chapter  1
20 Pages

Manly and Moral: The Making of Middle-Class Men in the Australian Public Schools

The rise of sport in Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the result of a number of social, cultural and economic processes. The importation of the emerging English sporting tradition, the increase in leisure time available to working men and women, and the enthusiasm that greeted initial sporting triumphs over England all facilitated and fuelled widespread enthusiasm for sporting pursuits. Perhaps nowhere was this growth in the passion for athleticism more noticeable than in the elite corporate boys' schools (termed public schools for the purposes of this essay, in line with contemporary usage). Whereas in 1870 schoolboy sporting contests were relatively few and far between, and of little wider interest, athleticism had, by 1920, become one of the defining features of the elite schools and attracted an enormous following from spectators and the media. Estimates of the crowd at the Victorian public schools' Head of the River races in 1920, for example, were as high as 100,000, and the event dominated the front pages of the local press. l Other public school sporting contests, although not attracting quite such huge crowds, were of great public interest, in Melbourne and in other cities.