Edwardian Era

The sport of Australian football as played in 2000 was in many ways dissimilar to that of a century earlier, but the astute obsever would also have noticed a surprising number of similarities. The core rules permitting players to kick the ball, handpass, take marks, run with the ball whilst bouncing it and register two types of score, goals worth six points and behinds worth one, were essentially the same. Perhaps the most noteworthy difference would be the speed and smoothness with which the professional stars of 2000 effected their skills when compared to their part time, officially "unpaid" predecessors.

The progress of the sport from hobby to profession was gradual, and in many ways unplanned. I am working on the site in more or less chronological order so expect most of the early entries to be from the first two or three decades of the twentieth century. The site will be continually expanding and evolving so please visit the site often if you wish to keep abreast of developments.

Collingwood fans in the outer at Victoria Park during the 1909 season.

Collingwood fans in the outer at Victoria Park during the 1909 season.

1901: Birth of a Nation

"The Commonwealth of Australia was officially inaugurated in Sydney on 1st January 1901. The city was decked with flags; a huge parade wound its way through the streets, passing under triumphal arches of coal, stone and flowers, many presented by individual sections of the community like the Chinese citizens or the Germans. Others bore congratulations from the nations of the world: 'The United States welcomes United Australia.' There were brass bands and soldiers in scarlet and gold, 'two thousand little girls all clad in white shook two thousand handkerchiefs at the dragoons and lancers'; there were Cabinet Ministers and Death or Glory Boys from Victoria; there were reporters and artists and photographers and thousands of ordinary Australians, quite happy to see their taxes spent on a public show. The cry was 'One people, one destiny'. No one asked the Aborigines to join the celebrations."   (From Australia: a History by Mike Walker, page 105.)

The Year in Brief

The Year in Brief

The country’s first Prime Minister was Edmund Barton, a liberal protectionist who had formerly been a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Protectionists were “committed to a White Australia, the career open to talent, and natural well-being for all” as well as being “prepared to use the state to ensure a minimum standard of living and to protect the weak against the strong”.[1] Opposition to the Protectionists came from two fronts: the right-wing Conservatives and the democratic Labour party. From the outset, the Australian parliamentary system was a unique derivation of both British and US influences. The federal nature of the Commonwealth and the structure of the Parliament of Australia were the subject of protracted negotiations among the colonies during the drafting of the Constitution. The House of Representatives is elected on a basis which reflects the differing populations of the states. Thus New South Wales has 48 members while Tasmania has five. But the Senate is elected on a basis of 12 Senators, regardless of population. This was intended to allow the Senators of the smaller States to form a majority and amend or even reject bills originating in the House of Representatives. Nowadays, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory also elect two senators each. Norfolk Island, the third official Australian territory, does not have any parliamentary representation.  

The capital city of the fledgling nation, Melbourne, was the scene for the opening, on 10th May 1901, of the inaugural Australian parliament. The close ongoing kinship with Britain was evidenced by the fact that the parliament was opened by the future King George V, then the Duke of York, and the Duke of Cornwall.  The event was described thus in “The Melbourne Argus”:  

By the hand of royalty, in the presence of the greatest concourse of people that Australia has seen in one building, and with splendid pomp and ceremonial, the legislative machinery of the Commonwealth was yesterday set in motion. The day was full of smiles and tears, the smiles predominating. Rising gloomily, the dispersing clouds allowed the bright sun to peep through, and when the great ceremony was in progress in the Exhibition-building, the atmosphere was radiant, and illuminated the vast spaces of the building and the great sea of faces with a bright Australian glow. 

A sight never to be forgotten was the assemblage which, in perfect order, but with exalted feeling, awaited the arrival of the Duke and Duchess in the great avenues which branch out from beneath the vast Dome of the Exhibition-building. We have not in Australia any sense of the historical prestige which attaches itself to a royal opening of the British Parliament. There the stately function is magnificent in its setting and pregnant in its associations, but it is in scarcely any sense of the word a people's function. Here, by a happy inspiration , the function was made, to the fullest extent, a popular one. Twelve thousand seated in a vast amphitheatre— free people, hopeful people, courageous people— entrusted with the working out of their own destiny, and rejoicing in their liberty, must be impressive by reason of their numbers alone. But there was not wanting splendour of accessories. The mighty arches of the dome, the spread of the great transepts, the grace of the decorations, were in themselves inspiring; nor was even the sombre shade of the mourning dressing, softened by splashes of purple here and there, out of keeping with the event, typifying, as it did, our reverential regard for the memory of a great Constitutional Ruler, the mightiest Sovereign of the people the world has known. 

Broadly speaking, what was represented in the noble assemblage was worth. The worthiest of Australia were there— the men who hold their distinguished positions because they have won them, and because they deserve them. All that is best in politics, in commerce, in industry, in the arts, in the Church, in the school, in the public service of Australia was represented there, and every heart beat high with pride and with hope. 

 Faint and far off, just about noon there came the sound of the National Anthem, and there was a multitudinous murmur and stir, for here was the actual event coming at last. Then near at hand came the blare of a trumpet heralding the approach of the Imperial envoys, and a moment or two after, with royal punctuality, the Duke and Duchess were on the dais, and the strains of the National Anthem came pealing through the building. 

The religious feelings of the occasion were stirred by the singing of the grand "Old Hundredth" to the words of the metrical psalm, commencing "All people that on earth do dwell." This was taken up by thousands of the audience, and its swelling harmonies rose grandly to the dome. Lord Hopetoun, setting aside all complicated questions of religious precedence, himself read several prayers, in his clear, penetrating voice, so pleasantly familiar in Victoria. 

When the Duke stepped forward to deliver his speech to the two Houses, a "Hush" ran round the assembly, and everyone listened intently, but the sound of the ever-moving feet on the boarded floors went on. His Royal Highness spoke deliberately, in a clear, strong voice, and the speech he read was distinctly heard by thousands of those present. It was a dignified, a graceful, a kindly, and a congratulatory speech, and it expressed a confident belief that the new powers granted to Australia will only strengthen the affection of the people for the throne and empire. 

 At the final words, "I now declare the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia open," the Duchess touched an electric button which gave the signal outside for the hoisting of the Union Jack on all the State schools of the Colony, and for the sending of a message to England declaring the object of the journey of the Royal envoys accomplished. Trumpets rang out the signal, and outside was heard the booming of cannon in royal salute. 

After a brief pause the Duke of Cornwall and York stepped forward once more and read a special cable message of congratulation from His Majesty the King. And now Australia asserted herself. She had been suppressing her feelings to show that she knew how to behave with old-world decorum in the presence of Royalty, but this message, direct from the King himself, was too much — they simply had to cheer. And cheer they did. It was done without order or without concert. It was taken up time after time by sections of the audience; it ran round the aisles, and surged through the galleries; a hearty, spontaneous, irrepressible Australian cheer. It was not down in the programme, but it formed a most effective part of it. 

The final part of the ceremony, which altogether occupied about three-quarters of an hour, was the swearing-in of members by the Governor-General. He stood on the dais and read out the oath, whilst the members, Bible in hand, followed him in sections. Then Lord Hopetoun stepped to the front of the dais, and directing the audience by the waving of his hat, called for three cheers for His Royal Highness the Duke, which were given with splendid heartiness, and followed by another round for the Duchess, after which the Duke and Duchess retired and the great ceremony was over. 


His Royal Highness read the following telegram from His Majesty the King: "My thoughts are with you on the day of the important ceremony. Most fervently do I wish Australia prosperity and great happiness." 


The following telegram was despatched by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall and York to His Majesty the King immediately after the opening ceremony: 

"I have just delivered your message, and, in your name, declared open the first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. I also read your kind telegram of good wishes, which is deeply appreciated by your loving Australian subjects, and was received with great enthusiasm. Splendid and impressive ceremony, over 12,000 people in Exhibition-building." 


When the newly-elected President of the Federal Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives were presented to His Excellency the Governor-General at the Old Treasury buildings yesterday afternoon, Lord Hopetoun intimated to them and to the members of the Commonwealth Legislature who were present that he had received the subjoined message from the Secretary of State for the Colonies: 

 "His Majesty's Government welcomes the new Parliament that to-day takes its place among the great legislative bodies of the British Empire and they feel confident that it will be a faithful interpreter of the aspirations of a free and loyal people, and they trust that its deliberations will promote the happiness, prosperity, and unity of the whole continent of Australia. 

"The message was subsequently read in both Houses of the Federal Parliament, and received with cheers. 

The above represents a sanitised attitude to federation, as upheld by the nation’s elite, but there seems little doubt that a prevailing spirit of optimism, following the degradations of the economic depression of the previous decade, permeated most sections of Australian society.  

Perhaps the most significant legislation introduced by the Australian parliament in 1901 was the Immigration Restriction Act, which formed the basis of the White Australia Policy. Whilst not explicitly prohibiting the entry to the country of individual non-whites, in practice it did so by means of permitting immigration officers to require selected individuals to undertake a 50 word dictation test in a European language of the immigration officer’s choice. For prospective non-white immigrants this would invariably be a language unknown to the prospective immigrant.[2]  

Somewhat unusually for the period, from 1902 both men and women were permitted to vote in Federal elections, although generally speaking this right did not extend to non-Caucasians.[3]

Indigenous Australians, for example, were not universally given automatic entitlement to vote until 1967, while enrolling to vote was not made compulsory for people of indigenous descent until 1984.  

Even as Australia was taking its first faltering steps toward nationhood it was already embroiled in war. Between October 1899 and May 1902 roughly 23,000 Australian combatants served on the British Empire side against the Dutch-descended Boers in the Second Boer War in South Africa. The majority of these were initially members of individual colonial forces - New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and so on - but following federation they combined under the new Australian flag. Roughly 7,000 of the combatants fought with other colonial or irregular units, whilst a large number of Australians also went to South Africa to provide medical support to the troops. Apart from Britain, Australia contributed more personnel to the Empire cause in the Second Boer War than any other nation.  

The causes of the conflict were complex, but centred on Britain’s desire to reverse the humiliation suffered during the First Boer War of 1880-1 which had seen the Boer forces triumph. The Second Boer War began with the Boers in the ascendancy, but as more and more imperial troops arrived in the country weight of numbers eventually told, and in May 1902 the Boers finally surrendered, with British rule being formally re-introduced by means of the Treaty of Vereeniging on 31st May of that year. During the war, a total of 251 Australians had been killed in action, 267 had died of disease, and 43 had been declared missing in action. Another 735 had been wounded.  

From an Australian football perspective the Second Boer War was significant in that it represented probably the first time that the game had been played in South Africa. Australian troops are known to have played it as early as 1899, and a number of local teams were later formed. The game continued to be played, on a largely informal basis, at least until the start of the Great War in 1914.  

In Australia itself, Australian football was far and away the most popular winter sport in four of the six states: Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. It was also highly popular in some parts of New South Wales, although in most of that state, as well as in Queensland, rugby was favoured. In Victoria and South Australia the highest standard of football was played by the big clubs in the state capitals, Melbourne and Adelaide respectively. Melbourne boasted two competitions of particularly high quality, the Victorian Football Association, formed in 1877, and the Victorian Football League, which had been established in 1897 following a breakaway from the VFA of that competition’s eight financially strongest clubs. The top competition in Adelaide was the South Australian Football Association, which like the VFA dated back to 1877. In 1901 Sturt had entered the SAFA bringing its total number of clubs to seven.  

The situation in both Western Australia and Tasmania was somewhat different, as the highest standard football in both states was played in two different regions. Western Australia had the Perth and Fremantle-based Western Australian Football Association, plus the Goldfields Football Association which included clubs from in and around Kalgoorlie. In Tasmania there were strong Associations in both the south and north of the state, based in and around the cities of Hobart and Launceston.  


[1] A Short History of Australia by Manning Clark, page 213.  

[2] Initially, the dictation test was in English. However, it would soon realised that many bilingual Asians, black Americans and other “undesirables” would be capable of passing such as test, and so immigration officers were given license to choose any European language - in other words, in the case of prospective immigrants of the “wrong” race, a language with which the person would be unfamiliar.  

[3] Universal suffrage for those of white British descent, plus a handful of others, had been introduced for colonial elections in South Australia in 1884 and Western Australia five years later. When South Australia and Western Australia became foundation states of the new Commonwealth of Australia, voters of both sexes from those states were also granted the right to vote in the first Federal elections. Meanwhile, however, in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland only males of white British descent were initially entitled to a vote, a discrepancy which provoked considerable disgruntlement in those states, and which was swiftly addressed by granting the vote to women within a year.


Edmund Barton, Australia's first Prime Minister

Edmund Barton, Australia's first Prime Minister


VFL vs South Australia, 15th June 1901

Interstate Football is Born

The primary reason behind the formation in 1877 of both the Victorian and South Australian Football Associations was to agree on a common set of rules to be used by all their respective constituent clubs.  Prior to this, particularly in Adelaide, there were several different sets of rules in vogue, with players often facing the perplexing situation of having to modify their style of play almost weekly.  Another difficulty was that, in the absence of a standardised method of assessment based on a common rule framework, it was impossible to determine which teams were genuinely the strongest.  

At the inaugural meeting of the SAFA on 30 April 1877, several different rule combinations were considered, with the delegates ultimately plumping for a set of rules which closely approximated to those devised in Victoria three years earlier.  In choosing these rules rather than various other suggestions - one delegate, Mr. Twopenny, spoke ardently in favour of the Association adopting the rules of the English game of rugby, for example - delegates were mindful of what they perceived as the desirability of being able to arrange and participate in intercolonial contests.  Given that Victoria was South Australia's nearest colonial neighbour, it seemed logical to adopt a set of rules with a strong Victorian flavour.  

It is doubtful if the VFA was particularly concerned about the feasibility of arranging intercolonial contests when it agreed on its rules, which broadly reflected 'the Victorian Rules of 1874'.  Nevertheless, once the South Australians had decided to play their football according to a compatible set of rules, several VFA clubs were quick to recognise, and take advantage of, the potential benefits - financial, social and sporting - of making regular forays across the border.  As early as the first season of what might be termed 'commonality', both Melbourne and St Kilda accepted invitations to visit Adelaide where, not surprisingly, they proved too strong for an assortment of opposition teams, most of whose members were still becoming accustomed to the 'foreign' rules.  Thereafter, seldom a season went by without one or more VFA teams visiting Adelaide, and from 1878 the practice began to be reciprocated, with Norwood in 1880 procuring the distinction of becoming the first South Australian club to win against Victorian opposition when it downed Melbourne by 2 goals to 0 at the MCG.  Norwood at this time was a bastion for ex-patriot Victorian footballers, which may in part explain its success, and in 1880 it was half way through a six season spell of dominance of the SAFA.  

For many seasons, Norwood would prove itself the equal of the Victorians.  In 1883, for example, it defeated the powerful Essendon combination by 5 goals to 1 at Kensington Oval, while five years later, much more famously, it overcame VFA premier South Melbourne, again at Kensington, in a three game 'Test' series which had been arranged to decide the champion of Australia.  Other South Australian clubs - South Adelaide against Melbourne in 1884, Port Adelaide against South Melbourne in the 1890 championship of Australia match, for instance - achieved sporadic victories against VFA opposition, but overall the balance of power continued to reside emphatically with the Victorians.  

This was even more pronouncedly the case in the sphere of representative intercolonial football, which got underway in Melbourne on 1st July 1879 when a Victorian combination crushed the visiting South Australians by 7 goals to 0.  Between 1879 and 1881, Victoria met South Australia twice per season, winning all six encounters easily, and accumulating an aggregate tally of 32 goals to just 5, whereupon it was decided to suspend the contests until the South Australians could demonstrate an ability to provide a reasonable level of opposition.  In 1890, perhaps persuaded by Norwood's and Port Adelaide's successes in the champions of Australia arena, the Victorians consented to a resumption of 'hostilities' - and, on 5th July 1890 in Melbourne, proceeded to annihilate South Australia yet again, this time by 13 goals to 6.  Clearly the substantial discrepancy in standard still existed.  

Or did it?  Five days later, again in Melbourne, the same two teams met for a second time, and on this occasion it was the South Australians who emerged victorious, kicking 6 goals to their opponents' 4.  Perhaps intercolonial football had a future after all, an impression that was reinforced twelve months later when a two match series in Adelaide was shared, and again in 1892 when the only game between the colonies for the year saw the Victorians eke out an unconvincing 2 goal win in Melbourne.  Victoria won again by 2 goals in 1893, this time in Adelaide, but in 1894 the concept of representative intercolonial football was once more called into question as the Vics registered an all time record win in front of their home crowd, amassing no fewer than 14 goals, a phenomenal tally for the time, to South Australia's none.  With Victoria now leading the series by 11 wins to 2, and having scored 88 goals to 37 (equivalent to a percentage of either 237.8 or 70.4, depending on which side of the border you reside), matches between the two colonies again fell into abeyance.  

When the fixtures resumed once more in 1899, the Victorian football landscape had altered irrevocably, with the recently established VFL replacing the VFA as the colony's, and indeed Australia's, premier football competition.  The game itself had changed, too, most notably via the introduction of a new scoring system, whereby behinds, hitherto recorded but valueless, made a tangible contribution to a team's score.  

In South Australia, the main development had been the inception of electorate football, which it was hoped would lead to an evening up of a competition that had grown disconcertingly top heavy.  This rule, which basically required that players represent their local clubs, had been introduced on a voluntary basis in 1897, but two years later it had become compulsory, with North Adelaide, premier for the first time in 1900, apparently the main initial beneficiary.  

The 1901 season had also witnessed the expansion of the SAFA to seven clubs following the admission of Sturt, which after a tentative start would rapidly develop into one of the competition's heavyweights.  

The first 'new era' intercolonial contest took place in Melbourne on 1 July 1899, and resulted in a convincing, 34 point win to the home side.  The following year, in Adelaide, South Australia managed to finish a couple of goals closer, but the VFL team was still consummately superior.  

On 1st January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia, comprising six constituent states, came into being.  Among those half a dozen states were the former colonies of Victoria and South Australia, which meant that when the two confronted one another on the football field on 15 June 1901, it was, in effect, the first ever interstate football match.  

The Teams 

VFL: C.Dow (Collingwood), C.James (South Melbourne), W.McLelland (Melbourne), J.Monohan (Collingwood), D.Adamson (South Melbourne - captain), C.Parkin (Melbourne), C.Roland (Carlton), J.Purse (Melbourne), C.Pannam (Collingwood), A.Pearce (St Kilda), E.Rowell (Collingwood), H.Lampe (South Melbourne), H.Goding (South Melbourne), W.Robinson (Essendon), J.Smith (St Kilda), G.Pleass (South Melbourne), F.Worroll (South Melbourne), W.Griffith (Essendon)  

SA: T.MacKenzie (West Torrens), N.Jolly (Sturt), W.Trembath (Norwood), L.Hill, (Norwood) F.Dickinson (North Adelaide), N.Claxton (North Adelaide), J.Quinn (Port Adelaide), C.Fulton (West Adelaide), H.Kruss (South Adelaide), E.Lewis (Norwood), C.Barnes (Norwood), S.Robinson (Norwood), A.Hosie (Port Adelaide - captain), F.Bailey (Port Adelaide), H.Thompson (West Torrens), G.Bruce (West Adelaide), J.Woollard (Sturt), P.Sandland (North Adelaide), H.Cowan (Norwood)  

Both teams had a surfeit of top quality players.  The VFL side boasted strength on every line courtesy of the likes of South Melbourne's long kicking full back Charles James, Melbourne half backs Charles Parkin and William McLelland (after whom the McLelland Trophy would later be named), wingmen Charlie Pannam senior (Collingwood) and Charlie Roland (Carlton), and centre half forward “Ted” Rowell of Collingwood.  It also had impressive strength in the ruck with South Melbourne's formidable “Mick” Pleass and the relentless James Smith of St Kilda, while rovers Frank Worroll (South Melbourne) and Bill Griffith (Essendon) provided plenty of bite around the packs.  

The South Australians had a good mix of youth and experience in their line-up.  The youngsters included the eventual winner of the 1901 Magarey Medal, North Adelaide's eighteen year old Phil Sandland, and future champion and triple Magarey Medallist Tom MacKenzie, of West Torrens in 1901, but later of North Adelaide.  West Adelaide wingman George Bruce would later play for Carlton and the VFL with distinction, while Sturt ruckman Jack Woollard would later achieve football immortality of sorts as skipper of Port Adelaide's powerful 1910 combination, which would win both the local and national premierships.  Meanwhile the South Australian captain, Arch Hosie from Port Adelaide, was in his twelfth season of senior football, and would carry on for two more years, during which time he would skipper his state to a memorable victory over the VFL in Melbourne.  

Match Report (as per the contemporary Melbourne press) 

The football match South Australia versus Victoria attracted a large attendance of spectators to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday afternoon.  The weather was cold.  

Quite early in the game it was apparent that while the visitors were playing better together than the Victorians and showed great aptitude in handling the ball and passing it from one to the other there was still a lack of judgement in front of goal which enabled the home team to turn many a rush.  Robinson with a punt scored the first goal for the Victorians, who had whatever advantage the cross wind gave, and at quarter time the Victorians had 1 goal 2 behinds to 1 behind.  

In the second quarter the Adelaide men snapped a goal through the agency of Bailey, and 5 behinds were added rapidly, two or three of which might have easily been goals.  Quinn, a clever, slippery little chap, who was great favourite with the crowd, was doing a good deal of work forward, and often gained rounds of applause.  At half time the board read Victoria 2 goals 3 behinds South Australia 1 goal 6 behinds.  

Purse opened the third quarter with a fine run, and from his kick Worroll passed to Rowell, who scored.  Quinn and Fulton did some good work for South Australia, but Robinson and Goding each got a goal, and in ten minutes Victoria had established a long lead.  In a hot struggle in front of the Victorian posts, Kruss snapped a goal, but the Adelaide men were missing a lot of chances.  Pannam soon afterwards made the run of the day well shepherded by Pearce, and from his kick a behind came.  On the kick-in Thompson ran over the line.  Mr. D'Helin promptly brought the ball back and bounced it, and from the scrimmage which resulted Robinson again scored.  

The visitors did not like this decision, for in Adelaide the only penalty in coming over the line is for the man to kick it off again.  Mr. D'Helin was right, however, according to our rules.  Victoria had a strong lead as the final quarter was entered, and Rowell and Lamp each added a goal.  Bailey and Quinn also scored for the visitors, and the game ended.  

FINAL SCORE: Victoria 8.7 (55); South Australia 4.16 (40)  

BEST - Victoria: Robinson, Rowell, Pannam, Pleass, Pearce, Goding, Lampe   South Australia: Quinn, Woollard, Sandland, MacKenzie, Hosie, Bruce, Bailey  

GOALS - Victoria: Robinson 4; Rowell 2; Goding, Lampe   South Australia: Bailey 2; Kruss, Quinn  

(Reading the above, it is interesting to note that there is no reference to arguably the most characteristic feature of the Australian game, high marking; on the other hand, the author is clearly impressed by players who embark on long runs with the ball, à la rugby.  

The discrepancy in rule interpretation to which the author refers was not going to disappear overnight, either.  As late as the 1990s, for example, Victorian observers would merrily accuse Adelaide Crows players of “throwing” the ball, highlighting a fundamental difference in the way umpires applied the laws of the game relating to handball on either side of the border.)  

Seven weeks later, in Adelaide, the South Australians gained revenge over the Vics with a 12 point win, 6.11 (47) to 5.5 (35).  The victory initiated an unprecedented sequence of success for the croweaters, who in 1902 defeated the VFL both home (by 19 points) and away (by 8 points), thereby emphasising the evenness of standard which prevailed at the time.  When the Western Australians emerged on the interstate scene in 1904, they were quick to demonstrate that they, too, were playing football of a comparable standard to both the Victorians and the South Australians.



Essendon vs Fitzroy, 31st August 1901

Same Old Hang On

The Victorian Football League in 1901 comprised eight clubs. Over the course of the season, these clubs first played 14 home and away matches, one of each against every other team. After that, the teams occupying first, third, fifth and seventh places on the premiership ladder formed section A, while those in second, fourth, sixth and eighth places constituted section B. Each team then played the other three teams in its section once, with the results of those matches being added to the results of the home and away matches to form the final premiership ladder. This represented a departure from the system used the previous year, which had generated considerable controversy. In 1900, finals participation had been determined by a team’s record in the sectional matches, with its results during the home and away series being used merely to determine in which of the two sections it would compete. Theoretically therefore, it would have been possible to finish bottom of the ladder without a win in 14 home and away games but then go on to claim the flag after a successful sectional campaign followed by back to back wins in the finals. Although this did not happen, what actually transpired was nevertheless, in the view of the vast majority of football supporters, grossly unfair. Melbourne was a mediocre performer during the home and away season, but still proved able to qualify for the finals on the strength of a sound showing in its sectional matches. Overall, Melbourne won 8 of its 17 home and away and sectional fixtures, compared to Geelong’s tally of 11 wins and 6 defeats. Both teams qualified for section B, and won 2 out of 3 matches, as did Collingwood. The three teams were thus separated only on the basis of percentage, with Melbourne coming top, the Magpies second, and the Pivotonians, despite their superior season long record, in third place, and out of the finals.  The unfairness of the system was further emphasised when Melbourne actually went on to win the premiership.  

There would be no such unfairness and controversy in 1901, as the four clubs with the best overall win-loss record ended up contesting the finals. The identity of those four clubs remained in doubt until the very last round of sectional matches, with the section B clash between Fitzroy and Melbourne at Brunswick Street determining which of the two clubs would ultimately claim fourth position. In a low scoring affair, reigning premier Melbourne led narrowly at every change by margins of 3, 3 and 5 points before a last quarter surge by the Maroons yielded 3.6 to a goal and secured victory, and with it major round participation, by a margin of 13 points, 4.13 (37) to 3.6 (24). Fourth place on the premiership ladder meant that Fitzroy would be playing the second placed club in a sudden-death play-off.[1] That club proved to be Essendon, which won 12 out of 17 matches to finish ahead of Collingwood on percentage. Since the establishment of the VFL in 1897 the Same Old had been consistently strong, winning the new competition’s inaugural premiership, and only once failing to contest the finals. Overall, during the 1890s Essendon had been far and away the most successful club in top level Victorian football, finishing top of the VFA in 1891-2-3-4 in addition to capturing the aforementioned 1897 VFL flag.  

During the 1901 home and away series, Essendon and Fitzroy met in round three at East Melbourne and round ten at Brunswick Street. On both occasions, victory went to the visiting side. In round three, Fitzroy trailed for most of the match, but finished strongly to sneak home by 3 points. By contrast, the round ten fixture proved a one-sided affair, as Essendon raced out of the blocks with 7 opening term goals to 3 en route to a comfortable 14.8 (92) to 6.8 (44) triumph. Going into the two sides’ play-off clash the Same Old had been in irrepressible form, gaining resounding wins over South Melbourne, Carlton and Geelong in their 3 sectional matches by a healthy average winning margin for the era of 54 points. The Maroons had also triumphed in all of their sectional fixtures, albeit with marginally less apparent conviction and ease than Essendon, and were therefore seen by most observers as outsiders, although there was little doubt that if they performed at their very best they would be capable of providing an upset.  

The match, which was played at Collingwood’s home ground, Victoria Park, attracted a crowd estimated at 15,000, which was the biggest of the season up to that point. Neither side boasted a “coach” in the sense that we use the word today - the first true coach in VFL history, Jack Worrall, would take the reins at Carlton in 1902 - and so on-field leadership was provided by the respective captains, Tod Collins in the case of Essendon, and Bill McSpeerin for Fitzroy. The ranks of both teams contained some of the finest exponents of Australian football of the period. Perhaps most noteworthy among these was Essendon forward Albert Thurgood, described by some as the game’s first “superstar”. "Tall and magnificently built, Thurgood could play in any position on the ground and was extraordinarily fast.  It was said that he could run 100 yards in even time.  His high marking was superb, his ground work robust, and he was said to be as nimble and agile as a hare.  Like a true champion he rarely had an off day and he could kick brilliantly with every type of kick imaginable."[2]   

Thurgood had originally played football at Brighton Grammar School before joining Essendon in 1892.  He went on to help the Same Old lift the next three VFA premierships (making it four in succession all told).  He would be voted Essendon's best and fairest player in 1901, and was the leading goal kicker in the VFA three times and in the VFL once.  He kicked 181 goals in three VFA seasons with Essendon, during which he would have played a maximum of 57 games.  In just under five seasons in the VFL he played 46 games, booting 89 goals.  Between 1895 and 1897 he played for Fremantle, helping the team claim two premierships, and finishing as the WAFA’s top goalkicker every season. Thurgood was particularly renowned for his prodigious kicking, being recorded on one occasion as producing a place kick of 98.48 metres, or 107 yards 2 feet 1 inch.  One of his drop kicks was allegedly measured at 82.3 metres, or 90 yards.  

Among the more feted of his team-mates were wingman or half back flanker George Stuckey, Same Old skipper in the club’s first four seasons in the VFL, and one of the speediest players in the competition.[3] Meanwhile, playing alongside Thurgood in the Dons’ forward line was Fred Hiskins, who actually kicked more goals than Thurgood in 1901 - 34 in total - to top the VFL goalkicking list. Hiskins had a comparatively brief career at the top level - 50 games from 1900-2 and in 1906 - but was always highly regarded, and represented the state in 1902. Other prominent performers for Essendon in 1901 included centre half back Hugh Gavin, considered one of the finest defenders in the league, Bill Griffith who would enjoy a 185 game VFL career during the course of which he would transform from a rover into arguably the finest full back in the land, and Harry Wright, a top class centreman from Ballarat who had debuted with the Same Old in their 1894 VFA premiership year and who, like Stuckey, represented Victoria on the cricket field.  

Fitzroy skipper Bill McSpeerin was acknowledged as one of the finest leaders in VFL football. The consummate all round footballer, William McSpeerin was equally effective as a rover or in a variety of set positions.  He began with Fitzroy while the club was still in the VFA, and was a key contributor to its 1895 premiership.  In 1898 he helped the Maroons to their first VFL premiership, the last to be won when teams consisted of twenty players, and he also played in the winning grand final of 1899, when he was Fitzroy's top goal kicker for the year with 18 goals.  McSpeerin captained the 'Roys in 1901 and 1902, and rounded off his VFL career with two magnificent seasons in 1903 and 1904.  The last of his 126 VFL games came in the 1904 grand final against Carlton which Fitzroy won comfortably by 4 goals.  

Arguably the highest profile Fitzroy player in 1901 was the immensely versatile Fred Fontaine, the highlight of whose career probably came with his fine performance at full back in the 1904 grand final win over Carlton.  Towards the end of the game, he was responsible for making a surging run through the centre of the ground before passing to Percy Trotter, who kicked what proved to be the decisive goal of the match. Fontaine’s ten season VFL career, which ended in 1907, comprised 110 games, and saw him play in Fitzroy’s first four league premiership teams. Terry Moriarty was another versatile ten season player for the Maroons, while courageous and pacy defender Alec Sloan, and classy wingman Edward Drohan, who would later play for both Collingwood and St Kilda, were other top ‘Roys of the time.  

Famous umpire Ivo Crapp had charge of proceedings which during the early part of the first quarter were dominated by the Maroons, whose pace had the Dons continually on the back foot. After registering 3 consecutive behinds Albert Sharpe registered the ‘Roys opening goal from a place kick after he had marked Drohan’s pass. In terms of attacking pressure and territorial advantage, Essendon then began to mount a semblance of a fight back  but this was not reflected on the scoreboard, and the second goal of the match also went to Fitzroy, courtesy of Ed Drohan.  Shortly before the end of the term the Dons finally managed to trouble the scorers with a behind, but the Maroons almost immediately reciprocated, so that at the first change they held a 15 point advantage, 2.4 (16) to 0.1 (1).  

The second quarter again saw Fitzroy in command early, but play was tight and tough, with scoring opportunities limited. Finally, the ‘Roys managed a behind, but thereafter Essendon began gradually to capture the initiative. Thurgood, who had scarcely been sighted, finally entered the fray with a towering mark roughly 65 metres from goal before sending the ball into the goal square. A mad scramble involving numerous players followed before Thurgood, having run into the square in pursuit of his own kick, managed to obtain possession and snap truly - at least according to the goal umpire - to register the Dons’ first major score. After the match, many Fitzroy supporters remained indignant about this goal as they believed that the ball had grazed the goal post.  

Seemingly deriving heart from having broken through, Essendon’s players for the first time began matching their opponents for pace, and indeed if anything the speed of the game was increasing. Sharpe added a minor score for Fitzroy, but overall it was Essendon which was attacking more frequently. Finally, Thurgood managed to register a behind from considerable distance for the black and reds and shortly after he snapped truly from close range to reduce his team’s deficit to just 4 points.  

Following the resumption, Fitzroy surged into attack, only for Essendon centre half back Gavin to take a strong saving mark near goal. Gavin passed to Griffith and Griffith’s kick was marked by Thurgood, who promptly carpeted the ball, despite the fact that he was a good 60 metres out. ”Some laughed as he put the ball down, others jeered, and many wondered.”[4] Those who laughed had poor memories, as Thurgood had repeatedly proved himself one of the most prodigious kicks in Australian football. Indeed, some have even claimed that he was the longest kick in the history of the game. He confirmed his credentials now, as his towering place kick sailed straight between the central uprights, and Essendon had captured the lead for the first time in the match. Not long afterwards the bell rang for half time, with the Dons maintaining a 2 point advantage, 3.2 (20) to 2.6 (18).  

Essendon went a long way towards winning the match in the third quarter, dominating proceedings almost throughout and adding 2.5 to 1.2 to hold an 11 point lead at the final change. Thurgood was again in the thick of the action, kicking both of the Dons’ goals for the term, the first of which came via another 60 metre place kick. Jim Sharp was Fitzroy’s sole goalscorer for the quarter.  

The Maroons had not yet shown the white flag, however, and after the Dons had extended their lead to 12 points they managed the first goal of the final term courtesy again of Jim Sharp. Not long afterwards Jeremiah Brosnan kicked truly to put Fitzroy back on even terms, and the large crowd, understandably, was at fever pitch. A behind from Fontaine then saw the ‘Roys recapturing the lead and the pace of the match, if anything, increased still further.  

After a slow start, Albert Thurgood had kicked all 5 of Essendon’s goals to be easily the most influential player on view. He reinforced this status by paving the way for his team’s 6th, and ultimately decisive, goal, shepherding strongly to make space for half forward flanker Jim “Skeeter” Larkin to dash in, snatch up the ball, and snap truly. This gave the Dons a lead of 5 points, but they were far from home and hosed as Fitzroy proved by registering the match’s next major score, off the boot of Sharpe. Only a couple of minutes remained, and the Maroons were a point to the good.  

Those final two minutes were arguably the most crucial of the entire 1901 VFL season, as they produced behinds to Essendon from John “Dookie” McKenzie and Mick Peppard which secured the Same Old’s passage through to the grand final. Once there, they met a Collingwood team which had twice accounted for them during the home and away season, but on this occasion the Magpies, unlike Fitzroy, provided little in the way of opposition. By half time Essendon had 5 goals on the board to Collingwood’s nil, and the final scoreboard showed them comfortable victors, for the time, by 27 points, 6.7 (43) to 2.4 (16).  

As for the first play-off, the Dons prevailed in the end by the narrowest of margins, 6.10 (46) to 6.9 (45), thanks in no small part to the contribution of Albert “The Great” Thurgood who booted 5 of his team’s goals in a display which recalled the brilliance he had so often shown before journeying across the Nullarbor in 1895 to play for Fremantle. The victors were also well-served by Stuckey on a wing, Griffiths both as a rover and on a half back flank, Gavin at centre half back, follower McKenzie, and skipper Stuckey, particularly in the second half, both on the ball and in a forward pocket. Fitzroy’s best were ruckmen Fontaine and Ernie Jenkins, McSpeerin both while roving and resting up forward, Chris Kiernan in the forward lines, and defender Sloan.  

Much of the post-match discussion centred on Essendon’s controversial first goal, and it even seemed for a time as if Fitzroy might lodge an appeal with the VFL. However, in the end the matter was left to rest.  

Although Essendon’s eventual premiership triumph was widely lauded, there were still some who maintained that the VFL’s finals system was unfair in that it did not allow the team with the best overall record over the course of the entire season, Geelong, an opportunity to contest the grand final. The VFL took heed of these concerns, and in 1902 implemented the challenge system of playing finals, which conferred on the minor premier an automatic right to contest the season’s premiership-deciding match.  


[1] This was what the match was officially described as by the VFL at the time, although it has sometimes subsequently, and erroneously, been referred to as a semi final.  

[2] The Encyclopedia of League Footballers by Jim Main and Russell Holmesby, page 436.  

[3] In addition to his accomplishments on the football field Stuckey was an excellent cricketer who represented Victoria, and a top level sprinter, winning the 1897 Stawell Gift.  

[4] “The Argus”, Monday 2nd September 1901, page 7.



Norwood vs Port Adelaide, 5th October 1901

Tight Clash Between Old Rivals

Reviewing the 1901 football season in “The Advertiser” of 7th October of that year “Onlooker” ventured the opinion that it had been “not very eventful”. However, he went on to suggest that this was by no means a bad thing, as the previous few seasons had been blighted by acrimonious altercations between club representatives, mainly with regard to the controversial inception of district football.[1] It seems that the constant verbal sparring between the clubs had had a pronounced negative impact on the way in which football was perceived by the general public, which in turn inevitably adversely affected attendances. In 1901, clubs appear to have reached an unspoken agreement to be less voluble about their differences, with the result that attendances at SAFA matches increased for the first time in many years.  

Perhaps the most noteworthy event of the 1901 season was the addition to the competition of a seventh club, Sturt. Based at Unley, the newcomers predictably finished last in their debut season, but by no means gave the impression that they were out of their depth. They managed 5 wins from 17 home and away matches, and only ended up with the wooden spoon thanks to having an inferior percentage to West Torrens. The other team to fail to qualify for the final four was West Adelaide, which won 6 games and lost 11.  

The finals system adopted by the SAFA in 1901 was a curious one. Indeed, one might go so far as to describe it as nonsensical. The four teams to qualify for the major round were, in order, Norwood, Port Adelaide, North Adelaide and South Adelaide. Anyone reading the results of the finals matches which followed might be forgiven for imagining that the system employed by the SAFA foreshadowed the Page-McIntyre system which came widely into force thirty years later. However, this was not actually the case.  

The 1901 SAFA major round commenced on 14th September with matches between top team Norwood - the “junior premier” - and second-placed Port, and between third-placed side North and fourth-placed South. After these matches, the loser of the match between North and South was eliminated, but owing to the result of the Norwood-Port clash so, somewhat idiosyncratically, was North. The explanation takes some digesting, but the key point to bear in mind is that Norwood, as junior premier, was guaranteed a place in the premiership-deciding match irrespective of the results of the finals matches which preceded it. Had the red and blues defeated Port in their semi final they would have confronted North the following week in what would effectively have been a grand final, and Port would have been eliminated from contention. As things turned out, however, Port triumphed over Norwood, and in so doing qualified to play off for the premiership. Norwood meanwhile played North on 21st September in what was effectively a meaningless match, as whatever the result, it would be Norwood which would front up against Port in the grand final. Norwood actually ended up downing North, giving the impression that the match was effectively a kind of preliminary final, but in truth it was nothing of the kind. The only positive feature of Norwood’s victory was that it doused the fires of controversy which would almost certainly have been ignited had North won but nevertheless been eliminated from finals contention.  

For reasons which are unclear, a fortnight’s break separated the nonsensical Norwood-North encounter and the premiership decider between Port and Norwood. This attracted widespread criticism, particularly given that the match had to be played in hot, sultry weather, “and had it not been for the fact that the players were in excellent condition, the fight for supremacy would have been more severe, and it would have told more heavily upon the contestants”.[2]  Moreover, the surface of the oval had been top-dressed in preparation for the cricket season, meaning that although the match took place in extremely dry conditions the playing surface was exceedingly slippery, and had a noticeably adverse effect on the standard of football produced by both teams. Nevertheless, the closeness of the scores to some extent compensated for this, and the crowd of roughly 6,500 was kept engrossed right to the end.  

Prior to their clash on 5th October Norwood and Port Adelaide had met one another three times during the season, with the Redlegs successful in both minor round matches, and Port turning the tables in the semi final. The ease with which Port, who at the time were interchangeably known as either the Seasiders of the Magentas, triumphed in the semi final led many to accord them favouritism leading into the re-match. Port won the semi final with consummate ease, by 50 points, 8.13 (61) to 1.5 (11). However, what those who clambered so eagerly onto the Seasiders’ bandwagon failed to take into account was the fact that, from the blue and reds’ perspective, the match was virtually meaningless, as owing to the crazy finals system in force they would be automatically entitled to play off for the premiership irrespective of the result. Those in the know would not have been at all surprised therefore when the last, and most important clash between the sides of the 1901 season saw the Norwood players take to the field harbouring a demonstrably different mind-set to three weeks earlier.  

The match was scheduled to start at 3pm, but as often appears to have been the case at the time the players from both sides were tardy in making an appearance, and it was not until 15 minutes past the hour that umpire Bilsborrow got proceedings underway. Norwood enjoyed the perfect start, and barely 20 seconds had passed when Kirkwood kicked truly after marking. From the resumption, the Redlegs again surged into attack, but Cowan failed to convert a relatively easy goal scoring opportunity and the Magentas relieved the pressure. The ensuing few minutes saw the play concentrated near the middle of the ground as the backlines of both teams stood tall.  

During this early phase of the match Port indulged - perhaps a better word would be “over-indulged” - in a short game, which in 1901 meant maintaining possession of the ball by means of kicks of a mere two or three metres followed by “little marks”. On some occasions, these kicks were actually thinly disguised throws, with the foot being moved in token fashion towards the ball which was then actually propelled by means of the hands.  

Port dominated possession for a time, but failed to make much headway at first. Finally, however, Davis levelled the scores after marking Wisdom’s long pass, and not long afterwards the same player added a second goal from open play. The Seasiders continued to hold the upper hand, thanks largely to the fact that their handling of the ball was noticeably surer than that of their opponents. Unlike the Redlegs, the Port players were also indulging in handball, considered by some contemporary observers to be a risky tactic, but such was not the case on this occasion. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, however, the Magentas had, when the quarter time bell rang out, only managed to add another behind to their tally, while the Redlegs, after an isolated forward flurry, managed likewise. At quarter time therefore a margin of 6 points separated the teams, with Port on 2.1 (13) leading Norwood 1.1 (7).  

Port was again in the ascendant early in the second quarter, but the Norwood defence stood firm. Frustration appears to have set in, and tempers flared, with Smithers of Port perhaps the major culprit. Umpire Bilsborrow was quick to intervene, however, and thereafter cooler heads prevailed, with the play if anything becoming somewhat monotonous.  

The first score of the term, a behind, was registered by Norwood, and this seemed to stimulate the players of both sides to intensify their efforts. On one occasion, the crowd roared with laughter as diminutive Port player Smithers crashed into Norwood’s redoubtable Bill Plunkett and somewhat surprisingly sent him toppling to the ground.  

As the pace of the match increased, so did the standard of play, but scoring opportunities were at a premium for both sides. By the long break Port’s tally had improved by just a solitary behind whilst Norwood had only fared marginally better, registering two minor scores. The half-time scoreboard therefore read Port Adelaide 2.2 (14) to Norwood 1.3 (9).  

Port dominated the early stages of the third term, but could only manage a succession of minor scores. When Norwood finally captured the initiative they quickly made the Seasiders pay courtesy of a goal from Webb. The score at this stage was Port 2.5 to Norwood 2.3. The Redlegs continued to dominate, but Port defended well, if sometimes on occasion with a somewhat liberal interpretation of the game’s rules. Webb, who was a dominant figure for Norwood at this stage, came in for some particularly rough treatment from the opposition defenders.  

After a flurry of near misses McFarlane finally registered full points to put the red and blues in front, and shortly before the final change a goal from Dawson gave Norwood some breathing space. At three quarter time the Redlegs held a 10 point advantage, 4.3 (27) to Port’s 2.5 (17).  

Whatever Port skipper Arch Hosie said to his team mates during the interval clearly had an impact as, once play resumed, the Magentas surged into attack and had a goal on the board within a minute. Healy was the scorer. A couple of minutes later Quinn added another major score for the Seasiders who suddenly looked the more likely victors.  

Gradually, however, the Redlegs began to battle their way back into the match. Play was fast and fiery, and several fists were thrown, but the men from the Parade were beginning to achieve dominance, and the ball was spending more and more time in their forward lines. Fortunately for Port, the red and blues’ kicking for goal was errant, but four consecutive behinds nevertheless saw them re-establish a lead, which they never lost. The Magentas continued to fight things out until the bell but apart from a woeful miss from close range by Strawns never really looked capable of breaking through. The Redlegs finished the match full of running and emerged worthy winners in the end by 4 points, 4.9 (33) to 4.5 (29). In truth, the margin could and should have been somewhat greater as Norwood missed a profusion of easy goal scoring opportunities, particularly during the second half. The Redlegs were also superior to Port both territorially and in terms of possession.  

Several noteworthy players took part in this match. Norwood ruckman Jim Gosse (pictured above) played well in excess of 100 games for the club - the precise number is not known - between 1894 and 1905, and the 1901 premiership was one of three to which he would contribute. He represented South Australia four times. Once his playing career was over Gosse became Norwood club president, a position he retained for twenty years.  In 1936 he donated the South Australian centenary premiership cup to the SANFL.  Knighted after world war two for his services to the state, Gosse once memorably declared "I think the Australian game of football is the finest thing in existence for the public to look at".  

Gosse’s team mate Bill Plunkett enjoyed outstanding success and an immense reputation in two states.  He began with Norwood in 1896, and was one of four brothers to represent the club.  In 1901 he played with both Norwood and West Perth and, forty years before Stan Heal managed the same feat with Melbourne and West Perth, he achieved premiership honours in two different states in the same season.  

After 1901, Bill Plunkett stayed in the west where he was regarded as one of the state's top footballers.  In 1904, he was chosen to captain Western Australia's first interstate team on its eastern states tour, and the following year he led the Cardinals to a controversial premiership win over East Fremantle.  All told, he played 50 senior games for West Perth, plus 2 for Western Australia.  It is unknown precisely how many games he played for Norwood, as the club did not commence maintaining such records until 1907, but it is known that he played twice for South Australia.  

When East Perth entered the Western Australian Football Association in 1906, Bill Plunkett was appointed as the fledgling club's inaugural coach, but only managed to steer the side to 1 win from 17 starts.  

Ruggedly relentless and inspirational, Port skipper Arch Hosie was a lynch-pin of the club for fourteen seasons, during which time it won three premierships and was runner-up on four occasions.  He later had two brief stints as coach of the club, in 1909-10, and 1924-5.  

As a player he was aggressive but fair, and boasted extraordinary versatility.  Many of his finest performances came in the ruck, but he was almost equally effective in the centre or across half back.  In 1901-2-3 he captained Port, and was state captain for a couple of years as well, leading South Australia to a famous victory over the VFL in Melbourne in 1902.  In all, he played for South Australia 6 times.  

In 1898, Hosie received a trophy from the club for “the best all round player”, as a result of which he is listed in the record books as Port Adelaide's earliest known best and fairest award winner.  He retired at the end of the 1903 season, with his final tally of senior grade appearances unknown. 

The name “Quinn” is among the most pre-eminent in the history of the Port Adelaide Football Club, and Jack Quinn, who was a forward in the club’s 1901 grand final side, was the founder of the “Quinn Dynasty”. In later years his sons Jack, Tom, dual Magarey Medallist Bob, and George all represented the club with distinction.  Jack Quinn senior was a talented forward who topped the SAFA's goal kicking list with 32 goals in 1907.  He was captain of the Magpies, as the club was by then nicknamed, in both 1904 and 1905. In 1898 he had spent a season playing for White Feather in what was then a very strong WA Goldfields competition.  

Over the course of the ensuing decade both Norwood and Port would further affirm their status as among the state’s leading clubs. Between 1902 and 1910 the Redlegs would play off for the premiership on three occasions, triumphing in 1904 and 1907, while Port would capture three flags from seven grand final appearances.  


[1] This was the requirement that players represent the club based in the electorate zone in which they resided. The system was implemented on a loose, voluntary basis in 1897, but in 1899 it became compulsory.  

[2] “The Advertiser”, 7th October 1901, page 8.


1902: "White Australia"

"The new nation was shaped by external threat and internal anxiety, the two working together to make exclusive racial possession the essential condition of the nation-state. The external threat came initially from rival European powers. Spain and the Netherlands had preceded the British into the Pacific in the earlier era of imperial expansion; now France, Germany and the United States staked their claims as the principal powers scrambled to take possession of the last unclaimed portions of the globe." (A Concise History of Australia by Stuart McIntyre, page 140.)  

"Racism was grounded on imperial as well as national sentiment, for the champions of the Empire proclaimed the unity of the white race over the yellow and the black. Hence the claim of Charles Pearson that 'we are guarding the last part of the world in which the higher races can live and increase freely for the higher civilisation'. Pearson, a costive English intellectual who migrated to Australia for his health and practised both education and politics with a melancholic rectitude, sounded the alarm in a global survey that he called "Orbis Senescens" - for he was convinced that civilisation was exhausting the vitality of the European peoples."  (op cit., page 142)

Spiritual Land

by Elizabeth Brown 

A distant rock, a far off land 

deeply planted stands 

loyal and grand. 

Remembrance of timeless years gone by 

alone at night, the rock will cry. 

Hunger for money, stripped the land 

mined the Earth in which she's bound 

bulldozed the surface, to graze their beef 

​distorting the Earth in disbelief. 

Soon the wind will change course 

swept in fortune, a powerful force

nature reclaims a desolate mess 

reclaims the race, who related best. 

Peace, strength, remakes a home 

a land once more 

​free to roam.

The Year in Brief

Information about Australia’s stance on immigration probably accounted for more newsprint in 1902 than any other subject. The underpinnings of what would become known as “The White Australia Policy” were rapidly being put into place, although it is important to stress that this was never a discrete, explicitly defined policy as such, but rather a group of measures which, collectively, if a trifle haphazardly, prevented non-Caucasians from taking up residence in the country. Although a handful of politicians endeavoured to make out that the reasons for such measures were fundamentally economic - and it is true, for example, that Japan’s rapid industrial growth made many Australians nervous - the real philosophy underpinning the “white Australian” ideal was unabashedly racist. At its heart lay a somewhat crass misinterpretation of Darwin’s theory of “the survival of the fittest”. For example, Australia’s Prime Minister in 1902, Sir Edmund Barton, adequately summarised what might be regarded as the views of the majority of his contemporaries:  

“I do not think that the doctrine of the equality of man was really ever intended to include racial equality. There is no racial equality. There is that basic inequality. These races are, in comparison with white races - I think no-one wants convincing of this fact - unequal and inferior. The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman. There is a deep-set difference, and we see no prospect of its ever being effaced. Nothing in this world can put these two races upon an equality. Nothing we can do by cultivation, by refinement, or by anything else will make some races equal to others.” [1] 

The same basic viewpoint was adhered to by Australians of every political persuasion and class, and nor was it restricted to Australia, as whites the world over firmly believed in the innate and unwavering superiority of their race over all others.  

The significance of this attitude cannot be overstressed, as perhaps more than any other single factor it shaped both the way Australia viewed the world and, particularly after the Great War, the impact which the world had on Australia. It is for these reasons that it will frequently be alluded to.  

As for the impact which Australia had on the world in 1902, this was minimal. Indeed, perhaps the only spheres in which the country was attracting any notice whatsoever were sporting. Australian swimmers such as F.C. Lane and “Dick” Cavill, for example, were utilising a revolutionary swimming stroke, the so-called “Australian Crawl”, [2] to establish a number of world records.  

Other sports at which Australians excelled included cricket, tennis, cycling, horse racing and rugby. Surfing too, although in its infancy as an organised sport, was quickly growing in popularity. [3]  

In South Africa, the Second Boer War finally ground to a halt, and Australians had good reason to feel proud of their contributions, even if the war itself had, from a global perspective, made Great Britain and her allies rather unpopular, much as the US military involvement in Vietnam during the 1960s and ‘70s would give rise to widespread criticism, indeed condemnation.   

In the four southern states, football was rapidly becoming an obsession. After a dip in popularity during the 1890s more people than ever were involved in the sport. Melbourne in particular had become something of a Mecca for the game, with both the Victorian Football League and Victorian Football Association attracting record crowds. The 1902 VFL challenge final between Collingwood and Essendon would be played before a crowd of 35,202, the highest ever up to that point.


​(1)  These assertions were made during a Parliamentary debate, and quoted in The History of Australia: The Twentieth Century ​by Russel Ward, page 36.  

(2)  This was actually a blatant misnomer as the stroke had been practised for centuries by Polynesians and Melanesians.  

​(3)  Surfing too had originated in Melanesia and Polynesia.


North Hobart's 1901 STFA premiership team

North Hobart's 1901 STFA premiership team


Fitzroy vs South Melbourne, 17th May 1902

Fitzroy Fight Back

The 1902 VFL season was noteworthy in that Carlton became the first club to appoint an off-field team leader in the shape of Jack Worrall. The label attached to this post, “coach”, had hitherto been applied to men whose job it was to assist the team captain to maintain the players in peak condition in between matches. However, it was the captain who called the shots tactically, and was the real leader of the team. In 1902, however, Jack Worrall, who was not on the club’s playing list, assumed responsibility for all aspects of team leadership.  

It was an experiment which, initially at least, did not prove successful. Carlton managed just 7 wins from 17 home and away matches to finish sixth, an improvement of just one place from the previous year. However, success was not to be long in arriving for the Blues.  

In 1902, however, the finals would end up being contested by three of the same clubs as in 1901: Collingwood, Essendon and Fitzroy. The only change was that Melbourne would replace Geelong as the major round’s fourth participant.  

The system of playing finals was changed yet again in 1902 with the introduction of a right of challenge for the team topping the ladder at the conclusion of the 14 home and away and 3 sectional matches. Basically this meant that the team with the best overall record over the course of the season - referred to as the “minor premier” - earned an automatic right to contest the premiership-deciding match. If it happened to lose its semi final it would nevertheless be entitled to challenge the winner of the following week’s final to a sudden-death play-off to decide the destiny of the flag. Similarly, if the minor premier reached the final only to lose, it would be granted the right to challenge the winner of the final to a re-match the following week. The winner of the re-match would be crowned premiers.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, this new challenge system of playing finals had to be invoked in its very first season, but more about that in due course.  

When Fitzroy met South Melbourne at Brunswick Street in round three of the 1902 season the ‘Roys had already won against both Essendon and St Kilda while South had lost by 18 points to Collingwood before finding form with a convincing 8.13 (61) to 0.8 (8) defeat of Jack Worrall’s Carlton. On paper, there appeared to be very little separating the two sides.  

Brunswick Street, which had undergone £100 worth of improvements during the summer, was one of the VFL’s finest venues and, despite overcast conditions and frequent showers, a sizeable crowd of roughly 10,000 attended the match. The home side entered the fray minus injured captain Bill McSpeerin plus three other first choice players, while the southerners were deemed to be more or less at full strength. South’s on-field leader was Bill Windley who had also skippered the club two years earlier. Windley was a top class rover, centreman or forward, often likened to an eel, who played much of his career with South in the VFA. In 1897, when the VFL got underway, he was already twenty-nine years of age, but he did not retire until after the 1905 season, by which time he had played 129 VFL games and kicked 36 goals. Windley played football for the love of the game, never accepting any form of payment.  

The first term was tightly contested, with little to choose between the teams. Indeed, fully twenty minutes had elapsed before either team scored. The standard of football was high, and the large crowd roared often and appreciatively. The red and whites, having registered the only goal of the quarter off the boot of Dave Powell, led by 4 points at the first change, 1.2 (8) to 0.4 (4). Fitzroy had probably enjoyed slightly the better of things in terms of possession, but their kicking for goal was poor, as exemplified by both Alf McDougall and Wally Naismith registering only behinds from easy, close range shots.  

Early in the second quarter the Maroons seized the initiative, and a couple of goals from Gerald Brosnan saw them hit the front. South’s response was impressive as they began to dominate the ruck contests as well as outshining their opponents at ground level. In rapid succession they added no fewer than five goals to head into the main break with a comfortable 23 point advantage, 6.3 (39) to 2.4 (16).  

Early in the third term the Maroons seemed to be getting their act together thanks to quick goals from Alf Wilkinson and Bob Smith, but South rallied, and in many ways the third quarter developed into a carbon copy of the second. The longer the term proceeded, the more the southerners seemed to get on top, and at the final change a brace of goals from David Powell and Frank Worroll had given them a lead of 20 points, 8.3 (51) to 4.7 (31). For the period, this was a sizeable advantage, and the Fitzroy supporters could be justified in feeling pessimistic about their team’s prospects. However, they were in for a very heart-warming surprise, as Fitzroy became the only team during the entire 1902 VFL season to overcome a three quarter time deficit of greater than 3 goals to win a match.  

At the start of the last term the ‘Roys threw an extra man into the ruck and began attacking both ball and man with great vigour. South reacted badly. Some of their players appeared to lose their heads, responding to Fitzroy’s vigour with wayward aggression, and conceding a profusion of frees. Indeed, throughout the match quite a number of South players had shown an inclination to play the man rather than the ball, a tendency that might be said to have cost them a win. Gradually, Fitzroy narrowed the deficit, and with eight minutes remaining scores were level.  

As the final bell loomed, players of both sides applied themselves with great ferocity and determination, with the result of the match remaining in the balance until the death. With the seconds trickling away Brosnan’s kick was marked by Fred Fontaine within goal kicking range, whereupon the bell rang out. The man from Phoenix calmly carpeted the ball, and his ensuing kick was perfection itself, bisecting the uprights to give the ‘Roys an unlikely but thoroughly deserved victory by 6 points. Final scores were Fitzroy 8.10 (58) defeated South Melbourne 8.4 (52).  

It was fitting that Fontaine should kick the decisive goal, as both when stationed at half back and when following he was high among Fitzroy’s best. Energetic rover Percy Trotter was also prominent, as were forwards Jim Sharp and Bob Smith, and ruckman Ern Jenkins. South’s best included Worroll and Ned Alley in the ruck, and defenders Charlie James, Dave Adamson and Bill Windley.  

During the first decade of the VFL’s existence Fitzroy would prove to be comfortably the competition’s leading club, capturing flags in 1898-9 and 1904-5, and finishing second three times. Meanwhile, the southerners, who had lost to the Maroons in the 1899 premiership decider, would have to wait until 1909 before claiming their first VFL flag.


Jack Kay of South Adelaide

South Australia vs VFL, 26th June 1902

Wheatfielders Earn Bragging Rights

In Adelaide, as across most of the British Empire, Thursday 2th June 1902 was declared a public holiday in honour of the coronation, in London, of King Edward VII. However, the king became ill, the coronation was postponed,[1] and the public holiday cancelled. Nevertheless, some of the celebratory events scheduled for the day went ahead. Among these was an interstate football match at the Adelaide Oval between South Australia and the Victorian Football League. There was some talk of deferring the match until Saturday, but the SAFA’s decision to proceed as planned - taken after discussions on Wednesday afternoon with Victorian team delegates - proved to be fully vindicated, as the match attracted an immense crowd for the time of more than 10,000 spectators.[2] Moreover, the football produced by both teams was excellent, with at least one Victorian observer venturing the opinion that “the contest was the finest ever seen in Adelaide between the two combined teams”.[3]  

In 1902 most, though by no means all, Australians were loyal subjects of the British Empire, and updates on the king’s health overshadowed almost everything else in the newspapers of the week of the planned coronation. The fact that there was widespread, and genuine concern among the general population was emphasised at half time of the match when, to the accompaniment of the Central Mission Band, “The occupants of the pavilion rose en masse, and every head around the fences was uncovered. At the close of the anthem cheers went up from every part or the ground.”[4]  

The visitors were captained by thirty-five year old Peter Burns of Geelong. Originally recruited by South Melbourne from Ballarat Imperials in 1885, Peter Burns went on to enjoy virtually unrivalled popularity in the Victorian game until his retirement as a player eighteen years later.  His combination of a neo-Herculean physique, immense courage, fervent athleticism, and irreproachable on field behaviour perfectly encapsulated the 'ideal of manhood' which was in vogue at the time.  

On the field of play, Burns was an instant success, and made a sterling contribution to South's 1885 premiership triumph.  A member of further South Melbourne premiership teams in 1888-89-90, Burns was equally effective whether positioned at full back, or in the ruck, in which latter case he was perfectly capable of remaining on the ball all day.  

In 1892 he transferred to Geelong and went on to give excellent service for another ten years.  He captained Geelong in 1896 and 1900, and also captained Victoria several times.  In 1902, having just turned thirty-six, he was compelled to retire after sustaining a serious leg injury, but he maintained his involvement in football until 1941 by acting as Geelong's official timekeeper.  

Burns’ deputy was Tod Collins of Essendon, another fine all round performer. The South Australians were captained by Arch Hosie of Port Adelaide, who had also been state skipper in 1901.  

The South Australian team wore black and white guernseys, while the Victorians were in blue and gold. In 1901, the two states had played one another twice, with the Vics triumphing in Melbourne, and South Australia in Adelaide. Both matches were close, and another tight encounter was expected.  

The VFL dominated the opening exchanges, in terms of possession at any rate, but play was, for a time, concentrated near the centre of the ground. Finally, the Vics managed to penetrate the South Australian defence, and register the first goal of the game. South Australia responded brightly, but a concerted spell of attacking yielded only a behind, and when the VFL next attacked they showed how it should be done as Essendon’s Fred Hiskens goaled after taking a fine mark.  

The next few minutes saw the South Australians in the ascendancy, but wayward kicking for goal prevented their mounting any real scoreboard pressure. Jack Kay and “Bos” Daly were the main culprits, as both missed easy shots from close range, the former seeing his kick swerve and strike a behind post, and the latter managing just a single score.  

The VFL, with Fontaine particularly prominent, responded energetically, and when Charles Baker took a fine mark within goal kicking range looked set to extend their lead. However, the St Kilda player’s kick fell short, landing deep in the goal square, and South Australia managed to clear.  

The visitors continued to dominate, however, and another Victorian goal was not long in coming. South Melbourne’s Charlie Goding was the scorer, his deft snap capping a swift, incisive forward thrust from the blue and golds.  

During the closing minutes of the quarter South Australia tried desperately to reduce the deficit but were blighted by poor kicking for goal. At the first change the visitors deservedly held sway by a margin of 15 points, 3.2 (20) to 0.5 (5).  

There was a comical start to the second term as Ern Jenkins of Fitzroy gathered the ball near the centre of the ground and inadvertently sent it deep into South Australia’s forward lines. That was where it remained for several minutes, but despite their best efforts the black and whites could only manage minor scores. Some of the misses were risible, and the crowd responded with a mixture of scorn and laughter.  

Midway through the second quarter South Australia finally managed to elicit two flags from the goal umpire. John Earl of North Adelaide was the scorer. Prior to the arrival of Tom Leahy in 1910, John Earl was the man saddled with the responsibility of leading North Adelaide's rucks, a task he performed with considerable distinction for the better part of a decade.  This was one of half a dozen appearances he made for his state. At the end of the 1902 season he would be among the best players afield in his club’s grand final defeat of South Adelaide, a distinction he repeated three years later when Port Adelaide was vanquished.  Tall and thin, he was an excellent palmer of the ball, and was one of the few footballers of his generation to wear a cap while playing.  In 1908, his penultimate season, Earl was the first recorded winner of North's best and fairest award.   

Buoyed by their breakthrough, the South Australians continued to attack persistently, but the Victorian defence held firm. When the visitors at last managed to mount an attack of their own it ended in disappointment as Hiskens, running unchallenged into an open goal, kicked lackadaisically, and only a behind ensued. Not long afterwards, however, the Vics managed their fourth major of the afternoon.  

South Australia’s response was again lively and, on this occasion, telling, with first Earl and then Daly kicking truly. A couple of behinds to the black and whites followed, and for the first time in the match the home state was in front on the scoreboard.  

The closing minutes of the second term saw the ball being propelled swiftly from one end of the ground to the other. When the bell sounded, both sides had added a goal to their respective tallies, and the scoreboard showed South Australia holding the narrowest possible lead at the main break. Scores were South Australia 4.11 (35) leading the VFL 5.4 (34).  

South Australia rushed into attack at the start of the third quarter and O’Brien marked superbly within easy goalkicking range, but only managed to register a behind. The blue and golds rallied, and after Hiskens had registered a couple of behinds Melbourne’s George Moodie  kicked his team’s sixth goal. At this stage of the match the Vics were dominating the rucks and combining together better than South Australia. Some of their interplay was intricate and tricky, and had the home state floundering. A seventh goal soon followed off the boot of Moodie’s Melbourne team-mate Tom Ryan, and the signs were worrying for the home state. To their credit, the South Australian players responded well, producing their best sustained football of the quarter to put the Victorians on the back foot. Once again, however, poor kicking for goal let them down, and several excellent scoring opportunities produced only one major score, courtesy of North Adelaide sharpshooter “Bos” Daly. The VFL’s response was swift and incisive and within minutes they had added an eighth goal. At three quarter time the Victorians held an 11 point advantage, 8.7 (55) to South Australia’s 5.14 (44).  

The last term panned out in a way that few, if any, of the spectators at the ground could have anticipated, with South Australia dominating from start to finish. Barely a minute after the resumption Daly notched a goal to reduce the margin to 5 points. Shortly afterwards the deficit was reduced by a point, and then Daly goaled again to give the home state a lead which was never relinquished. The crowd was now making more noise than at any stage of the game, and the South Australians responded with some truly superb football. Moreover, their kicking for goal, previously so wayward, was now precise and at times brilliant. Further six pointers came off the boots of Kay and Daly and, midway through the term, the home state appeared to have the match in the bag. When Miller kicked South Australia’s tenth goal the crowd, sensing victory, cheered themselves hoarse. The Vics made a semblance of a recovery thanks to a goal from Ryan but South Australia comfortably ran out the remainder of the match, and moments before the final bell O’Brien rubbed salt into the visitors’ wounds with his side’s eleventh six pointer. Final scores were South Australia 11.15 (81) defeated the VFL 9.8 (62).  

The vibrant health of football in South Australia at this point in time was further emphasised a couple of months later when the black and whites journeyed to Melbourne and again overcame the might of the Big V, albeit by the rather tighter margin of just 8 points.  


[1] The coronation eventually took place on 9th August 1902.  

[2] This was a larger crowd than had attended either the 1900 or 1901 grand finals. The population of the Adelaide Metropolitan area at the time was just over 160,000.  

[3] “The Argus”, 27th June 1902, page 7.  

[4] “The Advertiser”, 27th June 1902, page 7.


1903: A Three Team Cricket Match

The Year in Brief

Australian politics in 1903 were dominated by three parties: Protectionists, Free Traders and Labour.[1] All shared a commitment to what might broadly be termed “a white Australia”, but in other important respects their views were very different. Ever since the Commonwealth of Australia had come into being, no single party had enjoyed sufficient popularity to be able to form a government on its own. Following the first ever Federal election in March 1901 a Protectionist Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, headed a minority government, with support from Labour. The situation following the second Federal election, which took place in 1903, was ostensibly similar, with another Protectionist, Alfred Deakin, taking on the role of Prime Minister in an administration which involved coalition with the Labour Party. However, the way in which the voting was split in 1903 was very different to two years earlier. In 1901 the Protectionists had attracted almost 37% of the vote, the Free Traders 30%, Labour just under 16%, with a variety of other parties accounting for the remaining 17%. In December 1903 the Free Traders (37%) proved to be the single most successful party, followed by Labour (31%) and the Protectionists (30%). Deakin thus faced the thankless task of having to govern despite his party enjoying less public support than his two main rivals. Perhaps not surprisingly therefore, the alliance with Labour was soon de-railed, and over the course of the parliament all three parties would hold the reins of power at some stage.  

A detailed discussion of the respective parties’ ideals and philosophies would be out of place. However, in brief, the Protectionists, as the name implies, might be said to be chiefly characterised by their staunch advocacy of protective tariffs to help Australian industry to grow as well as to provide employment. The party was most popular in Victoria and in the rural areas of New South Wales.  

The Free Traders were a centre-right party fundamentally opposed to protectionism, arguing that economic growth would be facilitated if trade with other countries was free and unrestricted. The party, which was at its most popular in New South Wales, was also characterised by a vehement and often outspoken antipathy towards socialism.  

Labour is the only one of Australia’s original major political parties still in existence. It was the only party to flirt with socialism, albeit in a somewhat watered down form which rendered it potentially more palatable to business as well as the establishment in general. Its outlook, as encapsulated in its constitution, is broadly similar today to what it was in 1903. Its constitution puts it this way: "The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields".  

Arguably the two most significant aspects of the 1903 Federal elections were that they witnessed women being granted the vote throughout Australia for the first time, and they heralded the first significant national political impact of one of Australia’s greatest ever politicians and Prime Ministers, Alfred Deakin.  

Born in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in 1856, Deakin was something of a political paradox, and has been described as “at once the greatest Australian nationalist and the greatest imperialist in the Australian parliament”.[2] Deakin believed that unswerving loyalty to the British Crown was in no way inconsistent with the aggressive pursuit of Australia’s national interests. Indeed, the latter ought to be regarded as a direct and logical extension of the former.  

The fact that Australia boasted three political parties of roughly comparable strength and popularity made it rather difficult for individuals to shine, but Deakin managed this owing to a combination of charisma and great shrewdness. Much of his most telling work took place surreptitiously, when he could utilise his affable personality and charm to best effect. Between 1903 and 1910 he enjoyed three stints as Australian Prime Minister - but more of that in due course.  

Deakin compared the Australian political landscape in 1903 to a cricket field on which three teams rather than two were engaged in a match. Being charged with oversight of such a situation was a thankless task, and perhaps not surprisingly Deakin’s first tenure as Prime Minister was brief. In March 1904, following disagreement with informal coalition partners Labour over details of a proposed arbitration bill, he resigned, and was replaced by Labour leader John Watkin.  

If the political situation in Australia generated a certain degree of uncertainty as well as undermining to some extent attempts to formulate a clearly definable national identity, much of the optimism spawned by federation in 1901 was still very much in evidence in 1903. Nowhere was this better exemplified than in the nation’s ongoing love affair with sport.  

For Australian football, the 1903 season was one of optimism and growth. Arguably the most important single development of the year was the establishment in Sydney of the New South Wales Australian Football League comprising no fewer than eleven clubs: East Sydney, North Shore, Paddington, Redfern, Balmain, Sydney, Newtown, YMCA, West Sydney, Ashfield and Alexandria, which finished the inaugural season in that order. The VFL gave the fledgling competition a promotional boost by scheduling the round four fixture on 23rd May between Fitzroy and Collingwood for the Sydney Cricket Ground. The match attracted great public interest, and was watched by a sizeable crowd of 18,000. Later in the season, on 1st August, the experiment was repeated when Geelong and Carlton played their postponed round two fixture in Sydney. There were no other VFL matches on that particular Saturday as the state team was playing South Australia in Adelaide.  

Two other games involving visiting VFL clubs were played in Sydney in 1903, with the New South Wales state team taking on, and narrowly losing to, both Fitzroy and Carlton.  

Meanwhile, in Brisbane, the game’s growth was further emphasised with the formation of the Queensland Football League. However, in 1903 only informal matches took place; the first official premiership would not be contested until 1904. Once organised football in Queensland got underway, however, it arguably progressed more quickly than in New South Wales, despite the fact that the VFL continued to provide the competition in the latter state with a fair amount of financial support. Between 1904 and 1907 the Queensland and New South Wales state teams opposed one another five times, with the Queenslanders triumphing on all but one occasion.  


[1] The Australian Labour Party was re-named “Labor” in 1912.  

[2] Russel Ward, op cit., page 50.



Collingwood vs Fitzroy, 12th September 1903

A Titanic Tussle

As mentioned in the previous entry, one of the home and away clashes between Fitzroy and Collingwood in 1903 took place in Sydney. Despite some atrocious kicking for goal, Fitzroy won this match with some comfort, 7.20 (62) to 6.9 (45). It was the Maroons’ fourth consecutive win and at that stage of the season they topped the ladder as the league’s only undefeated side.  

When the two teams next met in round eleven at Victoria Park Collingwood turned the tables with a hard fought victory by 20 points. In so doing they joined ladder leaders Fitzroy on 9 wins, trailing only on percentage. Thereafter the Magpies and Maroons continued to dominate the competition and they finished the home and away and sectional matches in first and second places respectively, comfortably clear of third placed Carlton and fourth placed Geelong. This dominance was reinforced in the semi finals when Collingwood withstood a stern challenge from the Blues to edge home by 4 points while Fitzroy comfortably accounted for the Pivotonians to the tune of 52 points.  

Under the terms of the finals system in operation this year minor premier Collingwoods’ right of challenge had been negated by their semi final loss. This was because both they and Fitzroy entered the final having won 15 matches for the year and lost 3, and the right of challenge was conditional on the minor premier having won more matches than its opponent. Had Geelong rather than Fitzroy qualified for the final and ended up winning, the Magpies could have issued a challenge because their overall record was significantly superior to that of the Pivotonians.  

Collingwood, which was the reigning VFL premier, was aiming to become only the second club since the league’s inception in 1897 to win consecutive flags. The first team to do so had been Fitzroy, in 1898 and 1899. The Magpies certainly boasted all the hallmarks of a champion side, combining ferocious determination with team skills of the highest order. They were also blessed with an abundance of individual talent in the shape of such players as skipper Lawrence Tulloch, wingman Charlie Pannam, rover or centreman Dick Condon, full back Bill Proudfoot, and versatile big man Jack Monohan.  

“Lardy” Tulloch was one of the all-time great Collingwood captains, which, given that he was born in Carlton, has to be regarded as almost the supreme irony.  He joined the club in 1894, but struggled initially to make his mark.  Indeed, after sitting out much of the first half of the 1896 season with injury, he actually announced his retirement, which meant that, when the Woods secured their first ever premiership at the end of the year with a play-off win over South Melbourne Tulloch was missing.  

In 1897, Collingwood was one of eight renegade clubs to quit the VFA, and start a new, rival competition, the VFL.  For reasons which are unclear, it managed to persuade Tulloch to re-think his intention to retire, and he not only fronted up for the season, he produced far and away the best football of his career to be one of the Magpies' best and most consistent performers.  Tough, skilful and extremely versatile, he could play with equal effectiveness at both ends of the ground, and was widely admired for his air of authority, and the unflappable way he went about his business regardless of the pressure he was under, or the state of the match.  In 1902 he was a popular choice as Collingwood skipper, and promptly steered the side to its second flag, and its first since the formation of the VFL.  In the challenge final against Essendon he played a tireless game as a follower as the Magpies rattled on 6 second half goals to 1 to win “pulling away” by 33 points, 9.6 (60) to 3.9 (27).  “Lardy” Tulloch would retain the role of club captain until he retired at the end of the 1904 season, having played 132 VFL games plus an unspecified number in the VFA.  The VFL portion of his career saw him kick 67 goals.  

Following his retirement as a player, Tulloch enjoyed an auspicious career as a VFL central umpire, in which capacity he officiated at the 1907 premiership decider between Carlton and South Melbourne.  

Charlie Pannam senior was one of the chief architects of Collingwood's famed short game - known as “the system” - which was honed on a club trip to Tasmania in 1902, and which centred on a newly invented kick, the stab pass.  Pannam was a master of this kick, but his pace, skill and general nouse gave him plenty of other strings to his bow.  He played mainly as a wingman, but was also dangerous near goal, and in 1905 he topped the VFL goal kicking list with 38 goals.    

Pannam commenced his career with the Woods during the club's time in the VFA, and was heavily instrumental in the 6.9 to 5.10 premiership play-off victory of 1896 against South Melbourne.  

In 1907, Pannam joined VFA side Richmond, and helped that club gain admission to the league the following year.  However, in 1909 he was passed over for the coaching job, and left in disgust.  Pannam spent the 1909 season as captain-coach of VFA under-achievers Preston, before eventually returning to Richmond as non-playing coach in 1912.  

Charlie Pannam senior's sons, Charlie junior and Alby, both represented Collingwood with distinction between the wars (and, in Alby's case, also during world war two), and the dynasty continued into a third generation with grandsons Ron and Lou Richards.  

Dick Condon was a dazzlingly skilful centreman who, like Pannam, played a major role in the development of Collingwood's famed “system”.  Despite this, Condon was scarcely an archetypal team player, and was frequently involved in altercations with team mates, club officials and umpires.  In 1900 he was suspended “for life” for abusing an umpire, but the penalty was eventually lifted after eighteen months, and in 1902 he once again became a key member of the Collingwood side.  He was captain-coach of Collingwood in 1905-6, but in trademark fashion he managed to upset both his team mates and the club hierarchy, and was shown the door.  

After spending the 1907 season umpiring in Tasmania he returned to Victoria the following year and joined fledgling league side Richmond.  In 1909, he was appointed coach - much to the disgust of former team mate Charlie Pannam who, as previously indicated, resigned from the club in protest - but lasted only a year before becoming such a constant source of irritation to all concerned that he was asked to leave.  Condon subsequently moved to New South Wales where he spent the 1910 season coaching East Sydney to a losing grand final against YMCA.  

Uniquely among Collingwood's ten year players, Dick Condon was never made a life member of the club, and a century on it is hard to avoid the impression that here was a troubled soul whose personal deficiencies prevented full expression of what may well have been a unique talent.   

One of the genuinely great figures in Collingwood's illustrious history, Bill Proudfoot played in the club's very first VFA match in May 1892 against Carlton, and remained an integral member of the side for fifteen seasons.  He had begun his senior career with Britannia, the club from which Collingwood would derive most of its players and officials when it was formed prior to the start of the 1892 football season.  

Regarded at the time as a veritable “man mountain” at 184cm and 101.5kg, Proudfoot was a formidable on-field presence as he combined enormous strength and power with considerable pace.  He also marked and kicked well, and boasted, in abundance, the trademark Collingwood trait of immense passion and loyalty for his team.  He served as club captain in 1898, part of the 1899 season, and 1901.  At the MCG in 1894, Proudfoot was the first ever Collingwood player to represent Victoria, when he was part of a formidable backline that kept the visiting South Australians goalless.  Most of his football was played on the last line of defence, and he was at full back in the VFL premiership deciding matches of 1901-2-3.  In both 1902 against Essendon and 1903 against Fitzroy, the Magpies won, but in 1901 they went under to Essendon, with Proudfoot's departure from the fray owing to injury arguably the single most decisive factor in their loss.  In 1905, Proudfoot was recalled to the Collingwood side for the challenge final clash with Fitzroy, despite having missed most of the season through work commitments; however, he could not prevent the Magpies from losing the match by 13 points.  Nine years earlier, however, he had helped the club to its first ever flag, courtesy of a 6.9 to 5.10 (behinds not counting) victory over South Melbourne in a play-off, which had to be arranged after both teams finished level on wins at the head of the ladder.  This was the last VFA premiership to be contested prior to the breakaway of eight of the competition's wealthier and more ambitious clubs - of which Collingwood was one - to form the VFL.  

When he retired in 1906 Bill Proudfoot was estimated to have played in excess of 180 games, of which between 106 and 108 were in the VFL.[1]  Based on his stature in the game and his contribution to it, one imagines that he must have been a strong candidate for inclusion in his club's official “Team of The Century”, but most V/AFL clubs, including Collingwood, tended for some reason not to include their early champions in these combinations.  

Jack Monohan was a brilliant follower or defender who was renowned for his superb aerial ability.  One of the few players capable of matching it with Albert “The Great” Thurgood, Monohan was controversially omitted from Collingwood's 1901 grand final line-up against Essendon, whereupon Thurgood gleefully cut loose with a near best afield performance as the Same Old ran away with a comfortable win.  The Magpies never thereafter made the mistake of dropping Monohan, and he repaid them with consistently brilliant performances for the remainder of his 234 game career, which had begun when Collingwood was still in the VFA, and finished at the end of the 1907 season.  

If Monohan had a weakness it was that his kicking tended to be erratic, but even this improved towards the end of his career making him virtually the consummate footballer.  

The Magpies stood head and shoulders above virtually every other side in the VFL in 1903, but if there was one team believed to be capable of derailing their premiership ambitions it was Fitzroy. Indeed, when the two sides had last met in a finals match it had been the ‘Roys who prevailed. That meeting had taken place twelve months earlier in a semi final, and there were some who believed that if the Maroons managed to harness their full potential they were eminently capable of duplicating the feat.  

Fitzroy’s most noteworthy players were the same as in the previous few seasons. Bill McSpeerin, although no longer skipper, was producing the best and most consistent football of his career. The immensely versatile Fred Fontaine was also displaying impressive form. Rover Percy Trotter, follower Herbert Milne, and centreman Tammy Beauchamp were some of the Maroons’ other key performers.  

In the opinion of many of the Fitzroy supporters who saw both Percy Trotter and Haydn Bunton senior in action, there was little if anything to choose between the pair in terms of all round football ability.  Both had superb balance, were extraordinarily quick, marked well, and could pass the ball with pinpoint accuracy.  Trotter though could do something that Bunton notoriously could not, which was kick well with both feet.  Moreover, in the opinion of former umpire Jack Elder, Trotter's kicks were more penetrating than Bunton's.[2] Jack Worrall was also an admirer, making the following observation:  

"At a big circus show a performer is placed inside a canon, and at a given signal is actually shot out of it.  When I see Trotter roving for Fitzroy, my thoughts turn to that fellow being shot out of the gun, for that's how Trotter comes out of the pack."  

Wearing the red cap that was to become his trademark wherever he played, Trotter made his VFL debut with the Maroons as an eighteen year old in 1901, and within a couple of seasons he was universally acknowledged as one of the most accomplished players in the game.  He made his VFL interstate debut in 1903, and the same year was best afield in Fitzroy's losing grand final team against Collingwood.  He had more than adequate consolation in 1904 and 1905, however, as the Maroons secured successive flags with grand final wins over Carlton and Collingwood.  Trotter's personal form peaked in 1905 when, in the opinion of many, he was the finest player in the VFL for the year.  

Fitzroy reached another premiership play off in 1906, but lost to Carlton, and the following year, after 109 VFL games and 144 goals, Trotter jumped ship, without a clearance, "for private business reasons"[3] and joined ambitious VFA side Essendon Association, which simultaneously appointed former Essendon champion Jack 'Dookie' McKenzie as coach.  

After three years which saw the Dreadnoughts slowly begin to emerge from the doldrums, Trotter accepted an offer to play for East Fremantle.  Technically, however, because he had crossed to the VFA without a clearance, he remained bound to Fitzroy, and was ineligible for Old Easts until a proper clearance arrangement had been negotiated.  Oblivious - or casting a blind eye - to this, East Fremantle chose to play him anyway, and it was not until several matches into the 1910 season that the authorities caught up with the matter, and Trotter was forced to stand down.  

Percy Trotter's clearance to play for East Fremantle finally arrived early in the 1911 season, and, after a somewhat tentative start, he soon began to function on full throttle.  In that year's grand final he was a key contributor with 5 goals as Old Easts demolished West Perth by 51 points.  

Appointed captain of the club in 1912, Trotter retired at the end of the season, and, as was the wont of many of his contemporaries, turned to umpiring.  However, when he served abroad during world war one he again donned the boots on occasion and was said to have lost little if any of his earlier prowess.  

In 2002, Percy Trotter was chosen on the interchange bench in Fitzroy's official “Team of the Twentieth Century”.  

Popularly known as “Boxer”, Herbert Milne was a champion follower renowned for his energy, athleticism and guile.  He was at Fitzroy from 1902 to 1910, during which time he played 122 VFL games and kicked 69 goals, and was a dual winner of the club's best and fairest award.  A VFL representative, he played in the inaugural Australasian championship series in Melbourne in 1908.  Crossing to South Melbourne in 1911 he added a further 31 games and 14 goals, playing some of the finest football of his career until a knee injury, sustained against Essendon in the losing grand final of 1912, forced his retirement.  

Tammy Beauchamp (sometimes rendered phonetically as “Beacham” or “Beecham”) was a brilliant, stay at home centreman who especially relished the big occasion.  He played a total of 135 games for Fitzroy between 1899 and 1903, and from 1905 to 1908, with his most memorable performances coming in the premiership deciding matches of 1903 and 1905 against Collingwood.  The former game went right down to the wire, with the Roys losing by in the end by 2 points, while the latter match brought a comfortable 13 point victory.  A common factor in both games, however, was Beauchamp's superb form in the centre.    

Beauchamp spent the 1904 season with Norwood, but was unfortunate enough to suffer an injury which ruled him out of that season's ultimately successful finals campaign.  

In 1901 and 1902, Tammy Beauchamp was selected to represent the VFL against South Australia.  His consummate skill and tremendous fairness made him a firm favourite among both Fitzroy supporters and general connoisseurs of the game. 

Match Report

Weather conditions for the match were not ideal, it being “hot enough for December, and further spoilt by a gusty cross wind, that was a detriment to both teams.” [4] Despite this, however, an absorbing tussle ensued, although the opening minutes were somewhat marred by over-anxiety on the part of both sides, resulting in many wayward kicks and a proliferation of fumbling. Gradually, however, the standard of play improved, and although the match was played with immense vigour and desperation there were also numerous passages of excellent football.  

Collingwood did most of the early attacking but found the Fitzroy defence, in which Naismith and Trotter were particularly conspicuous, impenetrable. When the Maroons finally managed to mount their first attack they showed the Magpies how it should be done. Slowly, almost painstakingly, they worked the ball along their right wing before a long kick towards the goal square found Milne, who had eluded Monohan. Using a place kick, the Fitzroy follower calmly registered the game’s first goal.  

With Walker in the ruck finding Trotter repeatedly with cleverly aimed taps the ‘Roys continued to dominate, but Collingwood’s defence stood firm. Finally, following a rare forward thrust, the Magpies levelled the scores when Condon goaled after receiving a rather fortunate free kick. The Fitzroy supporters were furious, feeling that the free should really have been paid to one of their players.  

The next few minutes saw play flowing from end to end without either side managing to get close enough to goal to attempt a shot. Collingwood was looking marginally the better team at this stage, but it was the Maroons who claimed the next goal courtesy of McSpeerin who snapped truly after bravely ploughing in and gathering the ball from the midst of a dense, frenetic scrimmage of players.  

The Magpies responded by discernibly raising the intensity of the play and producing the best and most cohesive football of the quarter. Following a neat, fluent move involving Angus, Pannam and Lockwood the last named tied the scores with a fine goal. Shortly afterwards Collingwood’s West Australian forward Ted Rowell booted a behind, which was the margin by which his team led at the first change, the scoreboard reading Collingwood 2.3 (15) to Fitzroy 2.2 (14). Towards the end of the quarter play had begun to get spiteful and more than one player was cautioned by the umpire.  

The second term saw the Magpies’ famed “system” coming to the fore. “They rarely made a mistake in passing, always knew where to find their own man, and measured the distance to him with the nicest skill.”[5] Nevertheless, it was the ‘Roys who first troubled the scorers, with Trotter only narrowly failing to register full points - or, at least, that was the opinion of the goal umpire. Many Fitzroy supporters as well as some neutral observers believed that Trotter had kicked truly, and given the closeness of the scores at the end this remained something of a contentious issue.  

Most of the remainder of the second quarter was dominated by Collingwood. With Tulloch and Peers prominent in the ruck, M'Cormack, Condon, and Rowell obtaining an abundance of possessions all over the ground, and Monohan proving near impassable at full back, the Magpies added 1.1 to 0.2 to head into the long break with a 5 point advantage, 3.4 (22) to 2.5 (17).  

The third quarter brought typical finals football: fast and furious with just a hint or two of brutality. Collingwood’s play was neater, but Fitzroy had more goal scoring opportunities. However, neither side managed a goal, with the Magpies leading at the final change by 4 points, 3.6 (24) to 2.8 (20).  

For much of the last quarter it looked likely that Collingwood would run away with the match. Tulloch, Leach and Condon were dominating the rucks, and much of the Magpies’ inter-passing was both pleasing to the eye and penetrative. On one occasion Dummett, Monahan, Pannam, Condon, and Lockwood ferried the ball swiftly from one end of the ground to the other without a single Fitzroy player touching it. Indeed, many of the Maroons’ players looked dead on their feet, and when Addison scored Collingwood’s 4th goal most observers probably felt that it was “game over”.  

Fitzroy though refused to lie down. Their play was less fluent and systematic than that of the Magpies, but by sheer desperation they forced the ball forward. To his own surprise as much as anyone’s, Millis found himself in possession of the ball near goal without an opponent anywhere near him. Running on, he made no mistake, giving rise to the loudest roar of the afternoon from the immense crowd. The stage was now set for a nail-biting finale.  

Despite looking more the more assured side when in possession, the Magpies increasingly found themselves on the back foot owing to Maroons fanatical determination and aggressive attack on the ball. For the remainder of the quarter, only Fitzroy troubled the scorers, but McSpeerin, Millis and Brosnan all missed relatively easy chances. Brosnan’s miss, which came after he marked close in with moments remaining, was particularly glaring - not to mention galling if you were a Maroons fan. Barely had play resumed when “in a wild tumult the last bell rang”.[6] The final scoreboard showed Collingwood 4.7 (31) having defeated Fitzroy 3.11 (29).  

It was hard to deny that the Magpies had been the best team in the VFL over the course of the entire season, and were therefore deserving premiers. However, it would also be fair to observe that their triumph was not greeted with universal acclaim. Writing in “The Australasian”, Markwell summarised the concerns of many:  

There is just one matter connected with the mighty 'Woodsmen which I approach with diffidence, and it is the fact that (whether rightly or wrongly I cannot say), they are widely talked of as a team amongst whom the cloven foot of veiled professional ism is permitted to freely tread. For the sake of Collingwood, for the sake of its gifted players, for the sake of the league, and, more than all, for the sake of football, the honour and fame of which I estimate above the petty question of premiership, I trust, and I believe, there is no scintilla of reason for suspecting that anything underhand is being done at Collingwood. If, however, the rumours and suspicions that are abroad concerning the dub have any foundation in fact, I can forecast in the near future the alienation of the manlier element in the club, the quick decline of football in the district, and a very serious injury to the league as a body, and to the game itself throughout the length and breadth of Australia. There are players in the Collingwood team, who will, I feel certain, take steps to disprove the rumours that are current, and that tend to discredit the club; and I am content to leave it to them to prove to the suspicious public that there is not amongst them a single individual who looks for or receives any payment for his playing.[7] 

Doubtless Markwell’s concerns were both genuine and representative of the views of the public at large. However, it can also be argued that they were unrealistic. Football was evolving fast. It was no longer a casual pastime, but a burgeoning industry, and it is therefore no surprise that its primary participants - the players - were increasingly starting to believe that their efforts warranted financial reward. In 1911 the VFL, fully aware by that time of the way in which the wind was blowing, officially sanctioned the payment of match fees to players.  

Despite having lost the final, Fitzroy boasted, in the view of many observers, the best player afield in the shape of rover Percy Trotter, who was in the thick of the action from start to finish. The respective centremen, McCormack of Collingwood and Beauchamp of Fitzroy, also produced noteworthy performances, aided in part by their habit of playing wide of one another. Charlie Pannam was probably the Magpies’ best player, with Monohan, Proudfoot and Rowell also doing well. For the ‘Roys, McSpeerin, Milne and Barker were consistently effective.  


[1] There remains some uncertainty over whether or not Proudfoot took his place in a couple of matches during the 1905 season.  

[2] See The Encyclopedia of League Footballers by Jim Main and Russell Holmesby, page 441.   

[3] Ibid., page 441.  

[4] “The Australasian”, 19th September 1903, page 21.  

[5] “The Argus”, 14th September 1903, page 7.  

[6] Ibid., page 7.  

[7] “The Australasian”, op cit., page 21.


Kalgoorlie Railways vs East Fremantle, 4th October 1903

Railways Prevail

In comparison with the other states in which Australian football was king among winter sports Western Australia’s love affair with the code was slow to blossom. The Western Australian Football Association was not established until 1885, at which point rugby was still the colony’s preferred brand of football. Over time this state of affairs would change, but initially at least the change was only very gradual. The impetus which propelled Australian football into pre-eminence arrived when gold was discovered at Coolgardie in 1892 and, more particularly, Kalgoorlie a year later. Lured by the imagined prospect of imminent riches, thousands of men from such Australian football hotbeds as Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and Adelaide made the long journey across the Nullarbor and, for a time at least, put down roots. Australian football became popular overnight, and the Hannans District Football Association, which included clubs from all over the goldfields area, was formed in 1896. For a brief period in the 1890s the standard of Australian football produced on the goldfields rivalled that of almost anywhere else in the land.  

When the gold rush ended, many of the eastern states immigrants opted to head for Perth or Fremantle rather than returning home. This in turn had a positive effect on the standard of football on display in the WAFA. Indeed, between 1895 and 1897 arguably the greatest footballer in Australia at the time, Albert Thurgood, ploughed his trade with the Fremantle Football Club. Among his team-mates at various times were the former South Melbourne pair of Harry Duggan and Dug Irvine, brilliant centreman Harry Hodge, Tom Wilson (formerly of North Melbourne), Bob Byers, Paddy Knox, “Spot” Chadwick, Jack Gibson and, albeit very briefly, Dave “Dolly” Christy.  

Despite the departure of many top players goldfields football remained in a vibrant state for some time. Challenge matches between teams from the coast and their counterparts from the Goldfields Football Association, as the Hannans District Football Association was renamed in 1901, took place regularly. The goldfields-based sides invariably acquitted themselves well in these contests, and in 1903 it was decided to raise the bar in terms of competitiveness by staging a match between the coastal and goldfields premiers, with the victor earning the title of premier team of Western Australia. The encounter attracted enormous interest, and for the ensuing couple of decades a match for the state premiership proved to be a popular way of rounding off each football season. As time went on, the WAFA premiers tended to dominate these contests, which is probably the main reason they were eventually abandoned. However, initially at least the competing teams tended to be quite evenly matched, resulting in closely fought encounters of admirable standard. This was most certainly the case in 1903, when GFA premier Kalgoorlie Railways met the WAFA’s top team East Fremantle at the Kalgoorlie Recreation Reserve in front of one of the largest crowds to attend a sporting event on the goldfields up to that point.  

Railways had been formed in 1900, and the 1903 premiership triumph was the club’s first. East Fremantle was only two years older, but already it had developed into the WAFA’s pre-eminent force, capturing flags in 1900, 1902 and 1903. Over the remainder of the decade this dominance would be reinforced, and indeed the club has been far and away the most successful in the history of the competition. Railways has also enjoyed consistent success, with only Mines Rovers claiming more premierships.  

Both grandstands at the Kalgoorlie Recreation Reserve were full, and the remainder of the ground was also densely packed with spectators. East Fremantle enjoyed the benefit of a strong breeze in the opening quarter, and attacked consistently. The only 3 goals of the term went their way, while the home side’s fitful forward flurries produced just a couple of behinds.  

Anyone imagining that this would prove to be a one-sided encounter was swiftly disabused of the notion as Railways proceeded to dominate the second quarter even more comprehensively than East Fremantle had dominated the first. Playing a fast, team-orientated game in which handball and short kicks featured heavily, the home side rattled on 4 unanswered goals to head into the long break with a 5 point advantage, 4.4 (28) to 3.5 (23). East Fremantle’s style of play, which was based on long kicking and strong marking, had failed dismally when the players did not have the wind at their backs.  

During the third term Railways drastically altered their tactics, and in so doing went a long way towards securing victory. In a highly unorthodox move for the era, players were instructed to leave their positions, and converge on the ball. The resultant football was ugly and congested, but as far as the home side was concerned highly effective. East Fremantle admittedly managed to edge in front, but with the wind still blowing as powerfully as ever, a 1 point lead at the final change did not look likely to be enough.  

East Fremantle fought valiantly in the final term, but not only was the wind against them, they also found their efforts impeded by the state of the ground, which was considerably harder than they were accustomed to, and which appeared visibly to sap the strength of many of their players. Slowly but surely, Railways battled their way in front, and although the visitors did their fair share of attacking, their kicking for goal was wayward. The GFA premier ultimately squeezed home by 7 points, 7.6 (48) to 5.11 (41). South Australian Jack “Snowy” Jarvis, who had headed west in search of gold during the 1890s, was best for the victors, with James “Carbine” Gullen,[1] another eastern states import, earning that distinction for Easts. Jarvis was a distinctive figure in that he wore a hat whilst playing. As for Gullen, rather tragically, a little over eight months later he would be dead, a victim of accidental poisoning at the age of just twenty-nine.  

East Fremantle remained in Kalgoorlie for another week, during which they engaged in two further matches. A midweek encounter with a combined goldfields team brought a miraculous last quarter recovery, and victory by 14 points, 6.10 (46) to 4.8 (32). At the final change the combined side appeared comfortably in control, leading 4.8 (32) to 2.5 (17), but in the fourth quarter the visitors made full use of a strong breeze to run all over their opponents and win “pulling away”.  The final match of the visit took place on the ensuing Saturday with Mines Rovers attesting further to the high standard of football on the goldfields by outplaying Old East to the tune of 10 points, 6.10 (46) to 4.12 (36).

All told, the Western Australian state premiership was contested a total of twelve times between 1903 and 1924.[2] East Fremantle and Kalgoorlie Railways proved to be the most frequent participants in this match with five appearances each. East Fremantle won the title four times, in 1904, 1906, 1909 and 1910, while Railways managed one further victory, downing Subiaco 8.12 (60) to 7.9 (51) in the 1912 play-off.  


[1] Sometimes rendered “Gullan”.  

[2] The match was not held during world war one as well as in several other years when agreement could not be reached over when and where it should be played.