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Rugby league, the Rabbitohs and Redfern Now

Kris Swales Columnist

By Kris Swales, 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

    The New South Wales State of Origin team for the 2018 series remains a mystery, with new coach Brad Fittler facing plenty of selection headaches. So we want you to tell us - and all your mates - who should start for Blues in Game 1 with our team picker.

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • Roar Pro

      November 7th 2013 @ 8:24am
      Dylan said | November 7th 2013 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      maybe next year the immortal can help carry his team to a grand final appearance

      • Columnist

        November 7th 2013 @ 9:03am
        Kris Swales said | November 7th 2013 @ 9:03am | ! Report

        Well he’s done it before, don’t see why he can’t do it again.

    • November 7th 2013 @ 8:33am
      ciudadmarron said | November 7th 2013 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Nice piece.
      Clubs that belong and connect and resonate with their community have something that makes them more than a franchise in the eyes of their followers. Having lived in redfern myself in the dark days before Our Russ and co stepped in, it is fantastic to see the bunnies maintain a real presence actually in the area with the lovely training ground that is open to the public. And a big shame if they are leaving, even if it is only a short distance away and within their south Sydney remit. I always thought it was a shame that the NIMBY’s put paid to the Redfern facility being anything bigger but I suppose it is, if not the very same NIMBY’s, similar types of people that sport those car stickers and jerseys as the area continues to gentrify.
      Homebush though… nothing could be further from what the club has always meant to me (I’m not a bunnies fan though).

    • November 7th 2013 @ 9:07am
      BA Sports said | November 7th 2013 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      No doubt there is good connection between the Rabbitohs and their (traditional) local community, probably the best in the NRL.

      But I checked out some of the training facilities (which are the traditional home grounds) of some of the Melbourne based AFL clubs recently and they are fantastic. The best, IMO, is the Western Bulldogs and EJ Whitten Oval. The park is open to the public to play on, no fences, except when the elite squads are training. The training facilities are great, there is a childcare centre, large café, museum pieces, office spaces for both the club and other like businesses and a sports hall for community use. Its a great community asset and you can tell it is embraced by the local community. North Melbourne and a few of the other clubs all have similar set ups. Once again, it would seem that overall, the AFL (and VIC government) do it better.

    • November 7th 2013 @ 11:23am
      ctar said | November 7th 2013 @ 11:23am | ! Report

      are you a raiders fan? i don’t get it… nice article btw

      • Columnist

        November 7th 2013 @ 11:25am
        Kris Swales said | November 7th 2013 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        I am – the only one in Redfern as far as I can tell from the car stickers!

        • November 7th 2013 @ 2:31pm
          Muzz said | November 7th 2013 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

          Kris,
          Nice article mate.
          Do you know if it’s Randwick Council that is paying and building the new high performance centre at Heffron Park and the club will be looking at leasing this.I also heard that they were looking to purchase part of the land next to Westfields Eastgardens,perhaps they are looking to relocate the Leagues club.At present there is a tobacco company that is operating on this site.

          • November 7th 2013 @ 3:53pm
            BA Sports said | November 7th 2013 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

            I believe BAT don’t do any (or at least very, very little) manufacturing there anymore and most of their office staff have relocated into the City. They have shed loads of paperwork which they have to retain for litigation purposes but other than that, the site is pretty dormant.

            That said, the Heffron Park redevelopment is about $34m and currently largely unfunded so I don’t know where Council would get the money to buy additional land.

            Is there an updated plan for Heffron Park because the original plans didn’t have a high performance centre in them?,

            • November 7th 2013 @ 4:03pm
              Muzz said | November 7th 2013 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

              A staff member at the Des Renford Aquatic Centre which is located at Heffron Park mentioned the above and i was hoping Kris may know more.

    • November 7th 2013 @ 3:30pm
      Robz said | November 7th 2013 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

      “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.)”

      I’d say that’s actually more of a reality than you’d think – pretty much everyone I know mutes channel 9 and gets their audio via ABC radio.

      But anyway – great article 🙂

      • Columnist

        November 7th 2013 @ 3:49pm
        Kris Swales said | November 7th 2013 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

        I’ve tried doing this on Sunday arvos but I can never get it to sync up – for some reason Morrow is calling the second half, but the Channel Nine pictures are showing the first!

    • Roar Guru

      November 7th 2013 @ 7:18pm
      The Spectator said | November 7th 2013 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

      i watched a game in silence a few weeks back and managed to lip read whilst watching and in stoppages the conversations on field were well worth watching whilst muted. Love on field banter!

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