As part of the journey being undertaken, I long ago decided we must do a few things that are uniquely Australian. Of course also being a lover of sport, half of that list was in that category. So in the spirit of fun and experience that we have worked so hard to cultivate throughout our trip, we found our way to an Australian rules football game.
Tasmania does not have its own team, as there are not actually enough people in any of the cities to support a club and stadium. Melbourne, however, is quite infatuated with the sport and has a few teams to spare. The game was a pre season friendly between the Hawthorne Hawks, who seemed to be the hometown team though they are based across the Tasman Sea in Melbourne, and the Collingwood Magpies, who are also a Melbourne based team. Because they appeared to be the home team, our friend Laura who was with us is a Hawthorne fan, and it is already rather natural to root for the “Hawks”, we found ourselves jumping on the Hawthorne bandwagon for the evening.
My first surprise was how affordable it was in all to see the game. General admission tickets were $18 a piece, parking only cost $5, and the 475ml beer was only $6.50. It was refreshing to not feel like I was being gouged on everything at the stadium, and it really put me in a good mood before the game even started. The general admission area was on the east side of the stadium, which means we also had the pleasure of a gorgeous sunset to look at while the game was going on; Score! The gentlemen next to us were quite helpful as well and answered any of the questions we had about the game before and during the match.
The game itself is actually quite fun to watch. The game moves at a good pace and kept us interested for the entire duration. The very basic idea is to kick the ball between two of four large poles at either end of the oval pitch. Each team of 18 players is going for one set of goals, and the sides switch every quarter. The ball can be moved around the field by kicking it, running it, or passing it. The hand pass is a strange deal, as they have to bump it with their hand kind of like an underhand volleyball serve. It is a fast paced game of running, tackling, passing, and a lot of kicking and jumping. To me it was sort of a full contact soccer and basketball mix. It certainly was unique.
There are some aspects of the game that I personally found quite bazar. The refs start the game going by slamming the ball on the ground and then the players go up for it like a jump ball in basketball. A similar thing happens when the ball goes out of bounds. The nearest ref takes the ball, stands facing the crowd on the sideline, and throws the ball high up over his head and backwards where the players again go up for it. I found that jumping up for contested balls was a large part of the game. One of the other things I noticed and found quite funny were the signals the ref in charge of the goal posts make when there is a score. It involved a one or two armed hand motion that reminded me of a quick draw in old western movies minus the gun. They also bang their hands on their chest before making the signal, which I am sure means something, but I have no idea what and it looked ridiculous. Once all the hand motions are complete the ref heads over to one of the poles and pulls out a flag or two, depending on if it is a one point of six point goal, and waves them around quickly. I could not help but laugh the first few times they did it.
The fans were rather fun as well. Like soccer it has a bit of the European sports flare, with scarves to be worn and team songs to be sung. The crowd heckled the players and referees a little bit, though they are not nearly as negative as American sports fans. All in all the fans were very supportive of each other and the teams playing. There was a wonderful atmosphere of both camaraderie and competition in the arena.
The Hawks came out strong, but throughout the game Collingwood was consistently the better team. They won by a huge margin with the fourth quarter being totally one sided. Of course we were a little disappointed that our adopted team lost, but we had such a good time it hardly mattered. It was a wonderful evening and it was exactly the type of uniquely Australian experience we desired. It was great fun!