ROSWELL, Ga. – The Atlanta Kookaburras are a band of mostly expatriate Australians who still like to play that continent’s favorite sport, Australian Rules football. And whatever you do, don’t use the “R” word (rugby) to describe it. The Kookaburras (an Australian bird of prey) gather Saturdays to play a game that predates the American version by about 30 years.
Australian football is played with 18 to a side, but then the regulation field is two American football fields long and one football field wide. On this brisk Saturday morning at Garrard Landing Park on Holcomb Bridge Road, they settled for seven a side and marked off a field of roughly 75 yards.
Milton resident Chris Seale was my mentor and guide on this occasion. Seale was born a Yank, brought up an Aussie (pronounced “Ozzy”) in Brisbane, Australia, and then returned to America as an adult. So he was able to translate much of what was going on.
First off, he informed me Aussies just call the game “footy.” One way to move the ball downfield is to kick it to one of your players much like a punt in American football. If your guy catches the kick on the fly, it’s called a mark and he gets a free kick on goal. If your guy makes a spectacular catch, it’s called a “speckie” and the crowd oohs and aahs similar to a dunk in that other American game.
The Kookaburras belong to the American Australian Rules Football League. But in the months of March and April, three local teams – the Roswell Roos, Midtown Bombers and Western Bulldogs – play as a warm-up to the season. They culminate April 26 in the ANZAC Australian Sports Day AARFL Grand Finals. Like all AARFL events, they are held at Garrard Park starting at 10:30 a.m. Be warned, however, as starting times are more of goal than a set time. No worries, mate.
Then, they come together as the Kookaburras to play regionally from June through October in home-and-home meetings with teams from Baton Rouge, La., North Carolina and Nashville, Tenn. The culmination is the USAFL Nationals in Dublin, Ohio, where the four regions meet to duke it out. They usually have a traveling squad of 20.
You can’t pass or lateral the ball in footy. You can run with it, but you must bounce it off the ground every 15 yards, kick it to another player or “punch” it (that’s a pass using one fist to punch the ball to another player).
There are four goal posts in a line. If you kick the ball between the inner goal posts, that is six points. If the ball goes between one of the outer and inner goalposts, it is a “behind” and scores one point.
If you’ve got that, you know enough to piece out the rest. Oh, and there are no pads.
Players this day ranged in age from their early 20s to Jim Batten’s 57. He’s been playing football 45 of those years. To learn more, go to www.footy.com.