The Canterbury Australian Football League is an Australian rules football competition in New Zealand and is one of the Leagues governed by AFL New Zealand. The modern era of Australian Football in Christchurch can be traced back to the efforts of George Lanyon. Spurred by hearing that local physical education students were wanting to learn about AFL, George decided it was time to establish the game he had left behind in Melbourne in 1963. In 1974 he called a meeting of interested parties by advertising in the local paper, at a cost of $60, resulting in the formation of the Canterbury Australian Rules Football Association, which became known as the CARFA.
Players used to meet at Cuthbert's Green and teams were picked on the day. Soon a rivalry developed between those that used to drink at the Keys Road Band Hall (the Kangas) and those that drank at the Avon Football Club (the Keas). The game attracted the attention of leading sportsmen, such as All Black big man, Jock Ross. Modern day founder of Windflow, Jeff Henderson, also tried and succeeded at Aussie Rules while attending university.
In those days, the best player of the season would earn himself the George Soulous medal, in honour of the man who did great work in promoting and playing the game in the mid-1970s, particularly by reporting the game on Christchurch radio each weekend.
The game had even spread to Ashburton by 1976, kicked along by the Sullivan family, whose boys would play rugby on the Saturday and Aussie Rules on Sunday. According to George Lanyon, they were a formidable team.
In the mid-1970s there was little if any funding for the game so playing tops were initially T-shirts, but later George's wife Margaret hand sewed playing tops for the teams using materials she bought at the local haberdashery. It was a big occasion when the players ran out onto the park sporting their own colours, whether it be the "green and gold" of the Kangas or the "red and black" of the Keas.
As the game began to grow in Christchurch, it attracted the attention of the officials running the game in Australia and soon they provided the Canterbury side with a set of tops, the red and black tops of the Melbourne based Essendon Football Club. Wearing these colours the Canterbury side competed in NPC carnivals in 1977 and 1978, against Auckland and Wellington and toured Australia in 1978.
In an effort to celebrate and retain the history of Australian Football in Canterbury, a television documentary was produced in 2002. Entitled, "Tight shorts and High Balls", this 30-minute documentary featured interviews with those who were instrumental in sustaining the game, as well as highlights of the past 140-years. This is held in the archives at AFL headquarters in Melbourne.
Photographer Steve Nolan used to play in those days and still maintains his ties with the game by supplying shots of weekend games for the website, www.cafl.co.nz. Nephew, Ben Nolan, coaches the local University Cougars. Similarly, George Lanyon's son, Jason, plays for the Eastern Blues and has represented Canterbury on several occasions.
"Many Australians are rapt to know that when they arrive in Christchurch, AFL is alive and well here", says local CAFL President, Terry Anderson. "One of the biggest fears I had when I left Melbourne would be not going to the Footy, but this has been offset somewhat by helping the game grow here. There's so much trans-tasman travel and information exchange these days, that most New Zealanders have been exposed to AFL".