ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Taika Waititi

He’s made quirky independent comedies and drama films in his home country for years. As an actor, writer, director, and comedian, he’s helped spearhead a close-knit group of like-minded creatives. He wrote the original script for Disney’s animated Polynesian blockbuster Moana last year. And now he’s taking on the Marvel Universe.

But truth be told, Taika Waititi probably wouldn’t be recognized on the street in places like New York or Los Angeles.

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The 41-year-old Waititi has dominated the cinema scene in his native New Zealand for over a decade. In 2003, he came out of nowhere and got a Best Short Film nomination at the Oscars for Two Cars, One Night. He didn’t win, but he drew plenty of laughs when he pretended to fall asleep during the ceremony before they got to his category.

Waititi has been a darling at the Sundance Film Festival for many years – following his initial short film success, he wrote, directed, and co-starred in Eagle vs. Shark, an offbeat romantic comedy starring his good friend and frequent collaborator, Jemaine Clement. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007. Three years later, Waititi wrote and directed the coming-of-age story Boy, which tells the story of a young Māori kid learning the truth about his long-lost ex-convict father (played by Waititi). At the time, the film was the highest-grossing domestic movie ever at the New Zealand box office.

In 2014, Waititi and Clement tag-teamed the director’s chair for vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, which also wowed audiences at Sundance despite being made on a NZ$1.7 million budget raised entirely on Kickstarter. Last year, Waititi’s kid-friendly caper film Hunt for the Wilderpeople became the little Kiwi film that could, grossing over $12 million in its home country and $23 million worldwide, while also receiving unanimous acclaim (97% positive on Rotten Tomatoes). Also a smash hit in nearby Australia, Hunt for the Wilderpeople became the highest-grossing Kiwi movie ever, ahead of Boy – meaning that Waititi dethroned himself as New Zealand’s box office king.  “It’s the happiest and saddest day of my career,” Waititi quipped when he was told the news.

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Born in the small coastal village of Raukokore in the North Island of New Zealand, Waititi is entirely Maori on his father’s side, while his mother is of Russian Jewish descent. He attended school at Onslow College before moving on to the Victoria University of Wellington, where he met Clement while studying film and drama.

Waititi and Clement formed the comedy duo The Humourbeasts, touring the nation and winning the Billy T Award – New Zealand’s highest comedy honor – in 1999. Meanwhile, Waititi also earned a couple of bit parts in indie films, most notably an award-winning turn in the student drama Scarfies, which was filmed in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1999. Eventually, he decided to give directing a shot, starting with short comedy films for New Zealand’s 48-hour film festival. From that came Two Cars, One Night and immediate domestic success.

Earlier in 2017, Waititi was named the recipient of the New Zealander of the Year Award. “There are a lot of nominations for things I never won and this is something I actually did win – it feels like I’ve followed through on this one,” the director says, while expressing regret that he couldn’t attend the ceremony in person.

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“If someone asked, ‘What are your films like?’, the best I can come up with is that they’re, like, a fine balance between comedy and drama. And they deal mainly with the clumsiness of humanity,” states Waititi, who lists his favorite directors as Hal Ashby and George Miller.

Now, Waititi will be directing the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok, the third entry in the Marvel Universe starring the comic book character portrayed by Chris Hemsworth. However, Waititi was given a shocking amount of artistic freedom and declared almost immediately that the film would be set outside the Marvel Universe and be a stand-alone movie. Primarily shot in Australia, Thor: Ragnarok will be premiering on November 3rd.

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Waititi’s films all have vulnerability mixed with offbeat Kiwi humor, which will certainly be a unique addition to a big-budget superhero film. Conversely, Marvel has never had someone like Waititi direct a film of theirs. Noted critic Sarah Marrs said specifically that she was only as excited as she was for Thor: Ragnarok because Waititi was directing it, and that Marvel was giving him a long leash in order to do so.

“Having had pretty much four successful films at home, I know there’s an audience for my work,” Waititi explains. “A lot of people are trying to get out of their home country and think ‘making it’ is if you’re able to work in another. For me, I’d be quite content to keep doing my own little films down there for the rest of my filmmaking career.”

Similarly, Waititi remains low-key about being the proverbial Hollywood outsider. “I’ve always felt like I wanted to make a Marvel film. I just want to make sure I’m not making an episode.”

Now that Thor: Ragnarok is in the can and preparing for its release, Waititi is turning his attention elsewhere. He’s working on a werewolf-themed spinoff of What We Do in the Shadows and recently landed a $20 million Netflix deal to direct Bubbles, a film about the life of Michael Jackson as seen through the eyes of his pet chimpanzee.

“From film to film, it’s a new thing,” Waititi says. “And that, to me, is more inspiring than making same type of movie every time.”

Wonder Woman (2017)

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Diana (Gal Gadot) lives in isolation from the outside world amongst her female tribe on the island of Themyscira. A princess of an Amazon warrior culture, Diana is destined from birth to protect humankind and conquer evil, as represented by the fallen god of war, Ares. Diana’s idealistic philosophy revolves around defending humanity from harm, believing that people are inherently good and are simply corrupted by society.

One day, Themyscira is penetrated by the outside world – in the form of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American undercover agent, who crashes his plane offshore. World War I is raging in Europe, and Trevor has been working for British intelligence services, attempting to infiltrate the Germans and their attempt to develop new chemical warfare. While undercover, Trevor was able to steal some vital information from Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), one of the German scientists, but was discovered and had to escape by stealing a plane, which eventually took him to Themyscira.

Trevor is interrogated by the Amazons and tells them of “the war to end all wars.” Diana is disturbed by Trevor’s stories of carnage and desires to help, despite her mother’s warnings. Eventually, she joins Trevor and leaves her homeland for the first time.

The two arrive in London, where Trevor reports of his findings to the British high command. Trevor believes that the Germans can change the course of the war in their favor with their plans for chemical weapons, but his superiors dismiss him, as they’re tantalizingly close to negotiating the armistice. Frustrated, Trevor assembles a rogue group of mercenaries to join him in his attempt to take down Dr. Maru and her superior, General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston).

Meanwhile, Diana is absorbing the reality of the new world she finds herself in and how she can find a place in this environment — while also holding true to what she holds near and dear and fulfilling her destiny.

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Wonder Woman was released earlier this month and is already the first big summer blockbuster of the year, and with good reason. It’s also a big return to form for DC’s Expanded Universe, which got off to an inauspicious start last year with the massively disappointing Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. 

While I’m generally not a huge superhero movie guy, when are done right, they’re frequently done REALLY right. And Wonder Woman is no exception. This film has everything a summer blockbuster should have: tons of awesomely epic fight scenes, great music and cinematography, solid acting, and a compelling and engrossing story.

The film succeeds as an awesome re-introduction to Wonder Woman as a character — someone who is naïve and idealistic, but also heroic and complex. It’s also really cool that they took the the time to look at her origin story without dragging it out too much. Wonder Woman is also surprisingly funny, as it’s two fish-out-of-water stories rolled into one. There are plenty of humorous moments as Trevor tries to understand who Diana actually is and where she comes from, while Diana also attempts to familiarize herself with the real world.

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Despite receiving criticism when she was cast, Gal Gadot nails the role of Diana. In addition to balancing the aforementioned character traits of naïveté and courage, she just has the presence and charisma for the role. Her chemistry with Pine is truly outstanding and is the emotional core of the film. We see how they’re both heroic in different ways — Diana being the idealist and Trevor being the pragmatic one. It’s worth mentioning that Gadot can certainly pull off the physicality of Wonder Woman, too, as she gained 17 pounds of muscle for the production and even has a military background herself (three years in the Israeli Defense Forces).

Now, as always, on to the negatives. Wonder Woman‘s villains are — in a word — “meh”. This is hardly new with DC, but all of the principal villains in this film just don’t feel good. They’re underdeveloped and heavy-handed in their motives, and while I didn’t find their acting super hammy, they were still very underwhelming as a group.

The action sequences in this movie are really awesome as a whole, but there’s a ton of CGI towards the climax and there’s also the occasional overuse of slow motion. I get it — she’s Gal Gadot, and you want to make her look awesome, but it can still get tedious.

Overall, the dual fantasy-reality setting works pretty well. Wonder Woman is a great-looking movie, and the film’s soundtrack is euphoric. I think there’s a lot to like here, simply because there’s an emotionally-involving story, fun action, and strong performances. I’m glad to see Gadot finally come into her own as an up-and-coming A-lister, and I feel like director Patty Jenkins has a bright future, too (it’s only her third feature).

As far as the rest of DC’s filmography goes, Wonder Woman certainly is up there. It’s definitely not in the same league as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but this works as both a standalone superhero film and as a gateway to other DC films, like the upcoming Aquaman and Justice League. There are certainly some aspects that needed to be fine-tuned, but if there was ever a film to help get this genre back on track, this is the one you want.

Grade: B+

  • Directed by Patty Jenkins
  • Screenplay by Allan Heinberg
  • Story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs
  • Based on a character created by William Moulton Marston
  • Produced by Charles Roven, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, and Richard Suckle
  • Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock
  • Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Germany

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The Aussie rules phenomenon has expanded in continental Europe in recent years, and Germany has been no exception. The sport was originally played there in 1995, with clubs formed by Aussie expats in both Munich (the Redbacks) and Frankfurt (the Kangaroos). The two clubs competed against each other on a largely informal basis until AFL Germany was founded in 1999.

In 2003, the league expanded, with the Berlin Crocodiles and Hamburg Dockers joining and forming a nice nucleus for a nationwide German competition. Soon enough, the Dusseldorf Lions (now the Rheinland Lions) and the Stuttgart Emus were added in the ensuing years.

The German national footy team, the Black Eagles, were established in 2006, when they participated in a tri-nation series of matches against Sweden and Denmark. The Eagles were able to use that experience as a springboard the following year in the same series, defeating Sweden in Berlin for their first international victory in July 2007. That September, the EU Cup – another international Aussie rules tournament – was hosted in Hamburg, where the Eagles finished in second place.

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The Eagles have desired to make an impact at the International Cup, but AFL Germany has been reluctant in the past, instead voicing the desire to focus on regional development and becoming a dominant force at various European tournaments, both in traditional 18-a-side format and 9-a-side. In the summer of 2011, the Eagles dominated France’s national team, the Coqs, at a test match in Paris.

After gaining suitable support to the greenlight from AFL Germany, the Black Eagles will be making their long-awaited International Cup debut later in 2017; AFL Germany now boasts four separate leagues, and many other clubs are looking to get started in the near future.

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  • Berlin Crocs
  • Dresden Wolves
  • Frankfurt Redbacks
  • Freiburg Taipans
  • Hamburg Dockers
  • Munich Kangaroos
  • Rheinland Lions
  • Stuttgart Emus

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GERMANS IN THE AFL

  • Alex Ruscuklic (played 1966-1974) — This German-born footballer was a star forward for Fitzroy, kicking 189 goals in 108 career games with the club. A testy relationship with his coaches resulted in his departure from Fitzroy, and he landed at Carlton in the 1974 season before announcing his retirement.
  • Peter Ruscuklic (played 1975-1981) — Alex’s younger brother was not quite as successful, but had some notable moments as a full-forward for both Fitzroy (1975-76) and Geelong (1977). After leaving the VFL, Ruscuklic caught on with the East Sydney Football Club in the Sydney Football League before retiring in 1981 and moving into coaching. He passed away suddenly at the age of 58 in 2014.
  • David Schwarz (played 1991-2002) — Originally from Sunbury, Victoria, Schwarz was a German-Australian footballer who was known for his goalkicking abilities. Although his later career was marred by knee injuries, Schwarz played in 173 games with the Melbourne Demons and became an AFL commentator following his retirement.
  • Dean Terlich (played 2013-2016) — Terlich is a German Australian who originally played in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL). He was drafted by the Sydney Swans in the 2008 rookie draft but never played a game for them, eventually falling in with the Melbourne Demons by 2013. He played in 35 career games before being delisted by the end of the 2016 season.
  • Jack Riewoldt (played 2007-present) — Riewoldt is of German descent on his father’s side and grew up in Tasmania, where he played for the Clarence Football Club before getting drafted by Richmond, where he remains today. Riewoldt is perhaps best known for his 2015 campaign, when he became the first Richmond player to kick 50-plus goals in six straight seasons.
  • Nick Riewoldt (played 2000-present) — A first cousin of Jack, Riewoldt has spent his lengthy AFL career entirely with the St Kilda Football Club, entering the league as the #1 overall pick in 2000. Although born in Tasmania, Riewoldt was historically significant as the first #1 pick to play his junior and senior footy in Queensland. To date, he has been St Kilda’s leading goalkicker four separate times and is a five-time All-Australian.

The Neon Demon (2016)

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Orphaned as a child, sixteen-year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning) longs for a career as an LA fashion model while living on the bare-bones essentials at a seedy Pasadena motel. She impresses at a handful of photoshoots, which leads to an unexpected offer from talent agent Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks), who is impressed with her looks but convinces her to lie about her age in order to get more jobs.

Along the way, Jesse befriends Ruby (Jena Malone), her lesbian makeup artist, and begins seeing Dean (Karl Glusman), an old-school Southern boy who likes her, but dislikes the shallowness of the fashion industry. Jesse must also avoid the creepy manager of the motel, Hank (Keanu Reeves) and navigate photoshoots with the stern Jack McCarther (Desmond Harrington) and the pretentious Robert Sarno (Alessandro Nivola).

Jesse’s fellow models, Gigi and Sarah (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee), attempt to understand what makes Jesse so special that she can score major gigs right off the bat. Intense jealousy and violence ensues, while Ruby, who has been much more open and kind with Jesse, reveals disturbing secrets of her own. In the end, they’re all sucked into the dark underbelly of the fashion industry with shocking results.

 

The Neon Demon is directed by acclaimed arthouse maestro Nicolas Winding Refn. I’ve long been an admirer of the Danish director’s previous works, including Drive and Only God Forgives, both action-thrillers which starred Ryan Gosling.

Drive is one of my all-time favorite action films, featuring a relatable love story mixed with graphic mafia violence. I didn’t like Only God Forgives — a more traditional revenge story set in Thailand — nearly as much, but it also featured a good performance from Gosling and exquisite cinematography.

Speaking of which, that’s what The Neon Demon‘s biggest strength is — cinematography. The visuals are outstanding and create the appropriate atmosphere that we’re used to seeing from Winding Refn. I also loved the film’s score by Cliff Martinez, and most of the acting was solid.

The Neon Demon is also good simply because it knows what it is: a psychological horror-thriller. It’s not a catty whine-fest featuring hot girls vs. other hot girls, and it’s also not a self-righteous commentary on the superficiality and vapidness of the fashion industry. Think more of The Shining or Carrie mixed with a Calvin Klein advertisement.

Onto the negatives: the characters aren’t as fleshed-out as they need to be, and the film lags at around the halfway point. There is some SERIOUS violence and sexual content in this film, and it will undoubtedly be disturbing to even some hardened viewers. The reason I can give these elements of the film a little bit of respect is because I know what Winding Refn was going for here. While some scenes veer dangerously close to exploitation film territory, overall, the graphic images are handled pretty well.

And to be fair, ever since the 70s, smart directors have known how to blend shocking, graphic violence and/or sexuality with enough artsiness to make it feel organic to the plot. Therefore, I didn’t find all of the content in The Neon Demon (or even most of it) to be 100% gratuitous — in the same way that (in my opinion) Straw DogsA Clockwork Orange, and Bad Lieutenant weren’t automatically gratuitous.

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Like Only God ForgivesThe Neon Demon received polarizing reviews and got nearly equal boos and cheers when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. I had briefly heard of the film when it came out last year, but, to my knowledge, it didn’t get a wide screening in a lot of area theaters. Heck, I didn’t even know Winding Refn directed it until I saw it at my local rental store. The Neon Demon flopped at the box office, grossing $3 million on an already-small budget of $7 million, and received mixed reviews from most notable critics (57% on Rotten Tomatoes).

And that makes sense — The Neon Demon is the antithesis of a mainstream film, despite featuring a recognizable cast and a well-regarded director. It definitely meandered towards the end, but overall, this is another good — but not spectacular — entry in Winding Refn’s diverse filmography.

This honestly is a very hard film to recommend, because there are definite negatives in terms of actual plot, content, and characters. While it’s a bold film visually and stylistically and the technicals are outstanding (especially directing, cinematography, and sound), The Neon Demon still doesn’t succeed on the grand scale it intends to. It might become a cult classic someday on the indie circuit, but I can see why it failed among most major audiences. Judge as you will.

Rating: 7/10

  • Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
  • Screenplay by Nicolas Winding Refn and Mary Laws & Polly Stenham
  • Produced by Lene Børglum, Sidonie Dumas and Vincent Maraval
  • Director of Photography – Natasha Braier
  • Music by Cliff Martinez
  • Edited by Matthew Newman
  • Starring Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Desmond Harrington, Keanu Reeves, Alessandro Nivola
  • Rated R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language.

 

 

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Lachlan Macquarie

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Lachlan Macquarie was born on Ulva Island, Scotland, in 1762, to a well-regarded family of Scottish clan chieftains. Macquarie left his home island at the age of 14 and eventually found his way into the British Army.

In April 1777, the young Macquarie was deployed to North America during the American Revolutionary War and ended up stationed in modern-day Nova Scotia as an ensign. But that was only the beginning of Macquarie’s military excursions, as he saw many different stations over the next decade — including the American colonies, Jamaica, India, and Egypt. During this time, he became known as a very successful commander, rapidly climbing the ladder from Lieutenant to Captain to Major.

In between his service stints overseas, Macquarie also spent some time in London as an assistant adjutant general to the honorable Lord Harrington. After returning to India for two years, Macquarie ended up in London again in 1807, this time commanding the 73rd Foot Regiment.

In April 1809, Macquarie received word that he was to become the Governor of New South Wales. At the time, it must have seemed like a demotion, as the New South Wales colony was widely regarded as a poverty-stricken penal settlement on the eastern coast of Australia.

With widespread political corruption, a group of rebellious, undisciplined soldiers, and conflicts with local Aboriginal groups, New South Wales was hardly considered a dream destination. Previously, the British had only wanted naval officers to govern the place due to its remoteness, but had experienced very little success. But nonetheless, Macquarie was viewed as the right man to bring law and order to the fledgling New South Wales colony.

Macquarie arrived in the colony by December 1809, bringing along a good-sized group of his own men; he officially became Governor on January 1, 1810.

His first order of business was to restore order among the populace after the so-called “Rum Rebellion” of 1808. Macquarie also had to navigate the testy relationship between free settlers (AKA “exclusives”) and reformed convicts who had finished their sentences and/or been granted pardons (known as the emancipists). Severe droughts occurred in consecutive years, and Macquarie also had his hands full while he attempted to overhaul the military corps and the justice system. The first few years in the colony were grim, indeed.

Macquarie’s plan for the courts clashed with Jeffrey Bent, the Chief Judge of the new Supreme Court. Bent had alliances with the military and the exclusive settlers, and some accused Macquarie of trying to rebel against English common law by issuing ordinances that were viewed as inconsistent with the Crown’s plans for New South Wales. Macquarie’s attempts to allow emancipist attorneys into the court were particularly frowned upon.

It became clear that Macquarie’s plans for New South Wales were facing an uphill battle. His greater vision was to have the colony as a egalitarian settlement — allowing ex-convicts to coexist peacefully with civilian settlers and military officers. While that may seem perfectly logical and innocuous today, Macquarie was largely viewed as a radical at the time.

In 1816, Macquarie had been subject to repeated harassment and decided to proclaim a new law against trespassing, having three offenders — all of them free settlers — flogged in order to send a message. While an extreme example, this was one incident that Macquarie’s political opponents used against him. Eventually, Macquarie was censored by Lord Bathurst, the man who was in charge of colonial affairs in New South Wales. The British set up a committee in order to investigate Macquarie, as well as detail further plans for the penal colony.

Surprisingly, the committee was mostly OK with Macquarie’s policies and vision, but they disapproved of his liberal use of pardons and tickets of leave. They ended up supporting Macquarie in his goal to help New South Wales become a prosperous colony for ex-convicts who desired to start anew. However, many others still wanted Macquarie gone, so he eventually resigned.

Shortly thereafter, the Napoleonic Wars ended, and many free settlers decided to move to Australia, as Britain was sinking into a post-war economic depression. By the time Macquarie had resigned and returned to London in 1822, nearly 40,000 settlers lived in New South Wales.

Macquarie is also credited with being the first governor to issue official currency in Australia, in 1813, and helped found the Bank of New South Wales four years later. He helped bring in architects and engineers to supervise the building of many sites, most of which are still standing in Sydney today. Macquarie also encouraged further exploration of the Australian continent and helped build some structures in Tasmania, another penal colony, when he visited there. Macquarie University in Sydney, one of Australia’s most prestigious schools, is named for the governor.

To this day, Australians universally regard Macquarie as an extremely influential and important figure. The idea of “giving everyone a fair go” is a phrase that continues to be popular among Aussies to this day, echoing Macquarie’s philosophy that regardless of background, religion, educational level, or socioeconomic status, one can attempt to succeed and make a good life.

Macquarie passed away in London at the age of 62 while still awaiting charges for his alleged crimes. He was buried at a remote mausoleum in Scotland alongside his wife and two children — with the words “the Father of Australia” written on his epitaph.

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HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Sir Doug Nicholls

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Doug Nicholls was born on December 9, 1906, at Cummeragunja Reserve, a small Aboriginal Australian community in rural New South Wales. The youngest of five children, Nicholls grew up surrounded by cattle and sheep stations and attended school at the local church mission.

By the age of 13, Nicholls was working for his uncle as a hand on a local farm, where he was known for his charming, boyish personality and strong work ethic. The young Nicholls showed plenty of athleticism, catching on with the Tongala Blues, a local Australian rules football club across the Murray River in country Victoria.

Eventually, Nicholls got good enough at footy in order to try out for both Carlton and North Melbourne – two teams in the Victorian Football League (VFL) – in 1927 at the age of 21. While Nicholls briefly played for Carlton’s reserves squad, his lack of height (5’2″) worked against him and he eventually chose to leave the club in favor of the Northcote Dragons Football Club, a team that competed in the Victorian Football Association (VFA).

Nicholls was able to work his way into the Dragons’ starting lineup by the 1929 season, and was eventually selected by Fitzroy, a well-established VFL club, in 1932. Known for his exceptional speed and ability to make smart decisions with the footy, Nicholls soon became a crowd favorite, although he was also subject to locker room taunts due to his ethnicity. It wasn’t until teammate Haydn Bunton befriended Nicholls that the young Aborigine felt like he belonged. In 1935, Nicholls became the first indigenous player to play for the Victorian state team.

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Nicholls also used his athletic talents to help fellow Aborigines, as well as raise funds by organizing footy matches to support Australian troops during WWII. He was also named the inaugural chairman of the National Aboriginal Sports Foundation. Following the death of his mother, Nicholls began to take an interest in the ministry, becoming a Church of Christ member after getting baptized in 1935.

While Nicholls wanted to serve in WWII, he was eventually released from his duties in order to help the Fitzroy community, including many Aborigines who suffered from alcoholism. In addition to his Christian ministry work, Nicholls became a social worker and was a voice against the alcoholism and gambling problems that he felt were plaguing his community. He also helped set up hostels for abandoned children, built vacation homes for poor families, and was also a field officer for the Aboriginal Advancement League. Many people admired Nicholls’s enthusiasm and charisma, and he eventually became the minister of the first Aboriginal Church of Christ in the country.

In 1953, Nicholls received a great honor when he was recommended to be a part of the Australian contingency that attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. This never materialized, but the recommendation specifically highlighted the positive community activism that Nicholls had been doing (he did eventually help welcome the Queen when she toured Australia in 1970).

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Among other career highlights, Nicholls was chosen as a member of the Father’s Day Council of Australia due to his work with youth, met Pope Paul VI at the Ecumenical Conference held in Melbourne in 1968, and ultimately was the first Aboriginal Australian to be knighted, in 1972. Nicholls was also the first Aboriginal to hold high office, when he was elected Governor of South Australia in 1976. However, he served only five months in office before resigning due to poor health.

Nicholls passed away on June 4, 1988, at his home in Mooroopna, Victoria. He was 81 years old and survived by his wife of 39 years, Gladys, in addition to three kids and three step-kids.

A state funeral was widely attended, and a life-size statue of Nicholls was dedicated in 2006 at Parliament Gardens in Melbourne. In addition, Nicholls remains widely influential in sport – the Australian Football League recognizes his achievements every year with the annual Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round, which celebrates the Aboriginal impact on the game of Aussie rules.

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Rugby League vs. Rugby Union – a comparison and history

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Rugby is an exciting full-contact sport that was founded in England in 1823, when a schoolboy named William Webb-Ellis became bored with kicking a soccer ball and decided to pick up the ball and run with it. This event resulted in the formation of what was called rugby, because it was founded at Rugby School in Warwickshire. However, the sport was not formally organized in a national competition (the Rugby Football Union, or RFU) until 1871.

Rugby quickly took off in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and also developed a large following in the colonies of Australia and New Zealand. However, some important socioeconomic differences began to be revealed as the game spread.

Youngsters who played rugby in school were generally from upper-class families. They strictly played the game for fun, as players were not allowed to play professionally at the time.

However, rugby players in the northern parts of England – specifically Lancashire and Yorkshire – were the common people, mainly blue-collar workers. As such, they simply couldn’t afford to take significant time off work in order to play rugby, and their teams suffered because of it. Therefore, these northerners decided to devise a scheme to get paid professionally.

As rugby began to take off in northern England, the southern amateurs didn’t like that these would-be working-class professionals up north were trying to be compensated. In 1892, the RFU disciplined Bradford and Leeds – two northern rugby clubs – for paying players who had to miss work. However, the RFU was already paying southern players who had represented England abroad, such as the 1888 rugby team that toured Australia.

The furious northerners argued that the RFU had shown blatant favoritism towards the southern clubs, as well as stacking the deck against them in games and not giving them representation on any sport-related committees. In response, the RFU banned professional rugby teams nationwide.

However, all was not lost for the northerners, as they had created their own league in 1888, featuring a dozen teams. They called themselves the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU). The two sports officially separated in 1895, with the south becoming rugby union and the northerners sticking to what is now known as rugby league.

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SIMILARITIES BETWEEN LEAGUE AND UNION

The two codes of rugby have the same basic ideas:

  • Players can run forward with the ball or kick the ball forwards, as long as it touches the ground first (a drop-kick).
  • Players cannot throw or deflect the ball forwards (a knock-on) and must throw the ball backwards or sideways.
  • Players can score in different ways:
    • try is when a player who has possession of the ball touches it down on his opponent’s in-goal area.
    • A conversion kick occurs after a try and is very similar to an extra point attempt in American football.
    • Players can also score by kicking the ball through the uprights (a penalty goal) or during gameplay (a drop goal). Again, the ball must be drop-kicked on the ground.
  • Both rugby league and rugby union fields are 100 meters long.
  • Both codes have the same tackling rules (anywhere below the shoulders) and similar penalties.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LEAGUE AND UNION

  • Rugby league features 13 players a side, while rugby union is 15-on-15.
  • In rugby union, a try is five points, but it is four points in rugby league. Likewise, a drop goal is worth three points in union, but only one point in league. Conversion kicks are worth two points in both codes.
  • Rugby union places a large emphasis on winning possessions via mauls and scrums, when both teams fight for the ball against each other while holding their teammates tight.
  • In rugby union, a ruck is what happens when a player is tackled by an opposing player. The player who got tackled must let go of the ball, while his teammates push the opposing players away. However, in rugby league, the tackle is uncontested, and the player(s) who made the tackle must retreat ten meters.
  • In rugby union, a team has unlimited possessions and can therefore control the clock. However, in rugby league, a team has only six chances to score a try. On the sixth attempt, a player will usually kick the ball long to the other team, just like an American football punter would. This was designed by the original NRFU players in order to keep the scores close and make sure both teams had even possessions.

These rules may seem like minor differences, but the modern versions of both league and union are very different in practice. Rugby union matches are both brutal and methodical, requiring precise kicks and ball disposals, as it’s all about strategy and knowing what to do to get your team in position to score. Rugby league is much more simple and straightforward, and many American football fans who watch league on TV will be able to follow it very quickly. In order to play rugby league, you must be quick and agile. Union is generally more physical, but also isn’t as fast-paced as league.

Australia v New Zealand - Women's Test

Rugby union is the de facto code played in most schools around the world, and when fans and players talk about “rugby,” they’re generally referring to union. The game is played widely around the world, as it remains a major sport in the UK, as well as in Pacific islands such as New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. The US, South Africa, Japan, France, and Ireland are some other notable nations that compete on an international scale, either in rugby union or the abbreviated form known as rugby sevens (I played both union and sevens when I was an undergrad at New Mexico State University).

Rugby league is more of a localized niche sport, as only a handful of countries play it. The only country where league is more popular than union is Australia, and it has a particularly large following in the states of New South Wales and Queensland.

In addition, rugby league is widely played in southern France, New Zealand, Wales, the Pacific islands, and the northern parts of England in which it originated. League is also the national sport of both Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands.

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MAJOR RUGBY LEAGUE COMPETITIONS

  • Super League (England/France)
    • Castleford Tigers
    • Catalans Dragons (France)
    • Huddersfield Giants
    • Hull F.C.
    • Leeds Rhinos
    • Leigh Centurions
    • Salford Red Devils
    • St Helens F.C.
    • Wakefield Trinity
    • Warrington Wolves
    • Widnes Vikings
    • Wigan Warriors
  • National Rugby League (Australia/New Zealand)
    • Brisbane Broncos
    • Canberra Raiders
    • Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
    • Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
    • Gold Coast Titans
    • Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
    • Melbourne Storm
    • Newcastle Knights
    • New Zealand Warriors
    • North Queensland Cowboys
    • Parramatta Eels
    • Penrith Panthers
    • St George-Illawarra Dragons
    • South Sydney Rabbitohs
    • Sydney Roosters
    • Wests Tigers
  • Tongan National Rugby League
    • Capital Warriors
    • Fuekafa Rabbitohs
    • Ha’akame Broncos
    • Ha’ateiho Spartans
    • Halaloto Green Barbarians
    • Havelu Bulldogs
    • Kolomotu’a Eagles
    • Lapaha Knights
    • Mu’a Saints
    • Nakolo Raiders
    • Silapeluua Crusaders
    • Vaini Doves
  • Digicel Cup (Papua New Guinea)
    • Agmark Gurias
    • Bintangor-Goroka Lahanis
    • Enga Mioks
    • Gulf Isapea
    • Hela Wigmen
    • Lae Snax Tigers
    • Mendi Muruks
    • Mount Hagen Eagles
    • Port Moresby Vipers
    • TNA Lions
    • Waghi Tumbe
  • Vodafone Cup (Fiji)
    • City Stormers
    • Davuilevu Knights
    • Dees Cees Nadera Panthers
    • Lautoka Crushers
    • Makoi Bulldogs
    • Malawai Sea Eagles
    • Nabua Broncos
    • Nadi Eels
    • Namatakula Saints
    • Namotomoto Raiders
    • Naviago Sharks
    • Police Sharks
    • Sabeto Roosters
    • Saru Dragons

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MAJOR RUGBY UNION COMPETITIONS

  • Premiership Rugby (England)
    • Bath
    • Bristol
    • Exeter Chiefs
    • Gloucester
    • Harlequin F.C.
    • Leicester Tigers
    • Newcastle Falcons
    • Northampton Saints
    • Sale Sharks
    • Saracens
    • Wasps
    • Worcester Warriors
  • Super Rugby (Australia/New Zealand/South Africa/Argentina/Japan)
    • Blues (New Zealand)
    • Brumbies (Australia)
    • Bulls (South Africa)
    • Cheetahs (South Africa)
    • Chiefs (New Zealand)
    • Crusaders (New Zealand)
    • Force (Australia)
    • Highlanders (New Zealand)
    • Hurricanes (New Zealand)
    • Jaguares (Argentina)
    • Kings (South Africa)
    • Lions (South Africa)
    • Rebels (Australia)
    • Reds (Australia)
    • Stormers (South Africa)
    • Sunwolves (Japan)
    • Waratahs (Australia)
  • Top 14 (France)
    • Aviron Bayonnais
    • Union Bordeaux Bègles
    • CA Brive
    • Castres Olympique
    • ASM Clermont Auvergne
    • FC Grenoble
    • Lyon OU
    • Montpellier Hèrault
    • Section Paloise
    • Racing 92
    • Stade Rochelais
    • Stade Français Paris
    • RC Toulonnais
    • Stade Toulousain
  • All-Ireland League
    • Ballynahinch
    • Ballymena
    • Banbridge
    • Buccaneers
    • Clontarf
    • Cork Constitution
    • Dolphin
    • Dublin University
    • Garryowen
    • Lansdowne
    • Naas
    • Old Belvedere
    • Old Wesley
    • Shannon
    • St Mary’s College
    • Terenure College
    • UCC
    • UCD
    • UL Bohemians
    • Young Munster
  • Currie Cup (South Africa)
    • Blue Bulls
    • Boland Cavaliers
    • Border Bulldogs
    • Eastern Province Kings
    • Falcons
    • Free State Cheetahs
    • Golden Lions
    • Griffons
    • Griquas
    • Leopards
    • Pumas
    • Sharks
    • SWD Eagles
    • Western Province
  • Pro12 (Italy/Scotland/Wales)
    • Aironi (Italy)
    • Border Reivers (Scotland)
    • Celtic Warriors (Wales)
    • Bridgend (Wales)
    • Caerphilly (Wales)
    • Cardiff (Wales)
    • Ebbw Vale (Wales)
    • Llanelli (Wales)
    • Neath (Wales)
    • Newport (Wales)
    • Pontypridd (Wales)
    • Swansea (Wales)
  • National Rugby Championship (Australia)
    • Brisbane City
    • Canberra Vikings
    • Country Eagles
    • Melbourne Rising
    • Perth Spirit
    • Queensland Country
    • Sydney Rays
    • Western Sydney Rams
  • Mitre 10 Cup (New Zealand)
    • Auckland
    • Bay of Plenty
    • Canterbury
    • Counties Manukau
    • Hawke’s Bay
    • Manawatu
    • North Harbour
    • Northland
    • Otago
    • Southland
    • Taranaki
    • Tasman
    • Waikato
    • Wellington
  • Digicel Cup (Fiji)
    • Lautoka
    • Macuata
    • Nadi
    • Nadroga
    • Naitasiri
    • Namosi
    • Navosa
    • Northland
    • Ovalau
    • Rewa
    • Suva
    • Tavua