Rugby league history project wins research grant


Ryan Bodman, photo by Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Auckland researcher Ryan Bodman has been awarded the 2017 Friends of the Turnbull Library Grant of $15,000 to assist in researching his new project, a social and cultural history of rugby league in New Zealand.

 Ryan Bodman is an independent researcher, at present a contracted historian to the Waitangi Tribunal. His project arose out of his earlier research into the trade union movement, when support for the game of rugby league – introduced into New Zealand in 1907 – emerged as a recurring theme.

 “In the early days rugby league faced sustained antagonism from rugby union’s governing bodies. Forced to the margins of New Zealand society, the game developed a unique culture and ethos,” he explains. “It was popular amongst similarly marginalised groups such as Irish Catholics, Kiingitanga Māori, Pacific Islanders and working-class communities, who embraced the game as a source of community identity and cultural pride. Many aspects of the game’s social and cultural history is not well known because historical enquiries are often informed by middle-class interests. However, my project aims to explore rugby league’s unique ethos and culture, as well as the modern game’s emergence from the sporting shadows in the context of economic, social and political changes that have shaped present-day New Zealand.”

 In announcing the award, Rachel Underwood, President of the Friends of the Turnbull Library said: “Ryan Bodman is a hardworking, highly talented scholar whose book will explore some little-known aspects of the relationship between sport and social class from the start of the twentieth century to the present. We are extremely pleased to contribute to this major project which will be of considerable public interest. Ryan will have access to the rich and diverse collections held in the Alexander Turnbull Library, including oral history and photographic archives.”