Rugby league, the Rabbitohs and Redfern Now

Kris Swales Columnist

By , Kris Swales is a Roar Expert

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    Redfern Now (Image: Supplied)

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    In the episode of Redfern Now that screens on ABC TV tonight, a prominent recurring character uses the triumph of a rugby league superstar against insurmountable odds as a parable for his own predicament.

    It’s not giving too much away to say that the player in question is indigenous, touted as a future Immortal, and currently showing exactly why in a green and gold jersey over in England.

    Nor is it the first time the greatest game of all has got a mention in the superb Australian drama, now two episodes into its second six-episode run.

    Earlier in tonight’s instalment, titled ‘Starting Over’, another character is watching a South Sydney Rabbitohs game on television, only with ABC Grandstand caller David Morrow on play-by-play duties instead of the home of rugby league’s regular mouthpiece. (So much for gritty realism.)

    Shortly after, the key character and his psychologist use talk of the Rabbitohs’ fullback and forward pack to help shake off the weight of uncertainty hanging over the protagonist.

    When this episode premiered at The Block the night before season two’s first episode hit the airwaves, a low murmur of understanding went around the crowd of several thousand Redfern locals – blackfellas, whitefellas and otherwise – when the on-screen conversation turned to rugby league.

    Rabbitohs jerseys of many different vintages peppered the crowd, though they were nowhere near as ubiquitous as the bunny logo stickers that seem compulsory for car owners (unless they’re a Raiders fan) throughout the inner-Sydney suburb.

    A mural of an enormous black rabbit also adorns the beat-up old garage halfway down Regent Street, but it’s not just the Redfern veterans who are showing their sigil.

    Two newish small bars, more accustomed to hipsters and hip hoppers respectively than footy fans, proudly display their Rabbitohs fan credentials, pouring cold water on the oft-held suspicion that gentrification signals imminent death for an area’s traditions.

    (Ironically, it’s not the new Redfern deserting the Rabbitohs but the Rabbitohs themselves deserting the suburb, with the club forced to construct its future base in Maroubra after their high performance centre plans for Redfern were scuttled by the NSW State Government.)

    Hearing those stories of hardship on the small screen, seeing them play out on the streets around you, living them as you shank a conversion attempt that would’ve won some imaginary grand final on the hallowed turf of Redfern Oval, you realise rugby league is more than just a game.

    The NRL might be a billion dollar business, the World Cup might be a ‘farce’, the younger players might be governed by self-interest and have no idea about loyalty (much like many 20-year-old males), but ultimately the game is part of the conversation of our lives.

    And if you’re down at your favourite Redfern dive pub sharing a beer with a mate, trying to find the words to explain the latest mess you’ve created for yourself, you can always take solace in some footy talk until you’re ready to tackle the real stuff.

    Follow Kris on Twitter @KrisSwales

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