Explore the History of australian football


by Mary Gilmore​[1]

I have grown past hate and bitterness,

I see the world as one;

Yet, though I can no longer hate,

My son is still my son.

      All men at God's round table sit,

     And all men must be fed;

     But this loaf in my hand,

    This loaf is my son's bread.

Perhaps surprisingly Labour, under Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, did not advocate or implement any sweeping social reforms, or do much to improve the lot of the ordinary working men. Fisher was more interested in bolstering the nation's defence, as evidenced in 1911 by the formation, as a distinct organisation rather than just an extension of the army, of the Royal Australian Navy, which began life with just two ships, the destroyers Parramatta and Yarra, both of which had been built in Britain. By the time of the outset of world war one three years later these had been supplemented by two cruisers, two submarines, and the nation's flagship, Australia, which was a battle cruiser. Unlike the land forces, the navy did not rely in any way on conscription as the majority of its personnel were volunteers.

Under the Fisher administration a worldwide competition to plan the nation’s new capital city at Canberra was inaugurated. The site of the future capital was an area of outstanding natural beauty which the competition winner, Walter Burley Griffen, an American architect “with an eye for beauty of design and a rebel against the messiness and ugliness of late Victorian architecture”,[2] sought to enhance. “He conceived a garden city with grand avenues linking its governmental and civic centres, and concentric patterns of residential suburbs set in forest reserves and parks.”[3] However, the implementation of his design was impeded by bureaucrats and in 1920 responsibility for bringing things to fruition was transferred to a committee.

​In 1911 the first national census was held, which showed that the country's population was 4,455,005, although in keeping with the spirit of the times this total did not include full-blood aborigines. It is not known exactly how many members of this population survived the forthcoming global conflict.

​Sport continued to be a national obsession. Since turn of century, for example, tennis had slowly grown in popularity. Following Australasia’s victory over the USA in the 1907 Davis Cup final that popularity escalated. Further Davis Cup victories in each of the subsequent four years convinced Australians that they boasted the finest tennis players in the world, although such conviction ignored the fact that one of the Davis Cup-winning pair, Anthony Wilding, was a New Zealander.

For the inhabitants of the southern states, however, football continued to be the king of sports. A second interstate carnival was held, this time in Adelaide, and won resoundingly by the home state. Despite this, South Australia was no match for a visiting VFA combination which overcame them on Saturday 15th July by 13 points, 6.12 (48) to 5.5 (35). It is true that the South Australian combination was somewhat weaker than that which competed in the championship series in August, but it nevertheless contained some fine players such "Shrimp" Dowling, Bert Renfrey, Harold Oliver and Angelo Congear. It is also perhaps worth pointing out that when the two sides had met one another earlier in the season in Melbourne South Australia had enjoyed the ascendancy. What the two matches coupled with the results at the Adelaide carnival arguably showed was that, in 1911, top level football was being played in all four southern states, and indeed that the standard of the game in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania was very possibly more even than at any time before or since.

​On the club scene, Essendon returned to the VFL winners' enclosure for the first time since 1901 thanks to a 5.11 (41) to 4.11 (35) grand final defeat of Collingwood. The Same Old were coached by former Carlton mentor John Worrall, who had left the Blues under something of a cloud but quickly proved that he still had the knack of masterminding premiership success. By strange coincidence, the VFA flag was also won by Essendon, or "Essendon Association" as they were popularly known. The Dreadnoughts ground out a low scoring 8 point grand final win over Brunswick. Another event of note in the VFA this year was the admission to the competition of a new club, Melbourne City.

In South Australia, West Adelaide overcame Port Adelaide in the decisive match of the season by just 5 points. It was the red and blacks' third flag in four years, and they quickly supplemented it by overcoming Essendon on the Adelaide Oval by 3 points in a match designated as being for the championship of the land.

​The WAFL was depleted by the withdrawal from the competition of Midland Junction, but other than that it was business as usual, with East Fremantle capturing a fourth successive flag courtesy of a 14.12 (96) to 7.3 (45) demolition of probably the second strongest local side of the era, West Perth. The Western Australian state premiership was not contested in 1911, but football on the goldfields remained strong, and half the WA team for the Adelaide carnival played for a goldfields club.

Tasmanian football was particularly buoyant in 1911. The state team defeated both Western Australia and New South Wales at the Australian championships in Adelaide, and its performance against Victoria was full of merit. Only against the home state did the Tasmanians capitulate by a hefty margin, and they were by no means alone in that. On the domestic scene, Cananore again procured the TFL premiership, their third in succession. The Canaries also massacred NTFA premier North Launceston by 104 points to win the state premiership. The 1911 season also saw the formation in the Apple Isle of the North West Football Union, which in time would hormone third of a Tasmanian football triumvirate. The inaugural premiers were Mersey.

​Other state league premiers in 1911 were East Sydney (NSWAFL) and South Brisbane (QFL).

Sport was an important anodyne in 1911. Some people may have suspected the imminence of war, but a much larger preferred to distract themselves by avidly following the fortunes of their local football team.


[1] Mary Gilmore led a varied life which saw her work, at various times, as a teacher and journalist, as well as spend some time in Paraguay as a member of a group aiming to found a colony known as "New Australia" and based on "advanced principles". In 1937 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in recognition of her services to literature.

[2] A Short History of Australia by Manning Clark, page 223.

[3] A Concise History of Australia by Stuart McIntyre, page 149.

​"I name this ship......"