‘Sport with guns‘, Meanjin, 67, 4, Summer 2008, pp.10-13
Suggests that Australia’s ‘celebration of the military’ has addled our consciousness, in the way that, according to Patrick White, sport had done. ‘The two things are connected. Under John Howard we had become used to a deepening khaki tinge in Australian life.’ The trend has continued under Kevin Rudd’s Labor and the author lists a number of military commemorations, from Villers Bretonneux to HMAS Sydney. Other significant anniversaries, like early democratic reforms and Eureka, have been overshadowed. Enthusiasm for Gallipoli has grown, particularly among young people.
Their enthusiasm is real, nonetheless. Now that high culture and religion have been marginalised, there are few readily accessible ways of connecting with the past. The military tradition offers both group identification and stirring individual action, tied together by the raw idealism of patriotism. But the distinctive contemporary note is that military activity is coming to be seen as sport with guns.
Davidson goes on to outline historical connections between sport and war such as recruitment of sportsmen’s battalions and sports teams. He describes the AFL’s Anzac Day Match, military style coaching, teams making Kokada Trail journeys, players making allusions to the Anzacs, chauvinistic barracking, and so on. He looks also at attitudes to deaths in war, including suggestions that Australian soldiers have been mollycoddled, and to success in sport.
So government subsidy for culture, including sport, can have extraordinary long-term consequences. The clamour for more taxpayers’ money to be spent on sport should therefore be carefully considered. One well-known commentator privately remarks that Europe is good at culture, Australia good at sport. It should not be that neat. We do not have to become the Sparta of the South. True, our religion—as the Melbourne Times used to style its football coverage—does seem to be sport, and its influence is becoming more pervasive. This year has seen the establishment of the Basil Sellers prize, for art concerned with sport. With $150,000 in prize money, it is worth twice as much as the Archibald. (Yes, the word “sport” does appear in this paragraph six times. But that’s what it’s like, living in a jockracy.)