Melbourne is widely recognised as the arts, food and sports capital of the Australia, however it is the latter that truly unites everyone. The city has a rich history of sporting events over its 180 years, developing a culture that has left Melburnians totally and utterly infatuated by sport.

The love affair began in 1858 with the advent of Australian Rules Football before the establishment of the Victorian Football League in 1897 where eight teams from all over the city fought it out for the Premiership. The league would later introduce three more sides from Melbourne and be renamed the Australian Football League in 1990, by which stage teams from all over the country were competing for what is considered the ultimate prize in the game.

As well as Football, Horse Racing has been a fixture on the sporting calendar. The Melbourne Cup was first run and won by Archer in 1861 and has since grown to become one of the most revered races in world sport. Every year it captures the hearts and minds of the nation, perhaps showcased best by Makybe Diva who won a record three cups in a row.

Nestled amongst trees in Yarra Park, the esteemed Melbourne Cricket Ground plays host to the Boxing Day Test. Cricket is the lifeblood of the city in summer, along with the Australian Open tennis, and colossal crowds of over 90,000 people reflect that. Melbourne hosted the first test and one-day matches and recently set the record for the largest cricket crowd ever as Australia beat our neighbours from across the ditch in the World Cup Final.

Melbourne’s track record in Rugby League, Union, Soccer, Basketball and Netball is impressive and combine this with the successful hosting of Golf events and the Australian Grand Prix, there is little questioning as to why the city has a great sporting reputation.

However there is quite a large gender gap in this city and furthermore this country whereby women’s sport does not get the recognition that it deserves.

37% of women aged 15 and over attended at least one sporting event in the period of 2009-10 with Australian Rules making up 13% of that number while 28.5% of women aged 18 and over participate in regular organised sport.

The most popular form of physical activity for women was walking or running followed by aerobics, swimming and tennis. The only team sport recorded in the survey was netball, of which 5.3% of women play.

As the most popular non-individual sport you’d expect that the TV coverage would be adequate enough to inspire the next generation, however there is only one national league game live on free-to-air TV each week. This demonstrates the ‘bloke culture’ that has developed in Australia, whereby football, meat pies, beer and the Australian flag are the only items to adhere to.

However, the tide is changing. The AFL is investing millions of dollars into women’s football with the aim of a national league by 2020. Local teams are springing up everywhere and an exhibition games featuring the country’s best women footballers is being screened live on Channel 7 later this year.

Cricket Australia are also upping the ante by introducing a women’s Big Bash League. These teams will be aligned with their male counterparts and compliment the very successful Southern Stars, Australia’s national women’s cricket team.

Slowly but surely the ‘bloke culture’ is fading away. Australians have increased their acceptance of different backgrounds and cultures and as a result, people are more willing to try something new. Perhaps this could also apply for the often maligned industry of art.

Perhaps the only thing more synonymous with Melbourne than sport is the street art. Visitors and citizens alike find pleasure in visiting small city streets such as Hosier Lane, admiring the work completed by professional graffiti artists and perhaps even adding to it themselves.

However it is the exhibitions featuring modern and classical pieces of art that attract the contempt of the general public. For so long, Australia’s ‘bloke culture’ has placarded art as the domain of the upper class when simply it could not be further from the truth; art is a truly universal language.

Take, for example, Clarice Beckett.

Beckett was a 20th century landscape artist from Melbourne who continues to polarise opinions to this day. Critics during her time on earth scorned at her work however as time has grown older and her story has been further exposed to the public, much respect has grown for her and her work.

A spinster who was forced to care for both of her parents when they became sick, Beckett pursued art in a period where women were not genuinely respected within the industry. She also upset mentors by experimenting with new styles from Europe. Beckett would die at 48 years of age of pneumonia developed while she was painting during a storm.

Her story is something not too dissimilar to the types of things sports stars have to overcome to be adored by millions.

Kristell Thornell admired Clarice Beckett so much that she wrote a novel about her life. There are many other artists from Melbourne such as David Boyd, John Brack and Steve Cox who have created incredible pieces of work, yet we hear almost nothing about them. Instead, mediocre footballers dominate the headlines with how they may or may not have broken the law.

In years gone by, Australian artists have felt the need to go overseas to receive the recognition they deserve due to the oppressive ‘bloke culture’. However, as globalisation continues, this may not need to occur much longer with social media and the internet providing a hub for the best and worst of most things.

Melbourne is arguably one of the greatest cities in the world and it is truly special that sport and art reaches its best in this city. However, Melburnians and Australians in general need to open their eyes and begin to explore the full landscape. They will be much richer for it.

Written by Sam Mills

19. Sports lover and aspiring journalist. Proud Melburnian. @OnlyMillsy on Twitter.

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