Doctor of Philosophy
School of the Arts, English and Media
This thesis has its origins deeply rooted in astonishment and curiosity. When I sat to watch a televised game of Australian Rules football in 2009, after a viewing absence of over two decades, I found that the language was so distinctly foreign, the positioning of the ordinary so unexpected that it took a while to locate. The contrast between my expectations, however deeply buried they may have been, and the actuality seemed a seismic shift in the ideology of what (in my raised-in-Melbourne-mind) is not only Australia’s national sport, but also the greatest contest game on earth. Degrees of ambivalence were communicated through the commentary that were unfamiliar to me and I was curious to see how language in broadcast football commentary had transitioned from that I imagined I remembered to that now being heard over an interval of more than 20 years. As it turned out my investigations into broadcast commentary begin in the same decade I have actual, if debatably accurate, memory of (the 1970s). Therefore, it is as much against my own life experiences and understandings that these changes in the words we use in our ordinary lives have been mapped, as it is of the scholarly theorists whose work has guided my prodding, most particularly Walter Benjamin and James Clifford. We are each shaped by our environment and this is reflected nowhere more accurately than in the words we choose to use. It appears likely language is instrumental in facilitating transition between one accepted ordinary and another, states of ordinary which are today rapidly superseded by newer ordinaries in part because of the ability to communicate with unprecedented range and reach.
In the early days of television, particularly in Melbourne, football was a social knit-stitch that pulled far-flung communities closer. Fifty years ago there was more than mere distance between industrial Geelong and bayside Moorabbin or inner-city Fitzroy but football, very present in the everyday, wove connecting threads where there were few other commonalities, for man, woman and child alike. Establishing club allegiance was an early question in any new friendship or random introduction. The people who watch are as important to the longevity of the game as the players are. The few people who describe the game to the many people who watch – both those that attend games physically, and those removed watching broadcasts – are immersed in a world that their audience enters and leaves at will. Increasingly these commentators are ex-players, even further submerged in the game, its politics and its ethos. Although football has been played by men chasing an erratically bouncing oval ball for more than one hundred years, the language with which it is communicated has changed through the decades. What the commentators of today are choosing to say to those watching is different because when they look at men chasing an erratically bouncing oval ball, they are no longer seeing the same things their predecessors did.
Tracking how language reflects the changing of that which is seen has been made possible by a process of immersion in the world of football. I have watched 325 full games of football (listed in Appendix 2), several of them more than once, purely for the exercise of listening to the commentary. The final quarters of 69 games have been transcribed in full; the travails of converting audio to text, and the selection processes are outlined in the Methodology chapter, page 20. Without including reading or research, simply listening and transcribing has exceeded the equivalent of 25 forty-hour work weeks (1000 hours). Aware few are afforded such opportunity to indulge a curiosity it must be acknowledged that listening with intent is a habit, once acquired, difficult to discard. Submersion in the idiosyncrasies of any narrowly defined culture must alter one’s world view.
This, therefore, is an in-depth look at how that which is accepted as ordinary within the language of televised Australian Rules football commentary has changed between the 1970s and the 2010s. This work was formally begun in 2015, a time which within the writing of this has already become the past and will be forming an interpretable aura of its own. Within the industry of football as a marketable product on a media system as competitive as the code itself, is a language, a form of communication that has moved through time in tandem with the game. This is history. The changes in the ways in which Australians wield language in the world of Australian Rules football, a competitive contact sport with such broad and varied reach, reflects altered perspectives over half a century. What follows is the story told by a collection of transcripts from five decades of televised football.
Allender, Samantha, Good Composure: Mapping Shifting Norms in the Language of Televised Australian Rules Commentary, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of the Arts, English and Media, University of Wollongong, 2021. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses1/1132
FoR codes (2008)
2001 COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES, 200104 Media Studies, 2003 LANGUAGE STUDIES
Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.