The Call is an odd book; it's described as a novel, but it reads like non-fiction -- except that Flanagan invented many (but not all?) of the 'documents' he 'quotes': contemporary letters, newspaper articles, diary entries. It's impossible to tell which of these texts are actually primary sources and which are imaginary, which is a testament to Flanagan's powers, but makes for a rather uneasy reading experience.
The Call is the story of Thomas Wills, the founder of the Australian Rules code of football in the 1850s. While NSW and Queensland adopted rugby, as played in the public schools of England, Wills drew up the rules for 'a game of our own.' Aussie Rules was actually codified before soccer! It's probably that Wills was inspired by the local Aboriginal game marngrook, which involved leaping and catching the ball as well as kicking and running with it, and gives Australian Rules its distinctive, exhilarating flavour. I don't know much about sport, but when I've watched rugby and soccer, the games seem to be played in two dimensions, up and down the field, whereas AFL is truly 360 degrees.
Wills straddled two worlds, between the white colonists and the Aborigines he grew up with (he famously took a team of Aboriginal cricketers to tour England). He was a consummate sportsman, a cricketer first and foremost, but the brutal murder of his father in outback Queensland by local tribes, and the inevitable loss of his sporting prowess as he grew older, seemed to rob him of meaning and purpose, and he ended up taking his own life.
The most moving section of this book invites us to imagine Tommy Wills returning to the MCG, the ground where he experienced many of his own sporting triumphs, and witnessing a modern Grand Final -- a crowd of 100,000 fans, the power of the athletes, the speed and skill of the modern game. And today (The Call was published in 1998) we could add the AFLW to the list of developments that Wills would never have foreseen.
PS Last night I watched Stan Grant's documentary about Adam Goodes, The Australian Dream. Sadly, Australian racism doesn't seem to have improved much, even after more than a hundred years.