(Racially) pure football

AFL Rd 14 - Sydney v Port Adelaide

Why is there a controversy over West Coast fans booing an Aboriginal player at Subiaco Oval? We know it wasn’t racist, because that kind of thing doesn’t go on anymore in Western Australia.

So let’s look back to a time when football was an even kinder, gentler, more tolerant sport. In this case, in the South West in 1910.

Jack Johnson had just defeated Jim Jefferies in one of the most important boxing matches in history, making Johnson the first black heavyweight champion of the world. The victor, by the way, was vilified in his native America from coast to coast for the impudence of beating a white man.

When news of this momentous triumph reached Western Australia, every pub was alive with debates about which was really the best sporting race: black or white.

Footballers living around Busselton did not wish to experiment with this debate on the field, so as a consequence announced that no local teams could include Aborigines, nor would they play a team which did.

A handful of brave footballers, probably mindful that some of the Aborigines were among their best players, refused to play until the race bar was lifted. As it happens, one of the best players in the area was Coolbung, who also worked alongside the white players in the bush.

And so it was that the Busselton team took to the field in August 1910 minus two or three of their best men, determined that racial purity should triumph over merely winning a game.

It’s easy to see we have moved on from then. Except, it seems, at Subiaco Oval.