CAMBRIDGE — As an Irish pub, the Asgard in Central Square is usually festooned in green, but Saturday saw the addition of a little gold to the color scheme as expats and locals alike convened to celebrate Australia Day.
Though traditionally held on January 26, the day in 1788 that the first British ships sailed into Sydney Harbor, the celebration of Australia’s Fourth of July was moved to the weekend to observe the holiday in style, with drinking, live music, and a hot meat pie or two. With more than 200 revelers by the late afternoon, the event had already outpaced previous years’ festivities – all good news for the evening’s hosts, the Demons, Boston’s Australian rules football club.
A blend between American football, soccer, rugby, and a little bit of cricket, Australian rules football, or “footy,” is a grueling, physically taxing sport — and a popular one, judging by the red Demons jerseys that liberally dotted the sea of green and gold at the Asgard. Though relatively unknown in the US, the sport has been gaining popularity in Boston in recent years, especially among non-Australians.
Joe Connor, who is entering his second year as back pocket for the Demons, is one such recent convert. After discovering the sport on late-night ESPN after an evening out at the bars, Connor was immediately taken: “It was the best sport I’d ever seen. I had to find a local club after that.” Though the demands of the sport required months of getting into shape, Connor was not to be dissuaded; “I found something that I loved.”
Something else Connor loved, it seemed, were the meat pies provided for the event by Sam Jackson of KO Catering and Pies. An Aussie himself, Jackson offered partygoers a taste of Australia with his pies and sausage rolls, much as he does on a daily basis at his restaurant and food truck in Southie.
Though I have a natural fear of any foodstuff dubbed by the generic “meat” rather than a specific kind, I was pleasantly surprised that, with a dash of ketchup, the meat pie was a spicy, flaky, delicious creation, not unlike the barbecue pulled pork of my Southern heritage.
Australia Day in Boston is not just about the food though, as attendees enjoyed beers from the Coopers and James Boag, both Australian breweries with burgeoning appeal in the United States. To accompany the hearty eating and drinking was David Putrino, a Cambridge resident by way of Perth, who played Australian classics on the acoustic guitar. Over the tunes, guests compared their Aussie pride: green and gold beads, t-shirts and temporary tattoos emblazoned with the Australian flag and, in one case, a rather daring Steve Irwin costume, complete with flowing blond wig.
“We’re here to celebrate Australia,” said Richard Fuller, a transplant from Melbourne and president of the Demons. Fuller is not a recent arrival stateside, coming to Boston in 1998, but his accent remains firmly in place. “It’s about getting the expats together and having a bit of a fundraiser.”
In a city as sports-mad as Boston, Fuller acknowledges the challenge of getting the Demons name out there – a reason for events like the Australia Day celebration and the team’s annual Grand Final watching party, the Super Bowl equivalent for Australian rules football. “We’re trying to educated Boston and the natives,” Fuller explained. “It’s a tough town, but hopefully we’ll do what we can.”
And under the green and gold streamers and several “sporting flags,” bearing the beloved national symbol of the boxing kangaroo, over the strains of a particularly haunting version of “Waltzing Matilda,” the Demons seemed to be doing a pretty good job.