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What’s behind the AFL’s sudden insistence that the game has Indigenous beginnings?

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Debate over whether Australian football has its beginnings in Indigenous Marn Grook, a ball game with an ancient continental past, is intensifying after the AFL’s sudden insistence that the Aboriginal pastime has apparently influenced the earliest official Aussie Rules code.

Welcome to the resurgence of tensions on another front of Australia’s contested past whereby colonial Australian documentation, and its omissions, is accepted by many non-Indigenous authorities to be ascendant over Aboriginal oral transfer of cultural practice.

On 7 June the AFL apologised to former Sydney Swans great Adam Goodes, who was shamefully booed into retirement in 2015. Racism, especially of the anti-Indigenous variety, has long festered in the AFL and the apology coincided with The Final Quarter, a new documentary exploring Goodes’s exit from AFL and the league’s inaction – and errant failure to stop – the racist booing.

The apology – notwithstanding the continuing racism in the AFL – was long overdue. That it made a virtue of apparently linking Marn Grook to the code has surprised many, because the AFL has in recent years steadfastly adhered to the documentary research of (mostly non-Indigenous) historians of the game.

The AFL asserted: “The history of the game says that Australian Rules has officially been played for 161 years. Yet, for many years before, Aboriginal history tells us that traditional forms of football were played by Australia’s first peoples all over Australia, most notably in the form of Marngrook in the western districts of Victoria. It is Australia’s only Indigenous football game – a game born from the ancient traditions of our country. It is a game that is proudly Australian.”

There is nothing remotely controversial in this statement for Indigenous AFL players, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including their legions of Aussie Rules supporters. They’ll tell you that they know that their fast-moving, kicking and jumping contest, often involving 100 or more players, men and women, existed for countless millennia before European........

© The Guardian