Sydney and the Military

But for the MilitaMilitary image thumbnailry football would have struggled in Sydney.

These were the words from Jim Phelan in 1918 when he wrote in the Referee Newspaper: “that but for soldiers from other states etc. who reside in camps near to Sydney playing senior football in Sydney, the senior league would not have been able to operate.”

And that statement is quite true in fact Sydney football was fairly dependent on servicemen right through to the 1960 and into the 70s when junior football became much better organised and the system started to more regularly churn out senior players from its junior ranks.

This is one reason the St George Club has been so successful.  Their general success followed the formation of a fully functioning junior association in their area in 1955 and while they may not all be with us now, junior clubs like Cronulla, Bangor, Heathcote, Penshurst, Peakhurst, Miranda, Como-Janalli, Ramsgate, Sutherland, Boystown and Hurstville Diamonds formed the core of a nursery for the senior club in particular as well as other local clubs who benefited from the Association.

In the days of WWI and right through to the 1950s Sydney football was lucky to have a four team Under 16 competition.  Yes there were exceptions and also there were some isolated schools like Hurstville Tech, Gardeners Road, Double Bay and Erskineville pumping young boys into the football system.

However it was the military who supplied, if not the most then a fair portion of the complement of senior players, certainly during both wars and most markedly  in the 1950s and 60s.

it was during that period that clubs like Sydney Naval, Balmain, South Sydney, Bankstown, Liverpool and North Shore survived, in terms of talent, mainly on the military.

There was a naval establishment at Middle Head in HMAS Penguin, the submarine base at Chowder Bay and more recently the patrol boat unit on Balls Head Peninsular.  It was these places that fed the North Shore Club but their numbers were especially supplemented by the School of Artillery at North Head.

Most of the inner city clubs picked up players from the ships based at Garden Island, particularly Sydney Naval.  South Sydney had several army units in Bundock Street at Randwick.  Easts recruited from Victoria Barracks, which at one stage boasted a number of army establishments on both sides of Moore Park Road, those on the southern side since engulfed by the Sydney Football Stadium complex.  In the early seventies a club called Combined Services participated in Sydney’s Second Division.

Ostensibly their number was made up from across the military spectrum but there was more RAAF and Navy personnel than Army.

When HMAS Albatross was established at Nowra, many of their players filtered through to Sydney Clubs as did players from the Richmond Air Base and other smaller RAAF bases in the western suburbs.

Again many clubs benefited from the soldiers based at Ingleburn, Moorebank and Holdsworthy, particularly Liverpool, the closest side to those bases.  Thousands of soldiers were stationed in that area over the years.

Such was the case during the wars when the SCG and a number of race courses in Sydney were taken over by the Australian and US military.

And while we have St George and their juniors, they too did well with service personnel.  Phonse Kyne, a 200 game player, captain and coach of Collingwood, played and coached at St George during WWII.

South Australian great, Graham Cornes also played with the Saints before he left for Vietnam.

Several of the Phelan Medal winners over the years were in the services:  Ralph Turner who won took it out in 1959 & 61 was in the navy, as was Norm Tuxford in 1966 and Peter Body the following year.

Tony Wish-Wilson who was the award in 1959 was in the air force, so too was the 1964 winner, Ray Gwilliam.

Noel Stewart, playing for Southern Districts just about pulls up the servicemen-players.  He took out the trophy in 1971 whilst undergoing his two year national service in the army at Holdsworthy.

Just as there were players coming from the military so too did umpires and these officials were recorded as officiating in Sydney games as far back as WWI.

Much has changed in the services.  Many units have been moved out of the area; the army’s School of Artillery is now located at Puckapunyal in Central Victoria.  The Infantry Training Centre has moved from Ingleburn to Singleton.  Chowder Bay is now a park and the submarine base is at Rockingham in WA, quite a number of army units in south western Sydney have also been shifted while many RAAF establishments which were formerly within the Sydney metropolitan area have either been closed down or moved.

So Sydney, once a competition which thrived on servicemen, where it was not uncommon for personnel from the same unit to be opposed to each other of a weekend could be seen in the same team in the midweek services competition, played of a Wednesday mostly on Moore Park.

Obviously there are still many servicemen who make up the ranks of Sydney’s senior football today.  We are told, the RAAF/Hawkesbury/Nor-West Jets Club, as they changed their name, still rely on personnel from Richmond as do others who have military bases near to their place of activities.

But for the most part it is now all down to nurturing and succinctly fostering players through their junior clubs to ensure the continuance of the game in the nation’s biggest city.

Times of the Past

Not so long ago, formal dinners and similar occasions, normally attended by only men, took the lead for the function protocol from their English counterparts.  They toasted the Queen and used other similar formalities in a by-gone era that we shall probably never see again.

While it is over 100 years ago, here is a 1910 report of a function in honour of the president of the NSWFL:


A dinner was tendered to Mr. Albert E.Nash, president of the New South Wales (Australian Rules) Football League, at the A.B.C. Cafe, Pitt-street, Sydney, on Saturday night. Mr. J. J. Virgo presided, and the various clubs were well represented, as well as the ? Young Australian Association.

Mr. Virgo [secretary of the Sydney YMCA] proposed the health of the guest, and expressed the feelings of the players and officers at the safe return of Mr. Nash from his tour of New Zealand – the chairman said that when the league was formed, seven years ago, Mr. Nash was one of the selected officers. Matches were played throughout 1903, and Mr. Nash became president of the league in 1904 and had held the position ever since, and that fact alone had meant a great deal to the game. Mr. H. Chesney Harte, in supporting the toast, said that both officers and players had missed Mr. Nash while in New Zealand, and had re-elected him to the office of president during his absence. Messrs. Jagelmann and Quinn also supported the toast.

Mr. Nash was presented with a case of silver-mounted pipes, and ‘No. 1′ of the New South Wales League ground tickets, as well as two ladies’ tickets.

Mr. Nash thanked those present for the presentations, and stated that without the cooperation of enthusiasts the game could not have been kept alive. If it ever did, its downfall would come from within. Though it was hard to get unanimity, the game was now on a solid footing in New South Wales. As president, he thanked the following gentlemen who had loyally supported his efforts:— Messrs. H. Chesney Harte. L. A. and Otto Ballhausen, W. Millard, E. Butler, W. Prince, W. Phelan, Bennett, Langley, Selle, J. O’Sleara, Quinn, and W. Little.

One of the most important situations the NSW League had to face was the obtaining of a suitable ground. They had the offer of nine acres at £200 an acre, or £1800 in all. This should be accepted, and it would be a distinct help. The game, as played, was improving the physique of the rising generations, and those at the head of the schools should not blindly trust to the future, but should take steps to make the lads physically capable of defending Australia.

Other toasts proposed were ‘Success to the League and Young Australian Association.’ ‘The Chairman.’ and the ‘Press.’ “

It was normal to make presentations of gifts to guests and prominent officials but to make one in such an elaborate manner to a president returning from an overseas trip seems to us to be quite extra-ordinary.  It just goes to show the prominence in which he was held.

Nash was an Englishman and found a relationship with Australian football in the mid 1890s when he came to Australia as the manager of Walker & Hall of Sheffield, makers of gold, silver and silver plate used in trophies and similar articles.  They had their offices at 420 George Street, Sydney.

He maintained his presidency of the league through the purchase of the former Rosebery Racecourse in Botany Road in 1911 to the league’s decline in 1915 when the ground was lost and he and the other directors resigned their positions on the league because of it. Albert E Nash was also president of the NSW Rowing Assn and was declared bankrupt in 1918.  In the court hearings of his case he implicated Mr Frank Tudor, a former Federal Government Minister and then leader of the Federal Labor Party alleging that he had given ‘presents’  to Mr Tudor at a private dinner in Sydney at which football matters were discussed.  Mr Tudor denied these allegations.

He was elected president of the Australian National Football Council in 1911, a post he held throughout WWI.

Nash was probably what you would call a good street smart operator but probably got carried away with his importance.  Having said that, from our research we agreed that he was good for football during that period.  He was a hands on president unlike his predecessor, John See the premier of NSW who was merely a titular head of the organisation, as were many presidents of the day, similar in many was to the role of present day patrons.  Following his resignation he never sought any further involvement in Australian football and his association with rowing also ceased after the court case.

He died in Chatswood in 1948 aged 83 and although a life member of the NSWAFL, he received next to no recognition of his achievements in the early days of the game in Sydney and Australia.

Annual Meeting on Tuesday

The Society will hold its Annual General Meeting this coming Tuesday, 15 March at 1:00pm in the Magpie Sports Club, Croydon Park.

All members have been circulated with details of the gathering along with nomination and proxy forms.  They have also received a copy of the Society’s annual report which will be up for adoption.

There are nine positions open for election with most of the committee seeking re-election.  Current treasurer, Gus McKernan though is one who will not although he has indicated he is happy to remain on the committee itself.

Developments which have taken high priority recently include the release of the Society’s upgraded website which will hopefully make navigation around the site much easier for patrons.  Although we have previously published a proposed release date for the revised site, it would be now fair to say that following the resolution of some minor obstacles it should go live by March 31.

One of the projects associated with this is the tagging of all images which are currently posted on the Society’s website.  This is a huge task which will entail editing each and all images or photograph to provide them with meta data so that each can be separately searched on the world wide net.  Society officials will begin this over the next few weeks.

Arrangements have also been made for a data link to be installed in the Society’s rooms at Magpie Sports which should enable better internet communication plus the added bonus of an answer phone to pick up any telephone inquiries.

Despite the proposed changes, more is currently being posted on the website including the NSW articles in the Inside Football Publication from the 1970s-80s.  Click here to view.

A Match In Goulburn

1931 South Sydney jumper smallA couple of weeks ago we wrote about a match between South Sydney and Newtown played in Parkes1930 Newtown jumper small in 1929.

Two years later both sides accepted and invitation to play in Goulburn and the locals loved it.

The venue was the Goulburn Showground and this time over 3,000 turned up on a Sunday in August to watch.  This was well before Sunday football had claimed the populations’ attention but the magnificent weather and the hype induced a very big turnout to the event.

Twenty three cars ferried the 130 players, officials and supporters from Sydney who were met at the outskirts of the city at 11.15am on the morning of the match.  The vehicles attracted an immense amount of attention as they drove through the town to the Royal Hotel where the group received a wonderful reception.

In an extremely 1930 Bi-plane thumbnailnovel way to start a game the ball was bounced or rather dropped, by Frank Panther, president of the Goulburn Australian National Football Association, from a bi-plane owned by the patron of the organisation as it flew low over the ground.  Reports indicate the ball hit the ground right in the middle of the field.  Later the plane did loop the loop stunts to the enjoyment of the crowd.

School pupils, juveniles and the unemployed were admitted to the ground free of charge. The gate realised a return of £50 (fifty pounds) and this was at a time when the country was in deep depression.

During the interval the local athletic club staged a three mile handicap while the City Band enlivened proceedings by playing a number of popular selections.

The Sherrin football used in the match was later fixed with a silver plaque as a momento of the occasion.

The only downside to the day was the failure of the public address system, a relatively new innovation at the time, which was to be used to describe the match to the crowd during the afternoon.

South Sydney won the game easily, 13-12 (90) to 8-8 (56).  The star of the game was South Sydney’s twenty year old diminutive rover, Jimmy Stiff who stole the lime light booting 5 goals in the match.  Jimmy Stiff was a gun.

Monkeys at the Football

In 1930 at a time when NSW had their team participating at a national carnival in Adelaide, Western Australian Club, Subiaco embarked on an eastern states tour.

They travelled to Melbourne where they were beaten by a Victorian eighteen 15-16 to 8-11 before 10,600 fans who braved the cold August Melbourne weather where the game was played amid mud and rain.

Then onto Sydney where they played what was described as a charity match against a Metropolitan eighteen at Erskineville Oval.  The proceeds from the game was split between the Actors’ Federation Distress Fund and the NSW Football League.

The match was held on a Wednesday so the crowd was described as ‘fair’.

Subiaco won the game fairly easily, 15-10 (100) to 6-6 (42) but the most interesting part of the day was the half time entertainment.

Because money was being raised for people in the entertainment industry who had fallen on hard times, many in the crowd were in fact from the acting and theatre profession.

Leo Cracknell who was a greyhound trainer, turned vaudeville act had his performing dogs do tricks and stunts on the ground to please the crowd.  The most interesting part of this was that his greyhound dogs were mounted by monkeys who were acting as jockeys in races and other activities in what turned out to be a most interesting day.

We have been able to get hold of an image of the dogs complete with monkey jockeys.

But it doesn’t stop there.  On their way back to Melbourne, the Subiaco team played a Wagga Combination at Bolton Park.  Everything was going well until a storm encircled the town and lightning struck a pine tree near the densest part of the crowd causing it to burst into flames.  It was only through an incredible hail storm which followed that the fire was able to be extinguished.

Needless to say the game was called off in the third quarter.

NSW v Melbourne FC

Ever s1923-07-31 Sydney Sportsman p.1 A thumbnailince football was played in NSW, a highlight of the season has been the visitation of an interstate team.

Before the establishment of the VFL in 1897 they came from the VFA and South Australia, then after the resurrection of the game in Sydney in 1903 visiting teams came thick and fast:  Geelong, South Melbourne, Williamstown, Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood, North Adelaide, Norwood and the list goes on and on.

You can view what teams did visit and how they performed up to 1930 by clicking here and search under ‘Advanced Search’.

On most occasions the visitors left the gate with the NSW Football League to further enhance the game in Sydney.  But, the league battled.  There was never any real foresight, planning and strategies put in place to develop and grow the game in the early days.  They merely survived from year to year.

One club that did visit Sydney on four occasions was the Melbourne Football Club.

They played NSW or a Combined Sydney side on four separate occasions, winning one and losing three, but two of those were within a very close margin.

The game they crowed about was the win in 1911.  NSW won the game 14-12 (96) to 10-14 (74) and didn’t the local press pump up the win.  One headline read: Victors a Trifle Superior All Round, and Home Team Wins Brilliantly but the best read: NSW Whips Melbourne.  Were victories against these interstate teams all that rare – The Answer: Yes.

NSW Schoolboys – 1948

1948 NSW PSAAA Aust Football Team 1948 NSW PSAAA Aust Football Team thumbnailEach year since 1922, apart from the war years, the Primary Schools Athletic Association has supported a team of Australian football schoolboys from NSW to compete in a national carnival.

Boys from all over the state were drawn into the side with officials appointed from the school system.  Rupert Browne, a teacher at the Gardeners Road School (Mascot), who appears in the attached image, was one such official travelling with the boys in teams from 1922 until his retirement in about 1950.

The reason we are showing this photo is because of its clarity and significance to school sport 67 years ago.  Maybe some of these players are still alive.  Their names appear under the photograph.

For the most part they would then be year six students, aged 12-13 but in a few cases, as you can see by their lack of maturity, some appear to be quite younger.

The carnival these boys competed in was held in July in Brisbane.  In this case primary schools were represented by Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland and NSW.  South Australia did not compete in that year.  Matches were played at Perry Park, the first occasion the ground was used for football after WWII, Graceville, the Brisbane Cricket Ground and the Exhibition Ground.

The Western Australian team had quite a bit of difficulty in getting to Queensland during a period when Australia was engulfed in coal miner strikes.  Public subscription saw the boys go by train from Perth to Sydney in third class travel then by air to Brisbane.  Ironically, they won the carnival going through undefeated.

The NSW results were:

Date Opposition NSW Score Opposition Score Win/Loss
10 July Queensland 6-5 (41) 14-9 (93) Loss
14 July Tasmania 5-4 (34) 14-10 (94) Loss
15 July West Australia 1-2 (8) 13-25 (103) Loss
21 July Victoria 4-2 (26) 18-22 (130) Loss

As you can see, NSW did not win a game but that is not to say they failed in all of the carnivals in which they participated.  Over the years they won quite a number, some in recent times.

Western Australia won this carnival from Tasmania but the performance of the Queensland team was quite impressive.  Lance Cox from Forest in Tasmania won the J L Williams Memorial Medal for the best player in the series.  Cox went on to play with Richmond in 1954-55 but never did set the world on fire.

St George FC History Released

2013 David Green smallDavid Green, (pictured) a former St George player who was runner-up in the 1964 Phelan Medal, has written a trilogy on the history of the St George Australian Football Club.

He has spent years researching his subject and interviewed hundreds of former players and officials, not only from St George but other clubs as well as league officials, some dating back to times in WWII.

These three books, each of which are dedicated to a period from the club’s official 1929 beginnings in the senior division, are printed in an A4 format with sensational hard glossy cover and back.

STG books 2 STG books 3
STG books 1

For a real footy fan they are a must for their library.  The information they contain is interesting and at times reveals part of history of the game, not only for the club, but also the NSW Football League, unknown before today.

Each are about 50mm thick and contain about 700 pages or so of text and images, 2100 pages in all.  Should you purchase a set you will be absorbed with the information they contain.

To obtain your suite, call David on 07 33950784 or email him at, he will advise you of the cost and the best way to go about placing your order.

Now I can tell you that because of the size and content of these books he only had a limited number printed.  Most of these are already gone so if you are keen, be early to get your copies.  They come recommended.

Match in Parkes

1930 Newtown jumper smallSome time ago we wrote about a match in 1910 when the strong Paddington Club visited Forbes to play a game.1931 South Sydney jumper small

Again, in 1929 two Sydney teams, premiers Newtown and third placed South Sydney travelled to both Forbes and Parkes to play exhibition matches in both centres to drum up support for the game in the districts.

The Central West Australian Rules Football Association had been formed in April 1929 with teams from Parkes, Forbes, Gunningbland (a local district west of Parkes) and Tullamore making up the competition.  The Gunningbland team was formed in 1928.

Charlie Cardiff, the 42 year old bank manager with the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd in Parkes was elected president. G C Taylor the secretary and Bob Taylor, treasurer.  Both were from Forbes.  Parkes was selected to be the centre of the competition and advertisements were placed for umpires with a pay rate starting at one guinea (one pound one shilling or $77 today).

The same year it was decided to invite two Sydney teams to the area to play an exhibition match and they were pleased to receive a positive reply from the Sydney league saying that it would not only be an exhibition game but one would be a competition match, and arrangements were immediately commenced.

It was difficult to introduce a new game to the area and with Rugby League then part of the sporting culture and it proved more difficult as time went on.  They were not in favour of a new code being introduced to the area, particularly one with Victorian antecedents.

Cardiff had provisionally arranged use of the only sporting ground in Parkes, the Peoples’ Park, as the venue for the Sydney match however when they made a more formal approach to the local Council they were told that the Rugby League club had the rights to the ground and they would have to deal with them.  Of course the club refused their application stating that they had arranged another fixture on that day.  It was later revealed that no such fixture was scheduled.

This led to a conference between the Council, Australian Football delegates and officials of the Rugby League club.

The Sydney teams were to play two fixtures on that June Long Weekend.  One on Saturday and the other on the Monday.  Initially there was some conjecture as to whether Parkes should be the Saturday or Monday venue but because of the train timetables it was decided that Monday would better suit arrangements.

The meeting could not at first resolve the situation but when Charlie Cardiff said his group was willing to pay some compensation to the Rugby League Club for upsetting their fixtures, an agreement was reached immdiately.  They would be paid 10% of the gate.

So the date was set for Monday 3 June.  Admission was two shillings ($7.40 in today’s money) for men, one shilling for ladies and sixpence for children.

A contingent of 48 was ferried from Forbes to Parkes on Sunday afternoon in cars provided by the members of the Gunningbland club, they were then dispersed into several different hotels for their accommodation .  A Civic Reception for the teams was held on the morning of the game.

The big match was preceded by a game between local clubs Parkes and Tullamore at 12.30pm

The match, which included no less than ten state players, attracted about 1,000 spectators paying forty four pounds ($3,262) in admission charges and umpired by leading Sydney whistle blower, Tom King.

South Sydney won the game 9-11 (61) to 4-21 (45) in very blustery conditions.  The players then caught the evening train to Sydney.

In 1930 Tallmore withdrew from the competition, citing distance as the main reason.  Fortunately they were replaced by Yarranvale and also Wongalea, both representing local districts or most probably sheep stations. However in 1931 both Parkes and Forbes abandoned the competition both attributing distance as cause for their departure. For example, the Forbes Club had to pay two pounds five shillings ($167.00)to the local P & A Association each time they used the showground for games.  This was aside from the public risks costs the club also paid.

Click here for map of the area and towns.

Tullamore reformed in 1933 but could not last and Trundle briefly supported a team in 1934.  However the following year Gunningbland and Wongalea were all that was left as surviving members of the Association.  The new Condobolin association was making overtures for new clubs as the page closed on the Central West competition.

Washout Games

cloud with rain thumbnailIn a not so organised act in July 1930, league officials called all games off on a particular Saturday with almost no notice to players and fans.

At Trumper Park, the reserve grade (only two games per day then) were ready to take to the field when they were told that the games would not be played. This was the first time in 20 years that such a decision had been made.

Worst still, this was in the days of admission charges at Sydney games, and quite a number of supporters had paid their entry fee which of course they demanded back.

Also at Trumper Park, a North Shore official put on a real turn against the decision asking “if the League considered his club a team of sugar babies!!”

Normally they had a wet weather sub-committee in place for such occasions but because none had been appointed that season, the decision was left to both the league secretary and treasurer.

The secretary, Alex McWhinney (pictured), said the grounds were in a “frightful condition and totally unsuitable for football with sheets of water over both (and the only venues of) Erskineville Oval and Trumper Park.”A. McWhinney thumbnail

What did stump club officials was the fact that following the abandonment of the game, both Sydney and North Shore clubs had their players participate in a scratch match on the ground with the umpires providing their services free of charge.

Of course now the postponement of games due to wet weather is common throughout NSW and Queensland in all sports, not just Australian Football.