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The Origins of Football in Australia

From friendly comps to national knockouts, football has become a huge part of Australian culture. Here's how it all began.

The first inhabitants of Australia played ball games some of which involved kicking a possum-skin ball in the air. Those who arrived in the early nineteenth century brought their own ball games with them. Reports of small-sided, predominantly kicking games for money or other prizes are reported long before the first local set of extant rules for the Melbourne Football Club were written in 1859. Those rules were very similar to the Cambridge University rules of 1845, and those of John Hope’s club in Edinburgh of 1824.

In 1850, Dalmahoy Campbell and Francis Stephen organised an eleven-a-side game in Melbourne and Campbell was involved in another that year. These matches and others were unknown to and consequently ignored by the small group who drew up the Melbourne Football Club rules nearly a decade later.

The practice of the games evolved over succeeding years, only gradually diverging into something resembling the codes we know today. A handling game with an offside rule influenced by the practice of Rugby school in England became popular in New South Wales, while the Victorian code had its first free kick as the colony actually lost population in some years between 1860 and 1880. There was no volume of migrants to challenge the local football code. The early adoption of an eight-hour day for certain groups of skilled workers created space for sport on Saturday afternoons and crowds of spectators attended the Victorian code.

- Football Australia