Australia’s National Sports Museum (NSM) is located at MCG. The Melbourne Cricket Ground was the scene of the 1st Australian Football game in 1858, and the Australian Football Hall of Fame is there. Football is Australia’s preeminent game, but NSM is about far more than just football.
Australian rules football is not like the American game. It’s more like rugby or soccer. Players use all body parts to move the ball that they must periodically bounce on the ground. Holding it is strictly forbidden, but tackling opponents is not. This is a full contact game. Rugby football, by the way, was already being played in Sydney by the 1820s.
However, the first sport I learned about at NSM was basketball. Australia’s National Basketball League is 2nd only to the NBA in worldwide recognition, or at least the Aussies think so.
After admiring a boxing kangaroo mascot, I took time out to find the theater and watch some historic footage of races at Mount Panorama. Ruth and I had just driven this track (see August 28 blog, Bathurst’s Mount Panorama). During the film I learned about Peter Brock, Australian motor racing and MP legend, who was killed in 2006 during a race near Perth when his car hit a tree while Peter was apparently living up to his quote, “Bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell.”
Australians are sports mad, even more so than Americans in my opinion. No sport is ignored. Horse racing, for example, is still a very popular pastime. During World War II Aussies established football leagues to boost morale while in Singapore prisoner of war camps. Cycle races were being held in Melbourne as early as 1869, and cycling events at the Melbourne Cricket Ground drew bigger crowds than cricket. Today, Cycling Australia has 230+ clubs.
Drug use to enhance sports performance was common in 300 BC Greece where successful athletes were given serious money, gifts of cattle, and army service deferments. It is believed, NSM reports, that doping led to the breakdown of the ancient Olympic Games. Australia has hosted the modern Olympics twice, Melbourne in 1956 and Sydney in 2000, when Australia’s best medal tally ever was achieved with 58 including 16 gold. One of my favorite displays was the National Sports Museum’s almost complete set of summer Olympic torches.
Browsing the Australian Football Hall of Fame I read about the John Coleman and Brownlow Medals. Like Heisman trophies and Superbowl rings, both are highly prized. The latter is football’s highest individual honor Down Under.
NSM is comprehensive and its guides especially welcoming and well-informed. One led me to info about the 2003 Canberra bush fires that resulted in the loss of world champion marathon runner Robert De Costella’s medals that melted in the intense heat. He also wanted me to see them on display. Another insisted that I handle Ian Thorpe’s size 17 athletic shoe.
I have seriously under-covered cricket, yet another Australian sports obsession, and could go on for several thousand more words, but it would be much better for you to go to Melbourne, one of my favorite cities, and take the tram to this 5 Compass gem, the National Sports Museum at Gate 3, MCG, Yarra Park, which masterfully blends sports and culture.