Woggabaliri is an indigenous Australian game very similar to the popular game hacky sack. It is a cooperative foot volley style game where the objective is to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible. Documented in 1857 by the Prussian scientist William Blandowski, the Wiradjuri people, located in modern day New South Wales, played this game with a ball made of roots covered in possum fur. The Jingili Aborigines of the northern territory also played a game very similar to Woggabaliri, but they made their ball out of grass and beeswax.
Coming from the Woiwurrung language, Marn Grook roughly translates to “ball game.” The sport features punting and catching that rewards dynamic catching and athleticism. Outsiders first recorded the game when Robert Brough Smythe wrote about his observations in 1841. It was clear to these observers that the Aborigines were playing “foot sports” well before any contact with Europeans. Players were matched by height and size, gender, and skin color, and rarely was one tribe matched against another. Instead, teams were represented with totems that best represented the athlete. There was no official scoring system, but winners were declared when one side agreed that the other was more athletic and doing a better job of catching. Marngrook was played all over Australia by the different Aboriginal peoples, but the sport went by different names and slightly different rule sets. The common thread throughout all the versions was punting and catching.
Punting and catching is an integral component to Australian Rules football, and many historians believe that Marngrook directly influenced this aspect of the game. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the inventor of Australian Rules football, Tom Willis, spoke the Djab Wurrung language as a child and played sports with his Aborigine neighbors. While hotly contested, many believe this exposure to Aborigine sport at an early age influenced Willis when creating his own sport of Australian Rules football. Unfortunately, the AFL (Australian Football League) refuses to acknowledge the Aboriginal connection to the modern sport, yet celebrates its players of Aboriginal descent. While the AFL cites a lack of direct evidence, many believe Willis would have never overtly acknowledged the connection of Marngrook to his game because of prevalent racist ideologies of that time.
Australian Rules Football
Originally invented as a game to keep cricket players fit during the offseason, Australian Rules football was created by Tom Willis back in 1858 in Melbourne. During this time, Melbourne was experiencing an economic boom because of a gold rush. Willis, Australian born but English educated, was an avid rugby and cricket player (captain of his team). The first Australian Rules football game that caught people’s attention and propelled the sport in popularity was between Scotch College, Church of England Grammar (later Melbourne Grammar) and St. Kilda Grammar. This game would lead to the creation of the Melbourne Football Club, which would be instrumental in the development of the rules and promotion of the sport.
While the rules of rugby were the foundation for the sport, game developers had to account for the harsher, drier climates of Australia as well as the age of the original participants. The main inspiration of Australian Rules football was the synthesis of rugby and football, but Gaelic football and an Aboriginal game called Marngrook (played by the Wurundjeri people) have also been credited. The original rule set (Geelong rules) included rules on ball handling, not being able to throw the ball, catching punt passes, and specific rules on tackling. Willis, J. Sewell, Alex Bruce, T. Butterworth, and Thomas H. Smith would expand upon the initial rule set with journalists W.J. Hammeresely, and J.B. Thompson in attendance for verification and distribution. Later amendments (1860 rules) included rules on dribbling to continue running, scoring was done through kicking only, and holding onto the ball after being tackled was penalized.
By the 1870’s, ten of thousands of spectators came to watch games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (and would often encroach on the field itself during heated games). The Victorian Football Association created an official league of senior and junior teams, yet there were disputes between the larger, more powerful teams and the smaller teams over admission money (the bigger teams thought they were entitled to more). The eight largest teams split away to make a professional league, while the VFA remained amateur. Those eight teams created the Victorian Football League. The connection between these two leagues would be “the Father of Australian Rules Football,” H.C.A. Harrison, who was the vice president of the VFA and the first chairman of the VFL. By the 1880’s, the sport had gone national, with teams created in Queensland, Tasmania, south Australia, and New South Wales. After some expansions and financial ups and downs, the Victorian Football League changed to the Australian Football League (AFL) in 1990. While the AFL is watched around the world, its popularity is centralized in Oceania, primarily Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea. A unique aspect to AFL teams is that club members, not private individuals or corporations, control all decisions of their respective team (increasing loyalty amongst the fan base).
Australian Rules Football features fast paced action similar to soccer and rugby, with lots of running and tackling. Advancing the ball from one player to another (with the hands) uses a unique technique called the “hand pass.” It resembles an underhand volleyball serve, except it is done with the football. Another very exciting technique to the game is punt passing, which can lead to a “mark.” Players jump as high as possible, and sometimes dive over or on the shoulders of rival players, to catch the ball. Successful catches by the offense lead to unimpeded kicks at the goal, which is two sets of uprights. Punts through the middle uprights are worth six points, and punts through the outside uprights are worth one point. Aussie football is loved by the Australian people, with attendance frequently reaching over 100,000!
“Aboriginal Woggabaliri (Ball Sport).” Health and Fitness History. 2017. Retrieved April 25, 2019. https://healthandfitnesshistory.com/ancient-sports/aboriginal-woggabaliri/
“Australian Rules Football.” National Museum Australia. Retrieved April 23, 2019. https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/australian-rules-football
“Australian Rules Football.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2019. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
“History of Australian Football.” Australia On Net. 2007. Retrieved April 23, 2019. http://www.australiaonnet.com/sports/football/history.html
“History of Australian Rules Football.” AFL.com. 2019. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
“Origins of Australian Rules Football.” Wikipedia. Last edited April 5, 2019. Retrieved April 24, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origins_of_Australian_rules_football
“Marn Grook.” Wikipedia. Last edited April 23, 2019. Retrieved April 24, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marn_Grook
Sutton, M. “Indigenous Influence On AFL Creation Confirmed By Historical Transcripts, Historian Says.” ABC News. 2017. Retrieved April 26, 2019. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-13/historian-reveals-marngrook-influence-on-afl/8439748
“Woggabaliri.” Wikipedia. Last February 25, 2019. Retrieved April 24, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woggabaliri