Kayla Schemenaur is a 20-year-old girl from Saskatchewen, Canada, who for the last three months has been working in and backpacking around Australia and New Zealand.

A few weeks back, I had the unique experience of watching a match with Kayla and guiding her through the ins and outs of our beloved game.

It turned out to be a humbling experience, though it started innocently enough when we got to the ‘G, with Carlton and Adelaide still going through their warm-ups…

Me: “OK, see those four goalposts at each end? Each team has to try and kick the ball between the two central posts – which is worth six points – or between either of the big and little posts – worth one point – to score. The team with highest score after four 20-minute quarters wins.”

Kayla: “Is that it?”

Me:  “No, not by a long shot! See it’s an unwritten rule that there needs to be more rules for Aussie rules every year. Just let me know if you need something explained to you throughout the game.”

10 minutes into the first term…

“Why does everyone keep yelling “BOOOOOOOOWWWLLLL!!!!” when one player hugs another from behind?”

“That’s actually called tackling. And they’re yelling “BAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!”, it’s short for “holding the ball”. That’s where a player is tackled and doesn’t dispose of the ball. So the tackling player gets a free kick, because the player with the ball took too long to do something with it.”

“Got it.”

Five minutes later…

“BAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL!!!! Wait, he held that ball for a long time, why don’t the other team get it?”

“Well, yeah, there’s an exception to the “holding the ball” rule whereby if you look like you’re trying to get rid of it while being tackled – even if you don’t actually wanna give it up – it’s okay. That’s why that player is vigorously moving his arms up and down like he’s trying to pump up the ball.”

Late in the first term, Carlton rushes a behind…

“Why did that player just take the ball over the goal line? Isn’t that an own goal?

“No, if the ball is taken over the line by a defending player, it’s called a deliberate rushed behind and a free kick in front of goal to the attacking team. Unless they do it under pressure, which is when an attacking team player is within 10 metres of them.”

“Oh, that’s a bit generous, eh?”

“Kind of, but they apply it all around ground. If a player takes the ball out of bounds, even  deliberately, the opposition doesn’t get a free either. Unless it’s the last quarter, then everything’s pretty much fair game.”

By the third quarter, Kayla has started to realise how tough a sport AFL can be…

“Wow, the game’s so fast and has so much contact. I can’t believe more people don’t get hurt.”

“Yeah, but they have plenty of rules in place to protect players on the field. You remember how Adelaide got a free just before? That was because the Carlton player made contact with him above the shoulders. You can’t do that, so it helps prevent head injuries.”

“But wouldn’t that encourage players to try and be tackled above the head, if they get a free kick for it?”

“Uhhh, yeah. Why don’t I tell you about Joel Selwood…”

Near the end of the match, I remembered one last thing I needed to explain to Canada’s would-be AFL ambassador…

“Oh yeah, all these rules only tend to apply for about four weeks at a time, ’cause then the umpires get harder on some of them and ignore others altogether.”

“What? That doesn’t make sense, why do they do that?”

I didn’t need to answer. At that moment from a few rows back: “You’re JOKING! That wasn’t a push in the back! Go get ya f***ing eyes checked you stupid bloody clown! You’re a disgrace, you hear me? A FRIGGIN’ DIS-GRACE!”

“I guess that’s just what the fans want.”


  1. Totally relate to this! I have taken German, English, French and Taiwanese backpackers to AFL matches and the conversations are similar!

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