Carn is a cracker of a book. It’s about Australian Rules football, and so much more.
Andrew Mueller, an international journalist who has reported from more than 80 countries, takes us on an always lively, historical tour. He chronicles the sport – which he clearly loves – by revisiting over 50 particular games from 1897 to 2015.
He doesn’t always write exclusively about the match in question. For example, his chapter on the first elite-level game known to be filmed, the 1909 Grand Final between South Melbourne and Carlton at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, starts thus:
Charles Cozens Spencer, proprietor of the Chilco ranch in British Columbia, had been at large for just under a month when his body was found in the Chilcotin River, on 9 October 1930. An indigenous tracker named Little Charlie, from the nearby Anaham reserve, spotted something catching the sun amid logs piled up by the current: upon closer inspection, it proved to be a gold ring throttling one finger of a cold, white hand. The shotgun with which Spencer had killed one man, and wounded another, was recovered upstream…
We learn, within a few very well researched and equally well-written paragraphs, that Spencer was a film-making pioneer, and had been at the MCG some 20 years earlier.
Mueller’s achievement is to look at football via a myriad of stories and themes. He is at his strongest, and most subtle, when football is merely a backdrop to life and death, especially war.
Carn is one of those books you read as quickly as you can, delighting in its insights. But as you near the final chapters you don’t want to finish the book at all. You want there to be more games and more revelations.
Carn: The Game, and the Country that Plays it is published by Harper Collins Australia.
Note: The reviewer is not related to the main character of Chapter 9, a World War 1 recruitment officer by the name of Lieutenant Rupert Maskell.