I cannot claim credit for the idea of this topic of discussion, which was discussed at length one Friday afternoon by a number of wise men over a few beers in a pub.
The question of what it means to be a New South Welshman (or woman) arose in the context of the ancient rivalry in rugby between New South Wales and Queensland.
The rivalry probably arose three minutes after the first Aboriginal tribe crossed the Darling and proceeded to look down their noses at their northern kin. However, it is a great question.
Part of that answer lies in how New South Wales fits into Australia generally. The most populous state, the biggest and best-known city, the financial centre, and the hottest property market (at least until recently when Perth might have pipped it). Traditionally the powerhouse and engine of Australia’s economy.
It is to Australia what California or New York are to the US, London to the UK, or Paris to France. That affects how the state sees itself.Regional New South Wales often complains that ‘NSW’ stands for Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong, but that is another article in itself.
In sporting terms, New South Wales sees itself in the same way. It was the state where many sports first started (Australian rules football excepted, but more on that later), the first clubs started, and was involved in building codes from the beginning with other states. The advantage that New South Wales had in population and money was even more pronounced in the 19th century, which meant New South Wales enjoyed success from the beginning, and got used to it.
Take cricket. The Sheffield Shield began in 1892 between NSW, Victoria, and South Australia. The next team, Queensland, did not join until 1926. New South Wales has won 45 titles, the most. How can such a pedigree and history not create a certain expectation, and a certain (mostly un-Australian, therefore reluctantly declared) pride?
Such histories of success and expectation apply in most sports.
The other factor that affects how New South Wales sees itself is how others states regard it. To put it bluntly, usually with a chip on their shoulder.
In cricket there was in previous years (and sometimes still is) the comment that a baggy green cap was given out with a New South Wales cap, such was the (allegedly biased and unfair) domination of New South Wales players of the national team.
The same complaint has often been raised by Queensland rugby about New South Wales players, although usually as part of the inevitable build up before an interstate clash.
Yet the need for Adam Gilchrist to go to WA or Ed Cowan to go to Tasmania just to get a state cap suggests New South Wales cricketer are entitled to feel it is tougher to get into the New South Wales squad than any other. Similar arguments might be raised for the New South Wales Waratahs.
Australians love to cut down tall poppies, and in state terms New South Wales is the tallest poppy of all. Biggest population, biggest playing numbers, best record and highest expectations. Australians love to support (and to be) the underdog, and New South Wales usually isn’t it. If New South Wales are winning, it’s incentive to bring them down. If they are down, put the slipper in and enjoy it while you can because the blue buggers will come back eventually.
In some ways New South Wales are the England (in cricket and rugby more than football), or the New York Yankees, of the Australian sporting scene. Respected for their ability but reviled by all.
In English football the fans would probably reply with a chant from the terraces along the lines of “Nobody likes us, everyone hates us! We’re New South Wales! We don’t care!” However, this isn’t the response Australians tend to take. Instead, New South Wales players and fans seem stuck in the worst of both worlds. Weighed down by expectation, but usually unable or reluctant to rely upon pride to inspire victories. Puzzled by the vitriol, but reluctant or unable to revel in it.
I once suggested to someone in marketing at the Waratahs (he knows who he is, and he’s the one who raised the current topic), that New South Wales was the Empire in Star Wars. We should have the team run out with the Imperial March. Have fans in storm trooper helmets, and Darth Vader marching up the sideline instead of Tah Man. Revel in the fact we are the bad guys everyone loves to hate. Embrace it and make it a badge of honour.
So the answer to the question? To be a New South Welshman is to have a proud tradition and history. To have been successful and to expect it. It also means (to revel in the role of smug bastards) to be able to look down our noses at our state rivals in the following terms.
Victoria – Usually our main rivals, but doomed to be bridesmaids. Insanely jealous of our harbour and snazzier state, trying to top it with vague allegations of better lifestyle, food, and coffee. A bunch of espresso-sipping turtleneck wearers or VB-chugging bogans un-Australianly fanatical about AFL, which no other country in the world cares about.
Queensland – Huge chips on shoulders about New South Wales, to the point their identity is mainly they aren’t us. Banjo-playing rednecks who need to realise Brisbane isn’t cosmopolitan, it has just caught up to Sydney circa 1970. Concede the chip provides passion, but XXXX? Bleh.
South Australia – Country town and wineries on the edge of a desert that seems to either want to be or reject Victoria in equal measure. People can’t seem to leave quick enough. Good thing they make Coopers.
Western Australia – Latent separatists who ignore the fact that we wouldn’t notice if they left. Respect for their pluck and ability given their small size. Queensland without the New South Wales chip. Which is to say, they hate the rest of Australia equally, not just us.
Tasmania – Inbred cousin-marriers barely worth paying attention to, except when they occasionally cough out legends like Boonie, Punter and Errol Flynn.
ACT – An interconnected bunch of roundabouts past Goulburn notable only for porn, pot and fireworks. Only exist as Melbourne wouldn’t let Sydney be the capital.
Northern Territory – Where?
New South Wales, in response, seems to stand around trying to look cool, waiting for everyone to come up and tell us how good we are, and wondering why they keep kicking us in the shins whenever they can.
Well, enough of that confused humility. As far as I’m concerned, New South Wales should embrace its status. New South Welshmen should stand shoulder to shoulder, wearing the sky-tinged colours of the state, chanting “We’re big, we’re blue, and we’re going to beat you!”
Let the ripostes commence.