Petersham School

Petersham team 1905 thumbnailAustralian Football was resuscitated in Sydney in 1903 after it had undergone an eight year hiatus mainly because of poor management.

In its new year, senior teams numbered eleven and eight teams were playing in a separate reserve grade.

The following year there were schools competitions encompassing almost the whole of Sydney.  The issue with this though appeared to be its management.  Australian football was a virtual new sport to the city but they were expected to supply umpires, help with coaching and to an extent manage the competition.

By 1904 there were schools from inner city, eastern suburbs, north shore, western suburbs and the St George areas.

As an inducement to schools to play, an offer was made for the premier school to travel to Melbourne and play prior to the VFL grand final.  The action was considered quite successful with 58 public schools playing the game in Sydney during 1904 all vying for the champion title.

The expenses for the trip were paid for by the VFL who sent one hundred and fifty pounds to Sydney earlier in the season.  Using the RBA calculator and taking inflation into consideration, this amounts to $21,465 in today’s money.

Petersham Superior School won the Sydney schools A grade division, a grade restricted to junior schools.

Superior Public Schools were identical in structure to present day Central Schools, that is, they combined primary and secondary pupils in the same school. This type of school had been developing under the Council of Education when some of the larger Public schools were able to introduce the ‘higher branches of learning’ to pupils who had completed the normal elementary school course. The first Superior Public Schools were gazetted in 1881 and by 1890 their number had increased to 64; they reached a maximum of 145 in the first decade of the twentieth century.

But there was a problem with the game.  The educational system of both states was different resulting in an outstanding disparity in the ages and size of the players in the two teams.

The education system in Victoria was free, secular, and compulsory from the ages of 6 to 14 years.

The average age of the NSW boys was 15 and their weight was around 56.5kg while the Melbourne boys averaged out at 12 years or so and weighed in at 42.5kg.

“Not only were the boys from Petersham physically bigger but they looked bigger and meaner because of their dress.  They wore white shorts, red socks, blue jumpers and cap, just like rugby players.  They were definitely more workman like and smart than that of the Victorian footballers who by comparison with a rugby team always looked a slipshod, slovenly lot.”  Within the article, the author poked fun at the knickerbockers (long shorts) worn by the VFL footballers of the day, these were much similar to those worn by current American Gridiron players.

The players from Sydney were further described as professional with a scrupulous desire to keep to the rules.  The portrayal of the Albert Park boys was the opposite.  They were labelled as:  “a team of weaklings playing their own game with remarkable skill and pluck, because they knew no other game but with no chance of success.  Had their weights been equal, it would have been just as hopeless a game for the Sydney boys.”

“The Petersham boys had been trained to play unselfishly and in good spirit and never used their weight but pushed the little chaps aside as tenderly as though they were brothers.”

Petersham led all throughout the game to win easily 7.6 (48) to 1.0 (6).






7.6 (42)

Albert Park




0.6  (6)


local football officials were not satisfied with the match and scheduled a further, impromptu game, this time against a combined Melbourne Metropolitan Junior combination who were of an older age.  Petersham lost this match by 7 goals 13 behinds to 4 goals 3 behinds.

The following year, Petersham again won the Sydney schools championship by defeating St Augustines at Balmain East and travelled to Melbourne where this time they played and defeated the Clifton Hill State School, the champions of Victoria 3-8 to 2-3.

We have been very fortunate to obtain a photograph of the team where again there was mention of their size in the Melbourne reports, the majority of the boys were 15.

It was sent to us by the great granddaughter of one of the players from 1905, William Edward Goodwin.  He was born in 1889 and grew up in Dulwich Hill.  You will see him in the photograph.

In 1906 the headmaster at Petersham School, made it known early that he did not want his students again going to Melbourne and passed on the opportunity to travel south for the game should they have won the right.  As it turned out they didn’t and the Fort Street School made the trip, only to be defeated in both the schools championship game and the match against the metropolitan combined schools.


1922 NSW Schoolboys Team 2 smallEver thought about where our footballers came from years ago?  I mean what junior football did they participate in.

In Sydney, junior club football was almost non-existent until about 1923 when the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association was formed.  And even then the lowest grade was Under 16.

Previous to this there was a junior league in Sydney but the age group was more for boys 18 or 19.  A Young Australian Association also existed for some time up to the first war, but again, the age group was not for minors.

Ironically, football was played quite extensively at schools during the first decade of the twentieth century in Sydney.  The NSW league even had a fulltime school football organiser.

In 1906 a schools competition in Sydney had one A Division group comprising Petersham, Fort Street, Pyrmont, Waverley and Kogarah, the first two teams to give the others handicaps while 37 schools made up the remaining seven groups in B Division .

Eight Catholic schools participated.

Petersham Superior School won the final game that year against Double Bay for the schools premiership and also the right to travel to Melbourne in an all expenses paid trip to play for the schools championship on the MCG.  Their headmaster however, Mr James Rickard waived their claim which permitted the winners of a match between Double Bay and Fort Street to go.

The following year the Young Australian competition reported that 29 teams participated in their competition.  New teams include: Ryde, Nth Annandale, Bexley and a second St Leonards.

A Grade consisted of Ryde, Nth Shore, Kegworth, Paddington, Kegworth B, Sydney B, St Leonards, Illawarra (Hustville), Drummoyne, Petersham, YMCA, Newtown, Balmain, Eastern Suburbs and Northern Suburbs.

The B Grade included Newtown, Kegworth, Summer Hill, Sydney, Balmain A., Summer Hill and Bexley all playing of a Friday afternoon.

In 1909 the secretary of the PSAAA committee, Mr Garden suggested that rather than send a single school team to Melbourne each year, maybe it would be more stimulating to send a representative side.

As a consequence a schoolboys team comprised of: W. Stafford, F. Crozier, E. Cullen-Ward, R. Smith, B. O’Grady, S. Russell (Fort St); A Stenhouse, L. Dunbar, J. Kelly (Petersham), Ron Swan (Ryde), Arthur Emanuel, & Bede (Erskineville), J. Adams (Double Bay); Walker, John Iler, Thompson & George Thew, Gordon, (Burwood).  Emergencies: Ernie Messenger (Double Bay), Dean (Ryde), Hadden (Hurstville) & Stan Morehouse (Erskineville) was chosen.

They had no chance against a team representing the public schools of Victoria.  The match was played on the MCC Ground on 24 September, prior to the VFL final and it was a very one sided affair, the home boys winning by no fewer than 116 points.  The Victorian boys were heavier and bigger than the visitors.  Final scores: Victoria 17.14 (116) NSW 1.6 (12).

In 1912, under the control of Mr G Perry of Burwood Superior School, announced he would have six teams in the competition. “It was,” he said, “intended to reduce the age of the players in the Young Australian League to 18 years, so that boys at school, and those who have just left school, but who are too youthful for the association team, may enter it’s ranks.”

The war however changed everything with school and junior football.

Eventually it was left to people like Rupert Browne, a teacher of the Gardeners Road Public School at Mascot (formerly of Kegworth school in Sydney) who in April 1914 suggested the concept of introducing an under 16 competition in Sydney schools.

Gardeners Road school in those days was an intermediate high school or in contemporary terms a junior high school.  They also offered advanced education at night and by 1918 had a school population of 1800 students.

PSSA or PSAAA (as it was called in those days) have nurtured many young footballers in their state teams over the years.  These are the best primary schoolboys who play annually in a national carnival at a venue around Australia.

Strangely not a high percentage of these boys over the years, have gone on to play top level football.  Some don’t even go on at all.

The interstate schoolboy carnivals began in 1921 after NSW separately played Victoria and Queensland in school football in the years immediately after WWI.

The first carnival was held in Brisbane where the Victorian side went through undefeated.

Initially the NSW team was drawn from schools like, Paddington, Newtown, Double Bay, Glenmore Road (Paddington), Kogarah, Hurstville, Coolamon, Narrandera, Newcastle and Gardeners Road.

NSW won the 1923 and 1924 national PSAAA.  Both years the side contained some great local talent.  Some of whom would go on to represent the state at a senior level and Gardeners_Rd_School_1925 smallat least two, a Double Bay and Gardeners Road boys, played in the VFL.  One captained Fitzroy.

This photo on the right shows the NSW schoolboys team in 1925 in their visit to Brisbane.  They are wearing jumpers from the Gardeners Road Public School and amongst their number includes Stan Lloyd who played 117 games with and captained St Kilda, Lionel Hastie, who played 13 games with the strong Fitzroy Club in 1931, Stan Powditch winner of three NSW Football League’s leading goalkicking award in  the 1930s and of course little Jimmy Stiff, who won the best player award in the 1933 Sydney All-States National Carnival.

We have all the names of these boys but aligning them with a face is most difficult.

By 1926 the Sydney Schools competition had split into two divisions, Northern, which included Lane Cove, Artarmon, Willoughby, Gordon, Chatswood, Hornsby, Lindfield, Naremburn, Crows Nest, Neutral Bay & Mosman schools.  The other was called Metropolitan which included: Gardiners Road, Glenmore Road, Double Bay, Epping, Erskineville, Newtown.

One item I dragged out of the archives from August 1926 you might like is the following:

“The Victorian Central Schools defeated Metropolis (Sydney Metro) at Chatswood Oval yesterday by 70 to 44. Caravagh (2) Jimmy Stiff (2) Reed, Burge and Smith were the goalscorers for the local team.”

But, it all changes.