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11 Dec 2018

Southbanker Image

Spreading the word from the heartland

By David Schout

Having visited 64 countries and hundreds of cities to grow the game of Aussie Rules, Brian Clarke’s passport is a weathered collection of stamps.

Fortunately for the Southbank local, he has isn’t restricted to using just one.

Born in Amsterdam, raised in Christchurch and then Darwin, there’s just one drawback to his enviable situation.

“It is great, but I have to renew three bloody passports so sometimes you curse it,” he says with a grin.

Despite calling himself a “Territorian” – somewhere he lived until the age of 34 – Clarke now calls Melbourne home, and is in no doubt its place in the global pecking order.

“I’m lucky to have travelled to many countries, and Melbourne is the best city I’ve ever been to and ever will go,” he asserts.

In 2002 while still living in Darwin, the law graduate made a swift decision that would change his life.

“I’d started my own business with football, trying to grow the game internationally,” he explains. “ And I was watching the footy on TV, a game at the MCG, and I thought to myself ‘gee it would be good to get down to Melbourne one day’. And I thought ‘why don’t I just do it?’ So I bought a one-way ticket to Melbourne. I didn’t have a job there and had nowhere to stay. I thought ‘bugger it, I’m just going to do it, have a crack and if I fail, I fail’. I’ve been here ever since.”

Soon after arriving he moved to Southbank, where he lives to this day.

He has since become CEO of Australian Football International, an organisation which aims to both grow Australian Rules football and unite communities through sport.

The body, with Clarke as its key driver, has developed the annual Harmony Cup and AFL International Cup and boasts the likes of Ron Barassi on its board.

He is a key advocate of “Footy 9s”, a version of the game played on rectangular fields, thereby eliminating the biggest logistical barrier (that is, the availability of oval-shaped grounds) around the world.

Away from work with AFI, Clarke umpires women’s football and generally enjoys staying active, something he says is easy in his Southbank location.

“To me it’s a little bit of paradise.

“Where I am here (on Grant Street) we have a beautiful bit of green space in front of us, heritage-listed buildings that they’re never going to build high-rises in front of, and we’re also right across the road from the run around the tan. It’s the perfect part of Southbank to be in.”

Clarke calls Southbank “two beasts”; the arts precinct and the more-developed western side.

“I’m lucky to live in a building where they’ve built big rooms, and big lounge rooms. One of the obvious challenges is that you need to build good facilities for people, but developers also want to make money.”

He admits to being shocked at the small sizes of some apartments he’s seen in Southbank.

“We’ve got to get that balance right in Southbank. If you want to attract people to live in the inner city – yes, developers are there to make a profit, we understand that – but you need to give people space. This is Australia.”

“It was really important for me to be looking over some green space. If I was looking just at other buildings, I wouldn’t want to live there.”

He said the lack of open space is a “huge drawback” for the area.

“Having said that, get a pushbike and ride 10 minutes and you’re there. But that’s probably my Dutch background speaking.”

To see some of the work Brian Clarke does with AFI, visit

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