Gibsonvale 1946: Phil’s Truck & the Trip to Tumut

Gibsonvale was perhaps the Maher Cup’s most unlikely contender.  These days, on Google Earth only ribbons of white mine scars remain.  Gone are the hessian and corrugated iron huts built by battlers and fortune-hunters along the stockroute. Gone is the post office, the store, the school and the unfenced football field. Stoneham’s billiards hall and the Kikoira Pub remain, abandoned.

Outside Stonham's Gibsonvale Billard Hall

Outside Stoneham’s Gibsonvale Billard Hall. Source: Ancestry.com.au

This is close to where the bush meets the outback.  Flat with big skies, the concrete grain silos signal the rail line to the horizon. Stunted Mallee gums suit the thin soil and dry conditions.   The Flying Doctor used to drop in. High school was only available to families with enough means to board the kids in West Wyalong, Yanco or further afield.  It was, and is, a place where the scarcity of water often threatens life and livelihood.

Down a mine at Gibsonvale. Source: Remember When: 75 Years, a collection of memories of people who lived at Kikoira and Gibsonvale.

Down a mine at Gibsonvale. Source: Remember When: 75 Years, a collection of memories of people who lived at Kikoira and Gibsonvale.

Jack Gibson went to the first war, got wounded in both feet and legs, and returned home determined to never take orders from anyone  He never did. After sinking a mine in the middle of a road, he told the flummoxed inspector that, as the so-called road was not mapped anywhere, Council had no proof that this was indeed a road. (Remember When, p.196-197)

He found some gold at Weethalle, but the motherload came in 1938 when he divined a huge reef of tin outside Kikoira. By 1939 hundreds of tents and improvised dwellings were in place. The war effort demanded tin. When the Japanese advanced on the mines of Malaya the price went through the roof. Some people got rich. In the shanty town of Gibsonvale many men went down the mine to get a leg up in life.

Gibson married bush nurse Nea Baldwin who from time-to-time needed to enter a mine:

Some had buckets to go down in, some had ladders built into the side of the shaft, you went from daylight to a different world of darkness in a space of a minute or two.  You were immediately conscious that the earth was all around you, and not underfoot.  The continual noisy creaking of the mine was like the noise of a ship straining in heavy sea.  The men assured me that it was only ‘the earth speaking’ , and there was no danger of a fall of earth while it ever continued to ‘speak’.  The time to worry was if it became quiet (Remember When, p.198)

The community was a mix of farmers, many from Victoria, and miners from all over. It straddled the Rugby/Aussie Rules border.  Keen sportsmen like Phil Hoskinson and Jim Keys played Rules at Four Corners – a ground hacked out of the scrub a few miles north of Kikoira – on Saturday, and backed up for Rugby League at Gibsonvale on Sunday (Remember When, p.72).  And of course there was much travelling to away games.  By 1946 Gibsonvale and Kikoira men had become well-known in football circles.

Jim Keys' tug-o-war team. Down a mine at Gibsonvale. Source: Remember When: 75 Years, a collection of memories of people who lived at Kikoira and Gibsonvale.

Jim Keys’ tug-o-war team.  Source: Remember When: 75 Years, a collection of memories of people who lived at Kikoira and Gibsonvale.

The team was a mix of local farmers and tin miners – not that there was a clear divide. Young locals brave enough to go below supported their mortgages.

Jim Keys came to Gibsonvale to work for farmer Norm Hoskinson. Norm also wanted Jim to play Aussie Rules for Four Corners, and paid him to do so (Remember When, p.205). He also  ‘washed dirt’ for Gibson, who soon appointed Jim as his manager. Keys knew all the sportsman around and encouraged them to come and work at the mine.  Gibson concurred.  He saw that ‘sport meant team work in the work force’ (Remember When, p.216).  Jim Keys later started his own mine with local sporting mates, including Gibsonvale’s fullback and champion tennis player Ted O’Kane (Remember When, p.206).

The Gibsonvale Maher Cup players were not novices. Graham Ridley, Kevin Maybury, Jim Dale and Les Tomlinson had all played for Ungarie in their one and only Maher Cup challenge in May 1946. Phil Hoskinson, Ted O’Kane and Jack Stonham had represented West Wyalong.  Maybury and Ridley later became key players in Wyalong’s formidable Maher Cup team.

The team’s talent was recognised in 1946 when Gibsonvale was awarded Division One status within Group 9 – and thus became the smallest and most isolated place eligible to contest the coveted Maher Cup.  Drawn last amongst 13 teams, when their turn came the ‘Old Tin Pot’ was back at Tumut, the furtherest possible place from Gibsonvale.

The team for the first challenge on 3 August was Ted O’Kane, Graham Ridley, Russell Mears, Leo Ireland, Jack Stonham, Ernie Boal, L. Miller, Kevin Maybury, Joe Neddrie, Jim Keys, Fred Hill, Phil Hoskinson, and H. Miller. They crowded into the back of Phil Hoskinson’s Chevvy truck.  Benches were chained into place and the journey began – 190 rough miles across the length of Maher Cup Country.

philstruck

The team for the second match against Tumut on 14 August 1946 – Jim Dale, Les Tomlinson, Phil Hoskinson, Ted O’Kane, Dick Miller, Jim Keys, G. Imrie, A. Hines, Russell Mears, Ernie Boal, Kevin Maybury, Joe Neddrie, Scotty Miller. Phil’s wife Alice is in front of the truck.

The long, dusty and shaky journey started some 45 miles north west of West Wyalong along gravel roads, and passed through key Maher Cup towns, Barmedman, Temora, Cootamundra, Gundagai and finally Tumut, the home of the Cup.

Around Tumut it had been a wet winter. A month of gentle rain had made the ground soft, some said muddy. Phil’s truck arrived on a perfect sunny winters day amongst Australia’s highest poplars. A beautiful town in a verdant valley with elms, acacias, hawthorn and blackberry hedges, venerable churches, surrounded by all sorts of industry – tobacco, maize, dairy, potatoes, fruit and forestry.  At the Racecourse Ground the willow fringed river bubbled past, engorged with Snowy waters.  Likely snow would have been visible on the distant hills.

While the miners from the dusty Mallee were not favoured to make a concerted challenge, they still attracted some 2,000 interested punters. They even bought their own intrepid supporters, but perhaps not all made it all the way. Laurie Young, the previous night succeeded in turning his motor car ‘completely over’ outside a pub in Coota, injuring himself and passengers Ben and Peter Birks and Vince Curtin.  Fortuitously the eight bottles of beer on the back seat were undamaged.  The next morning a perhaps sober Mr. Young fronted the Cootamundra court and left town £10 poorer and somewhat sorer.

In the Gibsonvale Billiard Hall

In the Gibsonvale Billiard Hall. Source: Ancestry.com.au

The game itself was reported as drab, but going down to the champions 8-2 was no disgrace. Just making it this far was a victory.

In new Cup draw, as luck would have it, Gibsonvale were drawn second. So that they would return to Tumut just two week later, on 17 August 1946.  Although losing  again,  10-3,  Jim Dale scored a rare try against the champions. The Tumut and Adelong Times congratulated the visitors on their gentlemanly conduct off the field and sportsmanship on it.

Jim Keys, J. Clarke, J. Ryan, Ted O'Kane at the Dog on the Tuckerbox, 1946. Source: Remember When: 75 Years, a collection of memories of people who lived at Kikoira and Gibsonvale.

Jim Keys, Jim Clarke (the blacksmith), Jim Ryan and Ted O’Kane at the Dog on the Tuckerbox, 1946. Source: Remember When: 75 Years, a collection of memories of people who lived at Kikoira and Gibsonvale.

I suspect these Mallee men were untarnished by the gamesmanship and chicanery that made the Maher Cup notorious. They were simply there to play and compete. Sport for them was leisure – not  a commercial endeavour. The chance for fortune was under the ground, and in the soil, not on a football field.

Although Gibsonvale is no more, I believe many people will retain memories of a hard place but also a place of opportunity and warm camaraderie.

Reference: Much of the information for this story comes from a wonderful collection of reminiscences called Remember When: 75 years, a collection of memories of people who lived at worked at Kikoira and Gibsonvale.  The stories were collected over a period of ten years by Maxie Hoskinson and others, and published in 2000.

Gibsonvale in 2014

Open cut mining has made its mark

Open cut mining has made its mark.

Water for mining is more reliable.

Water for mining is more reliable.

The Kiki Pub is well gone.

The Kiki Pub is well gone.

But the tennis court and its clubhouse are still places of activity.

But the tennis court and its clubhouse are still places of activity.

And the billiards halls may be abandoned but it remains.

…and the billiards halls may be abandoned but it remains.

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5 thoughts on “Gibsonvale 1946: Phil’s Truck & the Trip to Tumut

  1. I must say that I am very impressed with the quality of the research here and its comprehensive nature. I can well appreciate the hours that have gone into it and the attention to detail displayed.

    I was born in West Wyalong, living there until my mid-teens and am related, in varying degrees, to the Stoneham’s, Hatelys and Moncrieffs you list on your players page.

    Somewhere on the site you remark on there being some confusion about the Jack Stoneham who played for West Wyalong and Temora before the Second World War and the Jack Stonham who played for Gibsonvale and West Wyalong after the war. I can say with some certainty, as he was my great-great uncle, that they are the same person and for some reason the name has been mis-transcribed as ”Stonham’. I confirmed this with my mother. The billiards room at Gibsonvale belonged to my great-grandfather, Bert Stoneham, not to Jack as I think Jack worked in the mines. In the photo you have on your page of the outside of the Gibsonvale billiards room, Bert is fifth from the left wearing a white shirt.

    Mind you, it is possible that there was a subtle change in the spelling during the war, for whatever reason, as I notice that you also list a Noel Stonham playing for Grenfell, who my mother confirms was Jack’s son. Bert and my grandmother, Bert’s daughter, continued to use the original spelling with an ‘e’.

    She always spoke with great enthusiasm about the Maher Cup and I remember her relating quite a few tales about the goings on, most of which I have forgotten, unfortunately, as I was quite young at the time. They bordered on the mythical as I remember.

    The photo you have of the billiards room at Gibsonvale originally came from a collection of photos that my grandmother had. Could you possibly tell me from where you sourced those two photos of the billiards room as their appearance presents something of a small mystery?

    I now live near and work in a large city and it is very difficult to convey to my acquaintances and friends that fierce sense of loyalty and passion which inhered in those small towns, born of blood ties, comparative isolation and connections with the country, which the Maher Cup epitomised. Your site captures that admirably.

    • Hi Carey. Thanks for that information on Jack and Bert Stonham/Stoneham. Noel Stonham was my science teacher at high school in Grenfell. I moved there from Wyalong when I was 11 in 1963. It was interesting to discover when I drove out to Gibsonvale in 2014 that the billiards hall still stands. The pictures I got from ancestry.com.au. They seemed to have been posted originally by ‘chrisgallah’ which I think would be Chris Gallagher. There are many other pictures related to your family on ancestry. Regards Neil

      • Hi Neil,

        Thanks for the information. I’ll have a look at that site in due course.

        With Noel being your teacher, it does seem that the world can be a small place, although people did move around a lot. This seems to have been a feature of colonial life in the Dominions right from the start.

        I do have to make a small clarification. Jack was Bert’s son and as such is my great-uncle. My brain took a little holiday when getting that down it would seem.

        I also remember having a beer at Kikoira pub in the early Eighties. My mate’s father would only let us use his ute if we were going rabbit shooting. So that’s what we told him we were doing. We had to shoot a few on the way home to make it believable. We should have done that on the way there, I think.

        Thanks again for the site.

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