Walbundrie Sports Ground – Part II

by Peter Clark

In Part I of the Walbundrie Sports Ground story we looked at the iconic features of the show ground/sports ground and its treasured place in the Walbundrie and the Hume Football Netball League communities.

The theme of Part II is memorable matches of football played at Walbundrie. We also glance at the historical context surrounding one of those unforgettable matches.

More than 200 finals games and about 1000 home and away games have been played at the Walbundrie Sports Ground over the past 110 years. It should be no surprise that some of the most memorable football matches in Hume League history have been witnessed at the ‘Riverina cross roads’ venue.

What are the elements that make some football matches memorable, in fact, so clear in the minds of football followers that incidents from matches played 40 or 50 years ago can be recalled in an instant? They can be: inspirational and brilliant performances by players; meetings of traditional rivals in grand finals; hotly contested local derbies; remarkable comebacks; heart-stopping moments in close contests; premiership-winning goals (and points); match-deciding umpiring decisions; knock-out blows and all-in-brawls, and often, a combination of several of those incidents.

Let’s start with one the most remarkable comebacks in Hume League history.

Trailing by seven goals at three quarter time in the 1978 HFL grand final did not faze the Walbundrie Tigers, well known for their gregarious nature. Many Walla supporters, believing victory was in the bag, left the ground early. Walbundrie stormed home in the final term to snatch the flag from fierce close-town rivals Walla. The Border Mail (16/9/78) headline told the story: “TIGERS DUMP WALLA WITH A 7 GOAL BLITZ’.

Legendary coach Tim Robb belts out the club song
                                   with Walbundrie players and supporters

In 1973 Walla played minor premiers Burrumbuttock in the grand final. The two sides had met in the second semi-final two weeks earlier in a remarkable match dominated by a strong wind, which blew for the entire game.  Walla won the toss and with that the match, scoring six goals in the first quarter while Burrumbuttock failed to register a score. For the rest of the game scoring seesawed under the effect of the wind. Halted by the gale in the last quarter, Walla had done enough with their downwind opportunities to win their way through to the grand final. Burrumbuttock regrouped and won the preliminary final against Rand, setting the stage for another crack at Walla.

The grand final was played in more benign weather conditions and produced a classic country football premiership-decider. Scores were close all afternoon and at the 27 minute mark of the last quarter were locked at 67 all. The crowd went wild with excitement at that point and a draw seemed certain.  With time running out, Walla wingman Graham Scholz broke clear sending his team into attack where a match-winning point was scored by former coach Bruce Diffey, who was playing his 252nd game. The final scores read: Walla 9.14 (68) to Burrumbuttock 10.7 (67). It was also a great day in the long career of 37 year-old Walla ruckman and club president Merv Wegener. He was playing his 280th game for the Grasshoppers. It was another record Hume League ‘gate’ at Walbundrie and the second year that all finals were played at the crossroads location.

The 1999 HFL grand final was just as close when Lockhart, undefeated all season, met Osborne at Walbundrie. The Cats timed their run perfectly and upstaged the raging favourite Demons to take out their sixth HFL premiership in eight seasons. The question of whether Lockhart had printed premiership t-shirts in expectation of victory remains unanswered, but myth or fact it has added to the intense rivalry between the clubs. That day a 15 year-old local lad named Adam Schneider kicked three goals, including two in the last quarter. Six sets of brothers (Hosie, Clarke, O’Connell, Gooden, Schneider and Gleeson brothers) represented Osborne in their massive boil-over win.

In 1976 when the “Protestants” (Brocklesby) played the “Germans” (Walla) in a game full of feeling, Walla full forward Garry Mickan dealt the KO premiership punch by goaling from 45 out on a 45 degree angle after a contentious mark. But a Brock player, incensed with Mickan’s in-your-face self congratulation, had other ideas of how things should finish – right on the spot he ‘jobbed’ Walla’s hero in his own version of a knockout blow.

Rivalries persist regardless of the importance of matches. And the outcome of some matches between rivals can be as vital as grand finals to the victors and the vanquished. Such was the case at Walbundrie late in the 1997 season when Walbundrie and Burrumbuttock were engaged in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon. Adding to the feeling, and ultimately the irony, was the fact that a former Burrumbuttock player, Paul Azzi “out of the blue”, was wearing the Tiger’s colours that year. With scores deadlocked who should kick a goal on the siren to sink Burrumbuttock, breaking their hearts and sending them to the bottom of the ladder? Azzi of course, and for Walbundrie it was like a grand final win.

We end by going all the way back to the first decade (1930’s) of the Hume League when 1937 Walbundrie premiership captain Tom Fagan performed a remarkable feat. With only seconds left on the clock in a match against Walla, Fagan’s cousin Dick took a mark and kicked a short pass to him. Sizing up the situation, Fagan casually prepared a mound and from a long way out proceeded to place kick the ball through for a match winning goal right on the final bell.

Tom Fagan went off to the Second World War and became a prisoner of war on the Burma-Thailand Railway. He survived his experiences and returned to his beloved Riverina district after the war. It is fitting that 38 Silky Oak trees were planted around the showgrounds in memory of the district men and women who enlisted for the Second World War. There were also five plane trees planted at the showgrounds (near the old School) as a memorial to the Five Walbundrie men who lost their lives in the First World War. An interpretation board has recently been erected at the site to help perpetuate the remembrance.

 

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Acknowledgements

Walbundrie football stalwart Rick Clancy and local historian Leo Coyle provided some of the historical information and recounted several football incidents for the Walbundrie Sports Ground stories.

Lockhart’s Stunning Win Over Favourites Wagga Tigers in the 1960 Grand Final

Lockhart captain-coach Bernie Sculley
in front row with football at his feet

Sixty years ago, Lockhart caused a major boil-over in the Farrer Football League grand final when they defeated the unbeaten Wagga Tigers, who were gunning for four premierships in a row.

As it turns out, Tigers won the premiership for the next two years, but on the 10th September 1960, the then Lockhart Bulldogs 16-14 (110) beat Wagga 14-10 (94) at the Yerong Creek Recreation Reserve. The gate was £423 ($12,731 in to-day’s money).

Lockhart led by Riverina master-coach Bernie Sculley had come from third on the ladder at the culmination of the home-and-away games to beat Henty in the first semi-final at Culcairn,  and then Culcairn at Mangoplah, to earn a crack at the all-conquering Tigers.

Sculley came to the Riverina to coach Ariah Park Mirrool in the South West League in 1955 from North Melbourne where he had played in the Reserves after being recruited from Ormond CYMS.

He coached the Brown Bombers to a flag in his first year then to two memorable grand finals in 56-57 against Ganmain led by ex North Melbourne ruckman Mick Grambeau, who was then the highest paid footballer in Australia on £75 per game! plus a house and a milking cow.

Sculley went to coach Lockhart in the Farrer league from 1959-61. Perhaps his greatest coaching triumph was as non-playing coach of the South West representative team that won the Victorian Country Championships in 1964.

Tim Robb

His opposite number at Wagga Tigers, Tim Robb, also has an exemplary coaching record in the Riverina after moving from North Melbourne where he’d played in the 1950 VFL grand final to coach The Rock in 1952. Prior to this he had played 40 games with Footscray in 1947-49 after starting at Yarraville in the VFA. He then moved to North Albury and led them to a flag in 1955.  Incidentally, Tim played with the South Sydney club during WWII.

He moved to Wagga to coach Tigers and led them to five premierships, 1957-59 and 1961-62. He later coached teams to premierships at Collingullie, Walbundrie and Lockhart in the Hume league in 1981. He also coached North Wagga and Albury Tigers.

In 1960, Robb, a rover-forward topped the Farrer league goalkicking list with 69 goals ahead of Culcairn’s evergreen Harry “Splinter” Liston with 65; “Splinter” would end up playing over 600 games for the Lions.

The competition’s best and fairest award, the Baz Medal was won by Wagga’s Les “Sonny” Morrow, who would return to Collingullie as captain-coach when they entered the Farrer league in 1965.

Also in Tigers’ 1960 grand final team were vice-captain and men’s clothing retailer Ed Farrah, well-known Wagga realtor Milton Breust, rugged defender Col Lyons (from Yerong Creek) and tenacious rover Terry McGee.

While for Lockhart on the team list were vigorous vice-captain Ken Smith, leading ruckman Rod Habrecht, the Angove brothers, Des and “Tucker” from Milbrulong, and the speedy Perryman brothers, Geoff and Doug (who was 20th man). Doug is the grandfather of current GWS Giants player, Harry Perryman.

How do we know all this?

The Society has recently taken possession of all the match day programs produced for the Farrer Football League, then called “The Crier” from the first edition in 1960. These programs are now available on the NSW AFL History Society’s website:  (click)

The programs came to us in a very circuitous way. We got them from AFL Riverina in Wagga who had received them from former Farrer league and Wagga Tigers’ president John Bance. They had been dropped off in a sturdy wooden box all neatly bound at Bance’s Funeral Palour by Christine Power (wife of Wagga Tigers’ legend Peter “Pebbles” Power) for her aunt Chris, the wife of the late Bert Schmidt, the founding editor and publisher of “The Crier”.

Even the quarter-by-quarter scores are meticulously hand-written in all editions of the finals programs. For a full profile of Bert Schmidt go here

The price of the program in 1960 was 6d. (5c)

There were some classic advertisements, particularly from the hotels, many of whom are still sponsors!

“Good Beer – Good Cheer – Snack bar here” Kings Own Hotel The Rock

“Good Drink Before and After – The Football Hotel” Railway Hotel Lockhart Phone 13

“For Good Beer at Half-Time or ANY Time” Central Hotel Henty Phone 149

The final word belongs to the victorious Lockhart captain-coach Bernie Sculley who in the column for the comments from the coach says, “At first glance it would appear that this game would be a walkover for Wagga, but as is always the case in grand finals, victory will not come easily”. Too true.

Riverina’s Mr Football – Bert Schmidt MBE

By Dr Rodney Gillett

“Wherever you are listening to this game don’t tune out this is one of the best games of football I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed 2WG Farrer League football commentator Bert Schmidt at a Culcairn v The Rock Yerong Creek game circa 1964.

“I couldn’t always go to away games so I used to listen to Bert’s call of The Rock’s games on the local radio” recalls former long-time Riverina Australian Football player and leading official Greg Verdon. “He knew all the player’s names and he used to call the games with great clarity and accuracy”, he added.

Bert called the Farrer League match-of-the-day for just on twenty years starting in 1958 and continuing until 1978. He never missed a game according to Cr Yvonne Braid who spent her working life at radio station 2WG in Wagga.

That was the “hay-day” of the league when it stretched from Temora in the north down to Holbrook in the south and west to Lockhart and was based on country clubs rather than clubs in Wagga.

He used to call games from the back of a truck or farm ute backed up to the fence at most grounds from a portable table and chair with the landline connected to the phone in the club secretary’s office or a neighbouring house. The only grounds with press boxes were at Wagga’s Robertson Oval and the Yerong Creek Recreation Ground where the grand final was played.

“Bert was always immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit or woollen cardigan and he always carried an umbrella” recalls Cr Braid. “He was always fully prepared”.

“He was a perfect gentleman”, she added.

Bert Schmidt’s active role in football was not just confined to broadcasting he also produced the weekly football match programs for the South West and Farrer Leagues, served on the Wagga promotions committee, provided hospitality to the Melbourne umpires for the finals, and his lasting legacy, founding the licensed Riverina Australian Football Club.

“The Rules Club was his love child” Cr Braid told me.

Bert Schmidt was the instigator of a licensed club for Australian Football in Wagga. The main purpose was to provide a headquarters for the code in the region and to generate funds to promote the game, particularly at the junior and school level. The club’s ground Maher Oval has hosted AFL practice matches, interstate fixtures and local representative games; it is still Turvey Park’s home ground is used for Farrer League finals and junior fixtures.

He was the inaugural chairman of the club in 1973 after doing all the hard yards to get it up and going. He stayed on the board until 1978. After initially struggling in the early years of its existence the club has now prospered mainly as a result of its location in the southern suburbs of Wagga. Meanwhile, the downtown Wagga Leagues Club shuts its doors in 2004.

Bert identified the need for match day programs for the two major leagues in the Riverina  and subsequently developed and produced The Aussie Ruler (later called the South-Wester) for the South West District Football League and The Crier for the Farrer Football League from 1961.

He funded the project and recouped costs through advertising. He initially wrote the editorials for both: always positive, constructive and based on facts and his deep and intimate knowledge of the game, its officials, players, and supporters in the area.

The distribution of the programs for match day in the region involved an intricate network of trains, taxi trucks, delivery vans, and was sometimes even carried by the umpires driven to games in taxis.

When the program production was taken over by Gary Allen in 1983 he paid tribute to Bert Schmidt for his work over twenty-one years in the first edition for the season:

“Producing a programme nowadays still requires much hard work hut the problems with starting from scratch would have been countless. But thanks, to his dedication and love for the game, he stuck to the task. Bert had to give up most of his holidays, year in and year out, to keep in touch with his advertisers at the start of each season. (Riverina Australian Football Record, 10 April 1983).

Bert Schmidt was also a member of the Wagga Australian Rules Promotions Committee  that was formed in 1968 “ to promote and foster the Australian Football code in Wagga and surrounding districts and to extend Australian Football into all primary and secondary schools” (Wagga Daily Advertiser, 13 February, 1968).

The promotions committee was initially very successful in getting the game going in all primary schools. They arranged for 16 sets of jumpers, 24 footballs and 15 sets of goalposts as well as suitable playing areas for the primary schools in their first year.

The establishment of football in the high schools proved more challenging as rugby league was firmly entrenched largely as a result of schoolteachers coming from the Sydney. Also the Catholic secondary schools were reticent despite the assistance on offer.

Bert, who was the driving force behind the schools’ push, came up with the idea of naming the cup after the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Wagga Wagga, Most Reverend Francis Carroll, who was a Carroll from Ganmain. “Father Frank” had played football for both Ganmain as a youth and for Griffith when he served as priest at the Sacred Heart Church.

With the Bishop’s “blessing” the Carroll Cup for open age schoolboy football commenced in 1969 along with the Robb Cup (named after highly successful Riverina coach Tim Robb) for Year 9 and below.

The Carroll Cup is now firmly established as the premier secondary schools’ competition in Wagga and attracts strong media interest and crowds of up to 2,000 at the final played under lights at Robertson Oval.

Bert did not play footy; but after returning from military service in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupational Force and as a Lieutenant in the Australian Army Ordinance Unit in the Korean War in 1952-53 he gravitated to the Wagga Tigers football club which was closest to his work place at the council-owned Wagga Gas Centre in Bayliss St.

Wagga Tiger’s club legend Doug Priest recalls going to games out-of-town on the team bus in the mid-50s with his father Merv, who was the coach, and Bert leading the sing-along playing on the ukulele on the trip home.

He had a marvellous party trick – he could scull a beer while standing on his head!

Bert Schmidt was highly respected throughout the Riverina for his dedication and service to the game and he has been duly recognized by the Farrer League and the Victorian Country Football league (VCFL).

The reserve grade best and fairest in the Farrer League was named in his honour until the VCFL investigation in 1981 created the Riverina Football League and the Riverina District FL.

Upon the renaming of the RDFL as the Farrer Football League in 1985 the best player in the grand final was named the Schmidt-Nitschke medal in honour of Bert and his long-time friend prominent Wagga solicitor Galva Nitschke, who did so much legal work for football on an honorary basis. Bert and Galva were the duo who did all the work behind the scenes to establish the Rules Club.

He received the VCFL Recognition of Service award in 1973.

Bert Stanley Schmidt was awarded an MBE for military service in 1953.

“Bert got everyone involved. He didn’t leave anybody out”, recalls Cr Braid.

 

AKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Cr Yvonne Braid (Wagga City Council), Major-General (ret.) Brian Dawson (Australian War Memorial), Doug Priest (Wagga Tigers), Greg Verdon (ex MVAFA president), Garry Allen (former Riverina Australian Football Record publisher), and Allan Hull (2WG)

 

 

The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy

Review by Dr Rodney GillettVice President NSW Aust Football History Society

As Paul Daffey demonstrates in his latest book on country football, The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy, that sadly, the number of football clubs in country areas are declining, but this is not a recent phenomenon but an on-going process that started with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The recurring theme in Daffey’s book is that the demographics determine the continuity and sustainability of football in a small town or district, and a diminishing population, particularly of the youth, leads to the decline of active football clubs and either their amalgamation with neighbouring clubs or extinction.

As Daffey show most clubs choose to “bury the hatchet” with a fierce local rival and agree on a new name, new colours, and where the new entity will play its games. This is perfectly illustrated in his case study of footy in the Mallee. In a stunning example Daffey’s research shows that thirty-two football clubs have folded into the Ouyen United Football Club.

The same scene is being played out in the southern region of New South Wales in the farming districts where the Australian game has been pre-eminent for more than a century.

The most merged club is Coreen Daysdale Hopefield Buraja United (CDHBU) that was formed on the eve of the demise of the Coreen and District Football League after ninety-nine years of existence in 2007. CDHBU and the remaining Coreen league clubs then went to play the next season in the neighbouring Hume Football League.

All had started as individual clubs but Hopefield and Burraja had merged as early as 1950 while fierce rivals Coreen and Daysdale came together in 1995, but the continuing difficulties to field teams led to the amalgamation of both these clubs in 2006.

CDHBU won the last ever premiership in the Coreen league when they beat the Billabong Crows (a merger of Urana and Oaklands in 2004). Ironically, this meant that six of the foundation clubs of the competition, albeit in merged entities, played in the last-ever game in 2007.

Daffey cites many similar cases in the Mallee, that is now down to just three clubs – Ouyen United (Sunraysia league), Sea Lake-Nandaly Tigers (North Central league), and the Southern Mallee Giants (Wimmera league).

The Mallee is much more than a name of a region, like the Riverina it’s locality and characteristics are captured in the Australian psychic. It conjures up images of red soil, blue sky, blazing sunsets, and a dry, arid landscape. “It is a tough place, demanding sweat and toil” (p.35). And so are its people and this is encapsulated in their footballers and their football grounds.

The boundaries for the Mallee set by the Victorian colonial government in 1883 was “all unalienated crown land in the north-western district wholly or partly covered with the Mallee plant” (Pickard, 2019). And just as Henry Lawson proclaimed that everyone knew where the Riverina was, so do country folk know where the Mallee is, and where its roots are.

In order to pay homage to the antecedent football clubs of the Ouyen United Football Club the Year 9 students at the Ouyen P-12 College in 2009 decided to paint totem poles that had been erected at the entrance to the club’s home ground, Blackburn Park. The students painted nine poles in the colours of the clubs that had folded into one another over the years to form Ouyen United.

The totem poles provided the inspiration for the title to Daffey’s book and also the stunning cover designed by Megan Ellis based on a painting by Swan Hill dentist John Harrison.

Paul Daffey stated at the outset that the main purpose of the book was to focus on football in the Mallee in order to provide a snapshoot of footy in the country. What is occurring in the Mallee is being replicated in country areas all around Australia but his story reveals that has been on-going for decades in line with the rural-urban drift.

The book also includes chapters about Daffey’s travels in country footy taking in Wedderburn in the North Central League, the old gold-mining town of Inglewood, Boolara in the Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland, Horsham in the Wimmera and the Mornington Penisula. The chapter on the Pines v Sorrento grand final is highly captivating and the match report exhibits Daffey’s exquisite writing skills and social insights into the game.

The Appendices are most comprehensive and in addition to detailing all the statistical history of football in the Mallee there is a review of the season for country leagues in Victoria and southern NSW.

An added feature is a list of all the players that have played in six or more premierships since WW II. Brad Hartigan, who has played an “unfeasible” number of premierships – twelve for the Horsham Demons in the Wimmera Football League – is the subject of the final chapter.

There are three players from the Riverina on the list who have played in ten premierships: Stephen Clarke (Osborne 1991-92, 1998-2001, 2005; Albury 1995-97), Darren Howard (Osborne 1991-92, 1994,1998-2001, 2005-06; Albury 1995),and Gerald Pieper (Wagga Tigers 1977-78, 1980-81, 1985, 1993-95, 1997-98)

Other multiple premiership winners are Anthony Armstrong (Mangoplah-Cookardinia United & Osborne) 9, Hayden Gleeson (Osborne) 9, Brad Aitken (Collingullie) 8, Len Brill (Ganmain) 8, Bill Carroll (Ganmain) 8, John “Digger” Carroll (Ganmain) 8, Matt Fowler (Albury & Thurgoona) 8, Joel Mackie (Jindera & Albury) 8, Christen McPherson (Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong) 8, Steven Priest (Wagga Tigers) 8, Steven Schultz (Culcairn & Wagga Tigers 8, and Tim Robb (North Albury, Wagga Tigers & Collingullie) 8.

As Daffey says in the opening chapter he has a penchant for writing about local footy – amateur football, suburban football, but the best stories are in the country.

Paul Daffey, The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy (2019), Melbourne,
Daffey Publications, 2019, pp XIV +416 Paperback ISBN: 9780646804163.

To buy a copy of the book email  pauldaffey27@gmail.com with your address and he’ll email the bank details.  Books are $30 per book plus $10 postage.