Footy in Hay – In Play since 1876 Part II

By Dr Rodney Gillett

From the turn of the 20th century until the advent of WWII, football in Hay revolved around a local four-team competition and inter-district challenge matches against near-neighbours Moulamein, Balranald and Deniliquin as well occasional forays east by train to play in Riverina “knock-outs”.

Hay Football Club 1885

The local teams were Federals, Imperials, Suburbans, and Gymnasiums (from Hay Gymnasium and Social Club). The Hay Association played under the rules of the South-West District Football Association based at Narrandera.

Upon reformation of the Hay footy club after the end of WWII, there were concerted attempts to participate in inter-district games to heighten interest in the game in the town but again the problem of distance frustrated the club’s efforts.

For the 1950 season the Hay Rovers (as the club had become known) joined the Leeton & District FL (170 kms) which comprised of teams from Darlington Point (120 kms), Beelbangera (near Griffith), Leeton Ramblers and Yanco (near Leeton).

This morphed into the western zone of the South West District FL reserves competition from 1951 to 1955 that ended when that league decided that reserves teams would play with the seniors on a Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Hay club had decided to move in another direction, and in 1952 went south to the Edwards River FL based around Deniliquin (125 kms away) made up of Blighty, Conargo, North, East and West Deniliquin to save travelling. However, this competition folded in 1961 when the Murray league required Deniliquin to field a reserve grade side.

Hay moved on again in 1962 – going east again, this time to the Barellan & District FL. While Barellan was 180 kms away, other clubs such as Darlington Point, Yanco, Yenda (near Griffith, and Coleambly (all on the western perimeter of the league).

Hay Rovers made the finals in 1963 and the grand final in 1969 under captain-coach Rural Bank officer Ken McGowan (ex-Leeton) but went down to Yanco, 8.11.59 to 10.17.77.

Long-time Hay football club official and Hay Shire Councillor, Robert “Buck” Howard (pictured right) recalls Hay being very competitive in the Barellan league, “We more than held our own and had some great clashes over the years with teams like Sandy Creek, who were very strong, and Beckom.”

“It was a shame that the league folded at the end of 1971, we didn’t want to leave”, he told me in an interview for this story.

The demise of the Barellan league as a result of Kamarah-Moombooldool, Sandy Creek and the Barellan-Binya football clubs amalgamating to form Barellan United, Coleambally moving to the Coreen league as well as Yanco and Darlington Point folding forced Hay to look for yet another competition.

All approaches to play in leagues to the east and south were rejected on the basis of distance – “too far to travel for our clubs”, was the response from the South West league (Narrandera-185kms/Wagga 270 kms) and the Echuca  (200 kms) & District league which included three teams north of Echuca based in NSW viz. Mathoura, Bunnaloo and Moama.

The Hay Rovers were left with no choice but to start a local competition once again; this time with four teams of sixteen players played on a Saturday afternoon on the Hay Park Oval. The teams were named after clubs in the VFL – Hawks, Tigers, Bombers and Saints. Players were graded and drafted to the respective teams.

“The games were played in a really good spirit, although some matches became heated, but after the game we’d all have a beer together at the Caledonian (Hotel). It did overcome the problem of travel but we all wanted to play against teams from other towns, and we needed to have under-age competition for the younger boys,” “Buck” Howard who played for the Saints.

“Going south of the border has enabled us to find the right level of competition”, Buck added.

Hay have found a home in the Golden Rivers league, of which they have been a member since 1981, the longest period the club has spent in a competition outside the town and district.

The Lions are currently fifth on the ladder and are drawn to take on fourth-paced Quambatook at home on the Hay Park Oval this Saturday (17 July). The Reserves are running sixth, Under 17.5s are 2nd, and Under 14.5s are fourth place. Auskick is run on Thursday after school followed by a sausage sizzle.

Additionally, there are six grades of netball ranging from youngest playing Net-Set-Go to the seasoned campaigners playing F Troop. Two buses head off to away games, the first at 6 am and the other at 7.30 am, such is the size of the Hay contingent.

Covoid restrictions by the Victorian government may prevent this round from taking place even though there are no cases between “Hay, Hell and Booligal”…

Recently, Hay played old rival second-placed Moulamein at Nyah West in order to enable the opposition’s Melbourne-based players to play. The Hay Lions knocked-off their more fancied opponents with the best second-half display in five years according to Buck Howard.

“We’re on a roll, we’ve got momentum” Buck told me, reflecting the optimism and can-do spirit that has defined the history of football in Hay since 1876.

Hopper Lengthens Lead in Medal Count

GWS Giants’ mid-fielder Jacob Hopper has lengthened his lead in this year’s Carey Bunton Medal for the best player from NSW in the AFL based on the votes for the AFL Coaches Association Award.

The former Leeton-Whitton player scored eight votes for his outstanding performance in the Giants’ agonising 1-point loss to the Gold Coast Suns at Mars Stadium Ballarat last Sunday.

Hopper is now on forty-eight votes, well clear of Adelaide forward Taylor Walker, who missed through injury, and dashing Swans mid-fielder Callum Mills, who missed polling a vote in the stunning win over the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium.

48 Jacob Hopper (Leeton-Whitton) – GWS Giants (R17 8 votes v GCS)
38 Taylor Walker (North Broken Hill) – Adelaide
37 Callum Mills (Mosman) – Sydney Swans
27 Isaac Heeney (Cardiff) – Sydney Swans
22 Tom Hawkins (Finley) – Geelong
10 Sam Wicks (Manly-Warringah) – Sydney Swans
10 Zach Williams (Narrandera) – Carlton
9 Errol Gulden (UNSW-Eastern Suburbs) – Sydney Swans
8 Lachie Schultz ((Moama) – Fremantle
6 Jacob Koschitzke (Albury) – Hawthorn
6 Dane Rampe (UNSW-Eastern Suburbs) Sydney Swans
6 Jeremy Finlayson (Culcairn) – GWS Giants
5 Braeden Campbell (Pennant Hills) – Sydney Swans
5 Taylor Duryea (Corowa) – Western Bulldogs (R17 2 votes v SS)
4 Harry Cunningham (Turvey Park) – Sydney Swans
4 Dougal Howard (Wagga Tigers) – St Kilda
3 Matthew Flynn (Narrandera) – GWS Giants
3 Harry Perryman (Collingullie) – GWS Giants
3 Isaac Smith (Cootamundra) – Geelong (R17 1 votes v CAR)
2 Harry Himmelberg (Mangoplah-Cookardinia United) – GWS Giants
2 Jarrad Witts (Sydney University) – Gold Coast
2 Todd Marshall (Deniliquin) – Port Adelaide
2 Luke Breust (Temora) – Hawthorn

Callum Mills Making a Move

Sydney Swans mid-fielder Callum Mills scored seven votes in the Carey Bunton Medal for his stand-out performance in the Swans loss to Melbourne in round eight at the MCG.

Mills is now on 20 votes for the season and is closing in on the award leaders Adelaide forward Taylor Walker on 28 and Jacob Hopper of GWS Giants with 23.

Meanwhile, last year’s medal winner Tom Hawkins (Geelong) scored three votes for the Cats in their stunning victory over reigning premier Richmond.

The Carey Bunton Medal for the best player from NSW in the AFL this season is based on the votes by the coaches for the AFL Coaches Award.

28 Taylor Walker (North Broken Hill) – Adelaide
23 Jacob Hopper (Leeton-Whitton) – GWS Giants
20 Callum Mills (Mosman) – Sydney Swans (R8 7 votes v MEL)
10 Sam Wicks (Manly-Warringah) – Sydney Swans
9 Errol Gulden (UNSW-Eastern Suburbs) – Sydney Swans
8 Lachie Schultz ((Moama) – Fremantle
5 Braeden Campbell (Pennant Hills) – Sydney Swans
6 Jacob Koschitzke (Albury) – Hawthorn
5 Tom Hawkins (Finley) – Geelong (R8 3 votes v RIC)
4 Isaac Heeney (Cardiff) – Sydney Swans
3 Matthew Flynn (Narrandera) – GWS Giants
3 Harry Perryman (Collingullie) – GWS Giants
2 Jarrad Witts (Sydney University) – Gold Coast
2 Todd Marshall (Deniliquin) – Port Adelaide (R8 1 vote v ADL)
1 Harry Cunningham (Turvey Park) – Sydney Swans
1 Isaac Smith (Cootamundra) – Geelong

Rising Star Koschitzke Opens Account

The AFL Rising Star for round six young Hawthorn forward Jacob Koschitzke made a big impact in only his fifth game by booting six goals in the Hawks’ 3-pont win over Adelaide in Launceston.

He scored six votes from the AFL Coaches Award, and the Carey Bunton Medal for the best player from NSW in the AFL this season.

Koschitzke, who was drafted to Hawthorn in last year’s draft, was recruited from Albury.

The only other NSW player to poll votes from the AFL coaches in round six Lachie Schultz (Moama), who received 4 votes for Fremantle in their convincing win over North Melbourne.

28 Taylor Walker (North Broken Hill) – Adelaide
17 Jacob Hopper (Leeton-Whitton) – GWS Giants
13 Callum Mills (Mosman) – Sydney Swans
10 Sam Wicks (Manly-Warringah) – Sydney Swans
9 Errol Gulden (UNSW-Eastern Suburbs) – Sydney Swans
8 Lachie Schultz ((Moama) – Fremantle (R6 4 votes v NM)
5 Braeden Campbell (Pennant Hills) – Sydney Swans
6 Jacob Koschitzke (Albury) – Hawthorn (R6 6 votes v ADL)
4 Isaac Heeney (Cardiff) – Sydney Swans
3 Matthew Flynn (Narrandera) – GWS Giants
3 Harry Perryman (Collingullie) – GWS Giants
2 Jarrad Witts (Sydney University) – Gold Coast
2 Tom Hawkins (Finley) – Geelong
1 Harry Cunningham (Turvey Park) – Sydney Swans
1 Isaac Smith (Cootamundra) – Geelong
1 Todd Marshall (Deniliquin) – Port Adelaide

Corowa Last to First – A Review by Dr Rod Gillett

Review by Rod Gillett

The Corowa footy club went from last to first Ovens and Murray Football League in 1968.

It was a famous victory. Much celebrated. And it is still being lauded.

Albury-based broadcaster Robbie Mackinlay, who still plays cricket for his hometown of Holbrook, has been putting together podcasts of footy seasons past by district football clubs.

Mackinlay who works for NSW Cricket as the regional manager, has so far put together podcasts on Holbrook’s premierships in 1955, 1964 and 1970, Daysdale’s emotional premiership triumph in 1994, and Myrtleford’s controversial 1983 season when G. Ablett snr played.

But it the Corowa Spiders’ 1968 premiership win that is the subject of this review.

Richmond’s 1967 premiership captain Fred Swift had been lured to the NSW side of the Murray to coach the Spiders, who wore a black guernsey with a red sash. He went to work in Brac’s furniture store and was accommodated in the club’s house for the coach.

The Spiders retained previous year’s captain-coach John Hoiles who had come to the club from Footscray where he was a member of the 1961 grand final team that lost to Hawthorn.

Rugged St Kilda ruckman Ike Ilsley was recruited from Koroit along with players from the district including defender George Tobias (Wahgunyah) and rover Lindsay Jacob (Walla Walla).

A star recruit was rover-forward Jack Clancy from West Heidelberg YCW, who was picked up after a pre-season practice match against Corowa. Clancy is a legend of the O & M. He won two Morris medals in 1970-71 and coached the club in 1972, and later coached Albury. He kicked 3.1 in the grand final and got 19 possessions.

A further boost for the Spiders was the return after the opening two rounds of the VFL season of Peter Chisnall from North Melbourne, aged 19, who would have a brilliant season in the centre. And then return to North to play in the 1975 premiership team.

Mackinlay tracks Corowa’s season game-by-game riding the ups-and-downs of the season.

Corowa only secured a finals spot on percentage with a last-round win over Wangaratta Magpies, then went all the way through to beat reigning premier Wodonga led by tough ex- Collingwood rover Mick Bone in the grand final at the Albury Sportsground in front of a crowd of 12,000: Corowa 14.11.95 d Wodonga 12.16.88.

As usual there is drama in the lead-up to the decider with Fred Longmire (father of Swans coach John) injuring his ankle in the teeth-gnashing preliminary final victory over Myrtleford.

Robbie reveals that Fred was extremely doubtful to play in the grand final but visits to chiropractor Harry Brittain in Shepparton got him up to play.

Corowa coach Fred Swift adopted an unusual ploy by arranging a church service for the players the night before the grand final. The service was conducted by the Rev Tony Winter, who played in the Seconds. Fred and the Rev Winter would often meet to discuss club matters at the furniture store. Robbie interviews the Rev Winter for the podcast.

Robbie Mackindlay captures all the excitement and drama of the Corowa premiership win. He interviews some of the players including Fred Longmire, George Tobias, Bert Tait, Terry “Ollie” Phipps, and Peter Chisnall.

His grand final summary includes part of the call of the game by legendary Benalla football writer and commentator Keith Sherwill on GMV 6 that telecast the game live.

But Mackinlay’s best work is reserved for a description of the celebrations in Corowa.

The team returned from Albury by bus stopping at Wahgunyah – 4 kms from Corowa – and getting up on the back of Bernie Bott’s semi-trailer for the trip across the river into town where over 3,000 people had gathered in Sanger St to welcome home the victors.

“Bernie did three laps of the main street!”, Georgie Tobias told Robbie for the podcast. “I’ve never seen so many people in the main street”. Eventually the truck pulled up outside the Memorial Hall for a civic reception by the Shire President, Cr Fred Nixon.

Then the players and supporters adjourned to the club’s home ground, the picturesque John Foord Oval on the banks of the Murray River, for more celebrations for Corowa’s first O & M flag since 1932 that went well into the night and for the rest of the following week!

Celebrations continued when the Corowa footy club went on their end-of-season trip to New Zealand.

The podcast consists of two episodes:

Episode A

Episode B–iPr7GAUIHsF0i9kjaNjCzn8GTgrNW14DRK0-r8K4

Book Review: Marrar Bombers Centenary

Catherine Fox, We Will Not Be Done: A Celebration of 100 Years. Marrar Football & Netball Club. 2018.  ISBN 978-0-646-98782-8.

Review by Dr Rodney Gillett 

Marrar Coach of the Century, John Hawke
and centre of the 1971 team

According to Marrar’s Coach of the Century, Johnny Hawke, Marrar have always been very hard to beat. “They always hang in there” he told me in an interview for this book review.

And that was from his perspective as an opposition coach. Johnny coached rival Central Riverina League (CRL) club Cootamundra for five years after coaching Ariah Park Mirrool  in the South West league from 1961-65 including a premiership in 1962.

“They (Marrar) knocked us off in two grand finals in a row when I was coaching Coota. They just had this marvellous team spirit. They were all in it together. Everybody” Johnny told me.

“I was really pleased to be asked to coach Marrar by George Mohr, the publican. I went out there in the van to drop off some smallgoods, went to training, signed-on as coach and stayed overnight at the pub. I had the best time out there”.

Under Hawke, Marrar finished on top of the ladder and played Army in the grand final at Junee. At the height of the Vietnam conscription period, Army flew players back from interstate and won their second flag in a row.

According to the club’s history book We Will Not Be Done, “1971 was one of Marrar’s finest hours. All the Bombers played at their absolute best – perhaps above themselves – when the final siren sounded Army was five points in front”.

Although he only coached Marrar for two seasons, Johnny made an enormous impression on players and officials at the club. He was instrumental in the development of emerging stars Reg Hamilton, Bruce Matthew, John “Rip” Mohr, Geoff Eastick and Ross “Arab” Seymour, all of whom went on to be amongst the club’s all-time great players.

Marrar which has a population of 364 people (according to the 2016 Census) is situated roughly half-way between Junee and Coolamon on the South West railway line that went through the district in 1881. Following the arrival of the rail, the post office opened in 1902, then the land on the Marrar Station was opened for selection for small farms in 1907.

Football was played in Marrar as early as 1912 on a social basis but a lack of a suitable competition and the outbreak of WWI stalled the formation of a football club.

A football club was formed in 1918 and entered the Coolamon & District Football League. Marrar beat Ganmain in the challenge play-off to win a premiership in the first season.

There were two Langtrys in that first-ever Marrar premiership team; a name synonymous with Marrar over a hundred years later. In fact, the football ground is named Langtry Oval in honour of the family, who donated part of the land where the current ground is.

Two of the club’s greatest servants, father Bernie “Trinner” Langtry and son Terry “Fred” Langtry, have provided tremendous leadership for the club and are suitably honoured in the book. As is the patriarch, Phil Langtry, who was a club leader in the 1920s and 1930s.

The book produced by the club to document its history over one hundred years expertly captures the salient moments and the contribution of the players and officials for both football and netball. There is a vast array of photos of teams and personalities which supplement the narrative of not being easily beaten.

It adopts a review based on decades with year-by-year reports with the focus mostly on major events and club performance. The club’s office bearers, coaches, and award winners are included in this section rather than as an Appendix.

Teams of the Century for football and netball are both listed at the back of the book along with the club song. Mercifully, it’s not “See the Bombers Fly Up” but the club’s own compilation.

According to Deputy Prime Minister and former chief football writer for the Wagga Daily Advertiser, Michael McCormack, who grew up on a farm in the district and whose father played footy for Marrar in the Wagga league in the fifties, “Marrar has always been the smallest club in any competition it has played in, but always punched well above its weight”.

McCormack, who wrote the Foreword to the book, told me in a conversation for this review, “Loyalty and resilience. These are the hallmarks of the Marrar Football Netball Club”.

He also attributed the appointment of high quality coaches by the club as pivotal to their success naming Johnny Hawke, Graham “Curly” Ion, Lou Alchin, Danny Malone, Tony Hughes, and more recently, Riverina coaching maestro, Shane “Sparks” Lenon, who coached the Bombers to their centenary flag in 2017 by upsetting raging hot favourites Temora.

The 2017 centenary premiership came after demoralising grand final defeats in 2009 – 2011. As the club’s team song goes:

“The mighty Bombers just won’t quit                                                                                                                             
  We will not be done”

Tom Goss’s Football Adventures – Part I – Footy on the Hay Plains

This is the first in a series of articles contributed by Tom Goss of Coolamon

The Hay Oval

The first fine flush of infatuation for Australian Rules started stirring for me in the late fifties when the family moved to the hot, dry outback town of Hay in western NSW.

Before that we lived in Goulburn, a place where they send Arctic explorers to acclimatize and references to Australian football were rarer that naked underwater Hockey in Siberia.

Dad, who was born in Flower Street Essendon, a couple of hefty John Coleman punts from Windy Hill, had been appointed the Hay Town Clerk, and once it became known he was a devoted ‘Rules man, was quickly persuaded to accept the Presidency of the Hay Rovers Football Club.

In the late fifties, Hay was a member of the now long defunct Edwards River League, based around Deniliquin and comprising teams such as Pretty Pines, Blighty and Conargo.

Hay was a lonely, isolated town, the nearest large towns were around 160 kms distant and back then, the roads in and out were all unsealed and every away game required a minimum 200k dead flat round trip. This was challenging enough when the roads were dry, but after heavy rain was like trying to swim through a sea of black molasses in a raging torrent.

Looking back, the fact that inter-town football was played at all by Hay, considering the obstacles, is astounding.

About 1960, Dad convinced the club that it would be much better off joining the Barellan League. There was apparently some skullduggery over the ringing in of players from the higher standard Murray League in a Deniliquin side Hay played in a late fifties Grand final which left many highly disgruntled. Hay lost both the game and a significant sum of money gambled by supporters on the result.

Dad also reasoned the standard would be higher and there would be much closer contact with the mighty South West League. Barely remembered hamlets like Sandy Creek, Binya and Kamara Moombooldool along with the small towns of Barellan, Yanco, and Beckom were some of the teams pitted against the newly accepted Hay Rovers.

How wonderful were those days of Saturday football on the picturesque Hay Park oval. The iron sheeted, lineament scented dressing sheds which my father forbade me entry, for fear I’d be contaminated by the rough language, (I always disobeyed and snuck in unobtrusively anyway); the masculine nicknames, Cocky and Blue, Bull and Stumpy, Pig Shooter and Thumper; the saveloy seller named Foley who displayed his advertising sign, ‘Have a roll with Fol’ in front of a huge wood fire heated steel barrel and the magical home games which Hay invariably won inspired by roaring speeches delivered by fire and brimstone coaches, always thunderously critical irrespective of the score.

In 1962 Hay played off for the premiership against Sandy Creek which was led by a man with a fearsome reputation in Riverina football, Les Stockton. Les was reputed to fight like a champion bare knuckle Beefeater in Wellington’s Waterloo army and was the bogeyman we had to neutralise that day. Hay was captain coached by a superbly talented footballer recruited from Tasmania by the name of Darrell Hills.

I have absolutely no recall of anything in that epic Grand final bar the final minute. Hay was trailing by two points when our young wingman, Tony Tassell took possession of the ball on the wing with open space ahead. Alongside was Darrell Hills whose kicking accuracy was like the trajectory of a William Tell arrow. Hay had never won a premiership. This was the moment.

Perhaps unnerved by the tension and excitement, Tony ignored the unattended Hills pleading for the ball, and rushed his kick. I was directly in line and can still replay the agony over fifty years later as it deviated sightly to the left in flight and missed; the siren sounded simultaneously, leaving Hay one point in arrears.

It was my first crushing football disappointment. I felt as if I’d had my hands on the Holy Grail only to have it ripped away. Hay was to remain a premiership virgin until 1995, by which time we were long gone.



This is an exclusive – Himmelberg has Bragging Rights over Older Brother, Harry

Mangoplah Cookardinia United Eastlakes player Elliott Himmelberg polled 2 votes for Adelaide in the win over his older brother Harry’s team, the GWS Giants.
The brothers both played at MCUE based just outside Wagga before going to play for ACT club Eastlakes in the NEAFL.
Meanwhile, Geelong power forward Tom Hawkins retains the lead in the Carey-Bunton Medal for the Best NSW Player in the AFL after Round 16.
He leads the award by four votes from Gold Coast co-captain Jarrad Witts (ex-Sydney University).
The former Finley player also has a handy lead in the Coleman Medal race – he is nine goals ahead of West Coast forward Josh Kennedy and Charlie Dixon from Port Adelaide.
The AFL Coaches Award voting – which is used as the basis for the Carey-Bunton Medal – has gone into camera for Rounds 17 and 18.


1 Tom Hawkins (GEEL) 35 (8 votes GEE v ESS)
2 Jarrod Witts (GCC) 31
3 Dane Rampe (SYD) 20
3 Harry Perryman (GWS) 20
5 Isaac Heeney (SYD) 19
6 Jacob Hopper (GWS) 12
7 Callum Mills (SYD) 10
8 Isaac Smith (HAW) 9
9 Derek Eggmolesse-Smith (RICH) 8
9 Dougal Howard (ST K) 8
11 Zac Williams (GWS) 5
12 Nick Blakey (SYD) 4
12 Jacob Townsend (ESS) 4
12 Matthew Kennedy (CARL) 4
15 Luke Breust (HAW) 3
15 Jeremy Finlayson (GWS) 3
17 Michael Gibbons (CARL) 3
18 Todd Marshall (PA) (2)
18 Harry Himmelberg (GWS) 2
18 Charlie Spargo (MEL) 2
18 Elliott Himmelberg (2 votes AD v GWS)

60 Years Ago Whitton Tigers Top the Ladder

Early Sixties image
of the Whitton Tigers

By Doctor Rodney Gillett
Vice President of the NSW Australian Football Society Inc

Whitton Tigers topped the South West League ladder in 1960 but unfortunately missed out on playing in the grand final.

The match day programs for 1960 have been donated to the History Society and can now be accessed by members and friends (click) here, with hundreds more to comes shortly.

Whitton, is a small town in the MIA, just 25 kms from Leeton on the Irrigation Way. The major crop in the district is rice with the name of the local pub appropriately named: The Rice Bowl Hotel.

The town was established in 1881 when the south-west railway line was built from Junee to Griffith, and then on to Hay in 1882. It was named after the NSW Railways Chief Engineer, John Whitton.

The Whitton Football Club was established in 1892 and played scratch matches against district teams. The Reds, as they were known in the early years, started playing in district competitions just prior to World War I.

After winning the MIA Football league premiership in 1928, Whitton entered the South West competition the following year but could manage only two wins, finishing last. They returned to the Leeton district competition winning premierships in 1932, 1939 and 1946.

Whitton again returned to the South West league for the 1947 season and despite finishing second on the ladder after the home-and-away games did not make the grand final. The next year, now known as the Tigers, they did make the grand final but went down to Narrandera in a hard-fought game by 14 points.

The one that really got away was the 1951 grand final against Ganmain, “Just as Whitton seemed certain to win, Ganmain got the ball down to their forwards, Gumbleton collected it to get it through the tall posts as the siren sounded the end of an epic game” (Narrandera Argus, 21 September 1951). Final scores: 7-7 (49) to 5-14 (44).

There was another grand final appearance the following season but old rivals Griffith proved too strong.

After finishing on top of the ladder in 1960 it seemed as if the Tigers time had come. Whitton led Narrandera at half-time of the second semi, 8-2 to 4-8, but were kept score-less in the third quarter as the Imperials kick five goals to run out winners by 31 points. The following week Whitton were bundled out of the premiership race by Turvey Park, who in turn, were well beaten by Narrandera in the grand final.

Most of the Whitton players were sons of farmers, skipper Bernie “Rusty” Kelly and his brother Graham “Red” Kelly were off a wheat and sheep property, the Williams brothers Ian and Delwyn worked on the family orchard, while most of the others were from rice-growing families including twin brothers Edwin “Bruiser” and George Williams.

Whitton continued on the South West League until 1978. After round one of the 1979 season a player shortage forced the club to transfer to the Central Riverina League where it could compete against similar sized towns.

Former player and club president Alan Lenton recalls, “Our coach Tom Doolan was transferred to Albury in his work as a school teacher and star player Gary Tagliabue went to uni in Wagga so he transferred to The Rock. I’d have preferred to stay in the South West (League) but the players wanted to go to the CRL”

“We were fortunate to have local Jim Geltch, a Gammage medalist, agree to take on the coaching job. He did it for nothing. He just asked that the coaching fee be put into new sheds, which we did”.

The Tigers made the finals but went down to Barellan in the preliminary as they did again the next season.

Following the redistribution of the clubs in the Riverina into a two-tiered competition in 1982 by the VCFL, the Whitton Tigers were placed in the Riverina District league, which eventually became the Farrer League in 1984 fielding two divisions.

At long last Whitton enjoyed premiership success under former Bushpigs star Jamie “Fozzie” Robinson in 1985 followed by two more, in 1986 under Bruce Harrison, and in 1987 with club stalwart Errol Boots at the helm.

However, changing demographics in the district saw Whitton in 1992 merge with reformed Yanco, that had previously played in the Barellan League. Finally, Whitton bowed to the inevitable and buried the hatchet with long-time fierce rivals Leeton to become the Leeton-Whitton Crows.

The combined team finally won a premiership in the Riverina Football League in 2017.


Riverina’s Mr Football – Bert Schmidt MBE

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)