HAYDN BUNTON – “Probably the greatest football celebrity of all time” (1938)       

Australian Football celebrates its 140th anniversary in New South Wales this year after the founding of the NSW Football Association in Sydney on 30 June 1880.
To commemorate, 140 coaches, players, umpires, administrators and media personalities from both the Elite (VFL/AFL) and Community level will be inducted into the inaugural New South Wales Australian Football Hall of Fame.
by Dr Rod Gillett.

          Haydn Bunton was football’s first poster boy

This iconic photo was taken at a publicity shoot to promote the game in 1933. He was also the ‘main lead’ in an instructional training film arranged by the ANFC in 1936.

Bunton was front-and-centre in the media in the 1930s by writing newspaper columns and appearing on radio shows. With his matinee-idol looks, he was booked for appearances at department stores and received endorsements
for all sorts of products.

Eighty years later, he was at the front of the poster of the event to select the Greatest-Ever NSW team. Flanking him was Wayne Carey and Paul Kelly. See image at foot of page.

Haydn Bunton is also the most decorated player to ever play the game.

The awards include 3 Brownlow Medals, 3 Sandover Medals (WAFL B & F), AFL Hall of Fame Legend, AFL Team of the Century, Fitzroy Team of the Century, Albury Team of the Century, and the NSW Greatest Team.

Bunton won the Brownlow Medal in his first season in the VFL with Fitzroy in 1931 at the age of 20. He subsequently won the Brownlow again the next year, and his third in 1935. He lost by one vote to another triple Brownlow medalist, Essendon’s Dick Reynolds, in 1934.

And he quite easily could have been a Test cricketer!

In a Country v City match at the SCG in 1926 Don Bradman scored 90, Archie Jackson scored 50 for City, and Haydn Bunton made a century. Former Test captain M.A. (Monty) Noble reporting on the game on radio in Sydney after the game stated:

”The match featured three potential Australian Test batsmen in Donald Bradman from Bowral, Archie Jackson, and Haydn Bunton of Albury”.

The following year Bunton made another century against City, this time compiling 144 for Country, but of course, went onto play football in the three major competitions, the VFL, WAFL, and SANFL. He also coached clubs in each of these States.

Haydn Bunton was born and bred in Albury. Bunton and his brothers Cleaver (later a Senator, long-serving Mayor of Albury and O & M football official from 1930 to 1992), and George played for Albury in the Ovens and Murray Football League.

The Bunton brothers played together in Albury’s first O & M title win in 1928 when they defeated arch-rivals St Patricks, that had won six out of seven premierships between 1921-27.

Haydn won a silver cup for fairest and best awarded on the votes of the umpires (the first of many!) and a gold watch for the most popular player donated by the Ladies Auxiliary (also the first of many!). Cleaver as vice-captain received a silver cup while brother George was presented with a pair of gold sleeve links for being the most improved.

The bitter sectarianism between the two Albury clubs led to the dissolution of Albury and St Pats , and the formation of two new clubs, West Albury and East Albury for the 1929 season with players divided into the new teams based on residential demarcation rather than their religion.

The Bunton brothers were drafted into the West Albury team that beat East Albury in the grand final. According to the Rutherglen Sun (5 June 1929) “… the Bunton combination (Cleaver, Haydn and George) had a system of their own. It was common to see Cleaver pass to Haydn who sent it on to George who either had a shot or forwarded it to Anderson”.

According to older brother Cleaver in his memoirs, A Memorable Life (1991), “Haydn was approached by every VFL club except North Melbourne and every club representative went away insulted by our mother; ordered out of the house”. Eventually she agreed if her son could be guaranteed employment, given that it was the height of the Depression.

Bunton initially received an offer of employment from Carlton which proved to be bogus, and then a substantial offer of £100 sign-on fee and £10 per game including employment from Fitzroy. However, he was refused a permit to play in the VFL in 1930 under the Coulter Law passed in March that set match payments at £3 per match.

He was banned from playing in the VFL for 12 months. He returned to coach West Albury but were beaten in the grand final by Hume Weir, made up mainly of workers constructing the new weir and waterways on the Murray.

Bunton then had a stunning debut season by winning the Brownlow Medal in 1931. He also made his interstate debut for Victoria in his first season against South Australia at the MCG. This was to be the first of fifteen games for Victoria; the highlight being skipper at the 1937 ANFC Carnival in Perth.

He was named captain for the 1932 season but relinquished the position early in the season. Polling 23 votes, Bunton won his second successive Brownlow by a margin of seven votes.

He became the first triple Brownlow medalist when his consistently brilliant play saw him win again in 1935 by polling 25 votes from his nearest rival on 17 votes.

Appointed captain-coach of Fitzroy in 1936, Bunton was finally able to exceed match payments under the Coulter Law, and in addition to his employment at a department store, he wrote a column for the  Herald and earnt 6d for every “Hadyn Bunton Football Boot” sold to make him the highest-paid footballer in the country.

Bunton stepped down as coach for the 1937 season but stayed on as captain. He led Victoria to victory at the ANFC Carnival in Perth when they beat the home team to clinch the title. It was while in Perth for the championships that Bunton agreed to be captain-coach of Subiaco for season 1938.

He won back-to-back Sandover Medals in 1938-39 and a third in 1941 for Subiaco. He surrendered the coaching position the first season to concentrate on playing.

After joining the army after the 1941 season he was discharged on the eve of the 1945 season and moved to Adelaide where he joined Port Adelaide. In a major upset West Torrens beat Port in the grand final by 13 points.

He took up umpiring in 1946 in the SANFL and was appointed the reserve umpire for the grand final.

Bunton was appointed non-playing coach of North Adelaide for seasons 1948-49.

Haydn Bunton was tragically killed in a road accident in country South Australia in 1955.

In a tribute to Bunton by cricketing great and former St Kilda and Sydney Naval footballer, Keith Miller wrote in the Sydney Sun:

“Bunton was the Bradman of football. Winner of three Brownlow and three Sandover Medals, Bunton created a record unprecedented in the history of the game”.

The best NSW origin player in the AFL each year is now awarded the Bunton-Carey Medal based on the votes of the AFL coaches.


Source: Chris Donald, Haydn Bunton: Best and Fairest, Melbourne. 2003



TRUMPER PARK – why it is Australian Football’s prime piece of real estate in Sydney

Submitted by Miles Wilks author of Australian Football Clubs in NSW

Trumper Park can lay claim to being the most enduring and important Australian football oval in Sydney. Whilst the SCG has only been consistently used for football in the last thirty years,

Trumper Park has been used as a football oval for approximately 110 years. Other inner-city football grounds, such as Erskineville Oval, Kensington Oval and Drummoyne Oval, have all seen their time, come and go, yet Paddington’s Trumper Park has endured. Trumper Park Oval is the one constant for a sport that has struggled to have continuity and hold its place in the crowded Sydney

For many, Erskineville Oval is the only oval that could rival Trumper in Sydney as a long-term venue for the game. I can remember as a youngster seeing a grand final match in the early 1980s and it was full of life, yet now when you go there it seems as if all traces of previous football action has been erased.

Football ovals have a soul to them, a life, when they are in use, but empty ovals that are past their use-by date have a melancholy quality about them. And this is the case with the former Newtown FC home ground of Erskineville Oval.

The game ceased to be played there in the early 1990s, and today one would never know that the oval was once the home of a proud football club, the Newtown Angels. There is not a skerrick of evidence (not even a plaque on the grandstand) that confirms that Australian football was once played there.

In contrast, Trumper Park has endured and it is the only Australian football ground in Sydney that has been used more or less continuously for more than 100 years.

The first documented match I could find reference to occurred in 1903, and there is perhaps some chance that football was even played there prior to this date. Colossal figures in Australian history have links to Trumper Park, including the cricketer and sporting hero Keith Miller and the Prime Minister and war leader John Curtin was a visitor to the ground. On top of this, footballers of exceptional quality have played at Trumper including the AFL legend Jack Dyer, as well as the Brownlow medalists Bill Morris and Kevin Murray amongst many other star players.

KEITH MILLER- cricketer.
Undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest sportsmen and a hero to many, Keith Miller is someone whose life is linked to Trumper Park.  Yet before his link to Trumper is discussed, one should know more about the Keith Miller story and why he is an important figure in Australian history.

Whilst our most iconic Australian cricketer Don Bradman was described as a “clean-skin”, Keith Miller was described by some at the opposite side of the spectrum “a rogue, a big drinker, a womaniser.” There were even persistent and “unsubstantiated rumours of an affair with a member of royalty.”

Don Bradman and Keith Miller had an ongoing battle over the years due to their clash of personalities and different lifestyles and this conflect had some role in Miller not being selected as the Australian team captain towards the end of his career.  This though should not override the fact that Keith Miller was a hero to many.

The iconic figure in Australian football, Ron Barassi, was one of the many who considered Keith Miller as a hero.

The Great Keith Miller- Ron Barassi’s hero
Ron Barassi stated:

“When I was a teenager, I began to idolise one special Australian sportsman. As far as I was concerned, he stood for everything that was important in playing sport. He was dashing. He was cavalier. He was handsome. And he could do anything.

“Apart from his marvellous cricketing skills, I was fully aware of his background as a footballer, and a war hero as a fighter pilot, his war exploits being by far the most intriguing to me.

“He was the hero of the common man. Above all else, Keith Miller taught me the importance of being your own man.”

It wasn’t just Australians who idolised Miller, even the English saw Miller as the hero of the common man. Michael Parkinson, the celebrated English journalist who had his own tv chat show for over two decades, stated:

“I mean here was this man who played cricket, hit big sixes, looked like Errol Flynn, broad-shouldered, dark hair, blue eyes, the ladies loved him, every man wanted to be him.”

Of all the quotes attributed to Miller, the one that has received the most recognition is his comment about his time as a fighter pilot flying against the Germans and their Messerchmitt planes in WWII. A few years after flying in fighter squadrons in England, Miller was asked about the pressure of playing cricket at the top level. He replied: “Pressure, mate. In cricket? You’ve got to be kidding. Pressure is turning around and seeing a Messerschmitt flying up your arse.”

Keith ‘Nugget’ Miller also had a target on his back when he settled in Sydney after the war and played football for the Sydney Naval football club, which had its home ground at Trumper Park.

Any high profile player in the Sydney league was a target, and Miller was a public figure who had represented Australia in cricket and was an ex-VFL player as well.  As a sportsman, one couldn’t get more high profile than that.

The newspaper reports from the time verified that Miller was the target for footballers who played the man and not the ball. A July 1947 report from the Sydney Morning Herald stated, “While on the umpire’s blind side a Newtown player picked up Miller from behind and dumped him heavily. Miller received undue attention from a few Newtown players until the final bell.” Suffice to say that Miller’s football career in Sydney was short-lived – one season, as he was then in his thirties and perhaps not prepared for the lawless nature of football in Sydney, but in later years he was a representative on various committees who had the aim of improving the standing of the game in Sydney.

John Curtin
For some, just mentioning the topic of politicians is enough to put them to sleep, yet every so often there are great politicians who do make a difference and this is the case with John Curtin – Australia’s leader during much of World War II.

His most important moment in history came about in February 1942 when he refused Churchill’s request to divert  Australian troops to Burma so as to shore up the collapsing British front in that region. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was furious that Curtin disobeyed him, but Curtin wanted those troops to defend Australia, and not Burma.

The early months of 1942, when the Japanese were bombing northern Australia and seemed likely to invade the continent, were the darkest hours of the war for Australia – and Britain certainly could not help.  Those troops were eventually used on the Kokoda Trail and were vital in the protection of Australia against the Japanese forces.

John Curtin, our wartime leader, was also a passionate supporter of Australian football, and was a regular visitor of matches held at Trumper during the war. In 1943, he was reported to have gone into the rooms after 0ne game to speak to both teams. Curtin’s sad passing towards the end of the war is also linked to Trumper Park as the newspaper report of the Sydney Morning Herald on the 9th of July, 1945 mentions. It states:

Six thousand people stood in silence yesterday at Trumper Park in memory of the late Mr Curtin. The ceremony arranged by the NSW Australian National Football League, of which Mr Curtin was patron, was held before the first grade Australian Rules game at Trumper.

“The Minister for Transport, Mr O’Sullivan said: “We pay our simple homage to a great sportsman and the man that did so much to keep this country free. The president of the League, Mr Norman Joseph, replied that Mr Curtin was one of the game’s greatest supporters.”

The future:
There is no doubt that the history to the ground is immense, but what of the future? The present football playing tenants of the oval, the UTS Bats FC, have been told to move some of their home matches to Waverley Oval by the Sydney AFL.  The future of the oval is in jeopardy as the Sydney AFL consider the ground too short. This transference of matches has occurred despite the fact that Trumper isn’t as short as two grounds that are still in full-time use in the league: the University of NSW’s Village Green and Sydney University’s home ground.

There is a legacy there. Australian cultural heroes, such as John Curtin and Keith Miller, have graced the ground and have an ongoing link to the ground. It would be a shame to let that heritage go by the wayside just for bureaucratic reasons. Perhaps in the years ahead the ground will be lengthened and another 100 years of football history will be added to what has gone before.

Note: In the second part to this article on Trumper Park I will look at some of the legends of the game who have played at the ground.