The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy

Review by Dr Rodney GillettVice President NSW Aust Football History Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FOOTY TOWN – the book

Footy Town image smallMelbourne media identities, Paul Daffey and John Harms of Footy Almanac fame, published a book about local football stories from throughout Australia.

These tales are robust, funny, poignant, witty and (occasionally) wise.  Some are memoirs that float through the years.  Others are deft pieces of football history: what was Roy Cazaly doing in Minyip in 1925?  Who were the champions of Gunbower:  Who was the Bush Barassi”  The stories offer a peep inito the vast mythology of Australia’s game.  They shine a light on the place of footy in the national culture.

Already the first issue of the book has sold out and the publisher is working on the second which should be available shortly.

By reading this site you must be a keen football enthusiast so this 382 page publication is a must for your collection.

Contributors include some recognized authors like Martin Flanagan and Patrick Keane, former players (well most are).  in Barry Richardson and Matt Zurbo (who?), even umpires right down to an article on some Sydney football experiences by the Society president, Ian Granland.

To find out where you can get your copy, contact Paul Daffey (0417 160 911) or John Harms (0417 635 030). You can look them up at

Sometimes footy gets a bit precious, which is why we recommend this book.


2013 David Green smallFormer St George player of the 1960s, David Green, has made another journey from his Brisbane home to Sydney to gather more information on a book he is writing on the first fifty years of the St George Club, 1929-1978.

Green has made remarkable progress since we last reported on his efforts and recently has spoken to numerous people in his quest to document an account of the happenings, people and environment of the St George Club in that 50 year period.

His work has amassed an amazing collection of photographs, oral interviews and statistics but as he said, it’s a labour of love.

“I thought I would get this done sooner than later but it still looks like being 12 months or so until it’s finished” Green said, “theres so much to do.”

“Then of course I’ll have to get it edited and printed, so it’s all ahead of me.  I just hope those who read it will enjoy the experience.”


Keith Claxton smallFormer leading Detective Sergeant Keith Claxton, a Benevolent Member of the Society has been contacted by ex-inspector Steve Hortle of the Tasmanian Police Force regarding the NSW October Tour of their Police football team.
1973 NSW Police Team - Tasmanian Tour small
NSW and Tasmania have been undertaking alternate tours of their respective states where they play very competitive games against the locals for forty years.  In fact, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first tour by the NSW Police Team to Tasmania.  We have reproduced a photograph on the right of the majority of the team and staff of the 1973 NSW team.  It includes a number of local football identities, many of whom played football in Sydney.  The team was coached by NSW Police Drill Instructor of the time, Brian Andrews, a former South Sydney, St George and North Shore player who also represented the state during the 1950s.

Claxton said three games will be played in Sydney in October, all on Picken Oval.  He suggests that a forty year anniversary dinner be held following one of the games where members of the initial NSW team could attend.  He said Hortle believes that at least ten of the first Tasmanian team will be making the trip, as spectators, seeing their age might prevent them from taking the field.
1978 NSW Police v Tasmania small
Several members of the police team over the years are members of the History Society.  Claxton himself played with Balmain, Campbelltown, Camden and Penrith and is in the process of planning the dinner, possibly at the Western Suburbs Football Club at Croydon Park.

The image on the left shows a game between the NSW and Tasmanian police teams in Tasmania.


MusicJust how old is the Australian football tradition of singing the team song after a win?

Most clubs have a song and certainly the AFL have had theirs for years.  Other codes have tried to copy this unique Australian phenomenon but it just doesn’t have the same buzz as the Australian game.

We have unearthed a song for the NSW team.  Well, NSW and the ACT seeing the nation’s capital has for some time been included in the blue and black.  it is sung to the tune of ‘On the Road to Gundagai’.

New South Wales, A.C.T.

We’re the State and Territory

We are from New South Wales ACT


They are trying to beat us

But try as they do

They can never defeat us

The Gold and the Blue


Brave we are, tough we are

And we come from afar

We are from New South Wales A.C.T.


Brave we are, tough we are

We’re the State and Territory

We are from New South Wales Act

Now we have the sheet with the words and it finishes with DID WE WIN …. – and no there is nothing more, nothing.  And we don’t care who you are.
So when did footy songs start?  If you know, email us here meanwhile we hope you continue to sing your song this weekend.


Lecture : Image of confident businessman explaining something on whiteboard during conferenceSeveral members of the executive attended the annual conference of the Royal Australian Historical Society, held at the St George Rowing Club, Cooks River.

President, Ian Granland said that gathering, which was dominated by a series of well timed talks on various subjects and he and the other members attending gleaned some valuable information and ideas on which could be put to use with the football history group.

These include publishing an annul booklet on the major and interesting stories which are written on this site.  Another was inserting an article in a publication called ‘Inside History’ which is published four times a year and includes a whole host of items on history of various Australian subjects with the publisher indicating he is keen to begin producing a number of articles on sport.

Added to this was one talk on various online sources for information which will prove of immeasurable benefit to the research capabilities for the Society.

Another discussion centred on digitising oral histories and how to do them.  This is one aspect the Society is close to considering the $1,000 invested in the purchase of up-to-date digital recording equipment recently.

Besides this there were talks on how to write articles and not over indulging in trivia data which might be of particular interest to the writer but not so much to the reader.

Finally today, a number of the Society’s committee are today (Monday) attending a seminar on ‘Managing Your Collections’, which is being held at the RAHS building at 133 Macquarie Street, Sydney.


In 1907 a representative team of Victorian schoolboys visited Sydney in August where they played three games:

The first against Sydney Catholic Schools which they won 6.3 39 to 4.10 (34).  They lost the second against public schools (senior division) 9.11 (65) to 1.5 (11) and the third against public schools, junior division which they won easily, 15.7 (97) to 1.5 (11).

All games were played at the RAS Showground, Moore Park (now Fox Studios) before crowds of 5000, 7000 and 300, respectively.

When perusing the reviews of the game we were set back at the amount of spectators who attended until we read the fine print, which, in one article told of most of the crowd being “clubmates of the local lads” and in the game which attracted 7,000 the Department of Education had granted a half day holiday to all the higher classes within the metropolitan and suburban schools.

Nevertheless we were unable to specifically identify the age of the Victorian team but through a series of deductions resolved that they were 16 years.  The game they lost were against the senior division of public schools whose age to was worked out at 16.  We mention this because each state had different ages in their schooling system.

An interesting read is the description of their stay in Sydney:

“The lads from Victoria are having a great time.  On Tuesday, after the reception, they visited the Agricultural Ground to witness the Petersham and Fort Street Schools match, and in the evening visited the South Head Lighthouse.  Wednesday morning was devoted to Fort Street Model School, where live-saving drills and cricket displays were shown, and on Wednesday afternoon they played the Combined Catholic Schools and after a splendid contest they won by 5 points.

On Wednesday night, at the invitation of Mr King, they visited the Victoria Hall.  On Thursday they attended a picnic at National Park as the guests of the Fort Street School and spent a very enjoyable time swimming, boating and sports.  

On Friday morning they visited the Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens and in the afternoon played a match against the Public Schools and suffered a defeat at their hands.

On Friday Evening they attended a concert at Petersham Town Hall as the guests of the local school and on Saturday Morning they visited North Shore Suspension Bridge, Middle Head.  In the afternoon they attended the Agricultural Ground and witnessed the Sydney and Newtown football match, also the ‘All Blacks’ and the ‘All Blues’ Rugby match.  In the evening they were shown the City of Sydney on a Saturday Night.

On Sunday Morning they had a trip to La Perouse and Kurnell and in the afternoon a trip to Manly.  On Monday morning they visited the tramway powerhouse, Ultimo and in the afternoon played Junior Public Schools on the Agricultural Ground.  In the evening they had an invitation from Mr I E Cole to attend the Bohemian dramatic performance.  On Tuesday they had a trip round the harbour and a visit to the N. T. S. Sobraon and left by the Melbourne train at 8.50pm when a large crowd were present to give them a hearty send-off.

On Wednesday they played the Wagga schools on the local ground and on Friday play at Benalla (Vic.) and will arrive back in Melbourne after one of the most pleasant tours possible for a school team in sunny New South Wales.


Its pretty much a question that gets asked in all competitions but particularly in Sydney.

Someone recently said that there would not be 20 people in their sixties or so who have had a life long and continued  involvement in Sydney football.  Well, thats the way it goes, but the same question was being asked in 1958.

We are reprinting an article from the Football Record in that year so the subject was being asked then, 53 years ago:

One of the major mysteries in Sydney football is that players on leaving a club have no further interest in the game.

In all the years that Australian Football has been played here there have been, literally, thousands of players passed through the ranks in all clubs.  And it would be no exageration to say that in the past 25 years, thousands of players have been listed in the Sydney competition.

It is a sad fact that only a very, very small percentage of former players are now actively connected with the game here.

Where have these thousands got to?  Certain it is that quite a number have died.  Some have passed into an age in which they can no longer take an active part in club or league affairs.  Many are invalids.  Many find the pressure of family affairs too great to allow an active interest.  The reasons are many for a lack of active participation, and there are many quite legitimate reasons.

But it cannot be doubted that there is a big percentage whose reasons for being inactive in football are quite specious.

Once again, where are these lovers of the game?

There are only two possibilities – (a) they are dead;  (b) they are alive.

For the first group, we can do nothing but honour their memories, and assist as much as lies in our power their widows and children.

For the second group, we have a number of courses of action open to us.

If amongst the living there are invalids, people in hospital, followers down on their luck, and so on, we can assist to brighten their lives by friendly visits, chats about the old times.

In general, the now active members can show that the code’s supporters having “a tough trot” are not forgotten. We can and we should assist them all.

And if amongst the living we know of former players, officials and supporters whose interest in the code appears dead or dying, we must do our utmost to activate them again.  To this end a few suggestions may not be amiss.

Notify your Club Secretary of the names and addresses of the inactive supporters you know.  He will contact them.

Where you can make a personal contact, do so.

You can bring along old-timers as your guests for some games.  Aged pensions can be notified that the league will give them a complimentary seasons ticket.

Other avenues of re-arousing interest in football will occur to you.  Use them.

In spite of the adverse criticism at times, the consoling thought is – “We are citizens of no mean city.”  Lets get to work to bring back those who’ve slipped away.  they’ll be added strength in our drive to build up a stronger following for the code in Sydney.”

Today there is more to do in their free time and that free time is forever being called upon;  many are time poor.  Those who leave the club’s ranks perhaps feel that they have done their bit.  They have given part of their life to the game.  It was no doubt enjoyable for them or they would not have played and when it is over, they just drift off.

The best way of arresting this is to recognize a persons worth and ask him or her to remain and take on another task.  If this is successful the main thing is not to over-burden the person or they will burn out.