EPISODE SIX – SINGING IN AND OUT OF TUNE WITH STATE OF ORIGIN FOOTBALL

In the early 90s, I had my ’15 minutes of fame’ across a couple of National Rugby League football seasons. The media called me ‘the feminist fighting football’ after I wrote a controversial article  on masculinity, NRL football and players’ violence on and off the field, published in the great left-wing journal called Social Alternatives, with which I had been associated for many years.See http://www.socialalternatives.comimage

             Legendary journal Social Alternatives – media and popular culture issue

This article focused on an unpleasant incident in a Brisbane nightclub, where some Queensland National Rugby League players, fuelled up by too much drink and testosterone, played dirty by manhandling a young woman’s boobs against her will, and roughing up the club manager who tried to stop them. The particular incident was glossed over by the Sunday Mail because News Limited were major sponsors of the State of Origin.

When the match against the New South Wales team happened on the following Wednesday, these abusive males were glorified as Maroon hero-warriors on the field, and their off-field transgressions were muted and forgotten. The woman concerned was objectified and rendered invisible, while the manager was marginalised as an inferior form of masculinity. image

       Cartoonist Sean Leahy kindly drew me an original as a memento

Scoring a few tries and some conversions

It seems that my article was incendiary for quite a few people, and I was bombarded by requests to comment on radio, TV, in newspapers, and even invited to commentate a whole League match on TV for Network Seven, from a feminist perspective. As a media academic I became both object and subject in the media, quite an uncomfortable position to be in. Funnily enough, often drive-time male radio announcers would agree with me, congratulating me, for instance, in the NRL heartlands of Newcastle and Western Sydney, for being game enough to tackle a taboo topic. By contrast, I was viciously attacked once by a female radio announcer in Hobart,for daring to criticise male sporting heroes. image

                           Getting up the noses of the NRL and the media establishment

After that, I presented a few conference papers here and overseas, I wrote a couple more journal articles on such topics as the representation of sporting masculinity, homoeroticism in football,  and my core topic, the off-field violence against women including rape. I was on the verge of being signed up by a well-known publisher to write a book. Unfortunately, they wanted me to write about violence and masculinity across all the footie codes, whereas I felt I had enough material on NRL alone.  I also didn’t want to have to familiarise myself with all the bad boys and the different rules of each code – this seemed overwhelming at the time. A former  famous Australian Rugby Union player, whom I had taught years before, told me some hair-raising secrets about off-field abuse of women on a World Cup tour, so I was starting to get some sensational material from reliable and informed sources. However, sadly in some ways, I had to pull the plug on that publishing venture. I was also weary of being too much in the media spotlight, with my words being twisted and distorted at every turn. Others took up the baton when, years later, football gang-bang scandals started to really hit the headlines.image

                                            Fighting back and winning a few points..

When that publishing contract fell through, I decided to leave sporting heroes to others, and began to specialise in the representation of disgracefully ageing male bodies in popular culture – e.g. Andy Sipowitz in NYPD Blue. Funnily enough, the media rush transformed into a mere trickle! image

                       A couple of articles on grumpy ageing blokes – one of my specialties!

Ironically, however, while I still fiercely condemn excessive violence on-field, and any manifestations of violence and abuse off-field, particularly against women, I have become a great fan of NRL State of Origin matches in particular.

Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you the State of Origin Musical

An old Queensland comrade, who also hails from Annerley, has recently written a wonderful musical on the State of Origin. Hopefully this will be produced by 2015, and will then tour the NRL heartland, delighting everyone. Watch this space! I have fond memories of the momentous Origin One in July 1980 when the Queensland Maroons, led by the legendary Artie Beetson, beat the NSW Blues for the first time. With the legendary trio – eminent cousin Godfrey, cute-as-a button Pierre and passionate Suzette – I was actually present at Lang Park for that historic occasion, which illustrates that enjoying Rugby League has been a part of my life for decades. My media outspokenness was not to ‘bring the game into disrepute’, but quite the opposite, contrary to some critics’ opinions. image

                            Statue of the immortal Artie Beetson, Lang Park – playing a different Game of Thrones

Before we met, for instance, my one-time spouse played on the wing for Easts, and when he stopped playing, we used to go along to watch various games and cheer for Easts. He had boarded at one of the top Brisbane church schools where Union was king. However, out of rejection of that school’s culture, when his school days finished, he chose to play the true working man’s game, Rugby League. This scored a try for me back then. My brother is still a pretty dedicated Union follower, and so the Union/League dialogue continues. I also enjoy watching and hearing about soccer /football of course from the marvellous GK from the Southside, and other close friends who inspire me to follow Roar and the Socceroos.  image

                Still reminiscing with noble cousin GH about our hallowed experience at Origin One.

Roy, HG and The King and I – a different musical take

Over the years, vacillating between enchantment and disenchantment, I have found that I did not enjoy the Television macho commentary at  NRL State of Origin time, preferring to turn it off and listen to the wit and wisdom of comedy duo Roy and H.G. whenever I could.  Hence I would chuckle when they commented on Deborah Kerr – from The King and I – i.e. Wally Lewis, the King, and Alfie Langer as Deborah Kerr. Also of course Glen Lazarus, the Brick with Eyes, featured a lot; he is now a Queensland Senator-elect, a member of Clive Palmer’s party, and even more scary and brick-like than before. image

                                        All hail Wally the King at Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium)

Currently, while I miss the irony, I am a dedicated fan of such brilliant State of Origin Queenslanders as Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Jonathan Thurston in particular, and avidly follow their careers. My friend Juanita and I were hoping that Cameron would leave Storm in Melbourne and that this boy from Logan would return to play in Queensland for the Broncos. Sadly this did not eventuate; we will just have to enjoy his playing as Queensland and Australian captain. I am very torn when the Storm play the Broncos or the Rabbitohs play the Cowboys, as I have favourite Queenland team players in all those teams. Does any of this really matter? Probably not, in the larger scheme of things for non-football followers – but I also regularly enjoy a witty, informed email discussion with six friends on predictions and the state of play in the NRL season. All part of weaving a varied, rich tapestry of life…I can enjoy it all the more, as I now apparently have more leisure time..

Spermfest in NRL: welcome to footie’s celebrity babies.

To this day, I am still fascinated by media reportage on the NRL, even though this means I have to read that dreadful rag, the Courier-Mail, a couple of times a week. Recently a writer earnestly discussed, at some length, the ramifications of the fact that Greg Inglis’s partner Sally is expecting their baby on the same date as Origin 2 – well, at least in that crucial time  ballpark. We wait with bated breath for the outcome, a battle between nature and culture writ large. image

                  Rabbitohs fan since birth  – my gorgeous great-nephew

This birthing panic has inspired me to think about other NRL babies in the news in recent times, a fascinating and amusing sideline topic that no one else seems to write or care about much, though I see it as ripe for the plucking. Last year it was reported that ‘fatherhood would be the making’ of the then Bronco’s captain Sam Thaiday – he and his wife Rachel had a baby girl, Gracie Willow. Recently Justin Hodges and his wife Gyanne named their baby boy Carter, after Beyonce’s partner, rapper Jay Z Shawn Carter, displaying a large slice of gobsmacking namesmanship here. The source of mother Gyanne’s unusual name still remains a mystery…

In 2013, the great Jonathan Thurston himself and his partner Samantha reproduced a girl child, Frankie Louise. While the Hodges’ baby’s name scores the winning goal, hands down, I can’t help but note that little Frankie could at least have been a shortened form of the more elegant name Francesca – ever the fussy purist where baby names are concerned.
            Aside: I guess many Thurston fans would have a very different take on this, and I am willing to concede ‘game over’. I have    been accused lately of class snobbery regarding my preference for ‘aitch’ over ‘haitch’ – so I can handle the criticism. I feel such a possible snobbery label is cancelled out to an extent when I watch and enjoy a League game over a glass of wine on a Friday night…

Back to the spermfest: a rather tasteless metaphor was utilised in a current report lamenting how badly the Cowboys are faring in the 2014 competition. A large photo of Jonathan Thurston had the banner headline Shooting Blanks, apparently relating to the poor performances of the Cowboys. I guess the paper really meant this to elicit the guns/cowboys metaphor, but I can’t help but think about the double entendre, deliberate or not, regarding the questioning of the quality of their precious reproductive organs.

A different creative impulse..

Right now, however, I am already humming possible tunes in my head for the (hopefully) upcoming State of Origin musical extravaganza. Who indeed will play the onstage Artie, Wally, Mal, the Brick, Cameron, Billy and Jonathan..?

Looking forward to the birth of this unusual SoO baby, State of Origin: the Musical. image

                  Stefan and Pierre seriously contemplating a Sydney NRL game…

                photo taken by the elusive Susannah (showing true love by being there)

 

EPILOGUE: Thanks to Catherine Deveny whose writing workshop/masterclass Gunna I attended recently. She was inspirational and encouraging, and kindly published an earlier version of this blogisode on her website http://www.catherinedeveny.com

A note to my followers. Thanks for your encouragement. I am still shy about putting up tag words on my blog – e.g. this time the tag ‘National Rugby League’  might widen my audience, but also might get me some very unnerving responses from aggro strangers. Perhaps I should have put the tag ‘Bruce Springsteen’ up last time to see how many hits I got but…not quite ready for all that as yet.

Please pass on to anyone who might be interested. I know some of you do this already – thanks!

 

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4 thoughts on “EPISODE SIX – SINGING IN AND OUT OF TUNE WITH STATE OF ORIGIN FOOTBALL

  1. A fantastic blog Helen! I too have found myself ‘vacillating between enchantment and disenchantment’ of the NRL. Unfortunately there have been too many instances where the sickening behaviour of footballers has made headlines. I’m also a fan of JT and Cameron Smith who are wonderful role models for the sport. But whether one is a fan or not, criticism must be made when the behaviour of some, causes a shadow to be cast over all. I understand totally the ambivalence you feel towards the game, and I applaud you on having the courage to speak out against the violence women have experienced at the hands of some of these players. Oh, and a musical on the State of Origin would be awesome!

  2. Wonderful read Helen! Ditto to your’s and Leanne’s comments. As a NZer, Union of course is the national game, so I too share the ambivalence of the love/hate relationship with footy codes! Look forward very much to the next blog, loved the one on the Boss too.

  3. An unnerving response —

    You probably are already aware, but I learned long ago that “ haitch” is the version preferred by catholics and people from Rockhampton.

    Cheers

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