4 out of 4 stars
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A Far Off Land: Australian Football and the Birth of a Nation is a book on Australian football and its history from 1901 to 1925. It began with the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia and was the period during which the rules of the game took shape. The historical context was tainted with racism as “Whites” were permitted to immigrate to the country more easily than people of color. Indigenous people were not encouraged to vote until 1967. National policies must have influenced football, a winter sport that was popular in the states of Victoria, Tasmania, S. Australia, and W. Australia. The first interstate match was between Victoria and S. Australia in 1901.
During the first quarter of the century, despite the overt stability of the country, there was an underlying current of unrest because of the war between Japan and Russia and the problems created by segregation of Korean, Japanese, and Chinese children in schools. Around 1908, New Zealand joined the six states for the Melbourne Football Carnival. 1910 was an eventful year with the end of slavery in China, the oath against modernism by Catholic clergy, the death of King Edward VII in England, racial riots in the USA, and the federal election in Australia. League footballers were not well paid in most of the states. The marginalization of indigenous people had increased.
It is not surprising that the European war (1914-18) impacted the country’s economics and mood. It led to the death of millions of soldiers and civilians in various countries. When it ended, interest in football soared in all states and brought much healing to the people so that life could regain its “normality.” I found this very fascinating. Later, it was saddening to know about the Spanish Flu of 1919, which inflicted soldiers returning from Europe to Australia and led to the cancellation of major football competitions in Tasmania and Queensland. The USA became a major global power. Communism was on the rise. I like the author’s analysis of how the following years until 1925 brought the revival of interstate football. They were the “crazy years” that “witnessed a boom phase … with crowds watching a sport that was becoming … more sophisticated.” Left-wing extremism was on the rise. As expected, technological advancement led to radio stations broadcasting and airmail services had begun. Lenin died in 1924. The year also saw the Olympic Games in Paris. In 1925, football became a potential source of income for elite players, and I think this was a turning point in the evolution of the sport.
The birth of the nation and the development of football are parallel themes that seem to have affected each other. Written by John Devaney, A Far Off Land is as good as an encyclopedia providing details of the historical context, the matches, teams, players, their skills and scores, the events surrounding the football matches, and everything one could think of in relation to the game. The author has more than 50 years of experience in the field and generously shares all that he knows about it. What I like most about the presentation is that there are rhyming poems in several places. They are relevant and make me smile. The book itself is an interesting read, adding to my general knowledge on the subject. It seems to have been professionally edited, although I did find a few errors. Nevertheless, they did not impact the positive experience of reading. It has illustrations wherever needed, and it is easy to visualize the players on the field based on the historical records/commentaries. The author has revealed the complex relationship between the sociopolitical context and the evolution of this sport in Australia, which I would have never imagined on my own.
Perhaps experts may wish to study the impact of the sociopolitical scenario on football. It may be difficult for young readers from other countries to appreciate the historical players in Australia; however, those who themselves play football are most likely to be interested in this book and grasp the full significance of its details. Although I enjoyed reading A Far Off Land, I was saddened to know about the marginalization of non-Whites in the country. As a woman, I am annoyed by the fact that there is relatively less reference to women. The pronoun “she” is mentioned regarding the “Titanic,” a king’s horse, a comment by an elderly lady, and the election of Edith Cowan. Women’s football is mentioned in the year 1917 in Perth. Based on these factors, I would have awarded this book 3.5 stars, but since that’s not possible, I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I am happy to recommend it to football fans, players, and coaches of all age groups.
A Far Off Land
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