Fairfax’s Martin Flanagan reports on the continued success and exceptional TV talent that is the Marngrook Footy Show.
THE week Melbourne lost by 186 points to Geelong and coach Dean Bailey got the sack I watched the Marngrook Footy Show.
The prevailing tone of the footy media that week was running at the same pitch it does when a natural disaster like a cyclone hits. A tidal wave of rumour and speculation about the Demons’ inner politics swamped the footy world so that even someone like Garry Lyon, who was supposedly at the centre of events, admitted he didn’t know which stories were true and which weren’t. It was one of the high points of the season in terms of footy as a media game.
So what struck me when I tuned into the Marngrook Footy Show that week was that the show didn’t start with Melbourne. It bounced straight into the teams for the next round, the ins and outs, who was going to win and why. It was like watching an old 1960s footy show, the difference being that this show is indigenous. What makes it even more interesting is that more and more non-indigenous people are watching it.
The host, and the brains behind the show, is Grant Hansen. A western suburbs boy, he played under-19s for Footscray before playing with local clubs like St Albans. A professional musician, he has served on numerous boards of indigenous arts and media organisations.
Sixteen years ago, motivated by the fact that there were no former indigenous players in the footy media, he started a radio show called the Marngrook Footy Show. It just keeps growing. Hansen says the TV version of the Marngrook Footy Show, aired nationally each Thursday night on ABC2 and NITV, now plays to 300,000-400,000 viewers.
A lot of the show’s appeal lies in its panel. Gilbert McAdam is an Aboriginal Lou Richards. He gets up from the bottom of every pack with a quip. His relationship with the English language is unusual and entirely his own. Listening to him speak can be like watching a frog leap backwards – his sentences start where they end and end where they start but the one sure thing is that Gilbert enjoys himself. He’s like a man driving a tractor the wrong way up the Hume Highway waving to all the cars.
Then there’s Rocking Ronnie Burns who looks and sounds like a slick, rough-voiced character in a Martin Scorsese film about America in the 1920s. Ronnie is a Tiwi Islander with a near permanent grin on one side of his face. The late Bob Davis immortally said of Ronnie’s time at Geelong that he was “good until they taught him how to play”. Ronnie was a smart player, as was Gilbert, who was among St Kilda’s best in one of the best finals I’ve seen – St Kilda v Geelong, 1991.
Usually Chris Johnson is on. In my book, Johnson’s a champion in that he made a complete product of his footballing talents. Back pocket in one of the best teams of all time (Brisbane Lions 2001-2003), he’s a three-time premiership player who was twice All-Australian. Johnson has a natural authority and I hope he coaches at AFL level. He was also the last Fitzroy player in the AFL, which is fitting given that a lot of older Victorian Kooris like Archie Roach and Uncle Banjo Clarke barracked for Fitzroy because that, once upon a time, was where Kooris lived in Melbourne.
The final member of the panel, Alan Thorpe, played with four AFL clubs – Fitzroy, Footscray, Sydney and Carlton – and too many other clubs for him to remember. He is known on the panel as the Journeyman. However, Thorpe’s roundabout path through life has made him a man of depth. He does a lot of work in the Koori community, organising events like men’s groups.
What’s clever about the show is that it’s made with children in mind. Nothing is said or done which questions its family show status. It’s good-natured, it’s fun and guests are lining up to appear on it. Fremantle coach Mark Harvey took over the program the night he was on, as did that true original, Rex Hunt. A notion of respect underpins the show so that when people who really know the game speak – like Mark Maclure and Wayne Carey on Thursday night – people listen. The program also showcases live Australian music.
It has two women presenters, primary school teacher Shelley Ware and the evocatively named Leila Gurruwiwi. What strikes me about Leila, who comes originally from Arnhem Land, is how confident she is. In fact, what strikes me about the Marngrook Footy Show is how confident it is. Anyone making generalisations about indigenous culture in this country that neglected to mention the Marngrook Footy Show would be missing something significant.
The show is edging its way into the mainstream media, which is exactly where Grant Hansen wants to take it.