Peter Clark shares an extract on the Rannock football story from his soon to be released book, In the True Sporting Spirit.
Australian Football was last played at Rannock more than half a century ago. Rannock’s football experience is a familiar Australian tale of a farming community starting out with a healthy stock of fit young men eager to play football only to see that supply dwindle as farms got bigger, families got smaller and distances became faster to travel. From its beginnings in a localised football competition comprising similar-sized settlements, Rannock’s football journey expanded to new frontiers. Later it competed against teams from much larger and more distant settlements.
Rannock is a rural locality, situated in ‘canola country’, 23 km north of Coolamon in the Riverina region of NSW. The settlement was proclaimed in 1899 and grew steadily to a peak population of 285 in 1933. By the 2016 census Rannock’s population had fallen to just 55 people.
Upon my first visit to the Rannock Recreation Reserve in 2017 I was surprised to find the football setting largely intact which immediately inspired me to learn more about the club and football days long past. What I discovered was a club widely respected for its sportsmanship, a proud and successful club and a club in many ways typical of hundreds of small country football clubs once common throughout Australia.
The Rannock football ground’s rust coloured earth, once trampled by young men chasing the Sherrin, is now covered in tall grass. A lone goal post stands at the northern end as a silent reminder of football games in bygone days. Other relics such as the deserted dressing sheds and the vacant luncheon booth stand passively at the cypress pine tree-fringed oval. The galvanised iron dressing sheds remain furnished with dust-covered rubbing down tables and rusty showers that have not run hot water since the last home game.
The Rannock Football Story traces the sequence of leagues the club participated in between 1923 and 1964 commencing with the Tara and District Association and ending with the Central Riverina League. Many of the familiar experiences of country footy clubs are covered: changing league affiliation, club mergers, glory years, struggling times and the recurrent threat of demise, all experienced in the midst of economic, technological, demographic and social change.
A football club was formed at Rannock in 1923. Less than a decade later Rannock was the centre of a ‘bush’ football league, the Rannock and District Football Association. Only four decades after its formation the club went into recess for the last time. In 25 football seasons, spanning 42 years, the club participated in six different leagues, won five premierships, endured two periods of voluntary recess, together with an interruption due to World War II, and experienced a joint football venture with the neighbouring community of Methul.
Rannock initially competed in the Tara and District Football Association alongside the neighbouring communities of Tara, Methul, Mimosa, Pucawan and Walleroobie. According to former club president, A.H. Grinter, “the players though keen and enthusiastic did not win many games, but had a lot of fun.”
In 1932 Rannock became the home of a new league called the Rannock and District Football Association. Other clubs that competed included Bectric, Winchendon Vale, Methul, North Berry Jerry, Pucawan, Mimosa and Marrar. Rannock hosted most finals matches in the league’s six year existence.
Playing in the newly formed Temora and District Association in 1938, against teams from Temora, Clear Hills, Bagdad, Reefton, Pucawan and Winchendon Vale, Rannock were the competition pace setters. This was one of the most successful eras of football for Rannock. The club reached the final four on several occasions in the 1930s and claimed back-to-back premierships in 1939 and 1940. When football resumed after the war Rannock re-joined the Temora League and were successful in winning the 1947 premiership.
Rannock ‘s next move was to the ten-team Ariah Park and District Football Association where they competed for four seasons. During this era the identity of the club was to change and the geographical focus shifted to the north. In 1950 Rannock and Methul formed a combined team known as the ‘Federals’. The other teams in the Ariah Park competition in 1950 were Tara Stars, West Wyalong, Ariah Park, Temora and Mirrool. The cessation of the league in 1951 prompted the Federals to apply for admission to the South West District Football League (SWDFL) Reserves competition.
Continuing to play under the ‘Federals’ banner, the club participated in the SWDFL Reserves between 1952 and 1955. The Federals immediately became a dominant force in the competition which was divided into east and west sections with the winners of the two zones playing off for the premiership. In 1952 five teams competed in the Eastern Zone: Narrandera, Coolamon, Rannock Federals, Grong Grong and Ganmain. The Western Zone comprised Griffith, Yanco, Leeton and Darlington Point.
The Federals went on to have an undefeated season in 1952 qualifying for the grand final to be played against the Western Zone finalists, Darlington Point. Unfortunately the opposition were unable to get a team together, due to a clash with a wedding, and forfeited the premiership-deciding match. In 1954 the Federals were again matched against Darlington Point in the grand final, but on that occasion there was no prior engagement affecting the ‘Riversiders’’ attendance, the game went ahead and the Federals won the Jas. Quinn Cup. The Federals reached the Eastern Zone grand final again the following season but were defeated by Ganmain. In 1956, when the SWDFL scheduled all Reserve grade fixtures as curtain raisers to senior matches on Sundays, the Federals did not re-join the competition and went into recess.
The club reformed in 1962 and joined the Central Riverina Football League where they played for three seasons. Rannock’s football geography moved to the heart of the Riverina in a league containing a mixture of clubs from within Wagga Wagga and surrounding settlements. Rannock’s opponents included: Army, Boree Creek, Collingullie, Cootamundra, East Wagga, Junee, Osborne, RAAF, Uranquinty and old rivals Marrar. In its sunset years Rannock experienced some big losses, none greater than a 282 point loss against Boree Creek in 1964. The youthful Rannock team went winless for forty consecutive games from the start of the 1962 season until early in 1964 before finally notching a win. The Daily Advertiser celebrated Rannock’s victory over Uranquinty with the headline: ‘Rannock at last! – 41st time lucky’.
Rannock’s brief life in the league ended prior to the start of the 1965 season due to a lack of players. Reluctantly the club followed the fate of many country football clubs from small communities in disbanding. To build and rebuild a football club takes imagination, ambition, enterprise, organisational skill and persistence from those in charge. Rannock was blessed with men and women with those qualities. It also possessed stalwarts who committed to the task for the long haul, year in and year out, in both prosperous and difficult times.
The people of Rannock can take considerable pride in their former football club which frequently punched above its weight. Equally, they were honoured by footballers widely recognised for always giving their best, for never throwing in the towel and most importantly, for being good sportsmen.
Extracts are from the soon to be published history of the Rannock Football Club, In the True Sporting Spirit, written by Peter Clark