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Sport in Australian culture

Australia is often considered to be a 'sports mad' country. Our love of sport is reflected in the number of people who play sport, attend sporting events and view sport on television. Australia leads the world in sports science and in the technical development of television sporting coverage.

Sport and our national identity

For a nation with a relatively small population, Australia performs remarkably well at an international level. Sporting success, particularly on the world stage, enables the creation of a distinct national identity. Victorious sports people often become national heroes and some, like legendary cricketer Donald Bradman, become revered as Australian icons.

The popularity of sport in Australia can partly be attributed to a warm climate that encourages people to get outdoors and be active. Sport also enables well-loved national values like 'mateship', 'having a go', and 'egalitarianism' (the assumption that that all people are equal), to be played out. Australians also revel in the expression of 'fair play' on the sporting field - hence, sports cheats are often chastised for being 'un-Australian.'

Sport as a reflection of social change

A close examination of sport can yield other important discoveries about changes in our culture over time. As Australian society became more commercialised and globalised, so too did our sport. From an amateur, locally-based pastime, sport in Australia gradually evolved into a professional, highly lucrative industry with international scope.

The development of sport in Australia also reflects the gradual movement of our culture away from its British roots, towards a more Americanised, yet distinctly Australian cultural hybrid. While sports like cricket and the various codes of rugby point to our British heritage, modern sports like basketball demonstrate the penetration of American influence into our culture. At the same time, local sports like Australian Rules football continue to thrive.

Sport in the 1960s

Australia excelled in international sport throughout most of the 1960s, and local participation rates were high. Tennis and football turned professional, and television changed the way Australians watched sport. Women asserted their right to compete in previously male-dominated sports, although they still struggled to achieve true sporting equality.

Towards the end of the decade, however, some people believed that Australia's sporting performances had suffered a decline. Many experts feared that Australia would soon be overtaken by the professional, structured sporting systems being established in other countries.

Tennis in the 1960s

Tennis players like Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Neale Fraser and Rod Laver ensured that Australia remained the dominant tennis nation of the 1960s. Throughout the decade, Australia won the Davis Cup seven times and took home the Wimbledon men's singles title eight times.

Margaret Smith Court, one of Australia's most successful women's tennis players, emerged onto the international scene in 1960. Over the next 15 years, she would go on to win 62 singles and doubles Grand Slam titles.

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Australian Rules football in the 1960s

In the 1960s, Australian Rules football was State-based and did not have a national competition. The strongest and most popular State competition was the Victorian Football League (VFL).

Television began to have a major impact on Australian Rules football in the 1960s. Sporting coverage on television attracted large audiences and some football players achieved widespread celebrity status. Increased gate attendance and club memberships meant that clubs could now pay their players. Football became a professional, rather than an amateur sport and Australian Rules players and coaches were enticed to other clubs by generous salaries - much to the consternation of die-hard fans.

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As well as traditional gate takings, both rugby league and union attracted money through sponsorship, television rights and licensed clubs throughout the 1960s, though the amounts were extremely modest compared to today's standards. Rugby league administrators tentatively agreed to the televising of matches, although they were concerned that it would lead to a drop in gate attendance. In the coming years, however, television would prove to be a multi-million dollar cash boon for many sports.

Olympic Games during the 1960s

Australia won 22 medals at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Compared with the 35-medal haul in Melbourne, some Australians were disappointed with this result. In 1964, Australia brought home 18 medals from the Tokyo Olympics and just 17 from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. By the end of the decade, experts claimed that Australia's international sporting dominance was waning.

Many reasons were put forward to explain this decline. Australia's geographic isolation had always made international competition difficult and expensive and forced Australian athletes to compete during their off-season.

The biggest problem, however, was that Australian sport remained relatively amateur and unstructured compared with the rigorous, professional sporting systems that were emerging in Europe and America. In the 1960s, it was becoming clear that talent was no longer enough - if it were to retain its international sporting dominance, Australia would require a government-funded national sports system. The full realisation of this would be seen in the coming decade.

Women and sport in the 1960s

The study of sport can yield valuable information on the status and roles of particular groups in society as a whole. Traditionally, groups such as Indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and women have been discriminated against, or treated unequally in relation to sports participation. This treatment is thought to reflect the prevailing cultural attitudes towards these groups.

In the past, social traditions and a dominant masculine culture had confined women to 'refined' sports like croquet and tennis. Even when they did play sport, women's results were often reported in the social pages of newspapers rather than in news sections and women themselves considered their participation to be a recreational pursuit rather than a serious, competitive one.

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In the 1960s, however, women demanded equal status to men in many areas of social, political and cultural life. This included the sporting sphere, where some women challenged society's expectations by taking up sports like horse racing, football, long-distance running, and even weight lifting.

While women were gradually accepted into almost all kinds of sport, history has shown that they would continue to struggle to achieve true sporting equality with men, particularly in the areas of funding and media coverage.

According to some critics, this discrimination and marginalisation of certain groups within sport goes against fundamental Australian values like 'egalitarianism', or equality for all.


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