30 for 30 Australia

In 2009, Bill Simmons of ESPN began producing the station’s 30 for 30 series. 30 filmmakers were asked to create a documentary about a sporting moment, personality or event of their choice that had occurred in the previous 30 years.

The series was incredibly successful – some of its films appeared at the Sundance, Toronto and SXSW film festivals, others received widespread critical acclaim, and all of them were worthy of discussion throughout the sports media world. Indeed, 30 for 30 was so successful that ESPN are currently half way through a second series.

Unsurprisingly for ESPN, even though it refers to itself as ‘The Worldwide Leader in Sports’, most of its documentaries are focused on events that have occurred in the US.

As Australian athletes and events aren’t represented at all, I thought it only reasonable to put together a list of 30 suggested documentaries from the same time period related to Australian sport. Anyone wanna call Mr Packer and see if he’ll get-a-funding?

1) As an homage to Kings Ransom, the first in ESPN’s series that focused on the trade of Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles, the first film in the Australian series will focus on the 2010 move of Gary Ablett from Geelong to the Gold Coast and the effect it had on Ablett, the fans in Geelong and the popularity of footy in southern Queensland.

2) The difficult, controversial choice presented to athletes prior to the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which the Australian Government encouraged athletes to boycott. The Australian Olympic Committee voted 6-5 in favour of sending a team and Australia competed under the Olympic flag with 120 competitors attending.

3) The NBA career of Luc Longley, the first Australian to play in the league and also the first to win a Championship. Longley was the starting centre on the Chicago Bulls for the second of their three-peats, including the best and second best seasons ever recorded by an NBA team: 72-10 in 1995-96, and 69-13 in 1996-97.

4) The 1998 Sydney-Hobart yacht race, in which six lives were lost.

5) Prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics, four legends of Australian sport had won 3 Olympic gold medals at a single games: Betty Cuthbert and Murray Rose in Melbourne, Shane Gould in Munich and Ian Thorpe in Sydney. In Athens, two much less renowned female swimmers achieved the same feat: Petria Thomas, who battled depression for much of her career, and Jodie Henry who competed in Athens but was injured before the Beijing Olympics, so never swam in Olympic competition again.

6) The two days in 1995 when rugby league players were encouraged to sign a contract with News Corp’s breakaway Super League competition. The players were not permitted to take contracts away with them or consult with managers or families, but their often huge sign-on fees were handed to them immediately.

7) Darrell Hair calls Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing at the 1995 Boxing Day Test.

8) The boom in the Fantasy AFL industry that has become so successful that the Herald Sun based much of their move to having a paywall on their website on the economics of forcing fantasy footballers to pay for access to their fantasy leagues.

9) The life of Arthur Tunstall, a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame for his sports administration, particularly his contribution to boxing and the Australian Commonwealth Games team. He is perhaps best known for controversy, though, including when he threatened to send Cathy Freeman home from the 1994 Games for carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags on her victory lap.

10) The life and death of cricket commentator Peter Roebuck, one of the sport’s most revered writers and radio analysts. Roebuck was a philanthropist who helped students from cricket-playing developing countries to undertake tertiary education. He was followed by controversy, though, being given a suspended jail sentence in 2001 for using corporal punishment on cricketers in his care, and in 2011 he committed suicide after being asked by police to answer questions about allegations of sexual assault

11) Australia’s response to insta-celebrity Kay Cottee who was the first woman to sail single-handedly, non-stop around the world. After her journey, during which she didn’t have physical contact with anyone for 189 days, she was suddenly bombarded with interviews, press conferences, civic receptions, meetings with heads of state and the Australian of the Year Award.

12) In 1995, Ian Roberts became the first high-profile Australian sportsperson and first rugby league player in the world to come out as openly gay during his career.

13) The Fine Cotton scam that saw six people banned from horse-racing for life and Bill and Robbie Waterhouse banned for 14 years. Fine Cotton was a fairly ordinary horse, and its owners attempted to win big by replacing him with a better horse who was far more likely to win.

14) In the 1998 US Open final, two Australians played against each other. Pat Rafter won his second, and what would be his final, Grand Slam on his way to becoming one of Australia’s most beloved athletes who has the centre court at Brisbane’s tennis centre named after him. Mark Philippoussis lost his first of what would be two Slam finals, on his way to becoming an athlete that many Australians point to when looking for someone who didn’t live up to his potential.

15) The ‘yips’ experienced by two successful Australian sportspeople. After winning the 1991 British Open, Ian Baker-Finch’s golf game utterly failed him and never returned while he was a professional. In 1995-96, he missed the cut or pulled out of all 29 events he entered. In his final professional round, he shot an extraordinarily poor 92 in the first round of the 1997 British Open and decided he couldn’t bear to return the next day. Some years later, World Champion and Olympic Gold medal winning pole vaulter Steve Hooker completely lost the ability to compete, saying “the confidence I require to stand at the end of the runway and then charge down, land my pole and soar almost 6m into the air has left me for the time being.”

16) In 2014, the Melbourne Tigers basketball team changed their name to Melbourne United. The hope was that a name change would encourage Victorian basketball fans who had previously supported rival Melbourne NBL teams would now support Melbourne United as they were no longer the Tigers.

17) In 2010, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission forced the makers of the Power Balance wrist band to – amongst other things – cease claiming that their product would improve the user’s balance, strength and flexibility by working “with the body’s natural energy field.” They were also forced to offer full refunds, plus postage. The bands were worn by many famous athletes across the world, including Kobe Bryant, Drew Brees, Victoria Azarenka and the St.Kilda football team.

18) At the Sydney Paralympics, a member of Spain’s intellectual disability basketball gold medal team was also an undercover journalist who revealed that most of his teammates were not disabled.

19) The 1985-86 and 1986-87 Australian rebel cricket tours of South Africa.

20) The rivalry of the Australian and New Zealand netball teams.

21) The life of Jobie Dajka, track cyclist and 2002 World Champion in the keirin. He suffered from depression, alcohol-related stress and was banned for three years following an assault on the Australian track coach. Dajka was found dead in his home in 2009, having never attended an Olympics.

22) In a letter to all National Soccer League clubs in 1996, Soccer Australia explained that to participate in the following season, “All clubs shall be obliged to remove all symbols of European nationalism from club logos, playing strips, club flags, stadium names and letterheads.” Arguments for and against the move were immediate, including from politicians and most Australian soccer players and commentators.

23) Sally Robbins lays down in the boat during the 2004 Athens Olympics. She quickly gains infamy and is destroyed by the media. Eventually, the fact that she had done this more than once prior to the Games is recounted by her teammates in court as witnesses in a defamation case brought against Alan Jones by Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates.

24) The residents of Benalla, Victoria and Bunbury, Western Australia reminisce over the visit of the great West Indies cricket team of 1984 visiting their towns to play against the local state country team.

25) The findings of the federal senate select committee inquiry into animal welfare in 1991 that concluded that jumps racing should be phased out on the grounds of cruelty. New South Wales responded by banning jumps racing in 1997, while Victoria still hold jumps races including some that are worth over $250,000.

26) The St Marys Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League, arguably the most successful local AFL team in the country. The Saints won 6 Premierships in each of the 80s, 90s and 00s, producing many indigenous AFL players including Maurice and Cyril Rioli and Michael Long.

27) In 2006, Peter Brock skidded during the Targa West rally, hit a tree and died instantly.

28) The career of Jelena Dokic, semi-finalist at Wimbledon and the Sydney Olympics, along with the rocky relationships between her, her family, Tennis Australia and the wider Australian sporting public.

29) The Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal that saw the team stripped of the 2007 and 2009 NRL Premierships.

30) Australia’s reaction to the cult hero of Olympic mascots, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat.

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5 Responses to 30 for 30 Australia

  1. Sal says:

    Interesting reading – and my word for the week is “yips” – hadn’t heard it before!

  2. Jono says:

    Would you also consider (perhaps ones have been made of these already though):

    – The Woodies?
    – Lindsay and Andrew Gaze?
    – Richie Benaud?

  3. Sal says:

    Oh and love # 30 😉

  4. mark cartwright says:


    Would add to that:

    – there simply had to be something about Warnie … has a more dominant player in his/her code ever NOT captained their country?

    – The story of the Aussie Bo Jackson equivalent Israel Folau

    – the impact on relations with our Kiwi neighbours of the infamous underarm episode

    – Our beloved Kathy bringing home the bacon under a ridiculous amount of pressure, and in a stupid looking suit, at the 2000 Olympics

    – I would love to look back at the career of the Woodies, as I suspect that their exploits were massively underrated at the time

    – The best player never to play in the NBA, Eddie Palabinskas, and God’s amazing performances at the Olympics

  5. edwardpolsen says:

    Loving all of these suggestions – all would make excellent additions to the list! One that I forgot was the 1998-99 WNBL Championship winning AIS team. Looking back at the crop that included future WNBA MVP Jackson, World Championship MVP Taylor and many other future Opals.

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