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History

12 May 2017

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Barracking began in Southbank

Football has always been important in South Melbourne.

In 1873, the South Melbourne club merged with the Albert Park club and became immensely powerful in the 1880s, regularly drawing phenomenal crowds of over 30,000 to the Lake Oval.

But there were many other local clubs that played on smaller grounds.  One such ground was on a military reserve behind the substantial bluestone buildings of Victoria Barracks in St Kilda Road.

The barracks were constructed in 1856 and were occupied by Victorian forces and visiting British regiments, such as the 14th, who landed in Melbourne in November 1866 (after military action in New Zealand) and departed in March 1870.

Whilst in Melbourne they gained an unenviable reputation for riotousness and misconduct. They used to congregate and watch the cricket and football matches played on the reserve behind the barracks, formerly known as the Eastern Swamp.

It was one of a number of swamps around Melbourne, such as West Melbourne, Elwood and Port Melbourne, that were covered in green slime and contributed to diseases such as typhoid.

They were eventually filled in but the efforts of South Melbourne council to reclaim the land was hampered by it being on Crown Land. The reserve no longer exists but is clearly visible on old maps and photographs.

The soldiers of the 14th regularly played against suburban teams, and were renowned for playing a plucky, but rough and unscientific game where the main aim appeared to be to render as many of their opponents ‘hors de combat’ as possible.

They also played matches (of varying rules) against teams from military regiments passing through Melbourne.  

But it was off the field that they made their greatest imprint on the game as their method of support became legendary.

These were pivotal years for the development of Australian football and the soldiers left an indelible mark on the increasingly popular game.

They were rough and ready spectators and their organised comments enlivened an afternoon at the football.

Because of their connection with the barracks, their style of energetic criticism became known as “barracking” and they soon became known as “the barrackers”.

South’s Lake Oval ground was relatively close to the St Kilda Rd army barracks and the soldiers naturally attended South matches, where “the barrackers” became inextricably associated with South, sometimes bringing great criticism from visiting clubs for their behaviour.

So Southbank was the place where Australian football’s great tradition of barracking began.

 

Robin Grow

President - Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society

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