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:

” FOOTBALLERS’ DINNER.
MR A. E. NASH ENTERTAINED

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.