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From ovals to rectangles – A case study on how sporting fields change their archaeological footprint over time

Posted by cegan on July 15, 2013

Over the past one hundred years, code rivalry has been a common research topic for sports historians in Australia. Most of the time it has focussed on Sydney and Melbourne with very few interpretations incorporating the cultural artefacts (The Sports Fields). The recent change in function of Perth Oval from Australian Rules Football to Soccer in 2004 is part of a trend that has been going on for over a hundred years in various parts of Australia.

The two case studies I will use are Woodville Reserve and South Hobart Recreation Ground and their change in function. It begins a theoretical understanding of how soccer has already won hegemony at a suburban landscape and how it has maintained this interest at a suburban level.

The first example I will use is Woodville Cricket Reserve in North Perth, the ground has held soccer since the late 1920s. It is not far from Perth Oval, and was developed primarily for cricket. But in 1927 the use of the ground is changed from Australian Rules Football to soccer in the winter.

At the same time soccer’s interest within Western Australia has increased, but the archaeological footprint today also tells us that the cultural features of the ground and the region has been shaped by human adaptation to a new sporting interest.

It is a long rectangle and cricket played on this ground till 1979 before moving to the northern suburbs. Soccer remains present, and the ground has held many battles in the 50’s between power house sides Azzurri and North Perth.

Today Woodville Reserve is soccer because the local community changed the function of the ground in the winter and thus changed the social environment of the region. There is little infrastructure development and today is still just a long expanse of grass. Its spatial landscape shows little evidence of its past use as a cricket or Australian Rules Football facility.

What would have happened had the 1915 Perth City Council not refused goal posts to be erected at the ground?

I have not found this unique in Western Australia, with Bayswater Oval also changing function in 1953 in response to the next period of football’s growth and again not far away from Woodville Reserve in 2004 after Perth Oval changed to Association Football. The grounds change their purpose and spatial landscape with the communities change in attitudes.

It also occurs at the South Hobart Recreational Ground, which with a complex history is bought for 1000 pounds by the state government in 1887 upon demands by the local communities. The initial town planners of Hobart had not put recreational pursuits as a priority and other regions had to buy privately owned land for recreation as well, through the parliamentary system. But from 1887- 1912 the ground is primarily a cricket ground, it is not till 1912 that we see the cultural characteristics change because of the growth of interest in soccer.

In a newspaper report in the Mercury in 1912, the ground is shortened as a cricket ground in order to better accommodate the round ball code, the commentary suggests it will no longer be able to be used for first class cricket. It is clear that cricket is struggling in Hobart in this era and the ability to make it less adapt for cricket is a sign of the world games drawing power in the suburb. Australian Rules Football games are replaced with many Soccer fixtures.

In 1930 the ground by council has funded with built infrastructure and South Hobart Recreation Ground is known as the centre of soccer in the region. There is a letter to the editor that mentions that it has come into the hands of a private manager and that kids are prevented from playing football on the ground by the grounds keeper and that it only holds soccer and cricket for adult men. Australian Rules Football has lost access to this ground in the winter.

In 1974 South Hobart District Cricket Club also moves to a larger ground as South Hobart Recreation Ground is no longer responsive to its needs and has become culturally empowered by the world game, not cricket.

The spatial landscape today shows little resemblance of its former sporting pursuits.

Adaptations are often seen in the archaeological record and are often driven by factors such as immigration, class and access to new ideas/technology. In a sporting context, the establishment of two new soccer clubs changes human behaviour which leads to adaptations of the cultural infrastructure within the region.

In 1910 South Hobart FC are established, in 1996 Perth Glory are established on Perth Oval. As the interest generates more power for the code, the archaeological landscape is changed to what we currently see at both venues in Tasmania and Western Australia.

Symbolic messages are still etched into the grounds, despite both being rectangles are commonly known as South Hobart Oval and Perth Oval.

Is this a sign of the power of Australian Rules Football in both cities? Or a respect to the past?

It is probably a combination of both.

Woodville Reserve, Bayswater Oval (Now Frank Drago Reserve) , Perth Oval and South Hobart Oval are grounds that changed because of the communities interest in the world game. It is unlikely that Australian Rules football will ever reverse the spatial changes undertaken.

This is a powerful symbol in 2013, that once a ground in a region changes its archaeological footprint to the world game, it never retreats back to its initial purpose of recreational pursuit.

By Chris Egan

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One Response to “From ovals to rectangles – A case study on how sporting fields change their archaeological footprint over time”

  1. Jack Frost said

    Thanks for permission to reproduce this article on WAFL GLORY DAYS website, http;//waflglorydays.blogspot.com – Jack Frost

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