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Instead of two moments tailored for different audiences at NRL and AFL grand finals, why not have one national ceremony?


Football grand finals are a time of pomp and pageantry both real and contrived, as we attempt to add layers of significance and gravitas to the most important game of the season and also justify the hefty price of admission.

In the attempt to provide, ahem, “Super Bowl-style entertainment”, the NRL has a better record of matching hype with expectation and has even created the odd iconic moment such as Macklemore’s rendition of One Love.

The AFL tends to lurch between cringeworthy Meatloaf misfires and The Killers belters.

Far more emotionally connected with the game and the occasion are those symbolic moments when the players stand in line and the crowd falls silent.

It used to be just the national anthem and, at the AFL grand final, the anthem of the United Suburbs of Melbourne, Mike Brady’s Up There Cazaly, which will echo around an empty MCG on Saturday evening.

Now we also have Welcome to Country, a fitting moment of Indigenous recognition and a belated acknowledgement of 232 years of false entitlement.

Together, the Welcome to Country and the national anthem form a sort of package of national recognition, a patriotic double-header if you like.

Sydney Stack is front and centre, surrounded by painted Indigenous men and followed by his teammates, doing a traditional dance
Welcome to Country and other Indigenous acknowledgements heighten the sense of what is missing from the national anthem that follows.(AAP: Mark Dadswell)

And yet, from this isolated armchair, during these finals the pairing has also created a sense of discord; a feeling that we have two moments tailored for different audiences instead of one organically connected national ceremony.

This is in no way to diminish the importance of Welcome to Country, much less suggest it is not an integral part of our public gatherings — be it a local council meeting in a municipal hall, or a grand sporting event viewed by millions.

As players stretch their hamstrings and trade impatient glances, I have heard it suggested that the elongated version of Welcome to Country followed by the national anthem forces competitors to stand motionless for too long, thus compromising their warm-up.

I would suggest athletes who can’t stay fit and focused during these significant ceremonies would probably do better making their living as shepherds than playing an elite sport.

A team of AFL players stand arm-in-arm as they wait at a packed ground for the start of a final.
The national anthem is a feature of finals matches, but does not include any recognition of Indigenous Australia.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Rather than any sort of inconvenience, Welcome to Country merely heightens the sense of what is missing from the national anthem that follows — the recognition of the Indigenous heritage that has just been acknowledged.

This feeling is never more obvious than when Australia plays New Zealand or South Africa, nations with anthems that powerfully and melodically intertwine their ancient and modern heritage and languages.

If your tear ducts don’t twitch when you hear Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika before the Springboks play, then your sense of South African history is about as well developed as Sir Les Patterson’s sense of fashion.

You might think New Zealand needs God to defend it because it can’t afford a decent lawyer. But everyone knows the Wallabies are seven points down before the first whistle when they play the All Blacks, such is the lopsided nature of the battle of the anthems.

The feeling of disconnection created by Advance Australia Fair has been felt by Indigenous athletes for some time; so much so, the anthem was dropped from the pre-game ceremonies at the NRL’s Indigenous All-Stars game.

Predictably those such as South Sydney star Latrell Mitchell who have stood silent during a national anthem that recognises a “young and free” nation, not one with a 70,000-year history, were vilified in some quarters.

Latrell Mitchell stands and shouts while surrounded by kneeling Indigenous All Stars during a war cry.
Latrell Mitchell has been seen as polarising when he has silently protested the Australian national anthem.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Pundits who labelled Mitchell “divisive” wilfully failed to recognise that Indigenous athletes, and others, are merely asking to be included in their anthem. Much in the way native African and Maori and Islander experience is celebrated in the anthems of South African and New Zealand.

The Black Lives Matter movement has popularised the symbolic protest of taking a knee during the anthem. As it is, Australia’s Indigenous athletes could be forgiven for reading a book until the game begins and they are again included in proceedings.

Some have suggested adopting the catchy jingle “I am, you are, we are Australian” as an inclusive anthem. The more ambitious wonder why we can’t have the kind of soaring anthem that brings the many strands of a multi-racial nation together.

Why is this relevant now? Because of all the times the national anthem is played at public events, rarely is the moment itself — as opposed to the actual anthem — more poignant than during those precious few seconds when a grand final crowd falls silent.

I suspect that silence will be a touch heavier this weekend. Not because the stadiums will be half-filled; because of the sense of isolation and dislocation and the real hardship the pandemic has created.

For supporters of Richmond, Geelong and Melbourne Storm particularly, these will be distant grand finals played beyond closed borders by teams they have not seen for long months. In living rooms, pre-game emotions will be charged.

How wonderful it would be if the crowd’s contemplative hush was followed by a stirring rendition of an anthem that spoke for every Australian.

Offsiders will have a special one-hour AFL grand final review/NRL grand final preview show this Sunday at 10:00am on ABC TV.



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AFL Brownlow Medal ceremony goes virtual, but the footy stars and their partners still rock red carpet looks


The Brownlow Medal 2020 ceremony usually takes place in Melbourne, but this year’s event was spread out across Australia.

The bulk of the players in the Queensland bubble were at an event at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast.

And there were events in Perth and Adelaide, as well as in Sydney and Melbourne.

AFL partners and players are shown across eight different screens with a scoreboard at the bottom on the left and right.
AFL players and their partners at Carrarra stadium, the SCG, the Gabba, Adelaide Oval, Perth Stadium and the Melbourne studio.(Supplied: Channel 7)

Things may be all over the place due to coronavirus, but the footy stars and their partners still delivered looks — even though attendees were reportedly told they didn’t need to follow a strict black tie dress code this year.

Here’s who dressed up and who didn’t (spoiler alert: everyone did).

The Brisbane Lions’ Lachie Neale and partner Julie didn’t hold back, with the new first lady of footy donning a sheer floor-length gown and tousled waves.

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And Hawthorn’s Jack Gunston rocked a suit and a face mask, captioning his Instagram outfit post: “Brownlow Medal Victorian Style.”

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Meanwhile, Melbourne’s Christian Petracca and his partner Bella were #Brownlow ready in Brisbane.

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The Brisbane Lions’ Charlie Cameron went for a suave dark velvet ensemble, with his partner Caitlin Seeto in an equally elegant black number.

Charlie Cameron smiles as he holds his partner Caitlin by the waist. They both wear black.
Charlie Cameron, with partner Caitlin Seeto, was up for the mark of the year gong but went home empty handed.(AAP Image: Darren England)

West Coast Eagles player Luke Shuey and his partner Dani were dressed to the nines.

Shuey said he was disappointed not to be playing this weekend.

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Melbourne’s Jack Viney and his wife Charlotte posed for pictures with their baby daughter Mila Grace.

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And the Sydney Swans’ Luke Parker cut a dapper figure next to partner Kate Lawrence, who stood out in a red number.

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Equally sharp were the Melbourne Demons’ Steven May and partner Briana.

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The Western Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Libatore brought their fashion A game, both rocking up to the Gold Coast event in style.

Libatore’s suit even covered up his, “My god you’re greasy” tattoo.

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Brownlow Medal live: Lachie Neale the favourite, AFL players and partners gather for different ceremony


The 2020 Brownlow Medal is here — but not as you know it.

Follow all the glamour and drama of the night, with Brisbane’s Lachie Neale the favourite to take home the medal.

Live updates

By Dean Bilton

What do we know about tonight? 

 

While much of how tonight will work is a mystery, there are a few things we know for sure. We know that players will be gathering in little mini-Brownlow events all over the country, so as to stay in line with coronavirus restrictions. We know that Lachie Neale is the favourite. That’s about it.

  

By Dean Bilton

A Brownlow Medal night with a difference 

 

Hello one and all and welcome, on this fine Sunday night in mid-October, to the 2020 Brownlow Medal. A strange season in a strange year has tossed up a strange Brownlow night, with so many of the event’s traditions made impossible by the rona and whatnot.

 

And so we are left with… whatever this is. A rearranged and rescheduled digital ceremony that, if nothing else, should at least allow us to crown and celebrate the best player of this AFL season.

 

How will it work? Not really sure! Will everyone still be wearing the fancy clothes? Don’t know! Can anyone stop Lachie Neale from winning? Probably not! But we’re going to have some fun finding out. Stick around for the night as we navigate this peculiar COVID Brownlow together.



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Swarm of moths caused panic during the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony


It took Australia’s 40 best forecasters to predict the clear skies and sunny weather for the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony, and one swarm of moths to put everyone in a flap.

Minutes into the ceremony, Tony Bannister — the head forecaster for the Games — noticed a growing rain blip on the weather radar while in the Bureau of Meteorology office.

“It was stressful, we were holding our breaths,” Mr Bannister said.

“We were running from the radar to the window on the other side of the building and making dozens of phone calls. It was happening very fast.

“In our line of work every second counts,” Mr Bannister said.

Then the real culprit landed.

The massive rain cloud approaching the stadium was actually a swarm of millions of moths, attracted to Stadium Australia’s giant lights.

As legendary soprano Yvonne Kenny sang the Olympic Hymn in a dazzling purple gown, a ruffled bogong moth crash landed on her torso.

A man smile
Tony Bannister was stressed by a radar ping, thinking rain was on its way.(Supplied)

“There were six of us there with a little TV on in the background and we saw it,” Mr Bannister said.

“We couldn’t laugh, because at the time I was thinking it was going to be a raindrop, we’d be lined up outside like the Russians and shot.”

Mr Bannister, head of severe weather for Victoria in 2000, was invited north for the Olympics along with more than 40 forecasters and researchers from across Australia.

“We thought of ourselves as the A-Team,” he said.

But the radar ping had the veteran weatherman stressed.

“We had stuck our necks out and said it would be clear skies and this cool change would happen later in the evening,” he said.

“The radar was showing stuff that looks like drizzle, which is much worse than heavy rain because you get so much more soaked and it’s really annoying.”

A man draws on plastic overlay over a computer screen to plot movement of rain.
A senior forecaster plots rain and wind movements during the Games.(Supplied)

As she performed, Ms Kenny saw the moths approaching.

“I’d prepared the dress, my hair, everything, the hymn. But you don’t have ultimate control,” she said from the UK.

“Life presents you with something unexpected and you have to take it in your stride and not take it too seriously.”

The swarm of moths fluttered on their way as the Olympic flag was lowered and passed on to Greece, and the weather team was finally able to exhale.

“It’s turned into a great story and it was a beaut night,” Mr Bannister said.

A group of people smiling
A team of more than 40 forecasters and researchers worked on the Sydney Olympics.(Supplied)



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How the Sydney 2000 Olympics opening ceremony came within a ‘hair’s breadth’ of disaster


The world was watching when Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame during the Sydney 2000 opening ceremony — but the historic moment was close to being a humiliating failure.

“There is a hair’s breadth between triumph and tragedy,” Michael Knight said.

Twenty years after the ceremony, the former NSW Minister for the Olympics feels comfortable laughing about the moment that came so close to disaster.

Anyone who watched the event would remember the well-publicised wobbles — the cauldron getting stuck for almost four heart-stopping minutes on its way to the top of the stadium.

But few know that delay almost led to the ‘sacred flame’, which had travelled all the way from Olympia in Greece, snuffing out as more than two billion people watched.

A man wearing a suit stands in front of a large cauldron converted into a fountain.
Former Olympics Minister Michael Knight at Sydney Olympic Park on the 20th anniversary of the games.(ABC News: Jonathan Hair)

Four minutes is a long time in show business, and the cauldron was never meant to spend so long in transit.

“The cauldron ran off bottled gas and it had a limited life expectancy while it was on bottled gas,” Mr Knight told the ABC.

“Only when it ascended to the top of the stadium did it join the permanent gas line.”

The night before the ceremony, secret rehearsals were underway to make sure the show went off without a hitch.

“After Cathy’s two rehearsals, one of our senior executives, Colin Ging, went round and said, ‘You’ve got to top up the gas bottles,’ Mr Knight said.

“And the guys with the bottles said, ‘Oh look there’s a tonne of gas.’

“And Colin said, ‘Top it up! Don’t take any risks, fill it to the brim.'”

That order turned out to be the hair’s breadth.

A woman stands in a pool of water, holding a flaming torch down to light another ring of fire at her feet
Australian sporting icon Cathy Freeman lights the Olympic cauldron.(AFP: Nogi Kazuhiro)

After the initial glitch, the cauldron was able to travel up to the top of the stadium where it burned for the remainder of the Games.

But the day after the opening ceremony an inspection of the gas bottles showed how close organisers had come to being an international embarrassment.

“That’s how close we came to the sacred Olympic flame, lit by the sun’s rays in Olympia, carried through Oceania, carried by over 10,000 torch bearers around Australia, almost dying out on international television with the whole world watching,” he laughed.

Mr Knight said Cathy Freeman had an earpiece so she could take instructions from the event’s director. But at that moment, the communication stopped.

“She said, ‘All I heard was, ‘Cathy, hold your position, we’ve got a problem’,” Mr Knight recalled.

“And then after that, all [she] heard was swearing.”

The ancient Gods above Mount Olympia must have been watching over Sydney that night to keep the flame alive.



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Twenty years on, one Yolgnu elder recalls his leading role in the Sydney Olympic opening ceremony


His eyes are gleaming with pride, while teeth in a wide smile catch the day’s last light.

Sitting on a remote beach in north-east Arnhem Land, thousands of kilometres away and 20 years on, Djakapurra Munyarryun recounts his leading role in the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony.

“It was huge,” he beams.

A man stands on a beach with arms outstretched.
Djakapurra Munyarryun still performs at home near Yirrkala in the Northern Territory.(ABC News: Matt McLean)

Munyarryun is perhaps most recognisable as a guide to the show’s younger star, Nikki Webster, but it was the chance to share his culture that meant so much to the Yolngu elder.

He carried a piece of it around his neck that night.

“I was carrying that sacred dillybag. It’s significant for my community and my clan group … [because it] carries a lot of stories,” Munyarryun said.

“When I was walking through the field, watching around, what surrounded me, there was a lot of eyes and there was a lot of cameras flashing, make me more proud.”

More than a 100,000 people witnessed the spectacular from the stands of Stadium Australia in Homebush, while another 2 billion from across the globe tuned in on television.

A man and a woman hold hands on a large circular stage
Djakapurra Munyarryan with Nikki Webster performing during the Olympic opening ceremony.(Allsport: Jed Jacobsohn)

But Munyarryun was not nervous.

“I started … when I was five years old,” he said.

“The dances and songs came from thousands of years [ago], we’re still doing it.

“People need to see that we are here, the Indigenous people of Australia.”

Djakapurra still performs, but these days spends more time closer to home at Yirrkala in the Northern Territory, teaching others traditional song and dance.

A man wearing cap and jacket looks to the right and stands amongst smoke and dramatic lighting.
Stephen Page faced pressure to boycott the Sydney Olympics.(Supplied: Bangarra/Tobias Rowels)

Of the opening ceremony’s 12,000 performers, about 1,000 were involved in the Indigenous segments called ‘The Awakenings’, co-directed and choregraphed by Stephen Page.

“Ninety per cent of them had never been to the city,” he said.

“The fuel of empowerment that was running through our black veins at the time was very special.”

But Mr Page said he faced pressure from some quarters to boycott the Olympics and instead use the platform to campaign for black justice.

“I said I’d choregraph the protest march from Circular Quay to Victoria Park,” he recalled.

“But we needed to have representation inside the stadium and to hear our voices, so this was a perfect time for us in 2000.”

Two women prepare to embrace, while one holds a large flaming torch
Shane Gould passes the Olympic torch to Debbie Flintoff-King during the ceremony in 2000.(Allsport: Billy Strickland)

It was also high time to celebrate the achievements of women.

Seven of Australia’s great female athletes — Betty Cuthbert, Raelene Boyle, Dawn Fraser, Shirley Strickland, Shane Gould, Debbie Flintoff-King, and Cathy Freeman — carried the torch in the opening ceremony, marking 100 year of women competing in the Games.

Olympic swimmer, Gould, said the group represented the depth of talent and the longevity of strong Australian performances by women.

The duty was an honour, Gould said, but it required serious preparation in secret.

“I got a call from John Coates, the President of the Australian Olympic Committee … he said this is of the highest secrecy.”

Gould thought she’d better practice some running so she practiced carrying a stick like a torch around the back streets of Margaret River where she lived at the time.

A smiling woman with glasses sitting in a stadium.
Shane Gould was one of Australia’s greatest female athletes chosen to carry the torch.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

And what of nosy neighbours?

“There were some windy tracks so I could see if anyone was coming. I’d just sort of drop the stick,” Gould joked.

The operation was so clandestine, even Gould did not know who would be joining her on the night until she arrived in Sydney for uniform fittings.

She was in good company.

“Each one of them broke many barriers and showed that women just are. We don’t have to be compared with men,” Gould said.



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