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Video clip synopsis – Ten hand-written rules displayed in a museum in the heart of the National Heritage-listed Melbourne Cricket Ground hold the key to a great Australian sport.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 5min 13sec
Tags - athletes, Australian cities, Australia's Heritage, identity, popular culture, sport, see all tags


Rules of AFL

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About the Video Clip


Rules of AFL is an episode from the series Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, produced in 2009.

Series Synopsis
Take a voyage of discovery with Chris Taylor as he reveals the secrets behind a fascinating mix of treasures from Australia’s National Heritage List. In the third season of five-minute documentaries in the National Treasures series, Taylor travels around Australia delivering historical snapshots of objects and places from the National Heritage List. He talks with experts and enthusiasts, revealing fascinating insights into our famous and not-so-famous past.

Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor is a Screen Australia National Documentary Program produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and made with the assistance of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Curriculum Focus


Teachers and students should consult their state or territory’s curriculum and learning programs.

For information on state and territory curricula
Go to: State and territory curriculum – Curriculum Corporation

Background Information


The history of the beginnings of Australian Rules football is intertwined with the development of cricket in the colony of mid 19th century Victoria.

The Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) was the first cricket club in Victoria, formed in 1838. The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) was later established in 1853 when Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe provided 10 acres of land in Yarra Park to the MCC. Originally the Wurundjeri-willam, a clan of the Woiworung and part of the Kulin nation, lived in this area. Historical records indicate many large gatherings of Aborigines in the area during the 1830s and 1840s.

In 1858 Tom Wills and other members of the MCC devised the first ten rules of the Melbourne Football Club, which became the first codified rules of Australian Rules football. It has been claimed, but not proven, that in inventing Australian Rules, Wills was influenced by an Aboriginal game called Marn Grook (also known as Marngrook), which he had observed and played when a boy while living in Victoria’s Western District. Australian Rules was played on the MCG for the first time in 1859, a winter game devised for utilising the shape of existing local parks and cricket ovals, unlike the other football sports of rugby and soccer, played on rectangular pitches. Initially, though, a soccer ball was used, but later a spheroid rugby ball was preferred. Since the late nineteenth century the MCG has been the symbolic home of football, first in Victoria, where the Victorian Football League (VFL) was formed in 1896 and, with the establishment of the Australian Football League (AFL) in 1990, in Australia as a whole.

The rules of football have altered and considerably expanded since 1858, and are constantly being modified.

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the program on Rules of AFL, discuss in class then write responses to the following:
    1. Who was the man primarily known for devising Australian Rules football? In what year were the first rules of the sport written, and where is the original document of these rules now kept?
    2. Explain why the sport of Australian Rules football was invented.
    3. Explain why the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has, in the words of the program, always been the ‘spiritual home’ of Australian Rules.
  2. British winter sports such as rugby and soccer were already played in Melbourne when Australian Rules football was invented. Carry out research then write a commentary on why Australian Rules developed quickly during the later decades of the 19th century in Melbourne, whereas soccer and particularly rugby, which was popular in Sydney, did not develop. Include a commentary on the history of the type of ball used in Australian Rules in the 19th century, and the reasons for the decision to alter this.
  3. Socal history is primarily about the way people lived on a daily basis in the past, and includes a study of their responses to what they witnessed and experienced. Imagine you are a Melbourne newspaper reporter sent out to observe one of the first games of Australian Rules played in Melbourne, either at the MCG or at nearby Yarra Park. Write your report in 300–400 words. (Take into account that the MCG was a much different place from what we would recognise today.)

Further Resources


Geoffrey Blainey, A Game of Our Own: The Origins of Australian Football, Black Ink, Melbourne, 2003

Greg De Moore, Tom Wills: His Spectacular Rise and Tragic Fall, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 2008

Keith Dunstan, The Paddock that Grew: The Story of the Melbourne Cricket Club, Cassell Australia, Melbourne, third edition 1988

Brian Matthews, The Temple Down the Road, Penguin, Camberwell, Vic, 2003

Go to: National Heritage: Melbourne Cricket Ground
Go to: The ten rules of Australian football in 1859
Go to: Australian Rules and Rugby in the 19th century