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.