By Dr Rodney Gillett
“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.
“Bert got everyone involved. He didn’t leave anybody out”, recalls Cr Braid.
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)