My first taste of placemaking

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They’re some of my first vivid memories of the city I call home: Blue and white streamers in windows and a father and son statue dressed in blue and white hooped jumpers ringing a bell on a clocktower.

The year was 1989. I was six years old, and Geelong’s Australian Rules football team had made the-then VFL Grand Final.  Not just one grand final – the seniors, under-19s and the reserves.  And then lost all three in heartbreaking fashion.

The Geelong Cats of 1989 played free-wheeling, flair-filled footy at its best.  As intoxicating as that was, the thing I remember most about that time is a city clad in team colours and the layers of meaning and pride that instilled. I didn’t know it at the time, but this socio-spatial entwining was my first taste of placemaking.

My grandmother dressed up the family house in Geelong West as part of the occasion: The streamers and balloons telling a story, a marker of identity entwined with geography and ritual.  Even our team’s song says it, “We Are Geelong”.  

My grandmother was a migrant to Australia. She found home in Geelong in 1964, which she described as “golden” (a term that doesn’t necessarily translate smoothly from the Macedonian, but you get the gist). 

For her, I suspect supporting the team was one way of giving back to the place that held her and her family.

Born in 1859, some 20 years after the city was surveyed, the Geelong Cats is one of the oldest running sporting teams in the world and a key plank in the invention and evolution of Australia’s own football code. As James Button found out, one cannot properly understand Geelong the city without understanding the Cats, so thoroughly are the two enmeshed in shared identity and fortunes.

Walking towards the stadium as I still do, I’m reminded that both club and stadium are repositories of meaning, identity, pride and memory that radiate far beyond geographic or organisational boundaries. 

I never knew it in 1989, but the blue and white streamers we hung and threw were not just an expression of support for the team. They were an act of placemaking that brought shared stories to the surface.

This weekend, Geelong goes into a preliminary final as the underdog, with the winner through to the biggest match of the year. Many will be keeping their streamers close, just in case. Maybe we’re daring to hope just enough.

Regardless, I’ve taken to wearing my scarf at work in Melbourne this week. It’s a marker of my identity being entwined with place, as much as a marker of support for a team ready to write another chapter in a grand and ever evolving story: A story that is as much about the making and telling of place, as much as it is a story about sport. 

Sure, not everyone in Geelong follows the Cats. But it’s pretty darn close. Go Cats, and may we all care for our places and stories through myriad acts, big and small.

**Postscript: Don’t like footy, or care for the Cats? This is the first in a series of posts I’m getting together exploring how placemaking is endemic to human nature. Got any reflections on this or the way your sporting colours tie you to a place or community? Share away!**

5 comments

  1. I have thought often recently about small towns and the power of connection through football. Love seeing the houses and streets adorned with all the bells and whistles, handmade signs and slogans during finals seasons.
    It’s the small towns that really ‘get me’, the way a local club holds together the societys fabrics – and I don’t even like the ball game, or many of the toxic masculine behaviours that come with it. Great to see you writing again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love the way you’ve expressed that, Eb! The ball game and I are not on speaking terms after last weekend, but it is fascinating how these institutions can bring out the most toxic and most redeeming/bonding traits of a community. Perhaps the clubs with the strongest netball contingents do this best?

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    2. There is also something powerful in your comments about the progressive and the regressive potentials of our connections to place. Perhaps we ought think about when a local club becomes about caring for place and growing people (as much as winning matches) as the critical marker of purpose and success?

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  2. When Jim Newkirk moved to Australia in 1975 and lived in Saint Kilda he soon realised that his local footy team has the same colours as his beloved Chicago Bulls and at the time similar history; at the bottom of their league. It was a no-brainer that they would become his team. After living in Sydney (where he married), Perth, Brazil and Peru (where his first son was born) his second son was born in Saint Kilda a home-birth. As mother of this boy I was fascinated with the awe that enveloped him when, aged 6, we visited Saint Kilda and purchased his first footy jumper. We all now live separately in Serbia, Geelong and Sydney but participate in an AFL tipping competition which was won this year and once before by my exhusband who lives in Belgrade. Place, AFL and story unite humanity.

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    1. What a story, Karen! There is something uncanny about the relational geographies that can form and link people’s sporting alleigances, and then influence new links to place. Though the colours aren’t mine, I do love the thought of Acland Street decorated in the local garb. Perhaps the Saints will find their own Michael Jordan?

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