Explore the History of australian football

The most newsworthy event of 1912, in the western world at any rate, was the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Boasting a gross register tonnage of 48,328 she was, at the time of her maiden voyage, the largest ship afloat. Popularly described as “unsinkable” she did not even survive that maiden voyage from Southampton to New York after colliding with an iceberg at 11.30pm ship’s time on 12th April 1912 whilst cruising some 355 miles south of Newfoundland. The collision caused the ship's hull plates to buckle inwards along her starboard side and opened five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea whereupon the ship gradually filled with water. Of the 2,224 passengers and crew aboard only approximately 705 survived, despite the fact that there was room in the lifeboats for 1178 people. The disaster led to a major overhaul of maritime safety regulations, many o which remain in force today.

Other major occurrences in 1912 included the replacement of the Chinese Empire with the Republic of China, the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as the twenty-eighth present of the USA, the foundation of the African Congress, Arizona becoming the last continental state of the union, and the start of the first Balkan War.
Australia remained the only country in the world to espouse compulsory military service, although such service could only be carried out on Australian soil. Service overseas remained voluntary. Domestic conscription was rigidly enforced, or at least strenuous endeavours to do so were made. If a man or boy evaded conscription he was laible to a minumum fine of £5 rising to a maximum of £100. At this time, the average worker earned roughly £2 10s a week. Protest over these measures were vigorous and sustained, coming mainly from two sources: radical socialists and Christian pacifists. The government responded to the outcry by relenting only to the extent of reducing the maximum fine for evasion to £5.


The first decade of the twentieth century had been a time of rapid technological advances in Australia. Motor vehicles had become more commonplace as well as more advanced, typewriters were no longer the novelty they had been a decade earlier, and telecommunications were appreciably improved. In 1912, the Commonwealth Post Office installed its first automatic telephone exchange at Geelong in Victoria. Wireless telegraphy also arrived in Australia around this time but it did not become widely utilised until after the Great War.

Although the vast majority of Australians continued to manifest outright racial prejudice towards the aborigines, some groups were beginning to make steps to engender more cordial relations. Many of these groups acted from what, in retrospect, seem pretty dubious motives:
German born Father Francis Gsell, future bishop of Darwin and member of the Sacred Heart Order, established the mission at Bathurst Island, off the coast of the Northern Territory, in 1911. He had the wisdom to try to ‘learn gradually their habits and customs so as to penetrate into their minds without hurt or shock’. Disturbed by native polygamy, he claimed to have bought more than thirty wives to save them from the practice. He declared in the end that after thirty years he had not made a convert.[1]


Other missionaries, however, adopted more narrow-minded and indeed sometimes outright cruel practice. On the whole, these proved no more successful than their more liberal-minded counterparts.

Australia’s Labor government[2] began to make some tentative gestures towards a social welfare system at around this time:

Australia came early to the payment of benefits for welfare purposes, but it stopped short of the general systems of social insurance developed in other countries where the operation of the labour market imperilled social capacity. Rather, Australia provided protection indirectly through manipulation of the labour market in what one commentator has described as a ‘wage earners’ welfare state’.[3]


Or, to express things more succinctly:

for a man to accept a handout was to forfeit his manliness.[4]

Manliness was perhaps the single attribute above all others which attracted onlookers to the sport of Australian football, and which within a couple of years would be similarly lauded on foreign fields of play where the stakes were immeasurably higher.

In 1912, however, the focus, between April and early October at any rate, was firmly on the oval balled game. The VFL premiership was won for a second consecutive season by Essendon which, despite inaccuracy in front of goal, overcame South Melbourne in the challenge final by 14 points, 5.17 (47) to 4.9 (33). The match attracted an attendance of 54,534 to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.


For the second season in a row the Association premiership also went to Essendon, victors over Footscray by 21 points in the decisive match of the year. Essendon A's crack full forward booted 107 goals for the season, making him the first player in any of Australia's major club competitions to "top the ton".


​In the SAFL, West Adelaide enjoyed premiership success for the second time in a row, and the fourth occasion in five years. The red and blacks comfortably overcame minor premier Port Adelaide in the challenge final by 18 points, having earlier also downed the Magpies in the final. The club championship of Australia was not contested in 1912.


Winners of the 1912 WAFL premiership were Subiaco courtesy of a solid 5.8 (38) to 4.3 (27) defeat of East Fremantle. It was the club's first flag. However, proving that football on the goldfields was still in an extremely healthy state, GFA premiers Kalgoorlie Railways overcame the Maroons in the WA state premiership decider.

​Other premiers in 1912 were Leroy (TFL), North Launceston (NTFA), Mersey ((NWFU), Sydney (NSWAFL) and Valley (QFL). Leroy defeated North Launceston to capture the Tasmanian state premiership for the first ever time.


[1] Australians: Eureka to the Diggers by Thomas Keneally, page 278.

[2] The name was changed from “Labour” in 1912.

[3] A Concise History of Australia by Stuart McIntyre, page 152.

[4] Ibid, page 152.


by Derek Mahon

They said I got away in the boat
                        And humbled me at the inquiry. I tell you
                                    I sank as far that night as any
                        Hero. As I sat shivering on the dark water
                                    I turned to ice to hear my costly
                        Life go thundering down in a pandemonium of
                                    Prams, pianos, sideboards, winches,
                        Boilers bursting and shredded ragtime. Now I hide
                                    In a lonely house behind the sea
                        Where the tide leaves broken toys and hat boxes
                                    Silently at my door. The showers of
                        April, flowers of May mean nothing to me, nor the
                                    Late lights of June, when my gardener
                        Describes to strangers how the old man stays in bed
                                    On seaward mornings after nights of
                        Wind, takes his cocaine and will see no one. Then it is
                                    I drown again with all those dim
                        Lost faces I never understood. My poor soul
                                    Screams out in the starlight, heart
                        Breaks loose and rolls down like a stone.
                                    Include me in your lamentations.

1912: After the Titanic