BOOK REVIEW by Dr Rodney Gillett

Roy Hay’s Aboriginal Football in the Nineteenth Century: They Did Not Come From Nowhere clearly shows that that there is no direct evidence that the game of Australian Football was derived from the Aboriginal game, marngrook.

There is a fundamental problem with the view that Tom Wills, one of the four members of the Melbourne Cricket Club that devised the original rules for the game in 1859, was influenced by marngrook. This is because there is no contemporary evidence that Wills saw Aborigines playing marngrook; there is no record of it in his or his family’s correspondence or in published sources about Wills at that time.

On the contrary, Wills advocated the adoption of the rugby rules that he had played under at the Rugby School in England to his fellow MCC committee members (J.B. Thompson, William Hammersley and Thomas Smith) at the meeting but it was rejected as they were not commonly understood. The rules drafted were an amalagam of the rules for football games played in England during this period.

Hay argues that Wills’s role in the origins of the game have been overestimated largely as a result of an early history of the game in The Footballer (1876) that unduly attributed credit to Wills and his cousin H.C.A. Harrison for devising the game. A myth that continues to this very day. Wills even got the year wrong, stating 1858. Another myth perpetuated.

Hay elects to focus less on finding a link between the games that the indigenous people played and the origins of Australian football in Melbourne, but to develop “the stories of those who saw the white men play their strange game.”

This outstanding scholarly work shows that Aboriginal footballers have had a profound influence on the game of Australian football and have shaped the game and the way it is played. This has not just been in the major competitions, particularly in recent years, but also in the country leagues around the nation.

Hay suggests that the first Aboriginal players of the new code learnt how to play to a high standard in the latter part of the nineteenth century and were ready to take their place in senior teams. The problem was that these richly talented indigenous footballers were trapped within the confines of the isolated missions in rural areas to which they had been consigned in the late 1860s by the colonial authorities. Thus, they could not participate as fully as they might otherwise have been able to in the emerging elite teams of metropolitan Melbourne and country towns.

Much of this book details the stories of notable indigenous footballers living on these seven missions across the colony, namely, Coranderrk, Framlingham, Lake Condah, Ebenezer, Lake Tyers and Ramahyuck, and Cummeragunja (situated on the NSW side of the Murray River near Echuca).

These aboriginal missions were described in contemporary newspapers as “crucibles of athletic achievement” – Cummeragunja in particular. Despite their undoubted talent, these Indigenous athletes were rarely accepted into elite football clubs across the colony. Framlingham’s ‘Pompey’ Austin’s appearance in the Geelong team in 1872 was an aberration; far more common was the refusal by football’s governing authority to allow them to play such as the case of Dick Rowan from Coranderrk to play for South Melbourne.

In the case of Cummeragunja the football officials penalized the whole team because it was too good. It was the winner of the premiership in 1921 (quite possibly with Sir Doug Nicholls in the team before he went to play in the VFL) and it was excluded from the local league as a result. After winning the Western and Moira Riding League (now the Picola District Football League) five times out of six between 1927 and 1932, the club was restricted so that no players over the age of 25 were allowed to play.

Hay’s research is mostly based on his reading of relevant local Australian newspapers that have digitized through the Trove program, a government-sponsored project that has seen many thousands of pages of colonial newspapers made available through trove.nla.gov.au He also made extensive use of the reports of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines in Victoria.

Hay has complemented the story with remarkable visual material, including a host of team photographs of country clubs in which white and dark faces feature at ease with each other.

Of interest to this reviewer is the Dimboola premiership team of 1928 that includes aboriginal players, Alf Marks and star centre half-forward A. Taylor, alongside my grandfather, Mick Gillett.

The Cummeragunja team photo of the mid-1920s, is all-aboriginal, and while it does not feature Doug Nicholls, it is a roll-call of names still prominent in football in the local area including the Rumbalara aboriginal team based in Shepparton but over the years, Kyabram, Nathalia, Lemnos, Mooroopna, and Echuca. Players named Atkinson, Briggs, Charles, Jackson, Whyman, Morgan, Nelson, and Walker all feature; the former Carlton star Andrew Walker has continued the tradition and now coaches Echuca in the Goulburn Valley League.

Aboriginal People and Australian Football in the Nineteenth Century is an ambitious project. It covers a lot of territory but in doing so, Roy Hay has considerably enhanced the knowledge and widened the perspective of the origins of the Australian football and the role and influence of Aboriginals on the game. He has handled the complex issues with great respect and strong admiration for his subjects. His work exhibits deep empirical research and well-considered historiography – he challenges the proponents of marngrook as a major influence on the origins of football to do the research and provide the hard evidence to show that it is “more than a seductive myth”.

Roy Hay, Aboriginal People and Australian Football in the Nineteenth Century: They Did Not Come from Nowhere,
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK, 2019. ISBN: 9781527526488
Hardback, A5, 315 pages, illustrated. RRP £64.99. Paperback $39.95.
Paperback version is available from the author roy@sesasport.com.au for $39.95.

A New Photo Feature

1953 NSW Team v QLD in Brisbane
1953 NSW Team v QLD in Brisbane

Following a recent upgrade to the Society’s website officials have introduced a new format to display images.

One of the first areas to be changed if the NSW State Representative Teams Gallery; these range from 1886 to the present day and are viewable through this site’s gallery or by clicking here.

Almost 80 have now been uploaded to that gallery, most of these display the team name and venue with quite a number including the players’ names.

Interesting, another programme will soon allow the indexing of these players’ names so that you can view a particular image by searching using the player’s name.

One problem though organisers have found is the lack of state photos from the late 1950s to the early 1990s, in particular.

If you have access to a NSW State Team photo which is not listed on our site please contact us so we can arrange the scanning and uploading of the image.

These photos are out there and the History Society is keen to fill the gaps.

Another coming feature is the listing of as many inter-league and association teams from throughout NSW as possible, no matter where they are from.  We must retain all the history of the game in the state.

Again, if you have access to any of these, contact us so we car arrange their transmission to the Society’s website.

A Licensed Club in Sydney For Football

During the 1960s the NSW Australian Football League, operating under a separate title and office bearers, attempted to obtain a liquor licence and operate a licensed club.

This was in the days when licensed clubs in NSW proliferated and were making money hand over fist – all tax free.  Basically, because they were non-profit organisations (the profits ostensibly being reinvested into benefits for their members) they were not subject to paying tax!!  In this case however, although they tried had and did have some smart people in charge their actions were eventually unsuccessful.

Here, we reproduce part of the organisation’s ninth annual report from 1966 which outlines the progress thus far and written by the secretary, Jack Hammond who was also on the Western Suburbs FC Board of Management and for some years, treasurer of the NSWAFL.  It provides a rather in-depth look of what action the group had taken over the previous 12 months and although a long read, is very interesting. (we do not have any other annual reports from the applicant)

Jack Hammond NSW AFL Treasurer & Board Member 1967-74

“…. Legal advice is that the Board wind up the club as it now stands, as it would not be possible to approach the Licensing Court successfully under the present Articles of Association because they have been breached on too many occasions, therefore a new club be formed in the very near future to take its place. The Board was hoping for the winding up of the club to be carried out in conjunction with or immediately following this Annual Meeting so as to avoid putting you to the trouble of coming out again on another night, but evidently the time is not yet opportune for this step to be taken. Future reports will be in the name of the new club, New South Wales Australian Football Club Ltd., which name was selected by the present Board and who will be the signatories of the new Memorandum and Articles of Association. Prior to the 1965 Annual Meeting the retiring Board of Directors were given the legal opinion they had little opportunity of obtaining a liquor licence unless the club became closely identified with the New South Wales Australian National Football League and to their credit, with two exceptions, they did not stand for office so as to allow the members of the League to take over from them to concur with the said legal opinion. Just how fully this move was taken advantage of by the League can be gauged from the fact that eight out of eleven of the Board of Management of the League became Directors as well as being permitted the use of their premises, 64 Regent Street, as the club’s registered office and meeting rooms. I personally sympathise with those gentlemen whose efforts over the years were so frustrated, as I myself was connected with an unsuccessful application for a licence, so I have some idea what their feeling of disappointment was like. Later on I was connected with the successful application of the Western Suburbs club, so when the above information was brought down to the League I took the opportunity of accepting the position of Secretary to see if the experience gained in the two prior applications mentioned can be applied again successfully on behalf of the League.

I am fortunate in this present venture of having the services of the foundation President and Secretary of Wests in the persons of Charlie Stephens and Bill Hart, respectively. Both these gentlemen’s knowledge and experience of licensing laws and court procedure is proving of immeasurable value. This report should cover the period of January to December, 1965, but unfortunately I have little knowledge of what took place before May. A lack of interest due to the aforementioned legal opinion found the club (the writer refers to ‘the club’ as the group he is writing about) in a run-down condition. This prevented a quorum being obtained at the Annual Meeting. It was thus found necessary to hold a further two adjourned meetings, which took us well into May before being able to finalise the original Annual Meeting. Therefore it was on the last day of May before the present Directors were able to hold their first Board meeting. The first assignment confronting the new Board was to bring the Board up to its full complement of Dire:tors and Office Bearers. Under the Articles the President of the League is an automatic appointment, plus a further two members to be appointed by the League. A letter to the League soon put this matter in order and bringing back the information that

Tom McGrath

President Tom McGrath was prepared to conform with the Articles and accept a position of Director, and the other two appointees were League Secretary Jack Regan and Reg Symes. This brought the Board up to full strength; as a matter of fact, when counted up it was found there was one Director too many. I feel this was a small sign of the interest that was to be aroused in the next six months. Mr. Jack Maher, who had other commitments on sub-committees of the League, decided to resign, which resignation the Board accepted and thanked Jack for his co-operation. The offices that were vacant were two Vice-Presidents. These were filled by Messrs. John Stewart and Ken Stephens, and an Assistant Secretary, Mr. Graham Pile accepting this position. With the Board and Office Bearers at full strength the next move was to bring the Club into line with the Registrar of Companies, which necessitated a notification of change of address from Sussex Street to Regent Street, and the change in Directors. Whilst on this subject I would like to thank Treasurer Sid Smith, whose help was invaluable to me in the filing of these documents with the Registrar General’s Department, as I had no knowledge of the workings of this Government Department. Sid’s nicely typed copies of the above documents for my own files will be an asset when forming the new club. The next step to be taken was the all important approach to our legal firm of Smithers, Warren and Lyons, to see if they were still prepared to carry on with our brief, as contact with them had been lost by the previous Board. This contact took longer than expected and it was mainly through the efforts of Director John Stewart that contact was finally made. We were unfortunate that the Empire Law Conference was being held in Sydney at the time we wanted to see our solicitor. He held a very high position at this conference, which made him a very busy man. A deputation from the Board was very cordially received and given the good news that they were still prepared to act on our behalf. We were also given the information of the winding up of the club, as mentioned in the first paragraph. This is the stage we have reached at present. This may not appear as though we have progressed very far, but I fed we have laid a solid foundation which you will agree is necessary if a firm structure is to be built.

PREMISES  (most interesting)
These are a must for a club and second only to the all-important licence. I did not realise when we assumed office that almost immediately we would start inspecting premises or that so many offers would come to hand. Our first offer came through Mr. Rod Dixon, of the Sydney-Naval Club, and it was for the first floor of Mick Simmons Sports Store in George Street. Upon inspection, the size of this floor was quite surprising, extending from Hay to Goulburn Streets. These premises sparked off a debate on the Board as to the suitability of city as opposed to suburban premises. Pre-war there would have been no doubts but today the city is being slowly superseded by the suburbs in commercial life, as instanced by the demise of big stores at that end of town in Marcus Clarks and Sydney Snow. Anthony Horderns, perhaps the best known store in Sydney, who have been operating for over a century, have traded at a loss over the last few years. This no doubt is due to the fact that motor car people will just not come into the city, with its parking problems. The trend today is the building of projects like Roselands, with its multiple storey parking area. A club can be taken on the same lines as the above if you take into consideration the 10 district Rugby League Clubs, who are all prospering immensely and are in the main outer suburbs, so at the present it looks as though the suburbs will win out if and when we get started.

Our second offer was the Concord R.S.L. Club. President Charlie Stephens put a lot of hard work into obtaining these premises and at one stage, through his efforts we had an option on this building. Concord Council refused to keep the area as licensed premises, thus causing us a bitter disappointment. These premises were just what we wanted to commence operations, being quite within our scope financially, no opposition from hotels or other clubs, and situated in the midst of a thickly populated area, which would have provided us with ready made patronage. On our visit to our legal firm we mentioned this club and the danger area that could be seen in it was its situation for a headquarters club. After discussion it was found Concord was near the centre of Sydney, so quite within easy travelling distance for the 10 local affiliated clubs. In passing, I would like to mention the part played by Director Tom McGrath, who on our second visit to Concord to meet the committee formed to dispose of these premises stood in for President C. Stephens, who was interstate on business, and presented our case very ably and swayed them over to our side from other bidders, thus finalising the deal started off so well by Charlie. A third offer was received from one of our members in the person of Mr. W. C. Allen. These premises were under review some few years ago by the previous Board, but I believe their financial arran~ements were not acceptable to either their legal representative or the licensing authorities. A deputation from the new Board carried out an inspection of these premises at the invitation of Mr. Allen. We stated our views and financial standing to Mr. Allen, who agreed to draw up a -proposition for consideration by us. We are at present awaitin~ his reply.

A fourth offer came from another member, Mr. C. H. King, whose premises are in Rockdale. The Board is reviewing this last offer so they will be reported on in the next year’s renort. These two gentlemen followed my reports in the Bulletin of the Concord R.S.L. and when they fell through they came to hand with the premises I have mentioned and owned by them. If nothing comes of any of the above propositions we have a gentleman prepared to back us financially and if necessary build new premises on a leasing basis, so I feel we are well covered in the area of premises.

BULLETIN
I have in my possession a letter dated 1956 which was in reply to my original application to join the club. In the intervening years I have been a member on and off, simply because there was no contact from those in authority and one did not know if the club was still operating until a new committee had taken office and fresh approaches made to once again become financial, so when I accepted the position of Secretary, I had the idea of avoiding what had happened in the past and somehow keep in touch with the members, thus keeping them informed of the club’s progress and the work being carried out by the Board on their behalf, hence our news sheet, the Bulletin. Through it I have gained much valuable information about the membership. Many notifications have been received about changes of address, some retiring to holiday resorts, others leaving the forces to return to civil life. Some have left addresses without leaving a forwarding address, and most unfortunately I have received notification that some half-dozen members have passed away. The last two offers of premises were received through the medium of the Bulletin by the two gentlemen mentioned earlier, they following our efforts to obtain a club site through the Bulletin. When I started the Bulletin I had no idea it would become a much travelled news sheet. Quite a few of our members belong to the fighting forces, becoming members when based in Sydney. Over the years some have been transferred to fields apart, but this has not let their enthusiasm wane towards the club. These members notified me of their transfer and that they still wished to receive the Bulletin. It goes into the airfields of Richmond, Williamtown and Darwin, the Victoria Barracks, army camps lngleburn and Holsworthy, to an army camp at Canberra; it goes onto many of Her Majesty’s Naval ships including the aircraft carrier Melbourne, also the Naval Base at Nowra. It also goes to civilians who have shifted out to country centres like Leura on the Blue Mountains and Condobolin. My gratitude goes to Jack Magner for giving me the introduction to the people who produce the Bulletin gratis for us, and to them, Mr. Dave Willoughby and his competent typiste Mrs. Abbott, many thanks from all club members. To Director Bill Hart we owe a debt of gratitude for the conveyance of the Bulletin to the members. It is surprising the amount of people who have approached me through the Bulletin. Most have expressed their appreciation of it and look forward each month to its arrival. This in itself gives me the incentive to keep on with it as well as compensating a little for the efforts that go into it.

FINANCE
I would like to touch lightly on this subject in passing. I do not intend to intrude into the Treasurer’s area, as this department is in very capable hands, but there are two things I would like to say, firstly we have operated in the past year on a minimum of finance, on a shoestring as the saying goes. This fact is due in the main to help from two sources which consist of Boards and for obvious reasons I cannot mention names. Secondly, we are all unfinancial members and it was the decision of the Board at one of its earliest meetings that subscriptions would not be called for until we can see our way clear for an approach to the Court and the obtaining of suitable premises. As you can see by this report these two subjects are being pursued fully. I hope the time is not too distant when that all important approach can be made to once again become financial. When that time does come you will receive notification through the Bulletin.

The need of a club was never more vital to the League than at the present time. The game itself is moving forward, as instanced by the backing of some big business houses, and the visits of Melbourne League clubs – seven out of the twelve in the past two years. The League has nowhere to entertain these teams, who number amongst their supporters some of the most prominent men in Australia. When North Melbourne came up the season before last, Mr. Arthur Calwell, the Leader of the Opposition in Federal Parliament, accompanied them. He is the No. 1 ticket holder of this club, and he had to be entertained under the grandstand at Trumper Park – not a very satisfactory place for the entertainment of such a prominent person. The League could have found itself in the same position with our recently retired Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, had the Carlton Club visited Sydney, as he is a member of that club and watches as many of their matches as possible. Last year two teams from Melbourne played a match on the Sydney Cricket Ground, with the League having no place to entertain them. They had to depend on an affiliated district club, thus forcing their own officials into the background, which is far from a satisfactory position to be in, being the hosts of these teams whilst in Sydney. Football teams from  every State in Australia are now visiting us, both in and out of season, like the Western Australian club side who will be here next January.

The Melbourne and Geelong teams passed through Sydney, both coming and going on a trip to America, with the Melbourne side being entertained by the N.S.W. Rugby League Club, a fine gesture to a rival code of football, but a ridiculous position for our League to be in as the governing body of a major sport in this State. I thought I would mention these facts in passing, as I feel this proves the need for a club as required by the Licensing Court and a major reason why we were advised legally for the two to be joined together. The Court does not look too favourably on those forming a club for purely financial reasons, whilst admittedly money is all important as a propagation medium for our code. A very fine liaison exists at present between the Board of Management of the League and the Directors of the Club, and I hope these cordial relations continue in the future. On behalf of the Directors I would like to thank the League Board for its co-operation and help in the last year.

DIRECTORS
My report would not be complete if I did not pay tribute to my fellow Directors. The unity and co-operation shown to me in my first year of office was really wonderful and in the long run can only spell success, and I look forward to the future with pleasure and enthtisiasm and not the little misgivings I had when accepting the position’ of Secretary last year. At the grand final of the football last year Director Tom McGrath was badly affected by the heat of that day and had a sojourn in hospital, thus causing us to lose his most valuable services for a few months at the end of last year. We were all pleased to learn that Tom is back to good health again. Another blow suffered by the Board is the announced resignation of League Secretary Jack Regan, who is also a Director. I will miss Jack immensely as he often went out of his way to perform many acts of courtesy for me, and no matter what I asked of him it was always done with a smile and without ever the slightest hint of trouble. A great help to me through the year has been my assistant,

Grahame Pile, who at all times is prepared to help with the running around so necessary in a venture as large as ours. Grahame is also prepared to carry out many jobs on my behalf. One that readily comes to mind is our dub shingle at the entrance to Regent Street, which was made and erected by him. I can’t imagine how I would have got this erected without Grahame’s help. So to each and every Director, thanks for your help and co-operation in the past year.

In conclusion, as in all reports such as this at the last moment they have a tendency to become rushed, and mine is no exception, so if I have missed some item or some person I offer my sincere apologies. For and on behalf of the Board of Directors,

JACK HAMMOND,
Hon. Secretary”

Jack indeed was a hard working and dedicated disciple of Australian Football in Sydney.  He held several positions in a number of football organisations and was a very hard worker for the code and his parent club, Western Suburbs.  An interview with Jack can be heard on our podcast section here.  If you want to listen, it is in two parts and you will have to go back to the podcast section to download the second edition.

Although there were 200 odd members of the club, as you can read was a certain amount of apathy,  Their efforts to establish a licensed club was unsuccessful not only because of this but two of the main ‘promoters’ of the scheme, died, plus the group had next to no money.

Umpire and Administrator Pass

This article concerns a former Sydney umpire, Ian Sonnemann and was written as a piece in the 1982 VFL Umpires’ Association Newsletter and sent into us by Society member, Chris Huon.  Ian died last year.

“Commitment and Dedication would best describe Ian “The Gent” Sonnemann. In addition to his twenty years of umpiring, Ian has been banking on the Wales for some twenty-six years and has now reached the Position of Assistant Manager of the Personnel Department.

Four interstate transfers in his employment have led lan’s umpiring career into three States and five umpiring associations. Ian’s umpiring career began in 1953 with the Amateurs after having played the game for seven years. His Playing days included the Ovens & King, Wangaratta Junior League, Tallangatta League, Sunday Unregistered League, a run with the Richmond Football Club, Sandringham and finally Power House in the Amateurs.

A transfer in employment in 1965 to Canberra saw Ian join the Canberra Australian Football League Umpires. In 1967 he became President of the Association.

Ian at umpire training 1973

Another transfer in 1967 saw Ian back in Melbourne where he joined the V.F.L. Senior list in 1968. He confronted the Board at Harrison House and in 1969 was promoted to the Seniors Intermediate Squad at Royal Park. However Ian’s top priority was his work and so in 1969 another transfer with the Wales found Ian in Sydney where he joined the N.S.W. Australian Football League Umpires from 1970 to 1973. These were the most successful years. Seven finals including the Grand Final in 1972 between Western Suburbs and East Sydney and the interstate game between Qld and N.S.W. are the highlights of Ian’s career.

Yet another transfer in 1973 found Ian back in Melbourne. A brief season with the V.F.A. and Ian was back with the V.F.L.U.A. in 1975. Ian claims the major difference he noted in his six year absence was the large number of new faces. Ian has trained at Caulfield since 1975 and has continued the track’s reputation by umpiring four V.C.F.L. Finals.

However, after twenty years of umpiring, 147 V.C.F.L. games, the oldest running veteran at the age of 41 years has had his moments.

In 1973 Ian was appointed to the Trumper Oval for the Grand Final replay, an honour for the previous year’s Grand Final Umpire. However confronting Ian as he approached the changing rooms was the largest banner of all – EAST vs SONNEMANN. Even the local bookies refused bets. The result?…..Sonnemann won again.

The mild-mannered, unflappable, conservative gentleman has also not been beyond:

– Fisticuffs with local goal umpires at Gunbower, “Chicken” vs Sonnemann, saved by George Lamont.

– Inebriation in 1976 on the Tatars trip with George Lamont and Merv Hindson.

– Missing trains at Keith.

– Hitchhiking home from Benalla.

– Raiding quince trees in the Wimmera.

– Assisting drunks at Korumburra.

– Gate-crashing the home of the Kootamundra (sic?) Secretary at 2.30 Sunday morning.

But who could blame the gentleman who trained in the company of Hafey, Brown, Bennet, Leggett, Gale and Co. in the late Caulfield group.

lan realizes his innings is coming to an end. His final ambitions are to complete his 150th V.C.F.L. game and his 10 years’ service with the V.P.L.U.A. When the day of reckoning finally comes, Ian is looking forward to spending more time with his lovely wife Ann and three year o1d son Mark. Perhaps a touch of gardening, lawn bowls and a hit of tennis. An evening at the Burwood residence is all that is required to experience the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Sonnemann family – a touch of the country air.”

Another who was particularly involved in the administration of the NSW Australian Football League in the late 1970s was Dorelle Isaac nee Hyman who passed away on November 15, 2019, age 76 years.

Dorelle was the Secretary of the league in 1977-78. She worked in a volunteer capacity when the then league Secretary was no longer required then eventually put on the payroll. She held that position she held until her Marriage in November 1977.  Her previous employment was the Private Secretary to Robert Clyde Packer, the Joint Managing Director of the Australian Consolidated Press and the Channel Nine Network, this proved invaluable as she had connections with the journalists and Producers.

The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy

Review by Dr Rodney GillettVice President NSW Aust Football History Society

As Paul Daffey demonstrates in his latest book on country football, The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy, that sadly, the number of football clubs in country areas are declining, but this is not a recent phenomenon but an on-going process that started with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The recurring theme in Daffey’s book is that the demographics determine the continuity and sustainability of football in a small town or district, and a diminishing population, particularly of the youth, leads to the decline of active football clubs and either their amalgamation with neighbouring clubs or extinction.

As Daffey show most clubs choose to “bury the hatchet” with a fierce local rival and agree on a new name, new colours, and where the new entity will play its games. This is perfectly illustrated in his case study of footy in the Mallee. In a stunning example Daffey’s research shows that thirty-two football clubs have folded into the Ouyen United Football Club.

The same scene is being played out in the southern region of New South Wales in the farming districts where the Australian game has been pre-eminent for more than a century.

The most merged club is Coreen Daysdale Hopefield Buraja United (CDHBU) that was formed on the eve of the demise of the Coreen and District Football League after ninety-nine years of existence in 2007. CDHBU and the remaining Coreen league clubs then went to play the next season in the neighbouring Hume Football League.

All had started as individual clubs but Hopefield and Burraja had merged as early as 1950 while fierce rivals Coreen and Daysdale came together in 1995, but the continuing difficulties to field teams led to the amalgamation of both these clubs in 2006.

CDHBU won the last ever premiership in the Coreen league when they beat the Billabong Crows (a merger of Urana and Oaklands in 2004). Ironically, this meant that six of the foundation clubs of the competition, albeit in merged entities, played in the last-ever game in 2007.

Daffey cites many similar cases in the Mallee, that is now down to just three clubs – Ouyen United (Sunraysia league), Sea Lake-Nandaly Tigers (North Central league), and the Southern Mallee Giants (Wimmera league).

The Mallee is much more than a name of a region, like the Riverina it’s locality and characteristics are captured in the Australian psychic. It conjures up images of red soil, blue sky, blazing sunsets, and a dry, arid landscape. “It is a tough place, demanding sweat and toil” (p.35). And so are its people and this is encapsulated in their footballers and their football grounds.

The boundaries for the Mallee set by the Victorian colonial government in 1883 was “all unalienated crown land in the north-western district wholly or partly covered with the Mallee plant” (Pickard, 2019). And just as Henry Lawson proclaimed that everyone knew where the Riverina was, so do country folk know where the Mallee is, and where its roots are.

In order to pay homage to the antecedent football clubs of the Ouyen United Football Club the Year 9 students at the Ouyen P-12 College in 2009 decided to paint totem poles that had been erected at the entrance to the club’s home ground, Blackburn Park. The students painted nine poles in the colours of the clubs that had folded into one another over the years to form Ouyen United.

The totem poles provided the inspiration for the title to Daffey’s book and also the stunning cover designed by Megan Ellis based on a painting by Swan Hill dentist John Harrison.

Paul Daffey stated at the outset that the main purpose of the book was to focus on football in the Mallee in order to provide a snapshoot of footy in the country. What is occurring in the Mallee is being replicated in country areas all around Australia but his story reveals that has been on-going for decades in line with the rural-urban drift.

The book also includes chapters about Daffey’s travels in country footy taking in Wedderburn in the North Central League, the old gold-mining town of Inglewood, Boolara in the Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland, Horsham in the Wimmera and the Mornington Penisula. The chapter on the Pines v Sorrento grand final is highly captivating and the match report exhibits Daffey’s exquisite writing skills and social insights into the game.

The Appendices are most comprehensive and in addition to detailing all the statistical history of football in the Mallee there is a review of the season for country leagues in Victoria and southern NSW.

An added feature is a list of all the players that have played in six or more premierships since WW II. Brad Hartigan, who has played an “unfeasible” number of premierships – twelve for the Horsham Demons in the Wimmera Football League – is the subject of the final chapter.

There are three players from the Riverina on the list who have played in ten premierships: Stephen Clarke (Osborne 1991-92, 1998-2001, 2005; Albury 1995-97), Darren Howard (Osborne 1991-92, 1994,1998-2001, 2005-06; Albury 1995),and Gerald Pieper (Wagga Tigers 1977-78, 1980-81, 1985, 1993-95, 1997-98)

Other multiple premiership winners are Anthony Armstrong (Mangoplah-Cookardinia United & Osborne) 9, Hayden Gleeson (Osborne) 9, Brad Aitken (Collingullie) 8, Len Brill (Ganmain) 8, Bill Carroll (Ganmain) 8, John “Digger” Carroll (Ganmain) 8, Matt Fowler (Albury & Thurgoona) 8, Joel Mackie (Jindera & Albury) 8, Christen McPherson (Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong) 8, Steven Priest (Wagga Tigers) 8, Steven Schultz (Culcairn & Wagga Tigers 8, and Tim Robb (North Albury, Wagga Tigers & Collingullie) 8.

As Daffey says in the opening chapter he has a penchant for writing about local footy – amateur football, suburban football, but the best stories are in the country.

Paul Daffey, The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy (2019), Melbourne,
Daffey Publications, 2019, pp XIV +416 Paperback ISBN: 9780646804163.

To buy a copy of the book email  pauldaffey27@gmail.com with your address and he’ll email the bank details.  Books are $30 per book plus $10 postage.