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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Drawing the Barassi (Jim Keys) Line

The Barassi Line as determined by Ian Turner. Source: Wikipedia

The Barassi Line as determined by Ian Turner. Source: Wikipedia

Academic Ian Turner in 1978 invented the term Barassi Line to identify the border separating where men and boys played Australian Rules and where they preferred Rugby League. As you can see in the map it is all a bit too linear to be real. The only area along the line containing any significant population is the Riverina. So perhaps we can fine tune that line.

I must say I don’t like the line being called after  Ron Barassi – better to name it after a footballer who lived on the line and played Australian Rules on Saturday and Rugby League on Sunday – such as Eric Kuhn originally from Weethalle or Jim Keys from Gibsonvale.   So I’m calling my line the Jim Keys line. Continue reading

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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Catholics, Labour and Rugby League

The 20 most common surnames in NSW are ranked thus: Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Wilson, Taylor, Nguyen, Johnson, Martin, White, Anderson, Walker, Thompson, Lee, Harris, Ryan, Robinson, Kelly & King.

The most common surnames of the more than 3,200 Maher Cup players are:  Smith, Kelly, Brown, Ryan, Thompson, Miller, Hall, Williams, Broad, Lawrence, Turner, Anderson, Crowe, Edwards, Walsh, Murphy, Harris, Davis, Lemon, McDonald, Murray & O’Brien.

Two things stand out.  First there are ‘Maher Cup families’ who have produced footballers down the generations, such as the Broads of West Wyalong, Lawrences of Barmedman and Turners of Junee. Second is that Irish names feature much more prominently in Maher Cup country than you would expect: Kelly, Ryan, Crowe, Walsh, Murphy and O’Brien.

Looking at population figures (from 1947 as mid-point in Maher Cup history) the graph below shows how the Catholic population varied from the NSW average of 22.7%.

Religion 1947 by LGA

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Wal Galvin

Wal Galvin Source: image posted on Cootamundra Remembers by Bernice Bristow

Wal Galvin Source: image posted on Cootamundra Remembers by Bernice Bristow

Some men are remembered fondly in Maher Cup Country because they were fine and fair players. Some are remembered because they excelled at administration. Others are etched in our memory for their indefatigable team loyalty. A few are remembered for being painstaking recorders of history – for their commitment to keeping the memories alive.

Wal Galvin is remembered for all of the above.

Born in 1927 he was the youngest son of Owen Galvin, a sharefarmer of Yeo Yeo Road near Stockinbingal.

A teenager during the war years there was little football to be played. However in 1946 Wal played for the Stock team against local clubs like Wallendbeen and the Old Boys and Railway teams from Cootamundra. Continue reading

3,300 Maher Cup Players or there abouts

So far 3,233 accounted for with a few others still in hiding. The latest alphabetic list of players is here. The chronological match and team members list with scorers is here.

Of these 3,233 men some 150 played in the Maher Cup for two different clubs, 19 for three clubs and just two, Clarrie Joyce and Frank Blundell played for four. Clarrie Joyce was a builder from Tumut who played in the first Maher Cup match back in 1920.  He then joined Gundagai in 1921, West Wyalong in 1923, and Cootamundra, where he settled, in 1926.  He died when still quite Young. Blundell the energetic father of squash champion Heather McKay, hailed from Queanbeyan and played there as well. He was a baker and like Joyce he had a occupation that enabled him to easily relocate his work.  Continue reading

The Origins of Rugby League in Maher Cup Country

It took a decade, 1911-1921, for Rugby League to succeed Union in what became Maher Cup country.  It did not set up in competition to it – in most places it simply replaced it.  Below is a brief history.

The Sydney competition under ‘Northern Union’ rules, as it was often referred to then, with its 13 players and the playing of the ball, commenced in 1908. Spectators were excited by the open flow of the game and players preferred it. By 1911, with a rapidly growing fan base, a most successful tour by the British Lions, and defections from the Wallabies, League had become ascendant in the city. However country towns didn’t just follow fashion and fall into line. Continue reading

Minorities in Maher Cup Country

Maher Cup Country was and is a pretty culturally homogenous place, but there was always enough of a mix to make it interesting.

An hour before the first ever Maher Cup match Otto (Boydie) Beegling, the butcher’s son, and a highly respected young man from Tumut, warmed up the crowd when he took on a Adelong rival in a challenge footrace at the oval.  Eric Weissel, Bill Lesberg, Eric Kuhn, Charlie Schwartzel, Henry, Les and Tony Gelfius, Joe Steinke, Paul Butz, Len Koch and a 100 or more others with German names helped bring home the Cup to excited communities. Continue reading

Ron Crowe

Ron "Dookie" Crowe

Ron “Dookie” Crowe

There is probably no-one as revered in Maher Cup football as Ron Crowe.  In 1965 when he was aged just 32 the new Rugby League ground at West Wyalong was named in his honour.  When in 1962 he accepted an offer to play for Souths we all became Rabbitoh fans at Toppy school.   Ron and brother Les cut wood in the mallee country. My dad, a farmer, bought strainer posts from the Crowe brothers and used to point to them and say, they’re just like ‘Dookie’, a little bit bigger, and stronger and tougher than your regular posts.   Off the field Ron Crowe was a most gentle manContinue reading