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Sport stories capture interweaving of Australian and Jewish ways of life

Michael Visontay
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Published: 26 July 2018

Last updated: 4 March 2024

“WHETHER WE'RE READING about off-field geniuses … or the in-contest achievements, we are reading stories about the Australian way becoming, in part, the Jewish way,” author and sports columnist Malcolm Knox told the Sydney launch of People of the Boot this week.

Three years ago, the book’s editors, Ashley Browne and Dashiel Lawrence dreamt up the idea of book to celebrate the remarkable stories and experiences of Australian Jews in sport. People of the Boot: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Australian Jews in Sport, an edited collection of interviews, was published in May by Hybrid publishers with the support of The Jewish Independent and the Pratt Foundation.

Addressing around 100 writers, friends and sports figures on Wednesday night, keynote speaker Knox observed: “For all that the Jewish community has brought to Australia, this book is also about what this sporting nation has brought to the Jewish community. It is a story of a two-way exchange that enriches both sides.”

It also encompasses a tradition of survival and renewal, Knox added. “Buried in the stories of someone pursuing a career in football, or baseball, or cricket, or climbing, or kayaking, or sport administration – a fittingly diverse range within the great frivolity – is the routine, almost matter-of-fact passing comment that the subject or their parents fled from Hungary, or Slovakia, or some other place of persecution, possibly but not exclusively in the 1940s.

“This gives a very particular context to what they have done in sport. For many of their parents or grandparents, sport would indeed have been a frivolity.”

Browne, a former editor of the Australian Jewish News and sports journalist for many years with the Age, and Lawrence, an historian with a deep interest in sport as a social force, envisaged their collection as a social history of Jews in Australia.

This social diversity was on show at the launch as the audience heard the enthralling stories of baseballer Gavin Fingleson, who became the Australian Jew to win an Olympic medal at Athens in 2004, when the Australian team won silver, and Tanya Oziel’s account of the AFL Peace team she created in 2008 to help Israeli and Palestinian youngsters find common ground on the football field.

People of the Boot: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Australian Jews in Sport, edited by Ashley Browne and Dashiel Lawrence, is published by Hybrid Publishers


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Main photo: From left, Malcolm Knox, Ashley Browne and Dashiel Lawrence (Michael Visontay)


About the author

Michael Visontay

Michael Visontay is the Commissioning Editor of TJI. He has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 30 years. Michael is the author of several books, including Who Gave You Permission?, co-authored with child sexual abuse advocate Manny Waks, and Welcome to Wanderland: Western Sydney Wanderers and the Pride of the West.

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