Explore the History of australian football

​"....... early Australians lived in city and suburban houses designed for Britain - narrow terraced affairs with high ceilings, dark corridors, steep pitched roofs and solid brick walls. But this was changing. A cavity wall as insulation against Australian heat had become a fairly standard building practice by the late 1890s, and soon after Federation Australian architects were complaining that many features of British house design had no place in Australia. 'Steep pitched roofs are used here and are a great mistake,' said Florence Parsons, the country's first woman architect. 'There is no snow or hail to throw off, so they are quite unnecessary. I usually design with the Australian climate in mind - bedrooms facing East to harness the morning's sunshine and sitting rooms facing north and south to capture the breeze.'  (Australia: a Biography of a Nation by Phillip Knightley, pages 51-2.)

 ​​The Australian game took place in 1906 against a backdrop of numerous momentous events, including:

* On 13th January the first radio designed for domestic use went on sale in the USA priced $7.50. Named the Telimco, it had an estimated transmission range of one mile.

* The San Francisco earthquake and fire occurred on 18th and 19th April, killing more than 4,000 people.

* The Wright brothers patented an aeroplane on 22nd May. They had made the first recorded heavier than air flight three years earlier.

* The famous Cunard ocean liner Lusitania, which was to be tragically sunk during world war one, was launched on 7th June’

* On 1st September British New Guinea was formally placed under Australian administration.

* Henry Ford became president of the Ford Motor Company on 22nd October.

* The world’s first cinema, Omnia Pathe, opened in Paris on 1st December.

Several noteworthy sporting achievements also occurred. In cricket, South Africa achieves both its first test victory and its first ever series win (4-1), both against England. In a Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and Queensland New South Wales batsman C.W. Gregory contributes 383 to his team’s total of 763. In gridiron, the forward pass is legalised, thereby abandoning its rugby roots and acquiring its own unique character. Canadian boxer Tommy Burns wins the world heavyweight title after defeating Marvin Hart in a bout lasting twenty rounds.

Australian politics were at their most stable since federation. After the election of December 1906 Alfred Deakin remained Prime Minister despite the fact that his party, the Protectionists, held the fewest seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Deakin was a master of consensus politics, and the government he headed worked because he was able to concoct a viable and largely amicable liaison with Labour. Both the Protectionists and Labour shared one central ideal, albeit for different reasons. This was the cultivation of an Australian identity that was hard working, materially affluent and, most importantly of all, white. Manning Clark describes the political climate during Australia's first decade of nationhood as follows:

The governments that held office between 1901 and 1909 were determined to raise the white man to a high level of material civilisation. Protection was but one means to that end. The motives of the first tariff were as much to raise revenue as to protect native industry against European, American and Asiatic competition. But in the second tarrif the motives were to promote regular employment, to furnish security for the investment of capital, to render stable the conditions of labour, and to prevent the standard of living of workers in industry from being depressed to the level of foreign standards. [1]

The first tariff was based principally upon the Protectionist ideal, whereas the second highlighted the growing influence of Labour following the 1906 parliamentary elections.

Football in the first decade of the twentieth century was almost exclusively a white man's sport. One notable exception was Joe Johnson, an indigenous Australian who played in the VFA with Northcote before transferring to leading VFL club Fitzroy in 1904. Johnson's 55 games with the Maroons included the grand final victories of 1904, when he was adjudged one of the best players afield, and 1905. He left Fitzroy to captain-coach Brunswick in 1907, helping the side to their inaugural VFA premiership in 1909, and between 1912 and 1914 he was captain-coach of his original club Northcote.

Johnson has been widely touted as the first player of indigenous Australian descent to appear in the VFL, but whether or not he was will almost certainly never be proved. Having indigenous Australian blood was not something one trumpeted from the mastheads in the early 1900s.

Johnson's Fitzroy reached a fourth consecutive VFL premiership decider in 1906 but the 'Roys were overwhelmed by a rampant Carlton combination. The Blues won by 49 points, which at the time was a record margin for a VFL grand final.  Carlton's decision to appoint John Worrall as arguably the game's first true coach had finally been vindicated, and this particular Blues combination would go on to be regarded as possibly the greatest in the club's history, with further premierships coming their way in both 1907 and 1908.

In the WAFA it was more or less business as usual with East Fremantle collecting their fifth flag in seven seasons thanks to a convincing 12.3 (75) to 5.6 (36) grand final triumph over West Perth. Old Easts also defeated Mines Rovers to capture the state title, but only after a scare. Playing more precise and cohesive football than their coastal opponents Mines Rovers were felt to have been a trifle unlucky not to emerge victorious from a tensely fought match which ended all square. In the replay, East Fremantle found their form and won by 19 points. The 1906 season saw East Perth admitted to the WAFA.

The South Australian premiership in 1906 was won by Port Adelaide thanks to an 8.12 (60) to 5.9 (39) challenge final defeat of a North Adelaide team which had previously thrashed them in a semi final. Fortunately for Port, they had the right of challenge having finished the minor round atop the ladder. The decisive match of the year was watched by a crowd estimated at 20,000, which if correct would have constituted a state record up to that point.

In 1906, the Hobart-based Southern Tasmanian Football Association was renamed the Tasmanian Football League. Derwent, in its first season in the competition, won the premiership. The NTFA flag went to North Launceston for the third year in a row.

Football in Sydney and Brisbane was still very much a minority sport, but the hard work of a comparatively small number of devotees ensured that, even if it did not exactly thrive, it still maintained a presence. Newtown won the NSWAFL premiership while City went top in Queensland. 

Clubs frequently undertook interstate tours at this point in the game's history, and these appear to have been particularly prevalent in 1906. Some of the results, such as Norwood's comfortable wins over Essendon and Fitzroy in Melbourne, might raise a few eyebrows amongst many football supporters who's view of the game's history has been absorbed entirely from the propaganda promulgated by the Melbourne-centric AFL.


1. A Short History of Australia by Manning Clark, page 219.

1906: Consolidation and Stability