Before The Siren

The inaugural season of the women’s AFL competition is a dream come true for so many. Yet in its first iteration it is undeniably modest, with its eight teams and two-month fixture in the warmer months. However, just as the first televised women’s game in September last year attracted record viewers, we know this competition is the beginning of something big and important. Any sports fan knows that the field is a forum not just for the game, but for the issues that emerge in the playing of the game. Even before the first whistle was blown, the women’s AFL had raised potent questions about gendered understandings of physical prowess and equality, as well as the usual tribal fervour aroused by place-based teams.

Lara Thoms and Snapcat’s response to the momentous occasion of the inaugural women’s AFL embraces community activism, art and sport to capture the spirit of women’s sport teams, girl gangs and social clubs. The artists have engaged with ten girl gangs or women’s teams to create an event in the spirit of an opening ceremony or half time spectacle, to honour the beginning of the AFL women’s professional league. It uses all of the masculine sports tropes of mega football games to celebrate the fact that women have been gathering in all sorts of ‘teams’, well, forever. There will be banners, anthems, mascots and chants, as well as a special insight into some of the most intriguing female-focused clubs in WA.

Whilst being lucky enough to meet up with gangs such as the Girl Guides (‘Girl Led and Adventurous’), the WA Roller Derby (‘Bruises are just Derby Kisses’) and the Red Hatters (‘Not The Shy Retiring Types’), the artists have also sunk their teeth into learning how to make giant football banners.

The Fremantle Dockers has a huge team of dedicated volunteers who make giant crepe paper banners, often 14 metres long and 6 metres high, for the Dockers’ home and away games. The trick with this craft is finding the right balance between being sturdy enough to withstand the Fremantle Doctor (sea breeze) and delicate enough for players to break when they run through it. The banner team has mastered this art, and let’s just say it involves hundreds of rolls of sticky–tape and a large floor space.

Over the last month the artists have been in residence at Fremantle Arts Centre, buried in crepe paper and in conversation with footballers, embroiderers, motorcyclists and activists to create a spectacle on the turf of the famous Fremantle Oval.