How Passion for Sports Shaped Australian Nationalism


Australia is home to many world class athletes and has developed top champions in different sports. Perhaps a name that has been lost in sports history is Charlie Samuels, a Kamilaroi who was the first Aborigine to be recognised as an international champion. In 1888, Samuels ran the fastest 100 yard dash in 9.1 seconds.

People are more familiar with Australian champions such as Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Margaret Court and Yvonne Goolagong in tennis. Ian Thorpe, Stephanie Rice and Dawn Fraser brought the country Olympic Gold in swimming. Jeff Fenech, Michael Katsidis and Jeff Horn became champions in boxing.

It’s easy to understand why Australia has become a breeding ground for sporting world champions. The country has conditions that are ideal for physical activity. It has some of the world’s best beaches. The environment is supportive for outdoor training and exercise regimen. Over the years, Australia has developed its resources to encourage fitness as a form of leisure.

Australian’s passion for sports can be seen in how its people cheer the home team versus the visitors. Whether it is in cricket, rugby or Jeff Horn’s recent sensational victory over 8-time world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, sporting events cultivate the spirit of Australian nationalism.

It did not matter what the so-called international boxing experts thought. For Australia, Jeff Horn won decisively over the future Hall of Famer Pacquiao. The country threw a parade and rightfully bestowed honours on the hard-hitting, hard working Horn.

We can trace the development of sports in Australia from the Aborigines who first settled in the territories around 60,000 to 100,000 years ago. Physical fitness was a by-product of the environment. Children were taught to run, swim, climb and jump in order to survive.

Whilst these were activities that were borne out of necessity, they were also sources of fun and leisure. Competitions were regularly hosted to find the fastest and strongest among the community.

When the British arrived in 1788, they introduced various forms of physical activities and sporting events including cricket, rowing and fishing. Since most of the new settlers were convicts, some of the new games introduced were considered “blood sport”; violent and very physical. Among these activities were boxing, cock fighting and kangaroo hunting.

At the turn of the 20th century, an estimated 75% of the non-indigenous population were born in Australia. Only 17% came from Great Britain. Natural born Australians started to nurture the idea that they were not British.

The spirit of nationalism was very evident when the best cricket players from the colonies went to London and beat the British team by seven runs in a Test match.

Today it is very difficult to differentiate sport as either a physical fitness or leisure activity because Australians thoroughly enjoy it in both case. There is an argument to be made that over the years, through countless generations, sport has become part of Australian DNA. Regardless of political affiliation, a sporting event will always bring the nation together to cheer and rally behind its athletes.

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