These girls know their footy

THE role of Aboriginal women in football is largely unheralded. But go to a game, any game, and you will see mums, sisters, aunties, nannas doing whatever needs to be done to make sure their team only has to worry about their opponents. Come game time, and they'll support their boys like the best of them.

Now a trio of Aboriginal women -- Leila Gurruwiwi (pictured at left with St Kilda's Xavier Clarke), Emily Fien and Kylie Farmer (pictured at left, below) -- are adding a fresh perspective to football media coverage with key roles in the Marn Grook Footy Show, the weekly Melbourne-based television program that takes it name from the Aboriginal game that influenced football's founding father, Tom Wills.

The TV show, which grew out of the long-running radio program of the same name, is televised during the season each Thursday night on Channel 31 (Melbourne) and nationally via Imparja TV and NITV on Foxtel and Austar.

The girls know their football and their segments include news reports, injury updates and player interviews.

But rather than viewing their roles as breaking down barriers in a traditionally male-dominated medium, Farmer, related to the great man, Graham 'Polly' Farmer, looks at it in another way.

"There are a good lot of young women our age involved in footy and we're just stepping up and contributing something else to the show," she said. "The foundation is already there so, for me, I think we're adding something extra. Girls are into footy and it's rewarding for us because we love the game just as much as everyone else."

The Marn Grook Footy Show's founder and host, Grant Hansen, wanted female input from the start.

"In today's era, women play an important role in Australian football," he said. "Half of AFL club memberships are from women, women are employed by the AFL and AFL clubs and game attendees each weekend are split 50 per cent (male, female), so we're reflecting this in our show."

Is what they're doing an example mainstream media could do well to follow?

"For sure," Hansen said. "I think we need to encourage more Indigenous football journalists in the national newspapers and other media. That's very important."

The footy show is picking up something of a cult following, if random, positive mentions on various football-related Internet message boards are anything to go by. The roll call of guests in the past month alone is impressive. Its relaxed atmosphere and actual football discussion is far removed from its blokey predecessors. While the focus remains on AFL-level football, the scope is wider than the 73 Indigenous players in the AFL this year.

"It gives the girls an opportunity in footy and their segments are quite serious and an integral part of the show, plus they're all better looking than us," Hansen said.

"I do think the girls are enjoying the 'notoriety' of the show," he added, just quietly. "They're getting recognised and pulled up and asked for photos and autographs."

Tonight's program is dedicated to women in football, acknowledging the important role they play in the game.

Farmer, who has experience in theatre and TV, likened her role on the footy show to one of a cultural expression. She said the team want to avoid adopting the 'pack mentality' that is mainstream football media.

"In our culture, there are many storytellers and the thing I love about this role is you get to meet new people and share their stories," she said. "We don't want to fall into the trap like the other media in hunting people for stories; we want to share those stories. It's just a different way of doing things."

Gurruwiwi, originally from north-east Arnhem Land, has lived in Victoria for most of her life. A former radio presenter, she is a Western Bulldogs member and goes to the footy every weekend.

Fien, in her first role in television, co-hosts the news segments and provides weekly tips. A proud Yorta Yorta woman, and Bombers fan, she is involved heavily in Indigenous youth affairs in Melbourne.

When asked, Farmer reveals panelist and former Geelong and Adelaide forward Ronnie Burns spends the most time in the make-up room. "They're all great to work with," she said of her colleagues. "The funniest bloke is Uncle Gilly (Gilbert McAdam). Really, it's just an honour to be part of an Indigenous footy show, the first in the world."

DARREN MONCRIEFF
AboriginalFootball@westnet.com.au
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Pictures courtesy:
Upatree Productions MMXIII



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