Gundagai 1921

Wirth's Circus in Sheridan Street, from Dr. Gabriel's photos.

Wirth’s Circus in Sheridan Street – from Dr. Gabriel’s photos.

1921 was the second year of Maher Cup football and its first under Rugby League rules.  For the first time Mr E.J. Maher’s trophy left Tumut. It was the year of Gundagai.

The transition to League was simple. By the time the Tumut and Gundagai area clubs met to decide whether to stay with Union or move to the more attractive code, nearby Junee, Harden and Cootamundra and just about every other town in the southwest, had already moved. The decision was made without rancour or acrimony.

But there was much more than football on the minds of Gundagai people…. Continue reading

The Maher Cup Originals: Tumut and Gundagai in 1920

O'Brien family

The family of William Daniel Patrick O’Brien about 1897. Tom O’Brien went to war and returned to captain the first Tumut Maher Cup team. Here he is with his dad’s arm around him. Younger brother Assal and Orlando (top left) both died in the War.  [Source: Ancestry.com]

This post is an attempt to form an impression of life in the Gundagai and Tumut areas in 1920 through the prism of forty players from the two clubs who fought out the first Maher Cup match on Wednesday 14th July at the Tumut Racecourse.  For more on this first match go here.

Below are the team lists with brief biographical information. Further down is the analysis which you can jump to here.

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The Murrumbidgee Rugby League & the End of the Maher Cup

This article is largely based on Jack Weeks’ book The breakaway of the Murrumbidgee Rugby League : the forerunner and the aftermath 1960 – 1972.

In 1965 the logic of the Murrumbidgee Rugby League (MRL) breakaway was simply clear from the Riverina’s geography.

Boundaries of Groups 9 and 20 in 1965 in green, with the rebel Murrumbidgee Rugby League background in red.

The boundaries of Groups 9 and 20 in 1965 are in green, with red for the rebel Murrumbidgee Rugby League.

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A Brief History of the Maher Cup Clubs in Graphs

Graphically representing the number of matches played by each club helps illustrate the highs and lows of their footballing journeys over the 52 years of the Maher Cup history, and provides the basis of a brief club history.  Failure to capture the Cup meant twiddling thumbs and fretting  on the outcome of the next draw.Cootamundra graph

Cootamundra (224 matches). Playing 62 games more than any other team, Coota started with a bang in 1922 winning in its first game under Phil Regan – the first paid-player coach in the bush. They didn’t let up. Regan’s 1920s blue and whites, featuring players such as Eric Weissel, Jack Kingston, Bill Lesberg and Gordon Hinton utterly dominated their opponents. With a little help they even took on England. During the Depression years, after Regan departed, it all fell apart for a while.  1935 saw the purchase of five paid players, an embarrassing loss to Tumut, and the imports instantly sacked.  Coota rose to the top again in 1939 with a team composed mainly of local ex-De La Salle boys.  After the war Herb Narvo (1947) and Johnny Graves (1954) led teams of extraordinary quality. Reverting to mainly local players the town continued to be consistently competitive into the 1960s. Continue reading

Audio

The idea of these short sound files of old newspaper articles is to prompt readers to share them with parents and grandparents who will remember the Maher Cup days.  The objective is to prompt memory, start discussions and re-engage with this history.  If you want me to record any particular reports of matches that a relative may have played in I’m most happy to.

Junee Footballers Caught in Floodwaters
Adventurous Trip in Futile Effort to Reach Cowra [for a Sunday match]. 4:34 mins.
Junee Southern Cross, reproduced in the Gundagai Independent, 27 July, 1950

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Peter Castrission Remembers “The Blooda Maher Cup”

Peter Castrission has contributed the following:

I am Vic Castrission’s nephew and I live in Canberra. I am 59 and a retired public servant so I still spend a lot of time in Gundagai. I would like to give you some information about the Niagara Cafe in Gundagai and my uncles and fathers involvement in Rugby League, Group Nine and the Maher Cup. Continue reading

Heroes On The Fringes of the Maher Cup : Brungle’s Digger Davis & Joe Nettup

Like most men his age Tom Davis enlisted for the Great War.  In 1917 he fought on the Western Front, suffered from trench fever, influenza, scabies and finally was gassed just two months before the armistice.  He returned home in 1919 to be classified as “medically unfit” and to be now known in his community as “Digger” Davis. Nothing unusual there.

But Tom Davis was a non-citizen.  He was from the “mish”. He was in the language of the day, a darkie, an Abo.

Davis had enlisted at Cowra in January 1916 with a group of men from the Erambie reserve. Most of these eager recruits were discharged just a few months later as not being suitable due to their race.  Undeterred Tom Davis went over to Goulburn in October and  enlisted again.  The carnage in the trenches of the Western Front had by that time changed attitudes – anyone would do, and the army promptly shipped him off to France.

Tom Davis is fourthrow from the back, fifth from the right

Tom Davis is fourth row from the back, fifth from the right

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Nevyl Hand

Cootamundra Herald 22 March 1949 reported that:

The Gundagai Rugby League has secured the services of Kangaroo forward, Neville  [should read Nevyl] Hand, as coach for the 1949 season. Hand, who is 26 years of age, is 6ft. 1 in, and weighs over 15 stone. He was one of the outstanding forwards of the Kangaroos, which last month returned home, from the tour of England and France. It is expected that Hand will arrive in Gundagai at the weekend.

Nevyl Hand with the Maher Cup

Gundagai 1951. Nevyl Hand with the Maher Cup. Back Row L-R: Jack Lindley, Norm Bounader, Owie Hourn, Len Koch, Noel Goodsall, Harry Gibbs, George ‘Foo’ Ballard, Ron Bower, Des Field, Jim Sullivan, Bill Edwards. Front Row L-R: Trevor Lawson, Kevin Warden, Nevyl Hand, John Ryan, Bill Gardiner, John Biscaya, Harold Etherington

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Population Change in Maher Cup Country

In 1954 the Boorowa News provided the following estimates of town and district populations of the twelve “Group Nine towns”.

Cowra: town 7,000; district 15,000
Tumut: 3,500 and 13,000 (including Adelong and Batlow)
Young: 4,500 and 12,000
Cootamundra: 6,000 and 10,000 Continue reading