Sporting Nationalisms: Identity, Ethnicity, Immigration, and Assimilation

By Mike Cronin; David Mayall | Go to book overview

Conformity, Diversity, and Difference in Antipodean Physical Culture: The Indelible Influence of Immigration, Ethnicity, and Race during the Formative Years of Organized Sport in Australia,c.1788-1918

DARYL ADAIR

For historians of Australian sport, the post-Second World War era has been of greatest interest with respect to the combined impact of immigration, ethnicity, and race on Australian sport. This focus on the relatively recent past is understandable. Demographically, the overwhelming majority of Australians in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were either immigrants from Britain and Ireland or their descendants. Not until the four decades after 1945 did the Commonwealth's ethnic composition become noticeably diverse, during which time around six million immigrants from various parts of the world-many from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESBs)-made Australia their home. 1 In doing so these people brought with them their traditional sports and pastimes, such as the Italian game of bocce, while they also stamped their influence on locally played sports familiar to Europeans, such as soccer, wrestling, and boxing. 2

There are two further compelling reasons for a focus on immigration, ethnicity, and race during the recent history of Australian sport. First, in 1967 a national referendum was passed authorizing the federal government to count Aborigines in the Commonwealth census, and to assume new legislative powers with respect to the condition of indigenous people. Historically, Aborigines faced both official and de facto restrictions to their freedom of movement and rights of association. In terms of the 'white world' of organized sport this had either limited or complicated Aboriginal involvement. 3 Second, in 1972 the new federal Labour government announced that Australia, as a nation of immigrants from diverse (though predominantly European) backgrounds, should embrace multiculturalism. In terms of sport this Commonwealth policy provided credibility to an existing practice of Australian-based soccer clubs representing particular ethnic communities. 4 Just as significantly, the ideal of a multicultural nation also suggested that Australians from NESB's and racial minorities ought to

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