It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the close proximity of Australia to Indonesia, that Australian Rules Football, better known as AFL, has quite a following here. And not just among the beer-swilling, akubra-wearing, stubbie-gripping hoards that descend on Bali, but also among the expat community.
It is the expats who are spreading the word of that strange game played on an oval by men in exceedingly tight shorts and sleeveless shirts—vests, as they are known to the faithful—to our host community. While we are unlikely to see Aussie Rules become the nation’s most popular sport any time soon, there is no denying it is getting more and more popular.
It was only last August that Indonesia’s national team, the Indonesia Garudas, jetted off to the sport’s spiritual home of Melbourne to experience the city’s famous climate changes and take part in an international footy event.
It was a harsh introduction for the young players. In their first game they played Nauru Chiefs and came off second best on the wrong side of a 35.17.227 to 1.1.7 mauling. To explain the scoring for the uninitiated, 1.1.7 refers to one goal, worth six points, one behind (nearly a goal) making a grand total of seven points.
John Eddy, chairman of the travelling party, found solace in the fact the Indonesia Garudas were up against such a strong team. “Nauru Chiefs were way too big, strong and disciplined and had winners all over the ground, including a fast-leading full forward who bagged nine goals and probably missed another six or seven fairly easy shots.”
In their second game, the Garudas were on the receiving end of another thrashing, with 32.15.207 against 0.0.0 from a powerful Fiji side. Things improved somewhat in their third game on the day before Independence Day, France managing 16.14.110 against the Garudas’ four behinds.
Perhaps the celebrations of the holiday helped raise the spirits in the camp because against Sweden a few days later they turned in a much better performance, narrowly going down 9.6.60 to 4.8.32, and come their final game against India, they were able to record their first victory, 9.6.60 against 1.2.8.
While the overseas trip by the Garudas attracted a lot of good publicity for the game in the country, most of the activity still revolves around the expat sides and their exploits, both locally and internationally.
The Bintangs, Jakarta
The Bintangs are perhaps the stars of the Aussie Rules format, in Jakarta at least. Today, the Bintangs boast a thriving club and—perhaps more importantly—social scene, but it wasn’t always like this. Initial attempts to get a league up and running back in the early 1990s floundered on apathy and not even a meeting in a then-popular hostelry could engender any enthusiasm in the game among the expat community.
A couple of years later and the arrival of a chap named Bruce managed to kick-start the game and a practice session was scheduled for the field in Blok M, coincidentally close to a number of watering holes. Their first game of note came against a visiting Singapore side and though the hosts were given a thrashing, all present knew it was the start of something special, and they were not just referring to the post-match party.
Today the club are in training for the new season, their 20th anniversary, with sessions being held midweek in Senayan. Home games are played in Cibubur, at a field they share with teams from the Jakarta Cricket league, and as is always the case they would be happy to welcome new members who fancy their chances.
Among the highlights of their calendar were the recent Australia Day celebration and their big knees-up where they go all posh, book a room in a hotel and watch the AFL Grand Final. This latter event is held every year on Grand Final Day.
The Bali Geckos, Bali
HYPERLINK “http://www.baligeckos.com” www.baligeckos.com
The Bali Geckos were born in a fit of local pride brought on by too much beer. Legend has it a Jakarta-based player, basking in the glow of the newly formed Bintangs, was propping up a bar stool in Bali one day, and the talk turned to AFL.
Jakarta-based expat told the bar full of country bumpkins, surfers and tourists that of course the best AFL team in the land was Jakarta. How could it be anything else? Shocked at the gall of the tourist, the Bali-based expats let their beer-fuelled indignation take over and they decided there and then, amid the detritus of bottle tops and lurid stubbie holders to form their own team and challenge the upstart from the big city across the water.
Being Bali-based, they have made a couple of changes which could well have traditionalists choking on their beer. For one, they have dispensed with the oh-so-tight shorts and donned board shorts. They do, after all, live in Bali and they know that for all the whinging from other sides, they will never be short of opponents no matter what they choose to wear. Hence, the Bali Masters and the Bali 9s are key events on the calendar of Asian-based AFL sides!
They also have a thriving junior section that train at 5pm, Thursdays at the Geckos Club, part of the Canggu Club. The older Geckos have their turn an hour later.
Borneo Bears, Balikpapan
Based in Balikpapan, the Borneo Bears too trace their roots back to a beer binge on an evening when it seemed like a good idea at the time. The club was formed, the name was chosen and a decision was taken to help fund a local conservation that supported Sun Bears, a symbol of the city.
If you want to get involved with AFL in Indonesia, then feel free to visit the team websites. HYPERLINK “http://www.aflindonesia.org” www.aflindonesia.org acts as an umbrella for the game here, while HYPERLINK “http://www.afl-asia.com” www.afl-asia.com covers the game throughout the region.
If you are interested in catching AFL games from Australia in a bar in Jakarta then the Jakarta Hawks meet in Eastern Promise every match day. You can follow them on Twitter: @JakartaHawks