film shows pictures and personalities of the Melbourne football scene in the late 20s, shown in training on their respective grounds:
* St Kilda - B. Carr, W. Cubbins, S. Hepburn, Mason and Roberts.
* South Melbourne - C Petchell (captain), Johnson.
* Footscray - A. Stephens, A Outen, A. Hopkins, Club secretary V. Samson and coach Alex Fason. Players are shown on the Footscray field with their grandstand still under construction.
* Melbourne - Warne-Smith (Brownlow medal winner season 1926-1928) H. White, Johnson, W. Tymms, Dick Taylor, R. Corbett.

AFL and multiculturalism
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How accessible is sport for people from different cultural backgrounds? Former AFL player Glenn Manton describes what it's like to play in a premiership team and the degree to which players from different cultural backgrounds are welcomed by the sport. Manton played for Essendon (1992–94) and Carlton (1995–2003).

This clip comes from a 2008 Talkback Classroom 'learning journey' on the topic of Sport. The students participating were Natasha Rooney (Year 12 Lowther Hall Grammar School), Sarah Robertson (Year 12 Girton Grammar School) and James Blaker (Year 11 Melbourne High School). The students investigated multiculturalism and sport as part of their learning journey prior to the forum on 28 May 2008.

Talkback Classroom was a forum program run by the Education section of the National Museum of Australia. At each forum a panel of three secondary students, selected from schools Australia wide, interviewed a leading decision-maker. They also participated in a ‘learning journey’, researching the issue being explored by the forum and interviewing relevant people in the community. 

This project was developed in partnership with the National Museum of Australia.

Marn Grook: Hide the children
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NFSA ID
302424
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Historical photographs show Doug Nicholls, one of the first Indigenous men to play in the VFL, who came from Cummeragunga mission. He later became a civil activist. We see historical footage of Doug Nicholls visiting Indigenous families and black-and-white footage of Melbourne. His family is interviewed.

Summary by Romaine Moreton

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Australian Rules Football match
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
14272
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This clip begins with the crowd watching an AFL match in 1925. They wave their hats to the camera. The AFL players run out onto the field and play.

Summary Elizabeth Taggert - Speers

Many Football Codes Find Favour in Australia
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NFSA ID
67129
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Made by The National Film Board in 1947 and Directed by Jack S. Allan, Many Football Codes Find Favour in Australia  looks at the various codes of football played by Australians in the 1940s including rugby league, soccer, rugby union and Australian rules. It also includes an exhibition game of American gridiron by visiting American servicemen during World War II.

This clip of the 'Australian Code' being played is an excerpt.

Haydn Bunton statue unveiled
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NFSA ID
653065
Courtesy:
Network Ten
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Ten News report about the unveiling of a statue honouring Australian Rules football legend Haydn Bunton.