Know how a nation plays its football, and you know that nation. Or even parts of one – Queenslanders are Australians, after all, even if they claim a certain exceptionalism. And that difference is never so manifest when it comes to rugby league, activated by the passion of State of Origin.
As Heartland lays out, for all the theorising about why the Sunshine State stands apart, there’s been little intellectual interest in league’s role in forging this identity (part of a larger highculture bias against the sport as a whole). This book is intended as a corrective, in the hands of author Joe Gorman, who performed a similar task in exploring the cultural milieu of another footy code in The Life And Death Of Australian Soccer.
This is a narrative full of characters: Beetson, Lewis, Meninga, Langer et al, whose force of personality couldn’t help but leave an imprint on the sport. But Heartland’s most effective element is a distinct sense of place – in the way it establishes rural and regional Queensland, the only state in the Commonwealth with a greater share of its population outside the capital than in, as the wellspring of its amazing talent, and shaper of its league culture.
This also contributes to another particular quality of the game up north – its enduring bond to the Indigenous community, and its interplay with racism more generally. Even as Queensland grappled with historical prejudice, its Origin team became a beacon for black people, a group that Greg Inglis would choose to play for. As Dr Chris Sarra put it: “Even with all the racism and bullshit around you – that’s the place where we could be the best.”
GOOD FOR: Maroon diehards, and those of us who seek to understand them.