George Ronald Cole – Footballer Senator

Sport, it can be said transcends the divisions of society. Concepts of race, status, and gender can be essentially forgotten as people are placed on a level playing field and share a common identity. As we see today with many national professional codes, this can create the opposite effect too. People can boost their social status and make large amounts of money through great performances, acts of bravery and sheer physical dominance. In the case of George Ronald Cole, the ultimate rise to prominence took place at a time in which sports was not the mega-phenomenon that it is at present.

Through a long career as an educator, Cole was able to live out a prolonged football life that led him to play for and coach a number of teams around Tasmania. In 1951, a flashback to his early career by “Spotlight” in the Advocate newspaper suggested that his play was characterised by ‘quick thinking and heady disposal’. His decorated career began in 1926 in incredible fashion, taking part in five premiership sides. As a member of Devonport High School, Cole won both the North West Football Association and State high schools title. Success would follow him as he progressed to the senior side, winning both the North West Football Union and State senior premierships as a sixteen-year-old half back flanker. The final of these premierships came when the North West Football Association juniors defeated each association junior team from the area. Soon he would become a centre man, a position he dominated for a number of years. Despite moving to Hobart in 1927 to attend teachers college, Cole controversially commuted back to Devonport to continue to play before he made a permanent switch to the New Town (modern day Glenorchy) Football Club in 1928. This would be the site of his greatest individual success, winning the TANFL Best and Fairest in his first season. The Advocate reported that he had been “New Town’s GCoutstanding player of the league” even though he had been one of the youngest footballers in the association[1]. Across subsequent seasons, he forged out a solid representative career. This would firstly come about as a member of the Southern team that took on the North in 1929. This would be the first of many representative games he would play. One particular encounter of interest took place in June 1930 where Cole was named as a forward and a rover instead of in his more familiar centreman spot. Columns from The Mercury however suggested that the versatility of Cole as a player would hold him in good stead. The ‘onlooker’ stated that;

“In club football he has always shown a tendency to follow the play away from        the centre and I should say he will prove a success as a rover”[2].

This game saw him come up against Laurie Nash and Roy Cazaly, two players that have become cornerstones of football folklore today. In the same season however, Cole represented Tasmania in the national carnival and played each game in the centre position.

As alluded to previously, his career as an educator would continue to take him to various teams in the far reaches of state. After leaving New Town in 1932, he was appointed as captain/coach of Huonville while teaching at a district school in the area. In 1933 and 1934 the team won back to back premierships after having never previously won a title. The second of these was stripped from the club however as a player had not paid his registration fee. Later years of teaching and military service saw him play for: New Town (1936-37), Devonport (captain/coach 1938-40, vice captain 1945), several Army sides (1940-44), Longford (1947) and Latrobe (vice captain 1948). During his time teaching on Tasmania’s west coast in 1946, Cole even took to football administration by establishing a league in Strahan. In a career of more than twenty years, his quality of play did not deteriorate. Even at age 40 he was of great service to Latrobe. In a ten goal loss to East Devonport in May 1948, Cole was named sixth in the best players for the match and even provided great flashes of play by putting “Castles in possession for a quick goal after half time”[3]. He was also lucky enough to learn from some of the VFL’s greatest champions, such as Dan Minogue and Basil McCormack. Both of these men had won premierships and best and fairest awards during their time with the Richmond Football Club before crossing Bass Strait to suit up for New Town.

Such a wide reaching career meant that Cole had become a well known figure in a variety of towns throughout Tasmania. From the humble school kid that had shown his talent at Devonport, to the premiership hero that had delivered Huonville its first title, Cole had become a high ranking local identity. This was a factor that he was able to manipulate in 1949 when he had ran for Federal Parliament as a Senator. His advertisement campaigns in local newspapers stated that he should be voted for because he was a ‘good sportsman’. This quality meant he should be the voter’s choice as the ‘number 1 man’. Given the close knit nature of the electorate in Tasmanian politics, voters are naturally drawn to prominent personalities rather than party principles and policies. It should be no shock then that Cole was elected in the December 1949 Federal election as the State’s seventh Senator.

The rest is history. As a politician, the impact that Cole would have on Australian politics has been understated but also enormous. In 1955, he took a stand with fellow Labor Party executive members and left the party over the issue of Communism. Subsequently, George Cole became a founding member and the eventual Federal leader of what is now known as the Democratic Labor Party. This political body advocated the anti-Communist and Christian perspective over the major issues of the late 1950s and early 1960s. These included boycotts on Communist countries through non-support of trade and declarations of war, such as the conflict staged in Vietnam. Ultimately, the major impact of his time in politics was the downfall of the Labor Party. Democratic Labor preferences went to the Liberal Government of the era which kept Labor from making a majority in the Parliament. GC2

Today sports stars are able to boost their profile through huge monetary payments, major brand endorsements and multiple media platforms, a level of much greater magnitude to that of George Cole. It is quite remarkable then that he was able to use sport in a way that allowed him to move from the football fields of Devonport High School where he had worked so hard to the battleground of Canberra’s Parliament. Despite not being well known in the Twenty-First century, Cole’s tough and crafty qualities that he had displayed throughout both his football and political career had helped him leave an indelible mark on Australian history.

[1] The Advocate. 12 September 1928, p. 3.

[2] The Mercury. 20 June 1930, p. 10.

[3] The Advocate. 3 May 1948, p. 5.

About Liahm O'Brien

Burnie based Tasmanian Tiger that never made it past the title of 'under 18s scrapper' in the footy world - now telling the stories of those that could play the game.

Comments

  1. George Cole created one of the greatest characters in TV history.

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