At North Port Oval in 2011, attending my first VFL games, I found a group of ladies volunteering in the kiosk alongside the entrance gate. Many of them tied their initial involvement with the local club, The Port Melbourne Boroughs football club, to a family connection.
While Australian Rules football is not really known for gender equality (no women’s football was played at North Port Oval in 2011), many of the support roles are staffed by females these days. There were often young women darting back and forth between rooms and the oval in various uniforms (not that I even knew the names of the jobs they do). Back when the first ladies started selling refreshments as volunteers, this would not have been the case.
In 2011 I was able to have a glimpse into the operations of the kiosk. The ladies worked together, each with her role to play from 8.30 am until everything sold out in the last quarter. As most of the women work on making sandwiches, there is an opportunity for a bit of a chat. Once the seniors’ game starts in the afternoon, it is so busy that conversations are functional: someone will ask which dim-sim steamer is ready, or offer to get out an extra hot-dog for your order while they make up another one. As the afternoon game comes towards the end, there would be less banter and the ladies looked rather serious. I was sure I was seeing (and experiencing) the pain bodies feel from constant work and standing on a hard, cold, concrete floor.
During the day, sometimes I heard the ladies joke for a customer to ask everyone to move from in front of them so they can see the game, but really you get the sense the ladies were there to work. Towards the end of the day generally offered an opportunity to follow the game. Stock is largely sold out and sometimes (perhaps as the Borough bar had opened) the crowd on the rise in front of the kiosk would thin a little. While 2011 was an amazing season, in which the Boroughs remained unbeaten, close games were a cause of visible stress for some volunteers.
The ladies help the club to raise money, but have also been part of the club’s continued tie to Port Melbourne’s people. It was not unusual to see somebody lean across the counter to give a hug to their mother, aunt or cousin. I have been told at the end of the season the ladies farewell each other unsure if they will be back the next season. When the next year rolls around, there they are once again. I am not there and, although my Facebook feed keeps me up to date with the results of each game, I do wonder what I am missing out on by instead spending my Saturday visiting a cafe and then returning home to sit in front of my laptop.