The principal Australian football competition in the Northern Territory was the Northern Territory Football League. Based in Darwin, it had been established in 1917, and comprised five clubs. For many years, the Northern Territory was under the governmental control of South Australia, and quite naturally followed that state’s cultural and sporting tastes. Australian football remains the Northern Territory’s most popular sport, and indeed on a per capita basis involvement nowadays is higher than anywhere else in the country. Indeed, in the Tiwi Islands that per capita involvement may be as high as 35%.
Uniquely among the nation’s major football competitions the NTFL’s season runs during the summer months – the “wet season” in Darwin – and so the road to the 1962/3 grand final, played in March 1963, began late the previous year. Darwin had been a founder member of the NTFL in 1917 when the club was known as Warriors. It changed its name to Vesteys the following season and to Buffaloes in 1926. The 1962/3 season brought a final name change, to Darwin, although the club retained the Buffalo emblem.
Overall, as Buffaloes, the club had enjoyed considerable success, although it had not won a senior grade premiership since the 1951/2 season. Since then it had played off in seven grand finals, and lost them all. The name change to Darwin brought an immediate change in fortune. Opposed in the second semi-final by St Marys, so often its nemesis during the preceding decade, Darwin won a tense, low-scoring encounter by 5 points. A fortnight later, refreshed by a week’s rest, the Buffaloes defeated the same opponents much more comfortably, 11.7 (73) to 6.7 (43), thereby procuring their thirteenth senior grade flag. Darwin further emphasised its dominance by winning the reserve grade premiership while Arthur Tye, with 44 goals, was the season’s top goalkicker
The 1960s went on to prove a highly successful decade for the Buffaloes who appeared in another half a dozen senior grade grand finals, winning four of them.
Since entering the competition in the 1952/3 season St Marys had rapidly developed into a formidable force, never once failing to contest the finals. The club was formed to provide an opportunity for Tiwi Islanders employed by the Armed Forces in Darwin to play football. At the time, only Wanderers of the league’s other clubs would allow full-blood aboriginals to play for them.
St Marys’ brand of football was slick, lightning fast, and spectacular, and when the team really got into its stride no opposing side could live with them. The Saints captured their first senior grade flag in 1954/5 and by the 1962/3 season had added another four. As usual, the 1962/3 season saw them as a force to be reckoned with, but they fell 5 points short of Darwin in a torrid second semi-final. A week later they bounced back by trouncing Works and Housing 15.19 (109) to 7.12 in the preliminary final, but as mentioned above they found Darwin too hot to handle when it mattered most in the ultimate match of the season. They continued to be one of the leading clubs in the league throughout the 1960s, claiming premierships in 1965/6 and 1966/7.
The Works and Housing Football Club had entered the competition in 1950/1 having been formed to give fringe players from other clubs, particularly Buffaloes, an opportunity to play football, the NTFL not having a reserve grade competition at the time. The club gradually gained strength, and by 1962/3 it had played off in three grand finals, winning those of 1956/7 against Buffaloes and 1960/1 versus St Marys. After finishing third in 1962/3 the club was re-christened Nightcliff, a name it retains to this day.
Wanderers had been the NTFL’s very first premiers, but in 1962/3 had to be satisfied with fourth place after losing to Works and Housing in the first semi-final by the narrowest of margins. This proved to be the club’s last appearance in a final until 1980/1, during which time it endured the indignity of succumbing to no fewer than thirteen wooden spoons.
One of the three foundation members of the league in 1917, Waratahs had been a power club during the competition’s early years and had also boasted a strong side just after world war two. However, since then the club had fallen on hard times, and would not contest another grand final until 1973/4 when it overcame Nightcliff by 3 points. The ‘Tahs’ 1962/3 wooden spoon was their fifth in six seasons, but over the ensuing decade they would improve gradually.
The NTFL’s annual best and fairest award was known as the Nichols Medal, named after Joseph Wesley Nichols, a league secretary during the inter-war years who hailed originally from Melbourne. In 1962/3 it was won by a player whose only given name was Bertram. A representative of the Waratahs Football Club, he won by polling 9 votes, one more than Works and Housing’s Joe Bonson.
Football was popular throughout the Northern Territory in 1963, particularly among the numerous aboriginal communities. However, the only other major organised league in operation at the time was the Alice Springs- based Central Australian Football League. Established in 1947, the competition comprised four clubs. Federal, Rovers and Pioneers had been foundation members, and they had subsequently been joined by Amoonguna, which later became known as South Alice Springs. Federal was the CAFL’s principal force during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the 1963 season saw the club attain its sixth consecutive premiership thanks to a 16.6 (102) to 3.10 (28) grand final defeat of Rovers.. Unlike the NTFL, the CAFL played a traditional season centred on the winter months. In 1963, all matches in the CAFL were played at Traeger Park, usually in the form of double-headers.
Almost from the start, the standard of football in the CAFL was respectably high, and as early as 1952 a league representative team was able to overcome its NTFL counterparts by 23 points, 11.18 (84) to 8.13 (61). From the 1950s onwards a fair number of Darwin-based footballers spent the winter months competing in the
CAFL, giving them year ‘round football, and further improving the standard of the competition as a consequence.
A Review of the 1963 NT Football Season
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