The end of the Bushrangers? Such is life

In shock news announced this week, the Victorian Cricket Team will from now on be known as … the Victorian Cricket Team. The team has been known as the Bushrangers for the past 20 years.

But in the famous last words of the greatest bushranger of all, Ned Kelly: Such is life.

Many people at first thought this might have been a change brought about by political correctness. After all, bushrangers were nothing more than armed robbers. But, then again, men like Kelly, Ben Hall and the poetically named Captain Moonlight are now regarded as romantic heroes.

But Cricket Victoria’s operations chief, Shaun Graf, said that times were changing and there was simply too much clutter, especially with Melbourne having two Big Bash teams, the Stars and the Renegades. Adding weight to this point of view, Victoria’s women’s team will also no longer be called The Spirit.

What’s striking about the dropping of these nicknames is that it appears to be a mature and considered retreat from the usual hyper-commercial landscape of Australian sport where every team must be branded with a nickname and a mascot – if for no other reason than to help sell the team merchandise.

Australia’s first national team was the men’s cricket team in 1877 – that has somehow survived 140 years without specific branding. They were followed by Rugby League (the Kangaroos) and Union (the Wallabies) in the early 20th Century.

Today Australia is saturated with nonsensical names for its sporting teams. It starts with the Socceroos and Matildas in men’s and women’s soccer and gets worse from there. There’s the Boomers and the Opals in basketball; Sharks and Stingers in water polo; the Kookaburras and the Hockeyroos in hockey.

If the names for our national teams reflect a desperate straining to find some connection, however tenuous, between the sport and Australia’s flora and fauna, the situation gets much worse when it comes to modern sports clubs’ nicknames.

Sure there are some nicknames that echo down the decades and retain a deep connection to the club. So the Magpies reflected the team jersey of black and white and the Swans proudly point to roots in Western Australia. In Sydney, the most famous and historic club is the South Sydney Rabbitohs – named after the men who would trap and kill rabbits and then walk the streets selling fur and meat.

Today, sadly, tradition has nothing to do with it. So we get the Brisbane Broncos (Rugby League), the GWS Giants and the Gold Coast Suns (AFL). Each of these names comes neatly packaged from America – straight out of a PowerPoint presentation from a fast-talking, pony-tailed, overpaid sports marketing guru.

They have nothing at all to do with the fans. Is it any coincidence that the Giants and the Suns struggle for crowds, as they are products of AFL headquarters, not of local community spirit and love of the game?

The lesson of the Bushrangers is clear. If a sporting team wants to thrive and survive in our competitive marketplace it can’t just be the slick and polished result of a sports marketing brainstorming session. It all begins with a small kid wearing a jersey with pride and passion because it represents history. And you can’t buy and sell that.

Duncan Fine is a lawyer and Age columnist

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