We Will Never Surrender – The Debut of the GWS Giants

This week sees the long awaited debut of Australia’s latest experiment in sporting franchises – the GWS Giants. Long awaited by me, that is. As I said in my blog about my last Swans game as a Swans supporter, I have been an Australian Football devotee for 31 years and this is a great time for me. Finally, I can go to Homebush every time I want to see a football game. Finally, a stadium where the club has access to the best seats and bars. Most importantly, however, the AFL has a team in one of the largest population centres in the country. I have been asked why I am so passionate about a brand new team – because it’s about the region, it’s about the game, not the franchise.

At work, I have made it a experiment in social observation to make myself a total Giants fanatic. First of all, people know where I sit in the staffroom.

I also have my Giants coffee mug and lanyard. All little things – I used to use fairly bland things as coffee cups and lanyards. The impact has been interesting, however. Each time I walk around the school at which I teach, there are students telling me about what they know about AFL and the Giants. There will be the student whose cousin plays for a local youth team. The students who, as a cohort, undertook an Auskick program run by staff supplied by the AFL with Giants uniforms. The other students who were there when two players visited school, as a result of the work of some savvy staff at the Giants. Students are impressed by school visits by any impressive looking sportsperson in a uniform. There are still students who talk about “the tall one”, who was Jonathan Patton. Then there are the students who have seen the Giants on the news, on Sunrise, on various media outlets. The ones who speak of Israel Folau and express an interest in how he will go in the AFL. The interest is there, in the schools, amongst those watching shows other than the evening news.

Some recent media reports about the Giants, however, demonstrate a fairly standard method of reporting the Western Suburbs. Stick a Camera in Main Street, Blacktown and Ask the Locals. That’s not going to yield a realistic picture of what kind of knowledge would exist in the wider community about GWS, in the same way Sticking a Camera in Penrith Plaza will yield a realistic idea of what is believed about asylum seekers in the region. It does get the sound bytes media outlets want. If these same producers really wanted to know what was happening, they could do some research and ask the school teachers or other professionals who work every day in the western suburbs.

The other perspective in regards the Giants concept and Blacktown is the mistaken belief that the Giants are a regional Blacktown AFL team. It’s not. It’s a team for the city that is for the greater west. If those same cameras went to Blaxland or Springwood, they would find plenty of people who have either stayed with the Swans or have made the switch to the Giants because they like the game and want to support the team connected to their region. The same can be said for the Hills District and areas of Campbelltown, who have had an AFL playing culture existing for many years – unlike Blacktown, which is still largely a league town (and will continue to, I believe).

The other factor in GWS’ favour will be the large number of people in the district from other states who love their AFL and their team. Many of the supporters I saw at the first NAB Cup game in Rooty Hill (their training ground is closer to Rooty Hill than Blacktown) had scarves for various teams. They will still support the teams of their previous lives, but will take out Giants’ memberships and will go to the Giants HQ in Homebush. This is because they are such rusted on supporters that will see the new club run around, playing the game they love in an easily accessible location, rather than take the journey out to Moore Park. They will also find more in common with the fans of the new club, who will, I can envisage, feature more working class members than I suspect would make up the supporter base of the Swans.

That is why the Giants will be interesting and for media outlets looking for the full story, they need to work a bit harder than sticking a camera in a street. This is a year long story, even a five year long story, as the AFL try something that is very risky. The possible payoffs, though, are big. Already, I’ve heard parents wanting their children to play AFL rather than rugby league, due to the perceived lower risk of injury. If that view catches in the western suburbs and the Giants start to have success, the AFL will have succeeded in their plans.

Personally, I hope that is true. My daughter already likes the game and wants to see them play. I want to grow old in the orange and charcoal, singing that very cool song from the Cat Empire’s Harry Angus. I want to see a team that embodied that great line We Will Never Surrender.

Hipster Rambo – The Stop Kony Campaign

Every so often my activities as a teacher crash with my Twitter and blogging life – but rarely. The teenagers of today are very rarely engaged with politics and social issues. They are barely aware of Australian politics outside vague understandings about a carbon tax, an NBN and refugees entering Australia. About the plight of Aboriginal people in rural areas, they know next to nought. Their engagement with politics has changed, however, with the Stop Kony campaign. It really has been viral in a way I haven’t seen for such an issue.  Students of varying abilities and knowledge bases who usually tell you European football scores, what is in a WRX engine, about what Kyle said, who is on The Biggest Loser or what a Kardashian did last week suddenly asking questions about Africa. They are – at least at the moment – consumed with a passionate desire to rid the world of Joseph Kony. Especially older students.  This is all because the Jason Russell video is well produced, very powerful propaganda.  Fahrenheit 911 had a similar effect on any student who watched it.

As with any political issue, the issues are much more complex and a simplistic piece of American lobbying material doesn’t reflect the full story.  This is not a story of one evil man who needs to be taken down by Americans. For one, Joseph Kony, the villain of the piece, isn’t in Uganda and doesn’t have the influence he once did. The events mentioned in the video happened more than 6 years ago.  There are also more challenging issues regarding the social and political issues in Uganda – as in who else is involved in the actions of the regions, as outlined by Musa Okwonga as well as Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire in this video response:

This response highlights one of the biggest problems with the Invisible Children campaign – it is conducted by white Americans, directed at a western affluent society. Hence the tshirts and wristbands – the hallmarks of short term fashionable campaigns amongst the middle class. (I remember the Make Poverty History wristbands. I note that poverty is still present as well as being a part of history).  The son of the director gets more prominence than Ugandan kids, highlighting the primacy of American values and attitudes over African ones. Hence the go get him, Hipster Rambo style of campaign being run by the organisation. With thanks to @kimbo_ramplin, who has tweeted all of these great responses, these themes are explored in greater detail by Jack McDonald, Daniel Solomon, Solome Lemma and Mark Kersten. I note with interest McDonald’s suggestion that it’s “really dangerous” for such a campaign to empower western societies with the desire to get all Sylvester Stallone in Uganda. I am also taken with the idea advanced by Lemma that this is another case of the “White Saviour” complex possessed by Americans – as summarised here –

“I will do anything I can to stop him,”  declares the founder in the video. It’s quite individualistic and reeks of the dated colonial views of Africa and Africans as helpless beings who need to be saved and civilized.

While the direction of the campaign and its simplistic premise can be criticised in this fashion, the campaign has the ability for positive outcomes. Children, teenagers, young adults are talking about Africa. They are wondering why there are people like Kony, why children have been drafted into military service, why people are living in fear from such people.  It is much better that they are asking about things like that than asking about the impending pregnancy of Snooki.  The crucial point, though, is that people in the community should be prepared to answer the questions – highlight the problems faced by many in Africa. Show them the articles and videos that are being produced by Africans.  Discuss why so many people are refugees, waiting for asylum in Australia.  If students find media distortions about Sudanese refugees in Australia, suggesting that they shouldn’t be accepted, point out that the LRA has links in the Sudan. Perhaps spread that teaching to adults in the US and Australia who might share Nancy Sinatra’s knowledge gap towards Africans:

If this campaign does that, it has achieved a great positive, at least for teachers of young people whose minds are usually filled with more trivial matters. The problem will come, however, with well meaning and passionate people who will try to slap down those who suggest that there are grey areas and complexities to this issue. The same people who will howl down those who would suggest that Russell is a great propagandist – and should make Rambo V – Mission to Uganda.  Though in his version, Rambo has an ironic tshirt, cardigan, thick framed glasses, a laptop packed with editing software and cool music, a phone and a video camera.

Mr Carr Goes to Washington… and Barnaby

I should like Bob Carr. He possesses a great intellect and is able to absorb ideas that are beyond almost all of Australia’s politicians, with perhaps Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd being his equal. I should like him because he has the even less patience than I do with old style “nostalgic left Trots” firing up abuse and aggression at rallies. Yet when he was the NSW Premier for 10 years, I never liked him.

It’s probably because he never really seemed to have his heart in the job. When I started following politics in earnest as a teenager (and keen Nick Greiner fan – yes, I know), it also appeared that Carr’s criticisms just droned on and he wasn’t really that engaged. That’s why I, like a lot of people, was startled when Mr. Negative, in 1991, almost defeated a first term government, causing, in time, a minority government involving Tony Windsor. It turned out that Carr never particularly wanted to be a state politician – it seemed to be federal politics and specifically Foreign Affairs that entranced him. Thus said his diary of the time:

I spent today like a doomed man, taking phone calls and drafting a statement, still saying to the press I wasn’t shifting. I feel a jolt in my stomach about what I’m getting myself in for. I will destroy my career in four years. Everything’s altered. It’s my fate … So, for better or for worse, I become leader of the party next week.

Looking back, the question would be there – Why would a person with the intellect of Carr want to be the Premier of a state where Joe Tripodi, Eddie Obeid and Michael Costa lurked inside the government. It was a tough time for a government that was attempting to undertake a range of social, legal, educational and environmental reforms as well as deal with the increasing difficulties infrastructure funding and maintenance threw at the government. It is the latter with which Carr has attracted the most criticism – with little improvement to show for his years as Premier. There’s the 4 lane M5 East, the non-existent M4 East, one (half) additional train line, train carriages that arrived over budget and beyond deadline, a ticketing system many years behind Melbourne’s. The Carr Premiership also heralded the increase in poker machines and the continuing grubby association with the Australian Hotels Association. There was, however, a major benefit of the Carr years for areas of Sydney, with Campbelltown and Liverpool receiving much improved cultural facilities, and a corker of an idea – opening the doors of every Sydney museum for a night – all as a result of Carr’s own liking for culture. Again, another reason I should like Carr. But I find myself disagreeing with most of his views on culture. It’s probably the same reason I never took a liking for Kevin Rudd. They both show an overbearing Smugness and in Carr’s case, an apparent disinterest in built up areas outside the inner city of Sydney. Though, that impression has possibly been left with me because when he opened my local primary school hall, he called it “Riverview” instead of “Mt. Riverview”.

That is the past, however.  Time seems to have been kind to Carr, especially as he parachuted out of the NSW Government before things got really toxic – ie. when Costa became Treasurer and then the revolving door of leaders. Looking at Carr today, he seems like a renewed man, ready to take on the challenges of being our Foreign Minister – even if it’s only for 18 months or so. Oh, and being a Senator. In the same chamber as Barnaby Joyce, Mary Jo Fisher and Cory Bernardi. I think a lot of people would pay admission to see a debate between Barnaby and Bob, if only to see the looks on Joyce’s face as he sees his Riverview education unravelling when the public school boy swat delivers one of his historical references or famed putdowns. It would be interesting to read any response his new opposite number, Julie Bishop, would make to this article by Carr about the future faced by social democrat parties, or indeed most inside his own new party group. What should also fascinate Senate watchers is Carr’s relationship with the other tall NSW born Bob in the chamber. Carr has been fairly constant in his criticisms of the Greens in his blogging activities – I can imagine that he may show some modification in that attitude – in public at least.

There is also a question as to what the newly elected Senator Carr would do during a Coalition government. I can’t imagine him wanting to go anywhere, especially when he would get an opportunity to challenge the new Coalition Ministers in the Senate. Especially the aforementioned Barnaby. I can also imagine him staying there until his dotage – which is what he suggested yesterday:

”I’ll aim to become the Australian equivalent of Robert Byrd, or one of those ancient US senators who just stay on there into their 90s, dispensing their wisdom and speaking with more principle as each year passes.”

It’s a good move by Gillard to find a specialist in the area of Foreign Affairs whose addition will add some gravitas and experience, rather than capability and the desire for compromise, as well as constant presence in the back bench, which were elements Warren Mundine, the more usual style of replacement, would have taken to Canberra. It has also made it easier for Gillard to maintain the same balance in the senior ministry, with no major changes amongst her current cabinet members. Though, on a side note, it is a curious move placing David Bradbury as Assistant Treasurer – a role that will lure him away from Lindsay even more than his current position. Lindsay still is a seat where people want to see the local MP.

It’s also been interesting and instructive to see the press gallery’s egg on their prognosticating faces. There was Michelle Grattan, who first tool an opportunity to put her boot into Gillard about her failure to appoint Carr having to eat her words (well, as close to it as a senior Canberra press gallery journalist will). She did, though, take the opportunity to take another kick at Gillard for having less “panache” than Carr – making politics look like Canberra’s Next Top Model. Simon Benson also took a break from his relentless criticism of every single thing Gillard does by praising Carr’s appointment, but then going back to his crude kicking at a government, which is in his opinion, is “hopelessly lacking in authority”. Benson and the Daily Telegraph seemed to have given up on writing the Rudd is Challenging as Leader narrative, deciding that Carr is the new Challenger. This is why Benson writes that “the question is already being asked whether he [Carr] could be a potential prime ministerial candidate”. Not sure who is speculating in society about that – but Benson is right, in terms of there being speculation. That speculation comes from Simon’s very own paper, printing an article by him and Patrick Lion which can’t fail to throw in a “bungle” at the top.

It would be more likely to see me going to a Wagner opera with Bob Carr, David Marr and Andrew Bolt than it would be for Bob Carr to cope with the dangerous labyrinth that faces anyone wanting to be the leader of the ALP and then Prime Minister. Carr’s talents lean more towards philosophy and diplomacy with fellow intellects than trying to reconcile all the competing demands from a range of ministers and lobby groups. Besides, there would be too much baggage from the latter years of his NSW reign. Plus, I can’t see him holding his patience as well as Gillard manages in the face of the stupid thrown at a Labor leader by particular journalists.

Julia Gillard has given us interesting times and this appointment has been no exception. Besides, there are probably a great number of people in NSW who would sing in one voice that getting Bob Carr out of Australia as often as possible is a good thing. Personally, it means that I can brush up my own Bob Carr impersonation.

Palmerball – Clive Palmer’s Football Revolution

The events of the last two years have made surprising stars in the community. One is Bob Katter – his fame and the red hued agrarian socialist party he has formed due to that fame is still my favourite outcome of the 2010 election. The other is miner and prominent LNP supporter, Clive Palmer.  Like fellow miners Tony Sage, Nathan Tinkler and Roman Abramovich, he has a hobby – a football team.  Gold Coast United has had an unhappy time, however, with tiny attendance records and poor performances through its history. Palmer himself has threatened to stop backing the Gold Coast team and has performed curious actions like restricting the attendance at the club’s Robina Stadium in order to save money.

Now, however, the relationship between Palmer and the ruling body of soccer in Australian, the FFA, has gone down a bizarre path, with Palmer objecting to how football is run by the FFA, the money paid to executives and the wasteful World Cup bid. He also interfered with the running of the Gold Coast club, by appointing a 17 year old as captain, sacking a coach who was less than delighted at that move. Finally, as a bold act of defiance to the FFA, the team wore these shirts – claimed later to be about refugees:

As a result of this action, in addition to others, we have had the head of the FFA, fellow billionaire Frank Lowy declare that the Gold Coast have found themselves stripped of a licence to play. As a result, Palmer wants to head to the courts.  However, not without first starting his own new organisation to “oversee” football in Australia – creatively named “Football Australia”. It does make me wonder if, one day he isn’t happy with the Liberal Party, he’d be inclined to start his own party.

Here is part of the press conference held by Palmer to announce the new competition. It was a vintage Palmer appearance, featuring a cheeky, trolling comparison between his new body and the work done by the “excellent” Lowy Institute in political affairs ; reference to his registering of the name with ASIC, the slogan “We Kick Harder” and a couple of mentions of a new logo. The important things.  Though, he did bring up one element of Australian soccer that does go shamefully under promoted – women’s soccer.  I’m not sure when Palmer became a champion for women’s rights, but there he was today.

It’s a pity, though, he didn’t announce a new competition, replete with new clubs, with names like: Karratha Rineharts, Darwin Woodsides, Adelaide Santos, Sydney Strike Breakers, Western Sydney No Carbon Taxes, Mt Isa Katters, Illawarra Steelers, Nunanwading Nuclear and the Canberra Coalitions.  It’s also a pity he didn’t call Frank Lowy or Ben Buckley “chickens” – otherwise, we could have had the headline Chicken Palmer Drama.

The big shame of this incident is that people should be looking at how the FFA is running Australian soccer, especially the salaries of officials, the promotion of the game, the disappearance of the game from free to air TV, as well as poor attendances. I was at an A League game in Sydney recently, which was of pretty high quality, but only with 10,000 fans in attendance – basically only a few more than a recent Giants game in Blacktown. It is a serious issue that needs addressing.  Palmer is also right in saying that there should also be a greater spotlight on women’s soccer. As a result, I do suggest this video as a rallying call for Football Australia’s campaign to unite all soccer fans under one banner.

And for mobiles, this one: