Cultural Landscapes

The Rules of the Game

AFL Dining Room, Melbourne Cricket Ground 06/10/2016 11:10 am - 11:30 am

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Kate Gray

Famously, on 10 July 1858, the cricketer Tom Wills wrote to Bell’s Life in Victoria proposing a form of winter recreation for cricketers through playing football. Before long, there was a need to codify the game, which developed as a colonial variant of English football. A subcommittee of the newly formed Melbourne Football Club, three professional cricketers and a schoolteacher, met in the Parade Hotel on Wellington Parade overlooking Yarra Park. There they drafted the first Rules of Australian football, comprising just ten rules. Only ten days later they met again to revise the Rules following ‘some little unpleasantness’ in that week’s match, apparently ‘owing to the vague wording of the rule which makes “tripping” an institution.’ It was not the last revision and the AFL’s Laws of Australian Football now runs to many pages and covers issues never contemplated in 1859. The rules still come under great scrutiny – in 2016, fans, players and pundits alike will debate the effects on the game of the latest change, the reduction of the interchange cap and the abandonment of the much maligned red-vested sub. And on it goes. The site where the Rules were written is just up the hill from the MCG, football’s biggest stage and unquestioned home. There stands the front part of the altered but still handsome 1859 MCG (Parade) Hotel. For many years a staging post for a pre- or post-game beer, it is now empty, to be incorporated into a new apartment development. For its part, the original Rules document – discovered in a tin in 1980 – is securely held in the Melbourne Cricket Club Archives. Exploring concepts of tangible and intangible heritage, this paper examines the forensically researched connections between the place, the historical event, and the object, and the relationship of these to the bigger cultural entity, the game itself.