Australian rules is set in a small rural town, where the relationships between the white townspeople and the Aboriginal people on the mission are complex, conflicted and marred by deeply entrenched racism. The local football team in many ways serves to represent the town, it reflects the conflicted relationship between the white people and the Aboriginal people- we begin to understand this as the film unfolds. Other themes inherent in the film are themes of family, love, loyalty and violence- the secrecy of domestic violence and the more overt forms of racial violence that spill out onto the public spheres of the football field and the pub.
The opening narration informs us that half the football team is Aboriginal and that there would not be a football team without the Aboriginal players, therefore we understand how the town team relies on the talent and number of the Aboriginal players. We then witness the contradiction of the white and Aboriginal boys playing side by side as team members followed by the social segregation between the members after the match. This segregation is highlighted by Blacky (a white boy from town) and Dumby (an Aboriginal boy who is the best player on the team) whose friendship transcends these borders and we also witness ways that certain adults culturally impose this segregation between the white teenager and Aboriginal teenagers. In one of the beginning scenes, just after a football match, Dumby and Blacky want to ‘hang out’ together, but an older friend takes Dumby back to the mission and Blacky cannot follow. Blacky, Clarence and Dumby all call out to each other ‘Nukkin ya’ and this use of Aboriginal language between two Aboriginal teenagers and Blacky the white boy signifies the level of their friendship.