The Tasmanian town where football is played on a gravel oval

Australian Rules football is considered a tough sport by most Aussies due to the high level of physical strength, endurance and skill required but a Tasmanian league might have the toughest competitors in the country.

Instead of playing on soft, green and sometimes muddy grass, the Queenstown Crows play on a unique gravel oval.

The oval, colloquially known as The Gravel or The Rec, was established in the 1800s and is still used today by footballers on the rugged West Coast of Tasmania.

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John Carswell grew up in Queenstown and spent many years playing on the gravel oval, which caused some unique injuries among players.

"On gravel, if you skid, the abrasion would tear skin off you so it was called gravel rash," Carswell said.

"The gravel rash required some active maintenance or repairs, if you left the gravel rash it could easily get infected.

"So from that point of view it was difficult, if you landed on the gravel heavily it hurt a bit more than if you landed on grass."

Carswell said he spent a few nights in Queenstown hospital with gravel rash that wasn't disinfected properly, which caused blood poisoning.

"The doctors would always remind us… that perhaps we should consider not playing."

Why is the oval made of gravel?

In the late 1800s Queenstown was a hive of activity, with many families moving to the cold town to work in the mines.

As a result of the smeltering operation in the town at the time, sulphur dioxide was released into the atmosphere, which killed off all vegetation and prevented any regrowth within approximately 100 square kilometres of the town.

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When locals expressed a desire to play football, it wasn't possible to grow a turf ground so a gravel surface was used instead.

"Everyone worked a five day week and an eight hours day. Recreation was a large part of the community and it was a close knit community."

So in 1896 the first game of Australian Rules Football was played on The Gravel.

The first two teams were called the Carters and the Lumpers because one group carted the ore and the lumpers picked it.

The smelter is now closed so there is an argument that they could try and grow grass on the ground but no one has attempted it yet.

It would also rob Queenstown of their strong home ground advantage.

"Players that had never played on the gravel before and had to play on the gravel were a bit shy, not all of them but some of them," Carswell said.

In some positives, the surface makes the ball bounce more firmly than on soft grass and it suits the West Coast's high annual rainfall as the ground is never too soft to play on.

It also suits a certain type type of player.

"You played the football a little bit differently, so if you did get bowled over, you learnt to roll and also you tended to run a little bit slower," Carswell said.

"The alpha male miner did well on the footy ground, if you were determined to get the ball and were happy to take a hard knock… you didn't have to be the quickest or the most skillful footballer."

Queenstown's connection to AFL

The Gravel's most well known export is Brisbane Lions' senior coach Chris Fagan.

Fagan was born in Queenstown and spent his early years playing on the oval before moving to Hobart in his teenage years to play in the Tasmanian Football League.

He later moved to the mainland to pursue his coaching career.

Fagan was assistant coach at Melbourne Football Club and Hawthorn Football Club before his current role of senior coach at the Lions.

Chris Fagan

Currently the town is struggling to retain players as most workers prefer the "drive-in, drive-out" lifestyle.

"I think Queenstown footy club will survive… I think there is still a future for a few years," Carswell said.

The Queenstown Crows play in the Darwin Football Association, which includes teams from around Burnie on Tasmania's North-West Coast.

The Crows are currently sitting fourth on the ladder.

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