In 1892 a game of Australian Football was played at Bowral, NSW.
The match, Bowral v East Sydney was arranged by a Mr Charles Church, schoolteacher, and a resident of Bowral, who had previously played for the East Sydney Club in the late 1880s, represented NSW against Queensland and was at one time a member of the East Sydney Club’s committee.
The game was initially scheduled for mid-August but fell through. Church persisted and the match was re-organised for Saturday 10 September at Athletic Grounds in Bowral.
The condition of the ground was in a very poor state because of rain and a soccer match having previously been played there.
Nevertheless a large crowd gathered to witness the game with East flying to an early lead by four goals to one at half time.
In those early days, goals were the only score counted and the game was played in two halves. Certainly in this game it was the case.
The second half saw the locals equalise their opponents score and but for fulltime might certainly have overtaken them. It was said that Bowral’s team was made up entirely “of former Melbourne players.”
Be that as it may, they were encouraged to continue to play the following season by Harry Hedger, captain of the East Sydney team but no more was heard of Australian football in Bowral.
In recent years though the Southern Highland Hawks junior club has emerged. It participates in the Illawarra junior league.
An Auskick Centre is located at Loseby Park, Bowral Tuesday afternoons at 4.30 p.m. for approx. 5-7 year olds.
Older players [8-14) play in club teams. The Hawks [Under 11s] won the Club’s first premiership in 2007, and after the Under 12s and Under 15s won flags in 2008 with the future looking bright.
The club play and train at Loseby Park in Bowral, training Tuesdays 4 – 5:3. Game day is Sunday.
Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3  Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3  Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer 7 September 1892, p.3  Referee Newspaper, 14 September 1892 p.8
Mostly through bad management and petty squabbles, the game failed and ceased to exist in Sydney in 1895.
This had been after a long and arduous period of getting the game established and accepted in Sydney. The first clubs, Sydney and East Sydney were formed in 1881 which played under the NSW Football Association formed the year before.
Despite its demise, many of the proponents of the game were still keen about in the early 1900s and one, Harry Hedger, who had put his heart and sole into the game as a player and official in the aforementioned period, was very keen to see it rekindled.
After the NSW Football League had been formed in January 1903, he visited Melbourne late in the next month especially to attend a meeting of the VFL and club delegates where he outlined the need for support to have the game re-established in the NSW capital.
After Hedger harangued delegates until 2.30am, “Mr. C. M. Hickey (Fitzroy) said that his club was willing to go to Sydney at its own expense, and to forego any share of the gate receipts. Eventually Mr. Copeland, on behalf of the Collingwood club, agreed to make the trip. The cost to each of these clubs will probably be about £300, and they will each lose the proceeds of the match, which, under ordinary circumstances, would have been played in Melbourne. Thus either the Fitzroy or the Collingwood ground will lose one of its most productive games. In order to compensate the two clubs for the sacrifice it was decided that the proceeds of the games played in Victoria on that day shall be pooled and divided equally between all the clubs in the league; and, further, that the ground which suffers by the arrangement shall be awarded one of the semi-final matches. ” 
But the Collingwood membership were not all that too happy with the decision. At the annual meeting of the Collingwood Football Club on March 9, some members of the club resented the action of their committee in making the interstate arrangement. One member, a Mr. Mansergh, said “that he thought the committee had exceeded its powers in committing the club to such a course. The members had a right to be consulted, and they should have decided. The match with Fitzroy was the most popular game of the season, and he did not think it fair that members should be deprived of the game.”
Mansergh then move that “This meeting disagrees with the action of the committee of the club in deciding to play a premiership match in Sydney. The motion was declared carried on a show of hands.” 
The decision of the members of the Collingwood club did not affect the Sydney visit, but had the potential to rob the match of its interest as far as the premiership was concerned”
In the meantime football euphoria had gripped Sydney with the two biggest clubs in Australia to visit in May. Sydney was a Rugby town (Rugby League had not yet been introduced) and as well, soccer was played but not as popular as it is today. Despite all this, eleven new first grade clubs were formed – and there were others.
However Collingwood had more problems when it comes to impediments to their proposed match. In May 1903 Victoria was gripped with a rail strike which subjected the match to a good deal of uncertainty. The May 9 game of Geelong v Carlton game had to be postponed because of the strike. The sudden impact of the strike had stifled any arrangements for travel to Geelong by boat because any such arrangements had not been considered early enough. 
There is more to this story …. stay tuned.
 Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser – 4 March 1903, p.570
[2} The Argus 10 March 1903 p.7
 1903 VFL results
There have been several reasons why Australian football never kicked on in Sydney. Most of these have been offered by people who have little knowledge of the background and history of its development in the city.
Here, Hugh Stone, a Sydney based journalist of the late 1880s and early twentieth century offers his opinion. If you have a moment, its not a bad read. It was written in 1920 and appears verbatim:
” I have no intention of discussing the merits or demerits of either the football codes, but I dd think I can put my finger on the cause which prevented the Australian game catching on when first introduced, and also show why the game since revived some seventeen years ago still struggles for generous recognition. Like your correspondent; G. Saunders, New South Wales is my native state, but while he has all life before him mine lies behind. I can remember the visit of the Carlton Football Club is 1877″ like Adam Lindsay Gordon, ‘I can shut my eyes and recall the ground as though it were yesterday.’ That was the time when intercolonial jealousy ran strongly, and bitter rivalry often existed between the citizens of Melbourne and Sydney.
The code was then known as ‘the Melbourne game,’ and though occasionally referred to as Victorian, was never called Australian. If I am not greatly mistaken the first game of football ever played on the Sydney Cricket Ground (for the then trustees were averse to it) was under this code in or about 1881, and was between the newly-formed clubs, Sydney and East Sydney. The outcome wag promising, but up rose antagonism straight away. One man in particular (I -am not going to mention his name) – [We can – it was Monty Arnold who was a very big wheel in rugby circles in the 1880s. A stock broker very well placed in Sydney Society at the time with a caricature of him shown here – ed.] was keen enough to see that the surest way to crush the game was to play on jealousy’s string, and he sneeringly spoke of it as ‘the Melbourne game.’ Then came the added sneer, ‘the ladies’ game.’: I do not know if he coined this unjust phrase, but he freely used it, and once in the early ‘eighties when there was a split in the then thin ranks of Rugby club’s, and the Glenheads, a fast brilliant team, threatened to go over in a body to the new code this man entertained a Rugby gathering vide the press by telling them that at half-time in the Melbourne game, as played on Moore Park the mothers brought their exhausted darlings cakes and ginger beer . He sowed a fruitful crop when he set the seeds of jealousy and ridicule, and to him more than any one else belongs the credit of killing the game, in its early stages, for at no time till it petered out did it have a grip on the sport-loving section of the community.
In the early nineties circumstances compelled me to move to the Victorian border and from thence I went on to West Australia; and when I returned in 1899 the Australian code was not only dead, but the few Rugby, clubs of the early eighties had grown enormously. and any attempt to re-establish the Australian, game, seemed useless. Yet the attempt was made and made under circumstances slightly more favorable than in the eighties.
First, Federation had been brought about and the old jealousy was slowly dying and, secondly, the title of ‘Melbourne game’ had been, dropped for the larger one of Australian. Then why has it failed? There is now surely no single person strong enough to block its advancement as in the old days? Candor compels one to admit that though, failure in the first place came from without, now it comes from ‘within.’, Many of the men standing behind the game to-day are whole-souled sportsmen generous in their giving, and energetic in their labors, and this acknowledgment is rightly their due. But if one searched Australia for men least able to foster the Australian cause in New South. Wales, these could hardly be displaced for their credentials ‘how not to do it.’ [remember this was written in 1920 – ed.]
This is not satire, but comes of that deadly earnestness born of conviction. What has been the position in the last 15 or 16 years? A man who has figured in football in the other States has but to comes to Sydney and identify himself, with a club and he is soon a delegate. He knows nothing of Sydney conditions, but he knows that in Melbourne, Adelaide, or Perth where the native-born game draws its crowds of thousands, and he feels assured that he has but to mention the game’s excellences and all Rugby enthusiasts will abandon Union or League to follow him as the children did the Piper of Hamelin. Looking back over the years, I can recall, dozens of men whose enthusiasm dragged the League into all sorts of difficulties, but who to-day have retired, enthusiasm and cash gone. And New South Wales is still unwon for the national game, and it will remain unwon till the native born largely predominate in the League and in the representative teams.
All honor to the men who in the past and in the present have given their time and money for a cause that is dear to them, and who have seen the latter vanish with their optimism. It is strange but true that this very optimism has been the game’s undoing. But for some of this type the League would never have entered into that transaction which a few years ago temporarily lost them Erskineville Oval and saddled them with the Australian Football Ground. Had they listened to the native-born contingent they would have stuck to the well worn but truthful tag, ‘hasten slowly,’ and the game might-have been’ spared its heavy set-back. Oh, the League wreckage because of- the wrong men at the helm. Wrong, only because they were at the helm, otherwise their pence and their presence are invaluable; they are Australians. If ever the game succeeds in this State it will be by the help of those born here, the younger generation so finely typified by Ibsen in The Master Builder. When these knock at the door of the League the day of Australian football is assuredly at hand. In the meantime, let us learn to hasten slowly, and stick to Erskineville Oval, where our first and most lasting success has been won. The world knows the sorrow that follows the kicking away of the ladder by which one has climbed to success.”
His above assessment is a very blunt and maybe slightly blinkered for the reason football failed in Sydney. It was not all due to Arnold’s attitude, who, incidentally, never let up in his criticism of the Victorian game during his lifetime.
Basically, the interstate jealousy was a founding reason, but there were others:
RUGBY (there was no rugby league then) was almost intrinsically entrenched in Sydney when the Victorian game emerged in Sydney in 1880;
THERE was a suggestion that in 1877 an intercolonial game be played, which at first accepted, saw those in charge proffer the idea that the two games (Australian and Rugby) could not mix. Reading between the lines, it was clear, that NSW would not be dictated to from those in the recently emerged Victorian colony;
RUGBY officials very much feared a takeover when the game was first introduced but in reality, a maximum of only six or seven clubs ever existed in Sydney to rugby’s clubs which numbered in the forties;
THERE was no real clear and defined leadership with the Australian game while rugby had as its active president, clerk of the NSW parliaments and clerk of the Legislative Council from 1871-1914, John Calvert; Australian football had the Irishman, Phillip Sheridan as its president. He was the man in charge of the SCG but records will show he only attended two meetings of the NSW Football Association in his nine years at the top. (in those days, presidents were really only titular heads, but Calvert was an exception. He also refereed rugby games and attended and chaired most meetings of the SRFU).
IT is true that Australian football initially had sympathies in the press and this situation was very much maligned by the rugbyites. And when this support waned those in the media who embraced the rugby code showed the Victorian game little compassion.
AS the game self destructed in 1892-94 it was on a road of no return.
LITTLE credit is given to Harry Hedger MBE, who sacrificed his football career in the 1880s to promote the code in Sydney. He then led the way in the resurrection of the game in 1903.
WHEN re-introduced, it again looked good, but as Hugh Stone said, unfortunately, despite all the good intentions, shot itself in the foot.
By this time and particularly following WWI, the door had shut and the horse had well and truly bolted. Both rugby codes were firmly entrenched in Sydney and most of NSW so Australian football had to adopt the reserve grade position.
Australian football has always owned the tag as the poor relation in Sydney.
The game was first introduced to the city in 1880 upon the formation of the NSW Football Association. It took until the following year before any clubs were formed: Sydney and East Sydney were the first and the East Sydney of those days should not be confused with the East Sydney of the 1980s & 90s.
Immediately the game attracted the wrath of rugby officials led by top protagonist, Monty Arnold who said at the Association’s formation “if the Melbourne and Carlton clubs were playing a match in Melbourne, and the Kelly gang were firing within a quarter of a mile of them, he did not believe there would be a soul looking at the football”
Arnold and his co-horts were absolutely opposed and vitriolic to the new game and its introduction was made all the worse when some tried to change the rules of rugby because of its many dangerous aspects. Paradoxically, they welcomed the formation of the soccer association.
A few Sydney journalists were sympathetic to the Victorian game but when it sank into anarchy, in-fighting and bitterness they dropped off and the game failed to move into the 1895 season.
It was left the since unrecognized enthusiast and former player, Harry Hedger, pictured, to lead the resurgence of the game in Sydney in 1903.
Its development went well and the game became stronger reaching out to schools and junior grades. Poor management in the purchase of the original Rosebery Racecourse site on the corner of Botany and Gardeners Road, Mascot and the onset of WWI put the game back to almost a zero base. But with steady work and commitment from officials of the league it clung on, despite being comprised of only five clubs in 1917. There was no second grade during the war and for the most part the junior competition also disappeared.
There was a spark of hope during the 1920s when NSW defeated the VFL in 1923 and again in 1925 but it again slumped into its familiar rung on the ladder as the least favoured game in the city.
The depression years of the thirties brought no solace and for the most part the league was locked with six clubs and only two grounds where they could truly derive a gate â€“ the strength of their income.
Then WWII brought new hope. Australian football was the first sport to move to Sunday football, for no other reason than they desperately needed that additional venue where a gate could be charged. It was during this period that servicemen from interstate were in or moving through Sydney and they played with local clubs.
Names like Collingwood’s captain, Phonse Kyne was the captain and coach of St George, Alby Morrison who was chosen in Footscray’s team of the century was with the RAAF team, future Brownlow Medalist, Bill Morris played with South Sydney while 17 year old Western Australian, Jack Sheedy, another AFL Hall of Famer, turned out for the Sydney Club.
These are just a very few of the football talent in Sydney during the war.
Following hostilities the game was riding high in public opinion, particularly so when three new clubs, Western Suburbs, Balmain and Sydney University were added to the competition in 1948.
During the fifties the image of the game lapsed especially when newspapers highlighted the negative parts of the game: fights and problems in matches.
More clubs were formed and joined the competition leading to twelve in 1962 “a perfect time to turn the competition into two divisions.” It didn’t happen and the change from 18 aside to 16 aside in 1960 was also overturned mid-season.
By this time though, Western Suburbs gained their liquor licence and became very much a supporter and promoter of the game playing out of the same Picken Oval as now, but then it was surrounded by a training trotting track and privately owned. The club though pumped thousands of dollars into the game and supported the league’s purchase of offices in Regent Street, Chippendale.
Football didn’t really move, they had lost many chances though by the seventies two new divisions had been formed.
In 1978 a coup threw out the popular league president Bill Hart and eventually his cronies went with him. The VFL backed move with promised support didn’t last long before the administration in Sydney really struggled.
Then came the Sydney Swans and new VFL money and finance through the Swans licence scheme. This eventually fell over and the club was subsequently taken over by the league. Sydney football though had solidified and were well led with a move to more permanent offices in the Wentworth Park Grandstand, Glebe, where a number of other sports were domiciled.
Of course things always change and in 1998 there was a further takeover by the AFL which has funded the league and NSW football ever since. It resulted in more staff, more people on the ground but are there more playing the game?
The elected officials have gone and the game is run by bureaucrats in their central Moore Park Offices.
Makes you wonder with all the changes the game has endured over the past 134 years, what the future holds for Sydney football?
In some sense it doesn’t have much but in others it has a lot. It certainly has a rich past.
In 1923 Harry Hedger travelled with the NSW team which played Victoria on the MCG.
Hedger was not particularly involved in football during that period but if it were not for his foresight and enthusiasm the game may not have been revived in the NSW capital twenty years before.
Henry or Harry Hedger, to his friends was from Tasmania. He moved to Sydney in 1880 to take up a job as teacher at the Industrial Blind Institution Woolloomooloo. Harry was a footballer but not just an ordinary footballer, he was committed to his sport.
He firstly played for the new East Sydney club and later three other clubs between 1881-94, During this period he represented NSW on 16 occasions, almost all of the representative matches the state participated in.
He was captain of several clubs and the state and took on official positions at club level. While the game was poorly administered which eventually led to its demise, he never once shirked his responsibilities. One of his assets was his kick and for a number of years held an Australian record of kicking the ball just over 59 metres
In 1903 it was he who visited Melbourne and spoke passionately at a meeting of the VFL pleading for help to have the game re-established in Sydney. This resulted in two leading clubs of the time, Collingwood and Fitzroy playing a premiership match on the SCG in May of that year. This was the catalyst for the start of an eleven team competition in Sydney in 1903.
Hedger had little to do with football after that. He attended a few meetings, his sons played with the then YMCA club and later East Sydney but he devoted himself to his work in the school for the blind which by this stage had shifted its premises to Ashfield where Hedger was manager.
He attended the official welcome for the NSW team in Melbourne in 1923 and was called upon to respond on the team’s behalf at a function in their honour.
He told the gathering that he played in the first interstate game for New South Wales in 1881 and in the first game ever in Sydney. He could never forget what the Victorian Football League had done and recalled his first visit to the league rooms in 1903 when they first aroused the sympathy of the Victorian League and enlisted their support. It was not until half-past two in the morning of the same meeting that he had managed to get Fitzroy and Collingwood to agree to play their premiership match in Sydney. Since then, he said, the NSW league had received encouragement and financial assistance from Victoria for which they were eternally grateful. He finished by saying he was satisfied after seeing every kind of football that the Australian game was easily the best.
And yet, who remembers Hedger and what he did for the game in NSW and most particularly Sydney? No-one. He was honoured by the queen in 1935 for his services to the blind when awarded an MBE, he also had a street in Ashfield named after him.
Hedger spent 58 years of his life working for the blind, 44 of those as manager of the Sydney Institute. It was a fall at work in 1937 which eventually took his life that forced him out of the environment he loved. Two weeks later he died aged 78.
The image shows him in the 1886 NSW team which played Queensland at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
When he pioneered the return of the game he put so much effort in that in his forties he turned out to play with the YMCA with his son. YMCA was a team in the first grade competition between 1903-11. We have unearthed a wonderful etching of him in a newspaper interview from 1903 and have reproduced it here.
In 1903, Harry Hedger, who worked for the NSW Blind Society, visited Melbourne where he addressed a meeting of the VFL asking for two clubs to play a competition match in Sydney as a promotion for the re-establishment of Australian Football.
The game had been played competitively between 1881-95 in Sydney but, mainly due to bad management, it folded.
Born inTasmania, Hedger, was very much a dedicated employee of the NSW Blind Society, eventually receiving an OBE in 1935; his other passion was Australian football, and all this took place in Sydney.
During the 1880s & 90s he played for East Sydney, Sydney, Waratah, City, West Sydney and Our Boys clubs, for the most part, to keep them viable and in existence. As well he turned out for the Sydney University team which visited Melbourne in 1888. He represented both Sydney and NSW on numerous occasions and at various times umpired several games.
Hedger was captain of several of these clubs where he also took on official positions as he did with the Association.
He was passionate about his football and at his own cost took the train to Melbourne where on 27 February he met with VFL officials. He implored them to send two teams to Sydney for a match which he believed would help kick-start the game in the NSW capital.
The Fitzroy Club secretary, Con Hickey said his club was willing to travel to Sydney at its own expense and forego any share of the gate receipts. Eventually, Ern Copeland, secretary of the Collingwood club said that his club would also make the trip under similar conditions. To engender interest, the game would be part of the home and away competition matches.
The VFL then resolved that the proceeds of all games played in Melbourne on the day of the Sydney match would be pooled and divided equally between all clubs in the league and the ground on which their scheduled encounter was to be played would be awarded one of the semi final matches.
It was estimated that the game would cost each club at least three hundred pounds ($600) each.
Hedger left the meeting quite happy but when Copeland confronted his members at the 9 March Annual General Meeting, a motion was passed that the game not be considered a competition match and that it be merely an exhibition.
This was greeted with dismay and resentment in Sydney resulting in an immediate letter to the VFL outlining how the decision would detrimentally effect the standing of the re-emerging code.
Eventually the VFL upheld their earlier decision and the game went on to be played before a crowd of 20,000 at the SCG on May 23. The six hundred pound gate ($1,200) was left to the new football league in Sydney to promote their activities.
The reigning premiers, Collingwood took a party of 43 with them and a budget of four hundred pounds ($800) while Fitzroy, who were to that date undefeated, had 50 in their group. These two clubs went on to play off in the 1903 grand final which Collingwood won by two points.
Also in 1903 Hedger chaired the formation meetings of several clubs, including North Shore, and for some time in that decade was the president of the YMCA Club. He died in 1937 aged 78 years never really receiving the recognition due for his long standing commitment to the game in Sydney.
Our photograph shows Harry (or Henry) Hedger in 1923 when he accompanied the NSW team to Melbourne where they played Victoria.