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Bibliophile | Women form a league of their own in 'Darkness Runs Deep'

Darkness Runs Deep
By Claire McNeel

Macmillan

Although women have been playing Australian Rules Football for over a century, it was not until 2017 that the inaugural Australian Football League for Women (AFLW) was founded, with eight teams competing over a nine-week season.

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Claire McNeel takes the reader back to 1993, to a small country town with a population under 1,000. It is a place where everyone knows everyone; people mainly know what is expected of them; unspoken prejudices are asserted by those with the most power and many things are just not spoken about.

This is not to say that there aren’t positives to living in the small town of Gerandaroo. Young teacher Bess O’Neill feels a wave of nostalgia when she returns to her hometown, seeking a break from her job and life in the big city and a reconnection with the people she left behind.

It is when Bess accepts a bet from her best friend to create a women’s football team in the town that she feels the backlash from all around, even within her family. How dare she challenge the established belief that only men and boys play football, even though most girls have grown up kicking a football around with their brothers?

It is not only the sexism that is entrenched in the community. There was a much darker and more violent homophobic obsession that had broken the town a few months previously and forced some of the older teenagers to leave, including Bess’s brother Tom.

As Bess tries to recruit players and organise training sessions, she has to contend with hostile locals – male and female, young and old. As the tension builds in the divided town, resentments come to the fore and a long-overdue reckoning is needed to restore some sense of community.

Lezly Herbert


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