Ever wondered why Australian Football gives one point for a behind (why the term behind???) or six points for a goal?
After hearing a Sydney ABC radio presenter making some disparaging remark about the scoring in Australian Football recently, I thought it was time we explored the reason why and the answers to other puzzling questions in the rules of our game.
In 1897 the VFL was established, breaking away from the VFA (Victorian Football Assocaition) which had been the governing body of the game in Victoria, and probably the nation, since their formation in 1877.
Why did they break away? Well this takes further investigation. Obviously the initial VFL clubs: Melbourne, Essendon, Collingwood, Fitzroy, South Melbourne, Geelong, St. Kilda, and Carlton were disenchanted with the VFA. Why?
When a break-away like this occurs, and there have been many over the years not only in sport but in other institutions, people tend to jump on the band wagon; but the proof of the pudding is in the eating: what happens in five years time?
A very interesting aside in the formation of the VFL was a motion carried prior to the start of the 1897 season: “Any player who has played during season 1896 or plays during season 1897 with any of the clubs at present known as Footscray, North Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Richmond, or Williamstown (all VFA clubs) shall not be allowed to play during season 1897 with any of the dubs represented on the league.” That would have kept VFA players with their clubs and not drained the Association of participating personnel.
Fortunately the Victorian Football League and their clubs were controlled by smart people, unlike some other codes, and the fact their grounds could charge an admission fee meant it was “smart people with money”.
This is moving away from why one point for a behind etc.
Prior to 1897 a goal was worth one point although behinds were noted in the score – noted, not counted.
So this one point business produced many draws. This might be OK in other football codes but those Australian Football administrators of the time said, “enough is enough”.
To stop so many draws they altered to rules to provide one point for a behind and six points for a goal. Why those numbers? I am yet to find the reason.
Why the term ‘behind’?
In the days before 1897 (Australian Football [let’s call it that], evolved from ‘Victorian Football’ which initially went by the rules of the Melbourne Football Club; these rules were codified in 1859 making it the oldest codified game of ‘football’ in the world – true)
Australian Football was played very much along the lines of Rugby: Two sides lined up against each other, a kick off started the game, it was played on a rectangular field etc.
The idea was to get the ball somehow over the line. If it got between the goal posts in whatever way, viola – a score, but if not the ball was termed as “going behind”. This was certainly the case with rugby who subsequently changed their scoring method and terminology very early on.
Australian Football however, kept the term “behind” and so when the scoring method changed, that term was retained and has lived with us ever since.
This Saturday (14 March) the UNSW-Eastern Suburbs Australian Football Club will commence celebrations for a grand history of one hundred and forty years of football in Sydney with a reunion of past players, officials and supporters at the Paddington RSL Club. Below NSW AFL History Society president Ian Granland and vice-president Rod Gillett trace the beginnings of the East Sydney Football Club.
“That the gentlemen present form themselves into a club to be called the East Sydney Football Club” (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1880).
The East Sydney Football Club was formed on 10 August 1880 at the Cambridge Club Hotel in Oxford St. It is the oldest Australian football in New South Wales and this year celebrates its 140th year. Despite several name changes, the core of the club has always been in the eastern suburbs of Sydney where it is still based and draws its players and supporters from.
The attendance at the formation meeting was high with over forty members were enrolled for the new football club. Mr John Davis MLA was elected as president, Mr Frank Wiess as secretary and Mr W.C. “Wattie” Marshall as treasurer along with vice-presidents and a committee of thirteen members. Marshall was the convener of the meeting and was a driving force behind the establishment of the game in Sydney from its inception in 1880.
The new club resolved to affiliate with the recently formed New South Wales Football Association and to play under its rules, which were adopted from the “Victorian Rules” of football.
The original club colors were a blue and white jersey and hose, and blue knickerbockers and cap. Upon the reformation of the NSW Australian National Football League in 1903, East Sydney colors were blue with a yellow sash. It was not until 1926 that the current colors of red, white and blue were adopted when the Sydney competition was reorganized on “district lines” and the East Sydney and Paddington clubs merged.
The first match involving players from the East Sydney Football Club was on 14 August 1880 when they combined with players from the then recently formed Sydney Football Club to play Waratahs (a rugby club that had played Carlton in a match under “Victorian Rules” in 1877) at Moore Park. Waratahs won by two goals (Sydney Daily Telegraph 16 August 1880).
In a return match on the following Saturday, the combined team won 5 goals to three (Sydney Daily Telegraph 23 August 1880).
The following season a series of matches were played against the Sydney club which resulted in East Sydney being declared “Champions”. This was the first of twenty-eight titles won by “Easts” including the 2019 Sydney AFL premiership (http://sydneyafl.com.au/first-grade-mens-premiers-premier-division/ ).
In the final and fourth game of the 1881 season East Sydney 2-4 defeated Sydney 1-4. on 23 July at Moore Park. East Sydney were captained by Charlie Clay who later went on to play in Melbourne. Best players were Randall, Nash, Weaton, A.R.Watson, Harry Hedger and J. Terry (Sydney Morning Herald 25 July 1881).
At the club’s annual general meeting in 1882, the secretary W.C. Marshall reported that in the previous season the club had “come out of all engagements with local teams victorious”.
Mr Arthur Young was the recipient of a handsome trophy for “Best All-round” player in 1881 (Sydney Morning Herald 21 April 1882).
This Sunday (8 March) the GWS Giants will play reigning premier Richmond in a March Community Cup match at Robertson Oval, Wagga. The oval has a rich history of hosting international cricket and rugby league matches but it is as an Australian football ground that it is best known. It is the home of the Wagga Tigers and hosts the Farrer League grand final each year. Over the years various matches involving VFL/AFL clubs have been played at the venue as well as local representative games and the Carroll Cup schoolboys’ competition.
Football History Society vice-president Dr Rod Gillett sets out the ten most significant facts about the history of Robertson Oval below:
1. Robertson Oval is the premier cricket and Australian Football venue in Wagga. The enclosed ground is located in the Bolton Park sporting complex where it was previously known as #1 Oval. A grass embankment runs around three-quarters of the oval with a 350-seat grandstand and social club on western side of the ground. The ground has a capacity of 12,000.
2. The ground has a rich sporting history having also hosted international cricket and international rugby league matches. The crowd record is 11,000 which attended the rugby league international between France and the Riverina in 1960 – won by the French 25-14.
3. Cricket goes all the way back to 1878 when a Wagga Wagga team comprised of 22 players played an Australian XI that was preparing for the tour of England. Australia was led by Dave Gregory and included the Bannerman brothers, wicket-keeper J.M. Blackham, and W.L. Murdoch who made 93 runs. The visitors won by an innings and 117 runs.
4. It became an Australian Football ground 1911 when the Newtown club (Wagga team) made the ground its home-base. Federals (formed in 1887) were renamed Wagga in 1928 and began playing home games at the ground. They became known as the Tigers in 1949 when they acquired guernseys from VFL club Richmond.
5. The ground was named after prominent Wagga businessman Cameron McLean Robertson who as the president of the Community Advancement Fund donated funds to Council for redevelopment of the ground. He was the father-in-law of ex-Tigers player and football benefactor John Braid. It was named Robertson Oval in 1963.
6. Two Wagga Tigers players were named in the NSW Greatest Team: ex-Sydney Swans captain and 1995 Brownlow medallist Paul Kelly and former St Kilda champion full-forward Bill Mohr who topped the VFL goal-kicking with 101 goals in 1936. Terry Daniher, who was also named in the team, coached Wagga Tigers to five premierships in six seasons in the 1990s after finishing his illustrious career with Essendon.
7. Twenty players from Wagga Tigers are on the list of NSW’s 500 Greatest Players including Harry Lampe (South Melbourne), John Pitura (South Melbourne-Richmond), Paul Hawke (Sydney Swans-Collingwood), Neville Miller (South Melbourne), Brad Seymour (Sydney Swans), Matt Suckling (Hawthorn-Western Bulldogs), and Kim Kershaw (South Melbourne-Hawthorn).
8. Previous matches involving VFL teams played at Robertson Oval included a combined Wagga team v Hawthorn in 1952 and an Albury & District (forerunner to the Farrer League) representative team took on North Melbourne in 1954.
9. The Farrer League plays it grand finals at Robertson Oval and the final of the Carroll Cup for the secondary schoolboys’ competition is also played under lights at the ground and attracts crowds of up to 1500 spectators.
10. Robertson Oval was revamped in 2012 to meet the requirements of the AFL for hosting matches. It involved extending the ground, a complete re-turf, upgraded change rooms and installation of lights. Two NAB Cup Challenge matches have subsequently been played at the venue, GWS Giants against St Kilda (2013) and North Melbourne and Collingwood (2016).
Football matches fall into many categories. I always have in my mind three particular matches, they are:
The Most Uninteresting,
The Hardest and The Most Enjoyable
The Most Uninteresting.
Having umpired 1st Grade on the Saturday in Sydney our group was required to umpire a Sydney Under 16 selection trial on the Sunday morning at Moore Park, opposite the Bat and Ball Hotel. Any barracking was only for individual players by the few parents in attendance. If there was no barracking for the teams it normally led to a very dull atmosphere and was a bit of a let down for us after our match the previous day. No matter how hard we tried to properly motivate ourselves, I believe that this mood led to what may be described as a below par performance by us. Whilst some people are at times critical of barracking, I believe a certain balanced amount does create an interesting atmosphere.
It is possible that this type of situation goes with the type of match. Nineteen years earlier I was fortunate to play in the same selection trial on the same ground. For myself and some others it was not a very interesting match. I played on the wing marking a player named John Locke who later played for Balmain. Throughout the game each of us only had an opportunity to touch the ball about four times, the other wing seemed to be where all the action was. Needless to say I did not make the selected team and I think John also missed out.
The Hardest I was appointed to a 2nd Grade match at Trumper Park between Newtown and Western Suburbs. The make up of the teams was a large number of players who had competed against each other for many years in 1st Grade and many hard fought Grand Finals. I always said that if a group of players wanted to create a riot there was not a lot one umpire could do to stop it. The Appointments Board must have had some premonition about the game and I was blessed with two excellent Boundary Umpires, which was unusual for reserve grade matches of the time.
On the first bounce the Wests ruckman gave his Newtown opponent a very soft slap across the face and I awarded a free kick. The Newtown player immediately spat in the direction of the Wests player missing by a long way, fortunately for all concerned his spitting ability was a long way short of his kicking ability. I blew my whistle and said to the two players “You obviously have a lot of things to square off about. Leave the youngsters alone.” I restarted the game knowing that the Boundary Umpires would ensure that they would keep a very keen eye on any action away from the play.
It was a match that certainly kept me on my toes and alert and I must admit I enjoyed the pressure. The match continued in a spirited manner and there were no more obvious indiscretions.
Umpiring training the next week was on the same evening as Newtown’s at Erskineville Oval. After training we attended the Kurrajong Hotel across the road to rehydrate. A number of Newtown players were also there. Laurie Mc Nulty a great Newtown goal sneak with many, many years experience come up to me with a satisfied look on his face and said, “You know Mac that was the hardest game I have ever played.” This made umpiring feel worthwhile.
The Most Enjoyable Towards my later years umpiring senior football I umpired wherever I could help out and enjoyed it tremendously. Some lower grade games can be as interesting as top grade matches.
In the early 1980’s I was appointed to a 2nd Grade match in Second Division between Liverpool and St Ives at Rosedale Oval. On the drive out I was complaining to myself about being appointed to this match as I also had to umpire a 3rd Grade match between Wests and St George the next morning. After much grumbling to myself, things started to fall into place. A few weeks earlier both Liverpool and Pennant Hills 2nd Grades had both been reported for misconduct. So i guessed that my appointment was possibly to utilise my experience to ensure that teams behaved themselves. I had never umpired St Ives at that stage but had umpired Liverpool (Sthn Districts) on many occasions over the years and knew a number of their players very well. Being early at the ground I took the opportunity to catch up with and chat with the Liverpool players that I knew and also introduced myself to St Ives coach, etc.
Rosedale is a great ground to umpire on and produces some wonderful football. The game progressed without any incident and it was a joy to be involved in. I was never interested in scores during games as I always felt that there was enough pressure on an umpire during a match without worrying about three or thirty points difference in the score. On preparing to sign the score cards I realised that the scores were even at the end of the first three quarters and Liverpool won by three points. How good can it be? It does not have to be an AFL Grand Final to be great, every match stands on its own importance.
It was one match that my wife, Babs was unable to attend and on my return home she, as usual, asked how I got on? I was pleased to be able to tell her how great it was and the only blemish was that I had three bad bounces throughout the match.
Here is an article by Society member, Jim McSweeney, a former umpire in the Sydney competition and later in Masters Rules. He was an official with the St George Junior Association and also umpired in that competition. The article provides details of a ‘boycott’, not a strike, by Sydney umpires in 1974. This was a period when Sydney Newspapers frequently published articles of happenings in the code in the city (sadly no more), so we are able to bring you associated newspapers articles.
“I am sure that over the years’ clubs have expressed concern over certain umpires and expressed a wish that these umpires no be appointed to their matches. No doubt on some occasions these wishes may well have been granted.
However, in early July 1974, the fourth year of my Presidency, the Umpires Association was informed by the League that the Western Suburbs Club had informed them that they would not play if Umpire Earl Beeck was appointed to any of their matches. No reasons were given for this ultimatum.
This led to a very long and heavily debated Umpires’ Association meeting and brought back to me memories of the 1961 Strike. There were many actions proposed and debated. A large number were very determined to withdraw all umpiring services until this ultimatum was withdrawn.
After much debate and different proposals considered it was agreed that all clubs should not be penalised because of the action of one. It was then unanimously resolved that Association Members would not umpire any Western Suburbs matches whist this ultimatum was in place. This decision was passed to the League as soon as possible after the meeting.
Western Suburbs were due to play Southern Districts the following weekend at Rosedale Oval, Warwick Farm and no Association umpires were appointed. It was an interesting lead up, because a number of people associated with the home club were involved with junior football in the area. One of their first grade players also umpired local junior football. The Umpires’ executive were required to talk with these people and request that they support the Umpires in this matter. They all agreed to fall in line. The match went ahead with Bill Hart, the 48 year old League President, along with vice president Doug Bouch initially set down as umpires. (I’d love to see those two running around the paddock, Bill may have represented the state in 1948 and Doug Bouch won the Sanders Medal in 1959, but please … it can be, no it is, hard work out there in the centre and Doug was one who loved a drink on a hot day). However the two with the whistles was later altered to Wests president and former VFA player, John Donovan and Southern Districts official, Arthur Clark taking on the officiating duties.
Following this, the ultimatum was withdrawn and everything went back to as normal as it can be in the Football world.”
Top of the table Western Suburbs had no trouble defeating ‘Districts in the game by over fourteen goals to continue their unbeaten run.
Hereunder is an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 June 1866.
“Football Club -The first annual meeting of the Sydney Foot Ball Club was held last night, at the hotel of Mr. B. Palmer, Pitt and King streets. The chair was occupied by Mr. Oliver. The minutes of last meeting having been read and confirmed, the secretary, Mr. R. C. Hewitt,read the following report, and it was adopted – In submitting this our first report to you, your committee feel much pleasure in complimenting you upon the steady and favourable progress the club has made from its formation throughout its first season. Although at first, many prejudices were held against us in our infancy, and in spite of great opposition the club has clearly shown that foot ball properly played, is not a perilous break-neck folly, but a means of health, giving recreative enjoyment. The number of members elected during last season, was 66, out of whom only 24 paid their subscriptions, but before the finish of the ensuing season, from present prospects, your committee feel much pleasure in announcing to you that they have sanguine hopes that the number of members will be greatly increased. Your committee have also great pleasure in being able to inform you that not only is the club favourably looked upon in this city, but that its fame (principally through the report of its excellent matches with the Australian and University Clubs) has extended to the neighbouring colony of Victoria, and your secretary has received an intimation of the willingness of the football players of that colony to inaugurate a series of intercolonial football matches, and to show the earnestness of the Victorians, they would visit Sydney during the forthcoming season, could a team able to compete with them be got together and us guaranteeing to play them a return match during the next season in Melbourne. In conclusion, your committee would urge upon their suc-cessors the desirability of at once selecting some other ground more suitable than that on which the club played last season-namely, Hyde Park-as it is certainly dangerous to all who play thereon, also to endeavour, as has always been their maxim, to keep the club well supplied with ‘the sinews of war’ ‘ The following gentlemen were unanimously elected to the offices prefixed to their names -President, Mr Richard Driver, M L.A. , secretary and treasurer Mr. Richard C. Hewitt, committee, Messrs Shepherd, Samuel Cohen, Dawson, Charles Oliver, and Leslie J.Park. Nine new members were elected. A resolution was carried to the effect that the “Victorian Rules of Football, agreed to at a meeting of delegates of clubs held at Melbourne on the 8th of May 1866, be adopted as the rules of the Club. ” The secretary stated that he had received a challenge from Melbourne to play a match in Sydney, and the proposal was very favourably entertained, Mr Hewitt and Mr Cohen were elected delegates to confer with the represetatives of other clubs with a view to make the arrangements for accepting the challenge. The business was concluded with a vote of thanks to the chairman.” (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 2 June 1866, page 6)
We will endeavour to get the answer to this very vexed but important question. More news on this coming and just who were these people: Hewitt, Cohen and Charles Oliver.
“Wherever you are listening to this game don’t tune out this is one of the best games of football I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed 2WG Farrer League football commentator Bert Schmidt at a Culcairn v The Rock Yerong Creek game circa 1964.
“I couldn’t always go to away games so I used to listen to Bert’s call of The Rock’s games on the local radio” recalls former long-time Riverina Australian Football player and leading official Greg Verdon. “He knew all the player’s names and he used to call the games with great clarity and accuracy”, he added.
Bert called the Farrer League match-of-the-day for just on twenty years starting in 1958 and continuing until 1978. He never missed a game according to Cr Yvonne Braid who spent her working life at radio station 2WG in Wagga.
That was the “hay-day” of the league when it stretched from Temora in the north down to Holbrook in the south and west to Lockhart and was based on country clubs rather than clubs in Wagga.
He used to call games from the back of a truck or farm ute backed up to the fence at most grounds from a portable table and chair with the landline connected to the phone in the club secretary’s office or a neighbouring house. The only grounds with press boxes were at Wagga’s Robertson Oval and the Yerong Creek Recreation Ground where the grand final was played.
“Bert was always immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit or woollen cardigan and he always carried an umbrella” recalls Cr Braid. “He was always fully prepared”.
“He was a perfect gentleman”, she added.
Bert Schmidt’s active role in football was not just confined to broadcasting he also produced the weekly football match programs for the South West and Farrer Leagues, served on the Wagga promotions committee, provided hospitality to the Melbourne umpires for the finals, and his lasting legacy, founding the licensed Riverina Australian Football Club.
“The Rules Club was his love child” Cr Braid told me.
Bert Schmidt was the instigator of a licensed club for Australian Football in Wagga. The main purpose was to provide a headquarters for the code in the region and to generate funds to promote the game, particularly at the junior and school level. The club’s ground Maher Oval has hosted AFL practice matches, interstate fixtures and local representative games; it is still Turvey Park’s home ground is used for Farrer League finals and junior fixtures.
He was the inaugural chairman of the club in 1973 after doing all the hard yards to get it up and going. He stayed on the board until 1978. After initially struggling in the early years of its existence the club has now prospered mainly as a result of its location in the southern suburbs of Wagga. Meanwhile, the downtown Wagga Leagues Club shuts its doors in 2004.
Bert identified the need for match day programs for the two major leagues in the Riverina and subsequently developed and produced The Aussie Ruler (later called the South-Wester) for the South West District Football League and The Crier for the Farrer Football League from 1961.
He funded the project and recouped costs through advertising. He initially wrote the editorials for both: always positive, constructive and based on facts and his deep and intimate knowledge of the game, its officials, players, and supporters in the area.
The distribution of the programs for match day in the region involved an intricate network of trains, taxi trucks, delivery vans, and was sometimes even carried by the umpires driven to games in taxis.
When the program production was taken over by Gary Allen in 1983 he paid tribute to Bert Schmidt for his work over twenty-one years in the first edition for the season:
“Producing a programme nowadays still requires much hard work hut the problems with starting from scratch would have been countless. But thanks, to his dedication and love for the game, he stuck to the task. Bert had to give up most of his holidays, year in and year out, to keep in touch with his advertisers at the start of each season. (Riverina Australian Football Record, 10 April 1983).
Bert Schmidt was also a member of the Wagga Australian Rules Promotions Committee that was formed in 1968 “ to promote and foster the Australian Football code in Wagga and surrounding districts and to extend Australian Football into all primary and secondary schools” (Wagga Daily Advertiser, 13 February, 1968).
The promotions committee was initially very successful in getting the game going in all primary schools. They arranged for 16 sets of jumpers, 24 footballs and 15 sets of goalposts as well as suitable playing areas for the primary schools in their first year.
The establishment of football in the high schools proved more challenging as rugby league was firmly entrenched largely as a result of schoolteachers coming from the Sydney. Also the Catholic secondary schools were reticent despite the assistance on offer.
Bert, who was the driving force behind the schools’ push, came up with the idea of naming the cup after the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Wagga Wagga, Most Reverend Francis Carroll, who was a Carroll from Ganmain. “Father Frank” had played football for both Ganmain as a youth and for Griffith when he served as priest at the Sacred Heart Church.
With the Bishop’s “blessing” the Carroll Cup for open age schoolboy football commenced in 1969 along with the Robb Cup (named after highly successful Riverina coach Tim Robb) for Year 9 and below.
The Carroll Cup is now firmly established as the premier secondary schools’ competition in Wagga and attracts strong media interest and crowds of up to 2,000 at the final played under lights at Robertson Oval.
Bert did not play footy; but after returning from military service in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupational Force and as a Lieutenant in the Australian Army Ordinance Unit in the Korean War in 1952-53 he gravitated to the Wagga Tigers football club which was closest to his work place at the council-owned Wagga Gas Centre in Bayliss St.
Wagga Tiger’s club legend Doug Priest recalls going to games out-of-town on the team bus in the mid-50s with his father Merv, who was the coach, and Bert leading the sing-along playing on the ukulele on the trip home.
He had a marvellous party trick – he could scull a beer while standing on his head!
Bert Schmidt was highly respected throughout the Riverina for his dedication and service to the game and he has been duly recognized by the Farrer League and the Victorian Country Football league (VCFL).
The reserve grade best and fairest in the Farrer League was named in his honour until the VCFL investigation in 1981 created the Riverina Football League and the Riverina District FL.
Upon the renaming of the RDFL as the Farrer Football League in 1985 the best player in the grand final was named the Schmidt-Nitschke medal in honour of Bert and his long-time friend prominent Wagga solicitor Galva Nitschke, who did so much legal work for football on an honorary basis. Bert and Galva were the duo who did all the work behind the scenes to establish the Rules Club.
He received the VCFL Recognition of Service award in 1973.
Bert Stanley Schmidt was awarded an MBE for military service in 1953.
AKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Cr Yvonne Braid (Wagga City Council), Major-General (ret.) Brian Dawson (Australian War Memorial), Doug Priest (Wagga Tigers), Greg Verdon (ex MVAFA president), Garry Allen (former Riverina Australian Football Record publisher), and Allan Hull (2WG)
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 email@example.com for $39.95.
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.
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)
“…. 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.