Saturday, 19 January 2013

Dina Dounis - Soccer At Middle Park

In my other line of existence - being a career student at university - my honours thesis looked at the history of Australian soccer literature. That is, creative written work by Australians on soccer, and by Australians or otherwise on soccer in Australia. As has been mentioned previously, the nature of this work was in large part bibliographic - trying to find all the disparate texts and create a genre of sorts for them. The secondary goal was to begin analysis into the issues of the naturalisation of soccer in Australia; that is, at what point and how will soccer become genuinely Australian, and not subject to the whims of the cultural cringe.

One of the more interesting aspects of this research is how little of the substantial work has been done by members of the major community players in Australian soccer. That is, where was the work by the Greeks, the Italians, the Croatians, etc? Yes, there are certainly works about these groups and their involvement in Aussie soccer, but often times these are written by people from outside these communities.

So the question that leads on from there is, why are there so few texts from Aussie wog writers dealing with soccer? The easy answer is, combined with their under-representation in Aussie literature anyway, and ingrained antipathy among the intellectual class for sport (David Malouf's poem 'At a School Athletics Day' always comes mind) and it seems utterly natural that these works shouldn't exist.

But when you dig a little deeper, you find the apparent lack of even mentions of soccer within migrant written works as problematic. Soccer clubs are some of the major institutions created by Continental European migrants. And it's not like other major areas of their lives are not covered in Australian literature. Social life, family life, church etc. And yet soccer seems to fall by the wayside for some reason.

Maybe the texts do exist, but are hidden in language/community specific literary journals (like the Greek 'Antipodes' journal)? Perhaps because they are written in languages other than English, it makes it more difficult for databases to annotate and archive their existence? Perhaps, influenced by their Anglo brethren, writers from non English speaking backgrounds do not conceive of sport as important enough to be written about 'seriously'?

All of which is a circuitous way of getting to the thing that I wanted to cover most in this entry. While having another look at the AusLit database, which collects and categorises works of Australian literature (sadly for the general public, access is generally limited to people with university library accounts), I found something intriguing. Among several new entries, there was this poem by Konstandina Dounis, who also goes by the name Dina Dounis.

I was happy to find it for several reasons. It's about South and it's (of course) about Middle Park. It's the first text that I've found that deals with our club outside of allusions one could take from David Martin's 1962 novel The Young Wife and my own haiku phase, and disregarding uses of Middle Park and South in the film adaptation of The Heartbreak Kid and of course the still much loved sitcom Acropolis Now.

It's also by a Greek, unlike most of the main literary texts dealing with Aussie-Greek soccer. It's by a woman, which helps undercut the notion that it was only blokes at the soccer in the old times - indeed, Dounis says it is a family outing. Dounis also brushes aside the issue of crowd violence as something 'occasional'. It also brings class issues into the picture, something which I told my students in my Australian Literature tutorial to do, but which they seemed to not be interested in.

My guess is that Dounis seems to be talking about going to Middle Park at some time during the 1960s. The poem makes allusions as to why crowds have fallen at all ethnic clubs (putting aside for the moment South's exclusion from the top flight). That sense of ethnic community solidarity, which was once so necessary for newly arrived migrants, on an individual and community level, is no longer a driving force. As discussed by Matthew Klugman in his work on Sydney's Italian-Australian soccer community (which you can find in here), while there is still nostalgia among first, second and third generation migrants for that part of Australian soccer, these days it is almost entirely a nostalgic phenomenon.

In the present, members of these communities do not feel that they need that tangible or formal bricks and mortar style of community interaction in order to be 'Greek' or 'Italian' or whatever cultural tag may apply. The same could probably be said of regional associations, local community groups and churches. The decline of the ethnically backed soccer club does therefore not exist in a social vacuum. The poem is balanced in both undercutting and confirming stereotypes of supporting South, but being anchored by a nostalgic tone, it avoids making a direct comment on the present and future.

If you want to find out more about Dounis you an start by going here and here. If anyone out there knows of any literary texts dealing with Australian soccer, no matter how trivial and whatever the quality or language, do let us know. We'd love to know about them.

1 comment:



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