By Clinton Dybing
Sometimes you have to take some hard knocks being a writer. When an email popped through about writing something on the Sydney Convicts, I was hesitant. But when I saw the words ‘full’ and ‘Monty’, I gritted my teeth and thought I’d give it a shot — so down I buckled.
Rugger Bugger 9, the Convicts’ fundraiser, is mere days away, and this time the Convicts Inferno is being fuelled by ’70s disco music.
I spoke to some of the guys involved with the team, including Gus Donald, committee member and organiser of team fundraisers in years past. My first question (and a cheap one, at that) was regarding the show: did this mean that heaven was now, officially, on earth?
“To be honest,” Donald said, “playing rugby with the Convicts is heaven.”
Well, it would be. The Sydney Convicts are Australia’s first gay rugby union club. They are the retainers of the Bingham Cup, the World Cup of gay rugby. Not only have they won it, but won it twice in a row — not a bad effort, and not a slow climb, for a team founded in 2004.
“A lot of the original players were active members of POOFTA [Sydney’s gay touch football group],” Donald said. “So there was a small base of players to begin with. We used the gay press, Fair Day, pub crawls, on stage with drag queens, etc, to get the word out there. It quickly spread.”
It’s the Convicts’ intention to win the Cup a third consecutive time next June in Minneapolis, USA — hence the importance of nights likes Rugger Bugger.
Erik Denison, who’s coordinating the media for the night, outlined the ongoing necessity for the event. “It costs about $3000-$4000 per player [to go],” he said. “Along with the actual team, physios, doctors, nurses, etc, also have to go along.”
But what was originally done out of necessity to raise funds has evolved into a permanent, not to mention highly anticipated, event in Sydney’s gay calendar. Back in ’04, it seemed no one in the team was expecting such a fuss. “We had no idea Rugger Bugger was going to be so successful that first night,” Donald said. Really? Rugby players stripping — how could it not do well?
“Yes, well, at the end of the day,” he said, “sex sells. [But] without the support of the community, the club would simply not be able to attend Bingham.”
In the years since the team’s formation, and by participating in what’s regarded as a ‘tough’ man’s sport, the Convicts have inadvertently broken a few barriers and smashed a few stereotypes. This became apparent in a very public way in June this year, when two members of the Convicts appeared on Channel 9’s The Footy Show. The players tactfully, yet very directly, renounced the show’s homophobic attitudes.
The fact that not every team member is gay emphasises that common goals can render things like sexuality immaterial. “When you’re on the field,” Donald said, “trust me, the sexuality thing goes out the window. You’re totally consumed with the dynamics of the game. It’s just about playing it.”
The Convicts also have a team comprised of lesser-experienced players. Kevin Perry, originally from Canada, is a perfect example of how the team fosters growth.
“It’s great that the team caters to guys who want to learn,” Perry said. “I had no clue about rugby. I watched my first game in an Irish pub in Ontario about four years ago. It just looked like a pile of guys dumping themselves onto a ball.”
After coming to Australia on a working holiday, Perry played rugby briefly in Cairns before heading down here, where he “came into contact with the team and got involved. Rugby has been a big surprise.” Now he is in the starting line-up of the first team, is one of their most solid players and is even organising this latest Rugger Bugger. “They can appear a little intimidating — even to guys who’ve played a lot of sport in the past,” he said. “But they have a real lack of attitude — they’re a supportive bunch.”
And busy. They train Sundays, two nights a week and play a match on Saturdays. At the moment, they’re preparing for their big night which will include an underwear fashion show, a few disco performances, a tribute to Michael Jackson (who — and this is merely a guess — probably never played rugby) and, of course, the full Monty show. Maxi Shield, who sees the night as a great one for “acceptance”, will host.
“In the gay community,” Shield said, “if you don’t have a six-pack and the body to lift a car, you sometimes feel left out. Nights like this showcase all types of sexiness.”
The team has also recently been photographed with the Wallabies for the ‘This is Oz’ campaign, an International Day Against Homophobia initiative which has even had some exposure on Perez Hilton’s website.
I also hear that each player surprisingly finds time to have a life. Donald’s statement, “We’re just footy players” is a little debatable. It’s easy to throw over-used phrases like ‘uniting force’ or ‘team spirit’ around, but it’d actually demean what the team is accomplishing, and not just in the name of sport. Like any other social group or organisation, what they do is sometimes not as important as what they stand for.
On completing my talk with Denison (who, no doubt, has been juggling a mass of eager wolves, like me, all week) he asked me if I needed any images to go with the story. I told him I was pretty sure my editor had that covered. “Well, let me know,” Denison said, “because, I mean, these pictures are hot.” He dwelt on the ‘o’ sound and lengthened it, which made me smile. He obviously thought I’d have trouble believing him.
info: Rugger Bugger 9 (Convicts Inferno) is at the Midnight Shift, Saturday, September 5, from 8pm. Tickets $20 from www.themidnightshift.com or $25 on the door on the night. For more on the Convicts, visit www.sydneyconvicts.org