Explore the History of australian football

Ernie Johns of South Australia

Charles Tyson senior (WA)

West Australian rover Charles "Dick" Sweetman

The first ever interstate match between South Australia and Western Australia took place at the Jubilee Oval in Adelaide on 20 August 1904.  The Western Australians had played the VFL in Melbourne the previous week in their first ever interstate outing, and "the committee of the SAFA, having been unable to arrange a match with a representative Victorian 18 this season, eagerly accepted the offer of the WAFA to play a match in Adelaide on their return".[1]

The match was not well attended, partly because few South Australians expected the Western Australian side, which had lost quite heavily in Melbourne, to provide much in the way of opposition, partly because the match coincided with the running of the Grand National horse race, and partly owing to public disgruntlement over the use of Jubilee Oval, which was almost universally regarded as having inadequate spectator facilities and as being too small for football.[2]  The fact that it was being used was a result of a dispute between the South Australian Football Association and the South Australian Cricket Association over the financial terms governing the former's use of the Adelaide Oval.  When negotiations over these terms reached an impasse prior to the start of the 1904 football season, all fixtures scheduled for the Adelaide Oval were cancelled, and the SAFA made the hugely controversial decision to adopt the Jubilee Oval as its temporary replacement headquarters.  Given that three years earlier the Association, recognising the inadequacy of the venue for top level football, had fruitlessly asked the South Australian government to extend the playing arena by some 22 metres, such a decision seems strange as well as controversial.  Nevertheless, in 1904 the Jubilee Oval played host to both the only interstate match of the year, and to two out of the four finals.  Things finally came to a head during the grand final between Norwood and Port Adelaide, attended by 11,000 people, when play had to be stopped during the final term after hordes of spectators encroached on the arena (this match is reviewed later).  The Jubilee Oval's days as the SAFA's headquarters were over, although the ground did continue to be intermittently used for football - in an unmodified state to boot - until 1921.[3]  Ten years later the Barr Smith Library and Refectory, which still stand to this day, were built on the site.

The West Australians

Over confidence among the South Australian football loving public was ill-founded.  With eleven senior clubs of league standard (six on the coast, five on the goldfields) the Western Australians had a larger pool of top quality players to draw on than South Australia[4] and, as was immediately evident when they trotted out on to Jubilee Oval prior to the start of the match, they were, almost to a man, bigger, heavier and presumably stronger than their croweater opponents.  The fact that they had succumbed by 34 points to the VFL the previous week was hardly a disgrace, especially given the unfamiliarity of the conditions; furthermore, by all accounts they had improved the longer the match wore on, playing their best football of the day during the final term, when they had actually outscored the Vics.

For the match with South Australia the Western Australians made three changes to the line-up which had taken the field in Melbourne, with East Fremantle's “Duff” Kelly, Nick Gilbert of Mines Rovers, and Sam Jeffery of Perth making way for Tom Ellis, “Tiny” Fitzpatrick and James Lock.  The full team (with special acknowledgements to Les Everett, whose superb book Gravel Rash was the source for much of the information about goldfields players) was:

Dick Bliss (Boulder City):  A tall ruckman, originally from Port Melbourne, who was strong in the air but a poor kick.

Joe Cooper (North Fremantle):  A wingman or half forward flanker who, in 1904, was a key member of the powerful North Fremantle combination which vied for supremacy all year with Perth, and ultimate premiers Old Easts.

Jim “Scotty” Doig (East Fremantle): A prodigiously talented centre half back, 'Scotty' was one of the earliest members of arguably the most famous clan in Australian football. He was a member of East Fremantle's grand final winning teams of 1904, 1906, 1907, 1909,1910 and 1911, having earlier also been a regular in the side during its 1900, 1902 and 1903 premiership years, when no grand final was played.

Tommy Ellis (Mines Rovers):  A fleet-footed wingman once beguilingly described in 'The Sun' as "the shapely limbed one".

“Tiny” Fitzpatrick (North Fremantle):  A powerful ruck shepherd whose nickname was an ironic reference to his considerable bulk.

Albert Franks (North Fremantle):  Travelled west from country Victoria in 1901, and commenced his league football career with Kalgoorlie Railways.  An extraordinarily powerful player, he moved to North Fremantle in 1903, before returning home to Victoria in 1906 where he joined South Melbourne.  Occasionally accused of underhanded tactics, he was nevertheless a key member of South's 1909 VFL premiership team.

Billy Goddard (North Fremantle):  A slimly built, dashing defender who played in the back pocket in both of Western Australia's games in 1904.

Dolph Heinrichs (North Fremantle):  A brilliant follower or centre half forward who later produced a seminal chronological account of the East Fremantle Football Club's first fifty seasons.

Jack “Snowy” Jarvis (Kalgoorlie Railways):  Originally from Adelaide, “Snowy” Jarvis was one of the best and most popular players in the goldfields competition at the time.  He was best afield in the goldfields' 8.9 (57) to 4.8 (32) win over the City at the WACA ground in Perth in 1901.

Mick Kenny (Kalgoorlie Railways):  A highly regarded follower who later played briefly for South Fremantle.

Jimmy Lock (Trafalgar):  Captain of Trafalgar, who also, confusingly, sometimes went by the names of McLoughlin, McLachlan and Locke.   Father of West Torrens 1933 premiership player Ted McLoughlin.

Tom 'Bunty' McNamara (West Perth):  Equally adept on the half forward line or at full forward, Tom McNamara was the top goal kicker in the WAFA in 1903 with 32 goals.  He also represented Western Australia during the 1908 Melbourne Carnival when he booted 6 goals in the game against New South Wales.

Ernie Nelson (Mines Rovers):  A talented centreman who had been one of the sandgropers' best in the previous week's game in Melbourne.

Bill Plunkett (West Perth - captain):  A formidable defender, originally from Norwood, who went on to captain the Cardinals in their controversial premiership win of 1905, having earlier been a member of the club's 1901 flag-winning combination.

Ted Rowell (Kalgoorlie Railways):  One of the greatest ever goldfields-born footballers, Rowell played 189 VFL games for Collingwood including 3 premierships.  He  topped the VFL's goal kicking list in 1902 with 33 goals.  He spent the 1904 season with Kalgoorlie Railways before resuming his VFL career at Victoria Park.

Harry Sharpe (East Fremantle):  A talented wingman or half forward who made his Old Easts debut in 1903, and was a key member of no fewer than eight premiership teams prior to his retirement in 1917.  Regarded by Dolph Heinrichs, writing in 1947, as "positively the finest wingman who has ever worn the blue and white jacket",[5] he represented Western Australia at the 1908 Melbourne Carnival.

“Dick” Sweetman (East Fremantle):  An elegant, long kicking rover who was a member of East Fremantle's inaugural League side in 1899, and who continued to represent the club with distinction for over a decade.  Sweetman tragically died after sustaining a spinal injury in a pre-carnival trial match in 1911. 

Charlie Tyson senior (Kalgoorlie Railways):  Captain of his club and one of the finest players on the goldfields.  Played the 1902 season with East Fremantle, and would go on to win a GFA champion player award in 1906, and represent Western Australia at the inaugural Australian championships in Melbourne in 1908.  Tyson's grandson, also named Charlie, was a prominent player with South Fremantle, and later coach of Subiaco.

The South Australians

In terms of playing standards, after undergoing a prolonged and perplexing decline during the 1890s, football in South Australia during the early years of the twentieth century underwent a marked improvement.  One possible reason for this was the inception of district football in 1899, whereby players were compelled to represent the electoral district in which they resided.  This produced a more even competition, which in turn was conducive to more players achieving their full potential rather than sinking out of sight because of an inability to compete.  South Australia's interstate match results against the VFL highlighted the improvement: in 1899, 1900 and 1901 the VFL won, but the margin of victory was reduced on each occasion; then, in the teams' second meeting of the 1901 season, and both of the 1902 clashes, South Australia emerged victorious, each time with considerable conviction, confirming its status as almost certainly the strongest state team in the country at the time.  

By the time of Western Australia's visit in 1904, however, the improvement had slowed, and indeed the standard may well have declined somewhat.  In 1903, South Australia had lost both of its encounters with the VFL by sizeable margins, a fact of which the optimists might well have been advised to take note prior to the clash with the “unknowns” from west of the Nullarbor.

The eighteen South Australian players who took the field for this historic encounter were:

Ralph Aldersley (West Torrens):  A regular interstate representative for South Australia during the first decade of the twentieth century, Aldersley became an umpire after he retired from playing.

Anthony “Bos” Daly (North Adelaide):  The first great goalsneak in the South Australian game, Daly began at Norwood and went on to play for West Torrens, West Adelaide, South Adelaide and North Adelaide.  He was the SAFA's top goal kicker on a total of six occasions with four different clubs.

James “Welshy” Davies (Port Adelaide):  A superb ruckman who spent fourteen seasons at Port, and of whom the great Tom Leahy said "I class him as one of the great ruckmen of all time.  He always made the ball his objective, and his long, skimming drop kicks on the run were features of his play".[6]

Albert Gosling (Port Adelaide):  A club stalwart, and a regular interstate representative between 1901 and 1905.

Marsh Herbert (South Adelaide):  A powerful centre half back who later played 51 VFL games with Collingwood.

Lionel Hill (Norwood):  An outstanding follower who represented Norwood with distinction for a decade.  He was later made a life member of the club.

Ern Johns (North Adelaide):  A dynamic forward line player who played in North Adelaide's 1902 and 1905 premiership sides, and represented South Australia at both the 1908 and 1911 interstate football championships.

Tom MacKenzie (West Torrens):  The first triple Magarey Medallist in the history of the game, Tom MacKenzie won Medals with West Torrens in 1902, and North Adelaide in 1905 and 1906.  An energetic and tenacious rover, he was also a solid defender when resting on a half back flank.

Edward 'Dookie' MacKenzie (West Torrens):  Older brother of Tom, and for a time enjoyed an even greater reputation.  Went to North Adelaide, along with his brother, in 1905.

Jimmy Matthews (North Adelaide):  A highly versatile, long kicking player who performed with equal success at both ends of the ground, as well as in the centre, during his long and highly successful career with the red and whites.  He was a member of the club's 1900, 1902 and 1905 premiership teams.

Charlie McGavisk (West Torrens):  A "Houdini-like" rover, originally from South Adelaide, who was "adept at tapping the ball over......opponents' heads and catching it again".[7]  

Bill “Darky” Miller (Norwood):  One of the best forwards in South Australia at the time, Miller, who took on Bos Daly's mantle when that player was compelled, because of the newly introduced electorate rule, to move to South Adelaide, topped Norwood's goal kicking list on 7 consecutive occasions from his debut in 1899 to 1905.  He retired after the 1910 season, having also topped the league's list of goal scorers in 1901 and 1904.

Fred O'Brien (South Adelaide):  A Broken Hill recruit who in 1908 became the South Adelaide Football Club's first paid coach, earning 10 shillings a week.

Jack Quinn (Port Adelaide):  Port Adelaide's captain in 1904 and 1905, and founder of the 'Quinn Dynasty', with sons Jack, Tom, dual Magarey Medallist Bob, and George all representing the club in later years.  Jack Quinn was a talented forward who topped the SAFA's goal kicking list with 32 goals in 1907.

Jack Rees (North Adelaide):  Regarded as one of the fastest wingman of his era, he represented South Australia on numerous occasions.  He later achieved prominence in local government.

Ted Strawns (Port Adelaide):  A 10 year player with the Magpies who later went on to serve the club as a committeeman and selector.

James “Sorry” Tierney (West Adelaide):  Despite looking old enough to have fathered many of his fellow players (indeed, towards the end of his career, he was forced to suffer the nickname “Dad”), James Tierney possessed formidable talent.  He won a Magarey Medal in 1908, and formed a highly effective partnership for a time with Tom Leahy during West Adelaide's rapid emergence as a power in 1908 and 1909.   He later played briefly with Leahy at North Adelaide.

Hendrick “Taffy” Waye (Sturt):  Renowned almost as much for his weekly 60 mile round trip by buggy to play for the Double Blues as for his formidable rucking talent, Waye won the 1903 Magarey Medal.  Many of his best performances came while representing South Australia in the interstate arena.

The Game

The home side was bedecked in chocolate and turquoise, while the Western Australians wore green and gold jerseys adorned with a black swan on the front.  As had been agreed beforehand, the game witnessed the experimental use of boundary umpires - "one on each side" of the ground - of which it was later remarked: "they were not much faster than the field umpire would have been.  Two on each side might have made a difference".[8]

The opening fifteen minutes of the game gave no indication of what was to follow as South Australia, without seeming to be even trying, eased into a 3 goal lead.  The visitors, by contrast, were hesitant, and were unable to mount any serious attacks owing to their propensity to fumble.  Once they nabbed their first goal, however, they visibly grew in confidence, using their superior physical power to good effect, and beginning to find each other almost unerringly with long, intelligent kicks to position.  At the quarter time break there was only a goal in it, with South Australia on 5.1 (31) to Western Australia's 4.1 (25).

During the second term the Western Australians, with superior teamwork and better all round skills, achieved ascendancy virtually all over the ground.  One of South Australia's few winners was 'Taffy' Waye, who repeatedly won the ruck contests, only for players in green and gold jumpers to spirit it away almost every time.  Tom MacKenzie was also playing well on a half back flank, but his abilities might have been better utilised on the ball, where Jarvis, Sweetman, Tyson and Kenny were in irrepressible form for the westerners.  When the ball got close to the Western Australian goal - as it frequently did in this quarter - Heinrichs and Rowell showed too much dash and intelligence for their opponents, and a succession of goals followed.  The visitors added 5.4 in this term to South Australia's 1.3 and at the long break they had established a healthy lead of 19 points, 9.5 (59) to 6.4 (40).

If the second term had admirably revealed the Western Australians' attacking prowess, the 3rd quarter demonstrated that, when the occasion called for it, they were equally adept at defending.  Most observers expected South Australia to fight back strongly in this term, and so it proved - up to a point.  That point was the near impassable Western Australian half back line of Bliss, Plunkett and Doig who never once in the entire quarter allowed the increasingly desperate South Australians to maneuver the ball into scoring range.  Meanwhile, to rub salt into the home side's wounds, Western Australia managed to break away on a couple of occasions to register a goal and a behind, the only scores recorded by either side in the whole of the third quarter.  At 'lemons' the scoreboard read: Western Australia 10.6 (66); South Australia 6.4 (40).

With players like Hill, Tierney, Johns and O'Brien finally lifting their game, South Australia fought back determinedly but with little system during the closing stanza.  Indeed, despite being under almost constant pressure, it was the visitors who often elicited the appreciation of the home crowd with their calmness, poise, excellent distribution and superb high marking.  Admittedly, the South Australians did at least make some inroads into the deficit, but a Western Australian win never looked seriously in doubt, and indeed anything other than a Western Australian win would have been an injustice.  South Australia added 2.6 in this term to a solitary behind from Western Australia, but the home state's inaccuracy was further testimony to the defensive prowess of their opponents, who were almost invariably able to ensure that any kick for goal by a South Australian was either executed from a prodigious distance, or under the most intense of pressure, making a behind almost the best possible result.  The final scores were Western Australia 10.7 (67) to Western Australia 8.10 (58).  Any South Australians who regarded the result as an anomaly would be firmly disabused of the notion four years later at the inaugural interstate championship series in Melbourne when Western Australia scored two hard fought but meritorious wins over the croweaters to re-assert a dominance that would not be called into question until the Adelaide Carnival three years later.

In the wake of this particular match, the South Australian press was effulgent in its praise of the Western Australians, who had exhibited "a combination system as effective as any Victorian team had shown in Adelaide", who "passed to one another with wonderful judgement", and who produced "such consistent and brilliant high catching (as) had not been seen in Adelaide for years".[9]

As for the home side: "If the play of the men is to be taken as the standard of this state, then by some cause or another it has been lowered considerably", and "South Australian teams have generally played a remarkably good combined game but this time it was a case of every man for himself and no one to help his comrades.........they played like a pack of unskilled schoolboys".[10]

Best for Western Australia, and indeed the most conspicuous player afield, was “Snowy” Jarvis who, somewhat ironically, was Adelaide-born. Dolph Heinrichs, who booted half of the visitors’ goals, was also prominent, as were Franks, Sweetman, Goddard, Tyson, Plunkett and Rowell. South Australia’s best was ruckman “Taffy” Waye, with Tierney, Tom MacKenzie, Hill, Strawns and O'Brien also showing at least glimpses of their best form.


FOOTNOTES

[1] “The Advertiser”, 22 August 1904.

[2] Ibid., in which it was stated "The attendance was disappointing being no more than 4,000 present; and this may be taken as an indication of the feeling of the public toward an inter-state game taking place on an oval which under present circumstances is totally inadequate as regards space to show to advantage a game of the importance of the one that was played on Saturday".

[3] See The South Australian Football Story by Bernard Whimpress, pages 80-81, for a more detailed discussion of the Jubilee Oval controversy.

[4] The term “league standard” is taken to refer to the highest level of football in a given state or territory, although it has to be conceded that it bore considerably less relevance 100 years ago than it does today.  As an example, on the same day that the VFL overcame Western Australia at the MCG in 1904, a VFL “second string” combination was comfortably vanquished by a Ballarat Football League representative team in Ballarat, the sort of occurrence that was by no means uncommon during this period.

[5] East Fremantle Football Club: Celebrating 100 Years Of Tradition by Jack Lee, page 89.

[6] Quoted in 100 Years With The Magpies: The Story Of The Port Adelaide Football Club by A.R. McLean, page 15.  Davies' surname was sometimes rendered 'Davis', but the “Welshy” tag makes “Davies” seem more probable.

[7] Whimpress, op cit., page 152.  Some sources spell the surname with the letter “h” instead of a “k”. 

[8] 'The Advertiser', 22/8/1904. 

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Sandgropers Go West With Spoils - Interstate Match, South Australia versus Western Australia, Saturday 20th August 1904 at The Jubilee Oval