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Aussie Rules Football in Portland Sunday, April 13, 2008

My buddy Ben has been bugging me to come photograph the Portland Power play Australian Rules Football for a while. Yesterday, the stars aligned and I had the chance to shoot their first inter-club match of the season.

Roughly half of the Power's roster of about 30 are Australian expats. They play several split-squad games each year as well as a home-and-home series against the Seattle Grizzlies. This year they are also hosting a tournament that will include teams from Denver, Vancouver and Burnaby, British Columbia.

Saturday, after a slow start, the Power dominated the Grizzlies en route to a 66-45 win. The scoring was well distributed with no player on either team kicking more than two goals.

The game was played at John Deere field in Gresham. I'd never been there before, and I was pleasantly surprised. Its location at NE 181st St. just south of I-84 is an industrial part of town—warehouses on three sides of the field—but their plain facades and a view of Mt. Hood made for a clean background. The field itself was a little uneven and hard, but the grass was in pretty good shape.

Of course the beautiful weather—sunny and 78F (26C)—was hard to complain about.

Apart from a few clips on TV, this was the first Aussie Rules ("Footy") game I've ever seen. But it was a lot of fun, and quite easy to follow. Basically, each team is trying to kick the oblong ball through a set of uprights at opposite ends of the field. It doesn't matter if it bounces or rolls through, it counts. Kicks through the middle pair are worth six points; kicks through the outer sets are worth one point. The ball is almost always live; you can carry it as far as you want, as long as you bounce it every 15 meters; and you pass it off with a kick or by hitting it with your fist—no throwing. And you're allowed to tackle the opposition by hitting them between the shoulders and the knees. There's not much more to it than that. Oh, and everybody goes to the pub for beer after the game.

The next game for the Power is a split-squad match Apr. 27 at Willamette Park.