The Ian McKay mark: Sixty years on

 

North Adelaide’s Ian McKay soars over Norwood’s Pat Hall in the dying minutes of the 1952 SANFL grand final.

The Graflex RB Series camera was commonly used by sports photographers in the early 1950s.

 

Sixty years ago a magical sporting moment was captured.

If asked to nominate South Australia’s greatest sporting photograph I would say the Ian McKay mark which occurred in the dying minutes of the grand final between North Adelaide and Norwood at Adelaide Oval on 4 October 1952.

Taken by The Mail photographer Bill Teubner, it was prominently positioned on the front page of that day’s newspaper – then published on a Saturday – and generously headed and captioned.

The heading is ‘Picture of the Season – And Captain of the Year’ and the lengthy caption begins ‘The No. 1 mark of the year taken by No. 1 of the No. 1 team – North’s Ian McKay’ before going on to credit Teubner’s spectacular picture of McKay soaring high above Norwood ruckman Pat Hall.

The magnificence of the photo is its composition. While the key figures are central, Hall is descending earthwards, and McKay on the way up, propelling himself from Hall’s back and shoulders, his waist level with the bottom of the roof line of the old Mostyn Evan grandstand, and his hands about to take the ball alongside the cupola on the roof top, adding to the drama. It’s as though he is going to keep on flying up, up and out of the ground. Like Superman!

However, the photo on its first publication in The Mail was tightly cropped down the right-hand edge of the cupola. While the essential elements of the spring were retained the aesthetic balance was diminished: the figures seated at ground level inside the boundary which humanise the crowd were absent; and the flag flying at full stretch indicating the force and direction of the wind was also missing.

Journalistic descriptions of the mark in the paper by that year’s Magarey Medallist Len Fitzgerald and former Port Adelaide captain Vic Johnson were matter-of-fact.

In Fitzgerald’s report of the last-quarter ‘a high spot occurred when McKay pulled down one of the most spectacular marks I have ever seen. He finished it off with a long screw punt for a goal’.

According to Johnson: ‘The highlight of the last term was Ian McKay’s brilliant mark and goal – the last of the 1952 season.’

North’s captain McKay had moved from full-back onto the ball to get into the play when the game was well and truly won and took his mark at full-forward.

North annihilated the Redlegs 23.15 to 6.9 in front of 50,105 people, the third-highest football attendance in the oval’s history to that time. No doubt many of those thousands were disappointed by the one-sided contest although not the North supporters who displayed ‘unprecedented enthusiasm’ in collecting £150 to be shared by the players.

As a historian, as a photographer I would have liked the pictorial editor of The Mail to have reproduced the picture of the McKay mark in full but recognise that it had to fight for space with other news stories.

In the Cold War era the tabloid Mail’s leading article on 4 October 1952 was ‘Aust. Awaiting Data About UK Bomb’, and ‘Frigate helped in test’ was a subsidiary story about atomic weapon testing as part of Operation Hurricane on the Monte Bello islands off the Western Australian coast the day before. ‘North’s title by 18 goals’ shared the bottom half of the page with ‘Unionists for Russia’ and a Sydney offer of £20,000 made for the champion New Zealand racehorse, Dalray.

When there were widespread fears about the annihilation of the human race it is not surprising that football annihilation might have been a lesser consideration and a football photograph trimmed as a result.

Fellow photographers at Adelaide Oval reported that Teubner knew he had got the shot although it cannot have been easy to be confident of that given the equipment he was using.

A camera commonly used by sports photographers in the early 1950s was the Graflex RB (Revolving Back) Series which incorporated a couple of main elements: a reflex viewing-focusing optical system that showed on a ground-glass an exact, erect image of the scene to be photographed and a multiple-speed focal-plane shutter which gave a wide range of exposures to one thousandth of a second.

One of the main difficulties using such a camera for sports photography was the reflex focusing which meant that light entered the camera through the lens, was reflected upwards by the mirror to the ground glass screen, but that visibility of the image required the photographer to look down through a light-excluding focusing hood.

Attempting to photograph any subject with a Graflex camera meant holding the camera at chest-height. While the camera had the shutter speed to deal with fast action, photographing a sport like Australian football at close range would have been difficult because the players would move rapidly in and out of the viewing screen as the photographer peered down into it. In order to take a picture of a high mark the photographer would need to tilt the camera.

I photographed South Australian league football every week for five years from 1979 to 1983 using Minolta and Pentax 35mm SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras with a range of zoom and telephoto lenses. Most of my shots were taken from a position sitting on my aluminium camera case or from around knee-height when moving around. Viewing the action was easy at eye-height and manual focusing a relatively simple procedure.

When taking pictures at Adelaide Oval one day I found myself in a similar position to where Bill Teubner would have been and realised I would not have been able to duplicate the shot if someone had taken a similar high mark.

Teubner’s Graflex forced him to shoot from a lower angle and to capture the McKay mark he would have composed the picture near ankle height and tilted the camera as McKay rose. The extra angle of elevation enabled McKay to fly through the top of the stand.

For photographers in the 1980s, or even the present-day, to take the same picture, they would have to be shooting from a ditch!

Thirty years ago I purchased a Graflex RB Series camera from an Advertiser photographer who had owned it for several years. Before that it had been lying around the newspaper photographers’ room for a long time gathering dust.

The Advertiser and The News combined resources to publish the Sunday Mail in the mid-1950s so I wondered whether this might have been a camera used by Teubner. Could it even be the camera which took the McKay mark?

That is a fancy; it doesn’t matter except that it led me to appreciate important facts. Technological improvements can sometimes involve losses – in this example, the loss of a viewpoint. The Graflex camera is a quaint old piece of equipment when cradled now but in the hands of an ingenious craftsman it could yield superb results. However, the main benefit is that lovers of sport, grace, art and craft can take pleasure from a photograph which remains with us to this day.

About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) currently writing his 20th book. For the previous 15 years was Curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum and Historian for the South Australian Cricket Association. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Most recent books – The MCC Official Ashes Treasures and The Greatest Ashes Battles.

Comments

  1. robin grow says:

    Great stuff, Bernard – loved reading it. He obviously landed OK if he was able to kick a goal from the mark. How would you rate the photography of the famous mark by Dick Lee for Collingwood in 1915? Similar difficulty for the photographer?
    regards Robin

  2. Wonderful writing about an iconic image. Thanks Bernard. I remember the image well from growing up in SA in the 60’s. I think Pat Hall went on to be a regular footy reporter on Ch7’s World of Sport.

  3. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks Robin
    I’ll get back to you on the Lee mark.
    Peter
    Thank you too. Yes, Pat Hall was a footy reporter on World of Sport and I think was the brother of Max Hall, the former umpire, who commentated with Tom Warhurst on 5KA.
    Cheers
    Bernard

  4. Bernard as a kid growing up on the south coast of SA I was a Rooster supporter (and still am) and this mark over the years has been my “signature mark”
    My late father (though not at the match) would always hark back to this mark and I suppose now I am still enthralled by the “big ones”

  5. Great stuff, Bernard. Reminds me a lot of the Merv Hobbs mark in the ’61 VFL Prelim, which you can see here: http://www.theage.com.au/news/geoff-mcclure/demons-dogs-eye-the-roaring-40s/2005/08/18/1123958181283.html

  6. bernard whimpress says:

    Glad you enjoyed this oges. T’is a pity it’s not a Norwood-North final on Sunday, not that I want the ’52 result repeated.
    Best
    Bernard

  7. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks for the comment Gigs.
    Similar shaped mark but with respect lacks the aesthetics of our (SA) shot and a long way short of flying over the top of a grandstand.
    Cheers
    Bernard

  8. Happy to admit the SA shot wins out, Bernard. I do tend to look at that Hobbs one through red, white and blue-coloured glasses!

  9. Skip of Skipton says:

    In reality, that mark would have been more like the Jezza over Jenkin in the 1970 grand final. Superb photo, considering the equipment of the day.

    Gigs, that link says the famous Merv Hobbs mark was in 1969. I will bet my left knacker or eye teeth that it wasn’t. Maybe a final in the ’61 series?

  10. Skip of Skipton says:

    Sorry Gigs. ’61 prelim as you say. Carn ‘scray! Is that Ted in the background?

  11. Barry Nicholls says:

    Lovely piece Bernard on a significant moment in footy history- well done.

  12. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks Barry
    I’ve spoken about this photo and how it was taken a few times in public forums; then it occurred to me that with an anniversary falling it would be the appropriate time to write it up.
    Cheers
    Bernard

  13. Great read Bernard.

    Whilst the post-match reports of the mark (“brilliant” and “spectacular”) may appear less than enthusiastic accounts to today’s audience, I’m guessing that in those days, when langauge was succint and adjectives used appropriately, those words very clearly conveyed to readers that it was indeed a great mark.

    Nowadays, words like “brilliant”, “spectacular”, “champion” are bandied about more freely.

  14. bernard whimpress says:

    I won’t disagree about the superlatives being bandied about and Leaping Larry underlines this point in his column of today’s Age, Sport p6 in discussing those he terms ‘sporting phenomenologists’. When I was mainly watching SA footy in the 70s and early 80s I used to think of three champions – Robran, Ebert and Davies – then a select group of stars, plus a lot of good honest footballers.

  15. Bernard how would you rate Paul Bagshaw? I would have him in your group of champions above

  16. I’d certainly rank Blight and Carman at least above Davies even just on what they did in SA. Peter Carey would have Davies covered for a start.

  17. bernard whimpress says:

    Oges and Budge

    I actually rate Carman as the second-best player I’ve ever seen (behind Robran) and that includes the rest of Australia but I didn’t include him because of his brief career in SA. Blight became a greater player when he went to Victoria. Bagshaw I almost included because he was so skilful but Davies was consistent in all parts of his game and brilliant around the ground. Carey was a great player but as a regular Norwood follower then I would back Neil Button against him in ruck when we played the Bays.

  18. Ditto for me with your ratings Bernard. Robran best. Blight and Ebert second. Brilliant, tough and reliable. I often considered whether players did (or I thought they could) succeed in the much tougher school of the VFL. State games were the best barometer. Bagshaw’s skills were sublime, but I always doubted him in the toughest school. Carman was brilliant but unreliable on many fronts. Davies was a brilliant mark and a good ruckman, but in the toughest school? Peter Carey was the sort of ultra consistent, ultra reliable ruckman that every club would love. But a notch below as a solo matchwinner. All great names and great players, but Robran was the total package until Leigh Matthews cruelled his knee and his careeer.

  19. Anyone seen the Bruce Linder one from the nineties?

    They sure can jump those crow eaters.

  20. bernard whimpress says:

    Bruce Lindner probably played the game of his life in the 1989 GF which Geelong lost and would have been best on ground if it wasn’t for a certain G Ablett snr – I’m sure John Harms would agree. And Bruce had good leaping genes as his uncle Don was the best high-flyer in the SANFL in the 1950s and 1960s.

  21. Budge channelled my thoughts…Carman and Blight the best I saw play SANFL.

  22. Bernard, Darren Flanigan was second to Ablett that day – he also played the game of his life. I’m sure John Harms would agree.

  23. Peter Flynn says:

    Cookie,

    Ablett

    Flanagan

    Lindner

    Bews

    Hamilton

    Sorry to interrupt the interesting thread above on SA players. I would’ve loved to have seen more of them. Carry on.

    Cheers

  24. bernard whimpress says:

    Anyone wanting to read a terrific chapter on Collingwood and Fabulous Phil Carman should look at Peter Herbert’s ‘What Doesn’t Kill You …: Episodes from Australian Sport’ (2010). Herbert discusses a range of frustrations for Australian sporting champions and teams who experienced near misses – Greg Norman, Ron Clarke, Raelene Boyle, Kim Hughes, Collingwood etc. Santo has copies at Melbourne Sports Books but if Adelaide readers want the author’s contact details I can pass them on.

  25. btw, I love this photo Bernard. It should be the logo for Adelaide Oval footy. Not only is the mark magnificent but it has an unmistakeable time and place. Thanks.

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