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The footballers who booted out Australian racism


CurrawongIn recent months many fanciful stories have been told of the Mighty Currawongs, a new Australian Rules football club with offices and training ground in Box Hill, a suburb of Melbourne, the large southeastern Australian city where footy, as its adherents call it, was born in a paddock in 1858, rather like an ungainly colt.

Having established its footing, the game, again like a colt, developed into a stunning combination of grace and speed, and soon took not only its native city but its home nation by storm; by the teenage years of the 21st century, there were footy teams in all corners of Australia, and a steady enough demand for the sport that there was a steady parade of expansion teams, of which the Currawongs were one.

This note, then, is to correct some of the misconceptions about the Currawongs, and to set the record straight about the happy serendipity of events that befell the club, leading to its current popularity and fervent fan base.

It was wholly by chance, for example, that the club's officials hired former Geelong Cats stalwart Cameron Ling as their first coach; Ling, after a stellar career in midfield for the Cats, with whom he won three league titles, retired just as the Currawongs finished planning for their opening season, and club officials, much impressed with Ling's work as captain and relentless defender, chose him to train their young players properly in the fundaments of the game.

The first press releases issued by the club about this hiring, however, referred to Ling only as C. Ling, because, as it was discovered later, a public relations intern whose name has never been revealed, probably a Melbourne Grammar graduate, was unsure of the spelling of the name bestowed on Ling by his blessed mother upon his moist entrance into this plane of existence in the winter of 1981.

Thus rose the waters of confusion, and became a raging flood, and did overflow the media, one member of which casually in a blog post bruited the opinion that the Currawongs, which he called the Wongs, were a Chinese team, just as, by purest chance, the first player promoted to the big club from junior football was the fleet and muscular Jason Yang, a lad whose grandfather hailed from the Pearl River delta in southern China, and the second, a tall boy built like a gum tree, was the now-renowned ruckman Kevin Kao.

These signings, and the rumour that the Wongs were building a roster of Australian Chinese players, led to a stunning surge in season ticket sales among the Chinese community, in both the traditional hotbed centered around Little Bourke Street in Melbourne proper, and the outer populaces, notably Box Hill and Bendigo.

Yet another happy chance, an attentive player agent in Adelaide named Howard Lo who represented the talented South African prodigy Stephen Sung, brought young Sung to the Wongs, and Sung's signing ceremony, itself a memorable event to this day in Box Hill, led to the swift recruitment and signing of the rest of the now-famous roster: Han, Teng, Feng, Tung, Wei, Fan, Jen, Wan, Kang, Lin, Yen, Hou, and the older Tu brothers, not to be confused with their younger twins, who still may be swayed from their love of cricket to the beloved immense ovals on which Australia's national game is played.

At this juncture in the young life of the Mighty Currawongs the usual rabid bigotry poured forth as if from a wound that had not healed. One columnist raged and sputtered about invasions and secret agendas and pusillanimous kowtowing to political correctness, even going so far as to make a series of snide remarks about certain people being identifiable as evil by their small stature, until Kao paid a personal visit to the offices of the paper where said columnist worked, still a memorable event to this day in Southgate, where, according to some reports, the streets were lined with people cheering Kao's blunt insistence that in the Australia he loved and was born and raised in, a man's colour and size and heritage had nothing whatsoever to do with his patriotism, integrity, accomplishments, and opportunities for career advancement, except perhaps in the ruck, where a certain burly alpinity, as Kao entertainingly told a reporter for a rival newspaper, really helps.

Many observers, in fact, point to this particular interview with Kao as the key moment not only in the nascent existence of the Mighty Currawongs but in the history and story of Australia itself; it was the e-magazine Eureka Street which perhaps most eloquently characterised the amazing events in the weeks following Kao's striding along the Yarra River to 'deliver the message of the real and best and deepest Australia', as he described it.

The burst of street protests against racism in every corner of Australian life; the masks of every colour that Australians from sea to sea wore hilariously on Michael Long's birthday; and the boom in stories from Australians of every colour about their comic and joyous experiences with Australians of every other colour finally put to rest forever the idea of an Australia riven and bruised by racial animosity and misunderstanding.

As the editors of Eureka Street noted, no force on earth can make us colour-blind, for we are finally mammals of enormous sensitivity to otherness, having been trained over millions of years to trust only our own clan and suspect ill will of others; and while Australia since the moment of its founding as a mighty nation has battled racism against its own first peoples and peoples from Asia who once represented a bitter enemy in war, it is now cheerfully eloquent, blunt, and pointed in international discourse about the savage idiocy and cruelty of racism, which costs not only untold pain and suffering among both hated and haters, but billions of dollars in lost time, creativity, and productivity at every level of society and commercial enterprise.

Indeed it was the new prime minister Patrick Dodson, a man proudly both Yawuru and Australian, who, in a recent speech, lauded the death of racism in Australia, credited the Mighty Currawongs for the precipitant incident in a truly remarkable moment in the long story of his beloved nation, offered Kao a position in the national ministry upon his retirement from football, and noted, to what can only be characterised as a roar of approval from Australians far and wide, that, with respect for the adherents and supporters of so many football clubs around the nation, it was the Wongs for which every Australian citizen barracked in his or her heart. 

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. 

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, Aussie Rules, Patrick Dodson



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Existing comments

A lost art, those long flowery sentences, searching vainly for a full stop as the reader searches for breath. And it may help to stifle the mutterings of those who wonder about the wisdom of allowing a football team from the nation's capital - the Brumbies or the Raiders, not sure which - to accept sponsorship from a Chinese technology company.

Frank | 11 April 2012  

For your fine article, a nod from Leunig, about a close relative of the Currawong: Magpie Magpie, magpie, dive on me, Swoop down from your holy tree; As I pass the flower bed Stick your beak into my head. Magpie, magpie, make a hole, Through my head into my soul; As I pass beneath the sun Bring my troubled head undone. Magpie, magpie, it is spring, Is my soul a happy thing? As I pass around the tree Make a hole so you can see.

Pam | 11 April 2012  

Wonderful, but serious, fun Brian. Had me (a long way from Box Hill, here in Sydney) completely taken in until the mention of our 'new' Prime Minister, Patrick Dodson! Thanks for a nice start to Wednesday.

Joe Castley | 11 April 2012  

If only homophobic bigotry could be given the boot!

Michelle Goldsmith | 11 April 2012  

Floreat Strepera!

Floreat Strepera | 11 April 2012  

I enjoyed this article,but am trying to fathom,"the new Prime Minister,Patrick Dodson"-what have I missed??as the lady once said,"please explain"....thanks,E..

evangelia dascarolis | 17 June 2012  

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