Albatross AFL Club (AAFC – 1968-2015)

by Duane Unwin

History of HMAS Albatross The decision to build an airfield at Nowra Hill was taken soon after WWII was declared in 1939. The RAAF occupied the new base on May 1942 and were soon followed by the US Army Air Corps and the Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force.

The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm began operations at Nowra in late October 1944, and the base was renamed HMAS Nabbington. In March 1946, the base reverted to RAAF control ‘to be retained but not maintained’.

With the decision to form the RAN Fleet Air Arm HMAS Albatross was commissioned on 31 August 1948.

Short History of South Coast Australian Football League (SCAFL)
The original South Coast AFL was formed in 1969, comprising Albatross, Creswell, Nowra and Wollongong. In 1970 the Bomaderry club was formed and in 1972 Dapto joined the competition.

In 1975, Wollongong and Dapto left the league to create the Illawarra Australian Football League. They were joined by Bulli-Woonona (now known as Northern Districts), Port Kembla and Shellharbour, three clubs who had conducted junior programs but were now introducing senior football.

The sixth foundation club of the senior league was the University of Wollongong.

In 1989, the Wollongong Lions moved to the Sydney Football League and the remaining clubs joining the South Coast AFL, which was renamed the Leisure Coast Australian Football League. The league returned to the name “South Coast AFL” in 2002. In 2012 The South Coast AFL became “AFL South Coast” incorporating the three leagues of South Coast AFL: Seniors, Shoalhaven Juniors and Illawarra Juniors.

History of Albatross AFL
Prior to the formation of the AAFC in 1968 many Albatross based players joined clubs in the SFL, namely South Sydney and Sydney Naval (1944-1971 and formerly Sydney FC 1880-1944). Teams also represented Albatross in various midweek/knockout competitions against other ships and military establishments as well as the NSW Police team.

The AAFC as a distinct entity in a local competition was formed in 1968 to then become a founding member of the SCAFL in 1969.

The AAFC boasts and enviable record of 13 First Grade and 5 Reserve grade premierships with two lots of “three-peats” being 90/91/92 and 95/96/97.

2005 would see the last time the AAFC would make a First Grade grand final and whilst not successful the Reserve grade won the flag in that year. From this period declining player strength due to a number of factors hampered the club.

Competing in reserve grade only in 2013 provided the last Premiership Flag before diminishing player participation in the Shoalhaven resulted in the 2016 merger of the Albatross Demons with the Nowra Blues to become the Nowra Albatross Vikings.

The home ground of the AAFC is the Tom Smith Oval named after the club legend, Tom and his wife Marlene were the core fabric of the club from formation in 1968 and with continued involvement until their respective passing in 1999 and 2012.

The photographs following this narrative contain images of Tom and Marlene together with images of Tom’s iconic time clock, honour boards and various premiership teams!!  Click this to see images.

North by North West – Lenton Bros starring roles

Australian Football celebrates its 140th anniversary in NSW this year after the founding of the NSW Football Association in Sydney in 1880.
Dr Rod Gillett profile the nomination of Brian Lenton to the Hall of Fame:

Gunnedah Inaugural Premiers North West Football Association 1978

“The women playing is the best thing that has happened for footy up here. The fellas are now running the canteen while the girls play!” Brian Lenton told me in an interview for this piece.

Brian was reflecting on over 50 years of active involvement in football in NSW after having done it all in the north west as a player, coach and official since his arrival in the area in 1976.

“I’m just as proud of my daughter Natasha who played in the Bulldogs’ women’s premiership team this season as my son Nathan, who played top-grade football in Sydney and Canberra. And my grandsons, Chad and Jake. They played together in the Under 14s grand final this year”.

Back row: (l-r) T. Seach, S. Spence, P. Harris, S. Seckold, P. Quinell, M. Harris (selector), B. Kyan, D. Harper, D, Mclaren
4th row:  S. Dunn, C Sanderson, B. Ackland. B. Gibson. J. Seach, J. Foran, G. Fuss
3rd row: R. Lucas, F. Robson (vice capt ), P. Dickie, J. Ackland, W. Millard, D. Catford, C. McIntosh
2nd row:  R. Rodway, D. Hatch, B. Murphy, I. Ormiston, C. Wakefield (treasurer)
1st row: J. Rodway. B, Lenton (capt-coach), P. Jaeger, I. Kingwell, L. Kmon, B Kmon (son)
Mascot N Lenton

After a promising start and then a rocky period in the mid-1990s footy has really gained traction in the north west of the state with the Moree Suns coming back in 2015, and both Gunnedah and the Tamworth teams now playing on the main ovals in their respective towns as do the Inverell Saints while the New England Nomads play on the university’s premier oval in Armidale.

Brian attributes the stability of the footy competition to the introduction of the women’s competition a few years back and efforts to establish junior competitions finally being successful.

Brian Lenton started his football at Whitton in the South West league in the mid-1960s but due to employment opportunities moved to Sydney and lined with Western Suburbs and played in the club’s 1969 and 1972 premiership teams. He was named full-back in Wests team of the century.

He moved to Gunnedah in his employment in 1976 and initially played with Tamworth in the University of New England competition in Armidale. The formation of a football club in Tamworth in 1975 to play in the UNE competition in Armidale was the catalyst for the expansion of the game all over northern NSW.

Together with a couple of Tamworth team-mates based in Gunnedah Brian founded the Gunnedah Bulldogs in 1977 and were admitted to the Uni competition and developed a strong rivalry with Tamworth that continues to this day. He was the inaugural president and captain-coach.

Expansion of the game was unprecedented. Through 1977 clubs were formed at Coonabarabran, Wee Waa, Inverell and Moree. And so, the North West Australian Football Association came into being in 1978.

Brian became the inaugural captain-coach of Gunnedah and led the Bulldogs to the first premiership in the new competition when they beat the Tamworth Magpies at No 2 Oval Tamworth in 1978.“It all started with Tamworth, but we wouldn’t have been able to get going without the support of the students at the Uni in Armidale. They had four teams, so we had a decent competition to start with”, said Brian.

Brian Lenton   (right)  chairs   Wests premiership coach John Northey off Trumper Park in 1972

He coached 1977-82 1985-88, and 1990-91 winning five premierships in 78,79, 86, 87and 91. He won the competition best player award in 1979 and was runner-up in 1978. He was the competition leading goal scorer 1978-1982.

“The 1978 premiership win gives me the most satisfaction. We were down by 40 points at half-time and got up to win by a goal! It was the new league’s first-ever premiership. And we beat Tamworth”, Brian told me.

“Ian Kingwell was a great player for us as were Peter Jaeger, John Acland and John Rodway from Temora. We really gelled together and had great team spirit. We really wanted to win the first premiership”.

This season the Bulldogs beat the Tamworth Swans in the grand final in Gunnedah; the Bulldogs also beat the Swans in the women’s grade but lost to a combined Tamworth team in the Under 14s.

Brian Lenton was match day time-keeper for the Gunnedah Bulldogs this season, a job he has performed since 2000. He has been a club committee member since 1977 and was the Gunnedah club president from 1977-84.

He was made a North-West AFL life member in 1982 and received a National Football League Merit Award in 1988.

Meanwhile Brian’s older brother Allen Lenton was getting the game going on the mid north coast over at Taree where he was instrumental in the formation of the Taree club in 1985.

Allen was a strong supporter of the burgeoning Country Football League that in this period admitted leagues from the Summerland, North Coast, Mid-North Coast, North West, Central West and Sapphire Coast football leagues. He was the inaugural president of the Mid North Coast AFL.

         Allen Lenton

Allen played a pivotal role as the president of the Whitton football club’s successful transition from the South West to the Central Riverina football league in 1979.

The Whitton Tigers narrowly missed grand final appearances in 79-80 but finally won through for the club’s first flag since 1946 with three premierships in a row 1985-87 in the Farrer league division two.

He fondly recalls growing up in Whitton and the arrival of football teams on steam trains on the south west line in the early 1950s, “The driver used to start blowing his whistle a few miles out of town to warn the Whitton people that they’d come to play”.

Where the Bloody Hell is Lake Burgooney?

By Dr Rodney Gillett

1963 Lake Burgooney – Premiers

“Where is Lake Burgooney?”

“Its not a place, it’s a football club!”

This was the conversation I had with long-time Northern Riverina Australian Football League official and historian Keith Rees when I was doing research on the league’s grand final in 1960.

In 1960 the Burgooney football club, that had been a foundation club of the Northern Riverina Association in 1924, decided to move into Lake Cargelligo. The Lake Cargelligo club had folded at the end of the 1955 season; it had also been an original club but had fallen on hard times.

Burgooney was a district with a post-office, a railway siding and a football ground surrounded by wheat and sheep farms about half-way between Tullibigeal and Lake Cargelligo in the district north-west of West Wyalong when the footy team moved into the “Lake”. Nowadays these are all closed except for the railway siding for the harvest.

The club became known as “Lake Burgooney” and adopted the Burgooney colours of a black guernsey and yellow vee made their new home-ground at the Lake Cargelligo Recreation ground.

According to club legend Bob Sanson, who spoke to me in an interview for this piece in a break during harvesting, the move of Burgooney into the Lake was a “perfect match”.

“The Lake no longer had a team, the Recreation ground was well maintained and watered; it was much better than playing in a paddock out at Burgooney!”, he told me.

The newly minted Lake Tigers started the season in fine form winning the first seven games after finishing bottom of the ladder the previous season and finished half-a-game ahead of Ungarie at the top of the ladder.

They defeated Ungarie in the 2nd semi final at Tullibigeal, 11-7 (73) to 7-16 (58). The Magpies earned another crack at the Tigers by beating Four Corners in the preliminary final.

Ungarie proved too strong for Lake Burgooney in the grand final and established a comfortable 22-point lead at half-time. The Tigers made a late run in the final term and got to within 13 points but half-forward Ian Keane sealed the win for Ungarie with a late goal.

Final scores: Ungarie 10-9 (69) d Lake Burgooney 7-8 (50).

Best players for Ungarie were centreman Leo Daniher, centre-half forward Jim Daniher, backman Brian Brewer, and winger Ron Fixter while for Burgooney the best were ruckman  “Blue” Ridley, captain-coach John Booth, and fullback Keith Delahunty.

Lake Burgooney finally broke through for a premiership in 1962 when they beat Milby at Four Corners for their first flag in twenty-three years and their first as a merged entity.

The Tigers went onto to win four premierships in a row, 1962-65 with the Sanson brothers, Bob and Harry playing together in all four premierships and joined by Don (1962) and Ross for the 64-65 triumphs. Then again from 1969-71, 1973 & 1976 in the club’s most dominant period, thus validating the move into Lake Cargelligo.

The club changed its name to Lake Cargelligo in 1972, but became known as the Lake Tigers when a new club, Lake Swans, was formed in 1978 based at the Lake Cargelligo Golf Club oval. However, the Lake Swans were short-lived and failed to form for the 1987 season.

The Sanson brothers, all had successful careers playing football in the northern Riverina. Bob Sanson played from the age of 14 in 1955 until he was 44,  thirty years later. Bob led the Tigers to premiership wins in 1973 and 1976.

Harry played in ten premierships in the Northern Riverina League – nine with the Lake and one with Ungarie, who he coached to the premiership in 1974. He won the competition best and fairest award in 1967. Harry was outstanding at both codes of football; he represented Riverina against South Melbourne in 1972, and against Great Britain in rugby league in 1974.

Don played in seven premiership teams for the Lake along with his youngest brother, Ross, the father of Tim, Mark, Paul, and Brett, who all made their mark at Lavington in the Ovens and Murray league. Tim coached Lavington to premierships in 2001 and 2005 and is a member of the O & M Hall of Fame. Both Tim and Mark played at the Sydney Swans.

Bob has fond memories of the family going to the footy at Burgooney in the fifties when his father Roley played for the Tigers. Bob made his debut in 1955 alongside his father, who was a full-forward with a prodigious torpedo punt kick.

Roley retired at 43 at half time in a game against Milby in 1958 when he came off and proclaimed, “I’ve kicked seven goals and had 3 ‘blues’. I’ve had enough!”

His father ran the boundary and his mother ran the canteen when the boys played. “When we were sowing at the start of the season, Dad would stay on the tractor and I had to fill the seed boxes before I left for the game and come home straight after to take over from Dad and work through the night”, Bob recalled.

At this point of the interview Bob got a call to bring more fuel down to the paddock to keep the header going, “We’re having our best harvest ever, we’re getting 14-15 bags per acre”.

I hung up, knowing a lot more about Lake Burgooney, the footy team, not the place.

Source: Keith Rees, Northern Riverina Australian Football League, 90 Years, 1924-2014. West Wyalong Advocate. 2015.

Beckom overcame draw and local shows to win flag in 1960

By Dr Rod Gillett

Beckom FC – 1960 Barellan & Dist FL Premiers

Despite playing only one game in five weeks Beckom started well against Sandy Creek and went on to comfortably win the Barellan & District grand final in 1960, 10.6.66 to 4.18.42.

Beckom, under ex-Ariah Park Mirrool star Alan Mackenzie, beat Darlington Point in the 2nd semi final but the grand final was delayed by a drawn final between Darlington Point and Sandy Creek, and the subsequent replay on what should have been grand final day.

The following Saturdays were reserved for the major event in these communities, the agricultural shows at Ardlethan and Barellan – with a break, and then the Ariah Park show.

Premiership rover Brian O’Reilly, then eighteen years old, recalls Beckom’s “blend of youth and experience” – 17 year old half-forward Tommy Connors along with veterans Errol Foster at full-forward, half back Jim Gardiner, full back Pat O’Hare, a “fantastic footballer”, and uncle Bob O’Rielly, who was “close to 40” (years old).

Most of the team were farmers or sons of farmers or shearers with exceptions being Errol Foster who worked as a stock and station agent while Bob “Butch” O’Reilly ran the news-agency.

Brian remembers travelling back to Beckom with his best mate Tommy Connors in the old farm ute after the grand final to have a shower at the pub while the rest of his team-mates showered at the Commercial Hotel in Barellan and enjoyed a few celebratory drinks before journeying back to the Beckom pub.

The Beckom footy team, which wore a black guernsey with red cuffs, had been runner-up to Sandy Creek the previous year, and beat Darlington Point for the premiership in 1958. It also made the grand final with Alan McKenzie at the helm in 1961 but went down to Barellan-Binya in the grand final.

There was an exodus of players prior to the 1962 season with McKenzie going to Ariah Park-Mirrool to play under Johnny Hawke in their South West league premiership team as did Tom Connors while others went to Ardlethan.

To overcome the shortage of players Brian and Errol Foster went to Ardlethan to play under former Footscray rover Barry Connolly, which in return sent eight players to Beckom.

Due to a shortage of players in 1964 the Beckom club went into recess. It reformed in 1965 with Alan McKenzie returning to coach but the club did not make the finals.

1967 was to be the club’s final-ever season and by winning ten games, including an upset over the unbeaten and eventual premier Barellan-Binya, they finished fifth.

Beckom is a small central Riverina village located five kilometers north-east of Ardlethan just off the Newell Highway. Next stop West Wyalong, 60 kms further north.

It had been established in 1908 when the branch railway line from Temora to Barellan was opened; it was extended to Griffith in 1916. The main purpose of the branch lines were to transport rural produce to Sydney but they are also became a means to transport football teams.

Beckom Hotel

Hence the title of prominent Barellan football identity the late George Flagg’s book, Along the Line, on the development of the Barellan, Ariah Park, Tara and Ardelthan football associations in the period 1890-1990.

Brian O’Reilly recalls a vibrant village at Beckom when he played in the 1960s of several general stores, a post office, a bank, a newsagency, a stock and station agency, a garage, a primary school and a pub. All that remains is the pub and the school plus a road-house, a kilometre away on the Newell highway.

The Beckom football club had been formed soon after the establishment of the village and played “social football” according to George Flagg. After WWI, the club initially joined the Beckom-Barellan Association, then in 1923 joined the Ariah Park competition made up of Ariah Park, Mirrool, Ardlethan and Kamarah.

Beckom would continue to play in various incarnations of local leagues until re-joining the Barellan league in 1950. The Quade brothers, Bill, Leo, Tom and Pat were prominent players for the club in the early 50s.

The Barellan & District league ran out of clubs mainly as a result of the merger of Sandy Creek, and Kamarah-Moombooldool with Barellan-Binya to become Barellan United in 1970.

Barellan United beat the Hay Rovers in the grand final in 1971. The league then disbanded

Coleambly went to the Coreen league, Barellan United entered the Central Riverina league, and Hay eventually found a home in the Kerang and District league (now known as the Golden Rivers FL). Yanco disbanded.

Bob O’Reilly played for Beckom up until it folded. He had his best season in 1961 when he won both the competition and club best and fairest awards.

He had a few seasons at Sandy Creek then went to Ariah Park-Mirrool under Doug Priest in 1970. He retired in 1973 but made a surprising comeback in 1980 to play for the newly formed Tallimba club in the Northern Riverina FL. At age 38 and “farm-fit”, he played for five seasons, “mostly in the back-pocket, but it was lot of fun”, recalled Brian O’Reilly.


Source: George Flagg, Along the Line, 1990.

The Rannock Football Story

Peter Clark shares an extract on the Rannock football story from his soon to be released book, In the True Sporting Spirit.


Rannock Footy Ground

Australian Football was last played at Rannock more than half a century ago. Rannock’s football experience is a familiar Australian tale of a farming community starting out with a healthy stock of fit young men eager to play football only to see that supply dwindle as farms got bigger, families got smaller and distances became faster to travel. From its beginnings in a localised football competition comprising similar-sized settlements, Rannock’s football journey expanded to new frontiers. Later it competed against teams from much larger and more distant settlements.

Rannock is a rural locality, situated in ‘canola country’, 23 km north of Coolamon in the Riverina region of NSW. The settlement was proclaimed in 1899 and grew steadily to a peak population of 285 in 1933. By the 2016 census Rannock’s population had fallen to just 55 people.

Upon my first visit to the Rannock Recreation Reserve in 2017 I was surprised to find the football setting largely intact which immediately inspired me to learn more about the club and football days long past. What I discovered was a club widely respected for its sportsmanship, a proud and successful club and a club in many ways typical of hundreds of small country football clubs once common throughout Australia.

The Rannock football ground’s rust coloured earth, once trampled by young men chasing the Sherrin, is now covered in tall grass. A lone goal post stands at the northern end as a silent reminder of football games in bygone days. Other relics such as the deserted dressing sheds and the vacant luncheon booth stand passively at the cypress pine tree-fringed oval. The galvanised iron dressing sheds remain furnished with dust-covered rubbing down tables and rusty showers that have not run hot water since the last home game.

The Rannock Football Story traces the sequence of leagues the club participated in between 1923 and 1964 commencing with the Tara and District Association and ending with the Central Riverina League. Many of the familiar experiences of country footy clubs are covered: changing league affiliation, club mergers, glory years, struggling times and the recurrent threat of demise, all experienced in the midst of economic, technological, demographic and social change.

A football club was formed at Rannock in 1923. Less than a decade later Rannock was the centre of a ‘bush’ football league, the Rannock and District Football Association. Only four decades after its formation the club went into recess for the last time. In 25 football seasons, spanning 42 years, the club participated in six different leagues, won five premierships, endured two periods of voluntary recess, together with an interruption due to World War II, and experienced a joint football venture with the neighbouring community of Methul.

Rannock initially competed in the Tara and District Football Association alongside the neighbouring communities of Tara, Methul, Mimosa, Pucawan and Walleroobie. According to former club president, A.H. Grinter, “the players though keen and enthusiastic did not win many games, but had a lot of fun.”

In 1932 Rannock became the home of a new league called the Rannock and District Football Association. Other clubs that competed included Bectric, Winchendon Vale, Methul, North Berry Jerry, Pucawan, Mimosa and Marrar. Rannock hosted most finals matches in the league’s six year existence.

Playing in the newly formed Temora and District Association in 1938, against teams from Temora, Clear Hills, Bagdad, Reefton, Pucawan and Winchendon Vale, Rannock were the competition pace setters. This was one of the most successful eras of football for Rannock. The club reached the final four on several occasions in the 1930s and claimed back-to-back premierships in 1939 and 1940. When football resumed after the war Rannock re-joined the Temora League and were successful in winning the 1947 premiership.

Rannock ‘s next move was to the ten-team Ariah Park and District Football Association where they competed for four seasons.  During this era the identity of the club was to change and the geographical focus shifted to the north. In 1950 Rannock and Methul formed a combined team known as the ‘Federals’. The other teams in the Ariah Park competition in 1950 were Tara Stars, West Wyalong, Ariah Park, Temora and Mirrool. The cessation of the league in 1951 prompted the Federals to apply for admission to the South West District Football League (SWDFL) Reserves competition.

Continuing to play under the ‘Federals’ banner, the club participated in the SWDFL Reserves between 1952 and 1955. The Federals immediately became a dominant force in the competition which was divided into east and west sections with the winners of the two zones playing off for the premiership. In 1952 five teams competed in the Eastern Zone: Narrandera, Coolamon, Rannock Federals, Grong Grong and Ganmain. The Western Zone comprised Griffith, Yanco, Leeton and Darlington Point.

The Federals went on to have an undefeated season in 1952 qualifying for the grand final to be played against the Western Zone finalists, Darlington Point. Unfortunately the opposition were unable to get a team together, due to a clash with a wedding, and forfeited the premiership-deciding match. In 1954 the Federals were again matched against Darlington Point in the grand final, but on that occasion there was no prior engagement affecting the ‘Riversiders’’ attendance, the game went ahead and the Federals won the Jas. Quinn Cup. The Federals reached the Eastern Zone grand final again the following season but were defeated by Ganmain. In 1956, when the SWDFL scheduled all Reserve grade fixtures as curtain raisers to senior matches on Sundays, the Federals did not re-join the competition and went into recess.

The club reformed in 1962 and joined the Central Riverina Football League where they played for three seasons. Rannock’s football geography moved to the heart of the Riverina in a league containing a mixture of clubs from within Wagga Wagga and surrounding settlements. Rannock’s opponents included: Army, Boree Creek, Collingullie, Cootamundra, East Wagga, Junee, Osborne, RAAF, Uranquinty and old rivals Marrar. In its sunset years Rannock experienced some big losses, none greater than a 282 point loss against Boree Creek in 1964. The youthful Rannock team went winless for forty consecutive games from the start of the 1962 season until early in 1964 before finally notching a win. The Daily Advertiser celebrated Rannock’s victory over Uranquinty with the headline: ‘Rannock at last! – 41st time lucky’.

Rannock’s brief life in the league ended prior to the start of the 1965 season due to a lack of players. Reluctantly the club followed the fate of many country football clubs from small communities in disbanding. To build and rebuild a football club takes imagination, ambition, enterprise, organisational skill and persistence from those in charge. Rannock was blessed with men and women with those qualities. It also possessed stalwarts who committed to the task for the long haul, year in and year out, in both prosperous and difficult times.

The people of Rannock can take considerable pride in their former football club which frequently punched above its weight. Equally, they were honoured by footballers widely recognised for always giving their best, for never throwing in the towel and most importantly, for being good sportsmen.


Extracts are from the soon to be published history of the Rannock Football Club, In the True Sporting Spirit, written by Peter Clark

Women in the Centre Square: Reflections on the start of a new era of AFL in Sydney

Women’s footy in Sydney started in Sydney twenty years ago with five teams.

In 2020, there were forty teams playing across the four divisions of Women’s football in AFL Sydney with ten in each division.

In the Premier Division grand final on Saturday the Inner West Magpies will take on Manly-Warringah Wolves. It will be played prior to the Men’s Premier Division grand final.

One of the original players in 2000, Michaela Ekman, will take the field for the Magpies on Saturday. “Mickey”, as she is popularly known, along with another pioneer Meredith Gray have been nominated to the inaugural AFL NSW Hall of Fame as part of the 140th anniversary of Australian Football in NSW this year.

Their profiles appear below the story by Yvette Andrews on the first season in 2000:

Western Wolves SWAFL PREMIERS 2000

Back row: Karen Miethe (Team manager), Julie Rogers, Yvette Andrews, Lucy Burgmann (Vice-captain), Patrice Ladson, Graham Mumme (Coach), Gabby Monahan, Sophie Ewart, Michaela Ekman Middle row: Evonne Loukas, Teresa Wilson, Wendy Holtby, Christine Hibbens, Vicki Keys (Captain), Phoebe Thomas. Front row: Bernie Cox and Fiona Huntington,  Absent: Anna Clark.

Yvette Andrews – the inaugural Sydney Women’s’ AFL Secretary from 1999 – 2003 played in the first Grand Final in 2000 when she was a member of the victorious Western Wolves premiership team. She is vice-president of the Inner West Magpies Australian Football Club.

Five teams took the field in the augural 2000 season of the Sydney Women’s AFL – the Western Wolves (based at Picken Oval), Monarch Panthers from Campbelltown, East/UNSW Dolphins, the Glebe Cyclones and Sydney        University.

Players came from all sorts of sporting backgrounds. We had some imports from southern states who had AFL in their DNA. We recruited players from the other footy codes, netballers, hockey players, basketballers, even Olympians. Most of us were very new to AFL. The style of game was rough and ready and not for the faint hearted.

One of the challenges during those early days was getting access to footy grounds. We played at Trumper Park, Monarch, Village Green and Rosedale Oval in the early 10 am slot before the men. And thanks to the support of Western Suburbs Football Club, W H Wagener Oval became the home of the first finals series between the Wolves, Panthers, Easts/UNSW and Sydney Uni.

The Western Wolves dominated the home and away series, were undefeated and strode through to the Grand Final.

The 26 August 2000 was a hot and blustery day. An enthusiastic crowd had turned up to be part of an historic moment in AFL history in Sydney.

Peter Hatley officiated the game. Graham Mumme coached the Western Wolves and Lachlan Worthy, Sydney Uni. Wests captain, Vicky Keys was an experienced player from Western Australia and Meredith Gray, who captained Sydney Uni had worked tirelessly to bring the team together for their first season.

Tasha Gale, a former Australian Rugby League captain, kicked the first goal putting Sydney Uni ahead where they stayed for most of the game. Despite some inaccurate kicking, the Western Wolves clawed their way back to eventually tie up the scores by the end of regular time. But Sydney Uni jumped ahead again with quick goal out of the centre in the first minute of extra time. Remarkably Wests came back again to tie up the scores at 49 a-piece.

A quick mid-pitch discussion took place between the umpires, Phil Davis from the AFL and some SWAFL committee members who were also playing. We hadn’t foreseen the need for a rule to break a deadlock like this. On such a windy day, golden point seemed unfair so the decision was to play another round of extra-time. This time the Western Wolves put the result beyond dispute with two more goals to win 8 14 62 to Sydney Uni 7 7 49.

Evonne Loukas was named best on ground after her goal resurrected Wests’ chances in extra-time. Michaela Ekman, came off the Wests bench that day and went on to be one of the first women players to play over 300 games and is still playing Premier Division 20 years later.

In that first year, NSW (all Sydney players) also travelled to Canberra for the National Championships. The team had wins against the ACT and Northern Territory but was absolutely destroyed by Victoria in the grand final 26.20.176 to 0.2.2.

What the scoreboard didn’t show, however, was the impact that this opportunity to play against women steeped in footy culture and knowledge had on the new and enthusiastic women from Sydney. And although the Sydney competition remained small for several more years, SWAFL became an influential player in the national push to support and grow the women’s game. 

Nominations for the inaugural AFL NSW Hall of Fame:

Michaela Ekman has played over 300 games and is the only player in Sydney to have played in every season since it started. She has captained Wests and has one 3 Premierships over the course of her football career. She has represented NSW in the national championship on many occasions. She is the coach of the under 18s at Wests Juniors and has played an integral role to the development of the youth girl pathways at the club.

Meredith Gray was one of the founding members of Sydney Uni. She was on the SWAFL committee for many years and has played for last two decades playing over 200 games. She was the organiser of the 2002 National Championships in Sydney. She represented NSW on numerous occasions.

Sydney AFL Grand Final week brings back memories of Wests’ win in 1965

Again the Football History Society’s, Vice President, Dr Rod Gillett, has sought out a great period in NSW football:

Western Suburbs were the most successful club in Sydney football in the 1960s. The Magpies, which had been re-formed in 1948, played in seven grand finals winning four.

Under dual Melbourne premiership player Athol Webb, Wests convincingly beat St George in the 1965 grand final at Trumper Park, 17-15 (117) to 12-9 (81).

Wests had become a powerhouse through sound administration, access to its own ground  in Picken Oval and the establishment of the first licensed club for Australian football in NSW in 1962.

Club secretary Bill Hart, later to be president of the NSWANFL from 1966-1978, was instrumental in getting Webb to come to Sydney from Tasmania.  The previous year he had coached the East Launceston FC (1962-63) in the NTFA and prior, the New Norfolk FC (1960-61) after finishing up in the VFL where he played with the Melbourne club from 1955-59.

Webb was essentially a full-time coach with Wests.  In addition to coaching duties, he worked in the licensed club and ran school programs in the inner west. He resided in a house next to the club which they also owned.

Western Suburbs finished on top of the table with 15 wins in 1965 and only two losses in the home-and-away matches to St George and North Shore. Wests lost to St George under Col Harris in the second semi final but came back to comfortably beat Newtown in the preliminary final.

Statistics were provided in the NSWANFL Football Record (19 September 1965) that show the following:

Kicks Marks Hand Passes Free Kicks Hit Outs
Western Suburbs 181 63 13 12 53
Newtown 147 52 17 25 30

Wests ruckman Russ Lockett, later a long-term secretary-manager of the licensed club, led the ruck division to a decisive advantage over Newtown, 53 hit-outs to 30.

In an interview for this piece, Athol Webb, now aged 85 and living in The Rock where he went to coach after Wests, recalled it was a “very hot day, 97° F” but “we were pretty well set-up to win”.

The grand final victory which was described by the President Herb Conlon in the club’s annual report for 1965 as “an inspired performance to outplay St George in every position”.

Amongst the best players for Wests were “close-playing” full back Peter Burgess, “fearless rover” Cliff Hayes (later an umpire), key forward John Godwin “a former rugby player” and “versatile” vice-captain Roger Nobes (quotes from the Football Record for the Grand Final).

Western Suburbs FC contingent boarding the plane for NZ

Wests went on an end-of-season trip to Auckland to play an exhibition match. A party of 43 players, officials and committeemen journeyed to New Zealand. The match played at Cromwell Park attracted a crowd of 7000. The Kiwi team proved to good for Wests. The game covered on the national television news on the Sunday following the game.


The next year, Athol Webb was enticed to southern NSW to coach The Rock-Yerong Creek in the strong Farrer League. Webb coached TR-YC for three seasons and stayed on as a player for a further six years.

Athol told me that The Rock was a “terrific little spot” and a great place to raise a family.

Asked to name the highlights of his career, Athol modestly told me, “Kicking 5 goals in the 1956 VFL grand final against Collingwood, I suppose”, but then he lit up when he said “also winning the Tassie One Thousand (professional foot race) at Burnie”. When pressed about his share of the purse he said, “750 quid!”.

Athol Webb (pictured left in Tasmanian jumper) is described in the Encyclopedia of VFL/AFL Footballers Since 1897 (2003) as a “former Tasmanian forward whose speed and elusive style made him a constant menace to opposition sides”. He played 74 games and kicked 146 goals for Melbourne from 1955-59.

He told me that Norm Smith was a “master coach”, “…he knew how to get the best out of everyone, every week”

He was captain-coach of NSW in 1965 and also in 1964 in matches against North Melbourne and Hawthorn in Sydney.

He also represented Victoria and Tasmania and kicked the match-sealing goal when Tassie famously beat Victoria at York Park, Launceston in 1960.

Athol Webb has been nominated for a place in the inaugural AFL NSW Hall of Fame.


Cummeragunja, the Aboriginal football team that was too good

Sir Doug Nicholls learnt to play football on the oval at the Cummeragunja aboriginal mission. The Cummeragunja footy team was so successful in the local competition in the 1920s they were handicapped.

Dr Rod Gillett recounts the story of the Cummeragunja footy team that was too good.


The Cummeragunja footy team, where Sir Doug Nicholls first played football before he commenced an illustrious career in the VFL, was so successful in the 1920s that it was handicapped by the local league.

After winning the Western and Moira Riding district league premierships five times out of six between 1926 and 1931, the club was not allowed to field players over the age of 25.

Sir Doug, was born and raised on the Cummeragunja aboriginal mission on the NSW bank of the Murray River in the Barmah Forest near Echuca. This mission was established in 1888 by the NSW Government for the Yorta Yorta people.

Sir Doug played football for Cummeragunja before embarking on a football odyssey that would take him to play at the highest level in Melbourne and to various roles in aboriginal advancement, culminating in the Governorship of South Australia.

It is not known if he played in the Cummeragunja team that won the 1921 pennant. We do know though that Sir Doug went to play for Tongala in the Goulburn Valley League in 1925.

He moved to Melbourne in 1927 to try out with Carlton but was rejected because of his colour, went to VFA club Northcote where he played in the 1929 premiership and winning best and fairest awards, and then to Fitzroy from 1932-36, and then back to Northcote. He represented both the VFA and the VFL.

After their premiership win in 1921 Cummeragunja were excluded from the league, but were subsequently reinstated, and then went onto even more success.

Some the players in those Cummeragunja premiership teams were Aaron, Selwyn Les and Eddie Briggs; Lindsay Whyman; Maurie Charles; Sid Williams; Gringo Morgan; Bob Nelson; Eddie and Frank Atkinson; Andy Cooper; Ossie Jackson, Tommy Dunnolly Jnr; Wally Nicholls and Herbie, Joe, Fred and Eddie Walker.

Many of these family names are still prominent in football in southern NSW and northern Victoria. Former Carlton star Andrew Walker has recently returned home to coach Echuca.

Roy Hay, in his acclaimed work:- Aboriginal People and Australian Football in the Nineteenth Century: They Did Not Come from Nowhere, has unearthed recollections from the children of teachers at the Cummeragunja school in 1922 who recalled barracking for “Cummera”:

“The dark men were very good players. They were marvellous. They could run like hares. They used to play marking the ball – that sort of thing – and used to rise up you know. And they used to pass the ball right down the ground and they would shoot goals from any angles. They were marvellous and they were nearly always premiers” (p.91).

The earliest records of Cummeragunja playing football in the district are in 1888 when a mission team played Echuca. In 1890 a competition known as the Northern District Football Association based on Echuca was formed made up of teams from Echuca, Echuca East, Rochester, and Cummeragunja.

By 1898 Cummeragunja were competing in the Nathalia and District Association and they went through that season and the following year without losing a game.

However, though they regularly played matches against teams in the local area, the Cummeragunja team had problems getting off the mission as permission was required by the station manager.

Cummeragunja continued to field a team up until World War II when they were in the Echuca district league. In 1939 they lost narrowly to Deniliquin in the first semi-final.

Sir Doug returned to home to Cummeragunja for his last game in 1940 for a fund-raising game against Echuca at the Victoria Park Oval in Echuca.

And why do we highlight this team’s feats?  Because they were in New South Wales.

Athas Zafiris (2016), “Cummeragunja aboriginal football team that opened the eyes of white Australia”,

Roy Hay (2019), Aboriginal People and Australian Football in the Nineteenth Century: They Did Not Come from Nowhere, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne UK. Paperback version is available from the author

Jindera Wins Double in 1960

The Jindera Bulldogs, a foundation member of the Hume Football League in 1933, won a unique double in 1960, winning premierships in both the senior and junior competitions.

Jindera finished on top of the table just two points ahead of Rand, whom they beat by just 3 points in the 2nd semi final at the Howlong Recreation Reserve.

Rand earnt another crack at the Bulldogs by comfortably beating the previous year’s premiers Walla at Walbundrie in the preliminary final.

In the grand final at the Burrumbuttock Recreation Reserve, after kicking 5 goals 5 to Rand’s 1-2, the Bulldogs went on to record a convincing 70 point victory over the Pigeons, 15-7 (97) to 5-10 (40).

Jindera were led by former South Melbourne and Wodonga player Don Star, who bought his brothers, Tom and Jim along with him.

Four-time Baz Medalist with Farrer league club, Culcairn, Harry Gardiner was in charge of Rand; he had previously led Jindera to premierships in 1956 and 1957.

In the Junior Football league, which was run as a separately administered competition in this period, Jindera defeated St Paul’s College Walla, 5-10 (40) to 1-5 (11).

Other clubs in the junior competition in 1960 were Rand, Walla, Howlong, Walbundrie and Corowa who, incidentally, included seven players from Balldale.

The Junior league commenced in 1950. It had its own registration system, permit rules and separate draw. The formation of the competition was driven by St Paul’s College principal Mr Werner Hebart.

St Paul’s is a Lutheran day and boarding school initially catering for the many families of German descent that settled in the region in the late nineteenth century. The College played most of its home games on the school’s oval.

The other original junior clubs were Walbundrie, Walla and Jindera.

St Paul’s won the first premiership in 1950 when they defeated Walbundrie in the grand final. Final scores were SPC 6-11 (47 0 to Walbundrie’s 4-8 (32). St Paul’s also won the very last premiership of the Hume Junior league in 1976 after which it was incorporated in the senior league.

Jindera are still in the HFL while Rand merged with Walbundrie in 2006 to become the Rand/Walbundrie Tigers, and then with Walla in 2016 to become the RWW Giants, mainly to accommodate junior players.

Source: HUME: A History of the Hume Football league 1933-2018 by Leon Wegener (2019).

Behind Post Snaps Hopefield-Buraja to Victory in the 1960 Coreen & District Grand Final

Late in the third quarter of the 1960 Coreen Football league grand final young Jerilderie defender Stan “Brickie” Taylor in a desperate effort in defence to halt the relentless attack on goal by Hopefield-Buraja collided heavily with the behind post snapping it off at ground level.

It was only rural ingenuity that enabled the game to continue at the Daysdale Recreation Reserve. A farmer just happened to have a star picket fencing post in the back of his ute that league officials managed to attach to the point post using fencing wire and drive it back into the ground.

Buraja had gradually pulled back Jerilderie’s lead established through a commanding first quarter score of 28 to 8 to lead 8-11 (59) to 8-8 (56) at three-quarter time.

With the delay in replacing the post and the third quarter break it was expected that Jerilderie would recover but the combine (H-B) swept to victory by kicking 3-1 in the final quarter to Jerilderie’s 1-1.

The Hopefield-Buraja club had been the result of a merger for the 1947 season between two of the foundation clubs when the league was formed in 1894. Usually with mergers, the first name becomes the nomenclature for a club, but in this case, mainly because games were played at Buruja, this became the popular name

Jerilderie had come into the league in 1957 from the Murray League Seconds. The Demons, as they became known in 1961 won the premiership in 1963 by beating unbeaten Daysdale, after having won only one game in the previous season, transferred to the Murray Football League in 1964.

Jeriderie returned for the league’s centenary season in 1994 when the Daysdale, Oaklands, and Hopefield-Buraja clubs also celebrated their centenaries.

This bought the number of clubs in the league up to ten: Coleambly, Jerilderie, Daysdale, Rand, Hopefield-Buraja, Coreen, Oaklands, Rennie, Urana along with the Victorian-based club, Wahgunyah.

However, by the 2007 season the continuing decline in the population in the district particularly of the drift of young people to the regional towns and metropolitan cities for further study and employment, the league was reduced to six clubs.

Ironically, all of the original clubs were involved in the grand final albeit in a merged form – CDHB United – an amalgamation of Coreen, Daysdale, Hopefield and Buraja defeated the Billabong Crows made up of Urana, Cullivel and Oaklands. And the grand final was played at Rennie.

CDHBU and the Billabong Crows are now in the Hume League, as are Rand that merged firstly with Walbundrie, and then with Walla while Jerilderie and Rennie are in the Picola League, and Coleambly is in the Farrer League.

But as Alan Norman documents in his excellent book Coreen & District Football League Finals History, in 1960, it was Hopefield-Buraja that scraped into the 1960 Coreen Football League finals with a draw over Rennie in the final round to edge out Urana-Cullivel, and then went all the way through the finals to win the premiership.

Buraja were led by former Corowa star Dinny Carroll, a tough ruck-rover, who led from the front. Other good players in the grand final win were key forward Bruce “Huck” Ash who booted four goals, another former Corowa player Ken “Stakey” Lavis, and Hopefield farming brothers Henry (3 goals) and Peter Kingston.

Jerilderie were best served by captain-coach Gavin Moran (ex-Geelong), centreman Brendan Carlin, ruckman Keith Ledwidge and forward Tony Brownless (father of Billy), Blair and Anson.

The estimated crowd at the grand final was 1600.

The Dennis Trophy for competition best and fairest was won by Daysdale’s David McFarlane one vote ahead of Urana-Cullivel’s Max Urquhart, who went onto play at Collingwood from 1963-69. The leading goalkicker was Hopefield-Buraja’s Bruce Ash with 51 goals.


Coreen & District Football League Finals History 1894-1994 by Alan Norman

Special thanks to former Jerilderie players Peter Dowdle and Peter Quirk.

Written by Dr Rodney Gillett