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Originated in Melbourne in 1858.
Has been played in Australia since
Australia is currently the only nation
in the world where Australian rules
football is played professionally.
In some regions, it is marketed as
‘AFL’ (Australian Football League).
It is also the most popular sporting
league in Australia, averaging over
30,000 people per game.
CONTEXT – AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL
‘Big Jim Phelan’ was a flamboyant, 114kg
ruck player for the South Melbourne
Australian Rules Football Club (now
In 1902, Big Jim Phelan revitalised
Aussie Rules, which had been largely
displaced by Rugby Union, in New South
He was a great enthusiast for the game,
and has been called a football evangelist
(a preacher who tries to convert others to
a set of beliefs).
Why do you think Bruce Dawe has
dedicated this poem to Jim Phelan?
BIG JIM PHELAN
FOR WHOM THE POEM IS DEDICATED
Richmond Football Club is an
Australian rules football club
which competes in the
Australian Football League
Gracing their crest is a Tiger.
Their home field is the
Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Richmond were first
established in 1885.
They have won ten
RICHMOND FOOTBALL CLUB
“Carn” the equivalent of saying “come on” in a thick
“Beribboned” decorated with ribbons.
“Rusk” a dry biscuit (baby food).
“Empyrean” referring to the sky, or heaven.
“Bludger” colloquial expression for someone who evades
“Covenant” a pact or agreement.
“Race-memory” a memory shared by a whole race, shared
Football is a religion. It…
Follows similar rites of passage
Involves ceremonial baptisms
Is a life-long act of worship
Does not leave us after death.
Identify as many words in the poem you
can that have Religious connotations.
Football follows the pattern of the eternal life cycle.
Birth Life Death Rebirth.
1. Go through the poem and try to identify the four
stages of the life cycle in Dawe’s poem.
2. What are some key words or phrases that are
linked to these stages?
Australian passions will never change.
Australians possess the need for something or someone that
will make their lives meaningful, bring their lives to fruition,
and save them. (Traditionally, people would have found this
meaning and purpose in the Church / religion)
In Victoria, Dawe insinuates that an individual’s sense of
belonging is fulfilled by Australian Rules Football.
Living a full life in Australia can be compared to being a
member of a sporting team – and the game being played is
“life” fairness / team work / struggle / hard work /
excitement / disappointment… what else?
“When children are born in Victoria
they are wrapped in the club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
having already begun a lifetime’s barracking”
Imagery Born into football. Supporters from birth.
Alliteration of “club-colours” consistent, unchanging.
Vernacular “Barracking” – establishes setting in Australia
“Carn, they cry, Carn… feebly at first
while parents playfully tussle with them
for possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are…)”
Alliteration “Carn, they cry, Carn” / “parents playfully”
Vernacular of the contraction ‘Carn’ barracking, voice of fans,
Metaphor “little Tiger”, a proud symbol of the club’s mascot
which suggests that baby is potentially a future player.
Allusion Tiger, mascot of Richmond team.
Ellipsis (And they are…), confirming that they are developing
Enjambment breaks the free-flowing rhythm of the image and
mirrors the “tussle” of the game with the rusk.
“Hoisted shoulder-high at their first League game
they are like innocent monsters who have been years swimming
towards the daylight’s roaring empyrean”
Simile “like innocent monsters who have been years swimming”,
unbeknownst, strange and unnatural, beneath the ocean’s surface,
unexposed to the wonders of the game.
Juxtaposition (contrast) of the “innocent monsters” – and
swimming in the darkness of the water, with the “daylight’s roaring
the muffled sounds beneath the water, contrasted with the roaring
fans of a packed stadium.
Religious allusion “empyrean” = heaven, symbolism of the water =
baptism into football compares the game to a religious ceremony.
Enjambment emphasises the uninterrupted flow of the game – as
a metaphor for the inevitable flow of life
“Until, now, hearts shrapnelled with rapture,
they break surface and are forever lost,
their minds rippling out like streamers”
metaphor “hearts shrapnelled” = the very ‘hearts’ of the
spectators are pierced with the joy of the game sport is in an
Extended metaphor “break the surface” (of the water)
Reaching the empyrean.
Religious allusion “rapture”, moment of enlightenment,
transporting from earth to heaven.
Simile “minds rippling out like streamers”, opening up to the
world, learning. Celebratory connotations and imagery of a mind
opening up (learning… school… adolescence… )
“In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice
like the voice of God booms from the stands
Ooohh you bludger and the covenant is sealed.”
Symbolism impact of “flood”, overwhelming… and renewing
the joy of life.
Metaphor “scarfed with light”, the light is symbolic of
heightened awareness and enlightenment (becoming wise). .
Simile/Biblical allusion the thousands of fans barracking in
unison is likened to “the voice of God”
Biblical allusion “Covenant is sealed” child is swept up in the
euphoria of the crowd, and thus, they are true disciples of the game.
Vernacular / contrast “bludger / covenant” develops the image
that the average Australian is true to his word. (covenant = bond or
“Hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat,
they will forswear the Demons, cling to the Saints
and behold their team going up the ladder into Heaven,”
Inversion and allusion Irony of typically Australian “hot pies
and potato crisps” created by the inverted (back-to-front) syntax
(sentence structure). Inversion is a common technique used in
religious ceremonies and sermons.
playing on the nicknames of other AFL clubs (‘Saints’ / St Kilda,
and ‘Demons’ / Melbourne).
Forswear: swear not to support. A play on biblical teachings to
reject evil and practise good.
They will witness their team climb the ladder to heaven (win the
premiership). … Allusion to the story of Jacob’s ladder,
reaching into the skies.
And the tides of life will be the tides of the home-team’s fortunes
- the reckless proposal after the one-point win,
the wedding and honeymoon after the grand-final…
What parallel is Bruce Dawe suggesting in this stanza? How are
football and the “tides of life” linked?
The repetition of the word, “after”…
What does the ellipsis at the end of the stanza imply?
“They will not grow old as those from more northern States grow old,
for them it will always be three-quarter-time
with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,”
The first line is a mocking allusion to the verse recited every day in
every RSL club in Australia… “They shall not grow old as we that are
left grow old…” what does this suggest?
Dawe, however, appropriates the words, having a dig at the “northern
States” (New South Wales). What does this comparison propose with
regard to the respective supporters?
“That passion persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons, enabling old -
timers by the boundary -fences to dream of resurgent lions
and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present.”
Alliteration “passion persisting”, passing on the enthusiasm
Connotations of “race-memory” babies are ingrained with this
knowledge so early that they believe they are born with it.
Imagery “welter (jumble) of seasons”, passing time.
Symbolism of “lions”, “centaur-figures” - shows past players with
a sense of pride… and as being “legends”.
Based on this description, what characteristics do the past
players represent? Why are they important to the “old-timers”?
What do the terms, “resurgent” and “replenish” suggest with
respect to the lifecycle?
“So that mythology may be perpetually renewed
and Chicken Smallhorn return like the maize-god
in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing.”
Chicken Smallhorn was once the star of
the Fitzroy team, good enough to have
won the Brownlow Medal.
Quick research activity: who is the
ancient maize-god? Why is this allusion
But the dance forever the same – the elderly still
loyally crying Carn… Carn… (if feebly) unto the very end,
having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation.
What is the significance of repeating “Carn… Carn…” and the parenthetical
(if feebly) at the end of the poem? Refer to the life cycle.
Who is the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk?
What are the connotations of the term “salvation”? How is the word used
in this context? What is Dawe referring to?
Create a three stanza poem (3/4 lines each) explaining an
obsession of your own.
What gives you purpose in life? It might be a thing, a sport, a
person, a job…
How do you feel about it? Make a list of terms that
encapsulate your feelings towards it.
How does it impact on your life? Does it influence the
decisions you make? Give you comfort?
Use poetic devices to illustrate what your obsession means to