Vale Wunghnu Football Club

by Josh Barnstable

I can imagine the downfall and the final game ever played for the Fitzroy Football Club was the one of the saddest days in the VFL/AFL history, for players and supporters of any team. It isn’t right to see a proud club like the Lions, who were around for 100 years having to merge with the Brisbane Bears, one of the new expansion sides at the time. Thus, they formed the Brisbane Lions, who went on to win three premierships in a row years later, a huge turnaround. Sadly, that merger option isn’t the case for some struggling football teams.

The Wunghnu Football Club, formed in 1874 is one of the oldest football clubs in any of the country leagues throughout Australia. They are apart of the Picola and District Football League, and were split into the North West division at the end of 2008. Wunghnu wears a jumper similar to Collingwood with black and white stripes, and are appropriately nicknamed the Magpies. The town is based 204km north of Melbourne, 26km north of Shepparton, and just 7km down the highway from Numurkah. It is a small town, consisting of a pub, a convenience store, a football oval, netball courts, a car wreckers yard, the delicatessen shop that serves buffalo meat, the ‘home of the best vanilla slice’ in the world and the famous water tower with the popular mural of a sheep, stating ‘The Smallest Sheep Station in the world’, poking fun at the pronunciation of the town (One-Ewe). A couple of interesting claims from a town that boasts a population of around 270. Sadly, Wunghnu has become known for its football club.

Much like the old days in the VFL, where general talk at a game at the MCG would be about who won at Kardinia Park or Waverley, it is not unusual to hear people talking about how Wunghnu was fairing against their opposition for the day as they battled it out in a different town, and even sometimes, a different state. Why? Take a look at the results from their 2010 season:

Round One: Picola United 31.13.199 v Wunghnu 10.5.65

Round Two: Berrigan 36.35.251 v Wunghnu 5.2.32

Round Three: Wunghnu 6.7.43 v Blighty 22.16.148

Round Four: Mathoura 25.16.166 v Wunghnu 6.4.40

Round Five: Wunghnu 8.8.56 v Yarroweyah 20.14.134

Round Six: Strathmerton 35.13.223 v Wunghnu 2.7.19

Round Seven: Wunghnu 4.5.29 v Deniliquin Rovers 33.19.217

Round Eight: Bye

Round Nine: Jerilderie 34.23.227 v Wunghnu 1.2.8

Round Ten: Wunghnu 0.4.4 v Picola United 37.20.242

Round Eleven: Wunghnu 2.3.15 v Berrigan 40.26.266

Round Twelve: Blighty 32.16.208 v Wunghnu 10.2.62

Round Thirteen: Wunghnu 1.3.9 v Mathoura 44.27.291

Round Fourteen: Yarroweyah 33.23.221 v Wunghnu 1.3.9

Round Fifteen: Wunghnu 1.3.9 v Strathmerton 38.24.252

Round Sixteen: Deniliquin 57.21.363 v Wunghnu 1.1.7

Round Seventeen: Bye

Round Eighteen: Wunghnu 0.0.0 v Jerilderie 43.14.272

Not a good season for the Magpies, and talk of the club becoming defunct snowballed and gathered enough momentum for it to be seriously considered. Wunghnu has had disastrous seasons for at least the past 15 years, and the scores above aren’t actually the worst of it. The Reserves, Under Seventeens and Under Fourteens fare even worse, getting beaten by up to 250 points each weekend. But to their credit, they turn up the next Saturday and give their all for the struggling club. There was a major push for Wunghnu to move into the Kyabram District Football League (KDFL), where they would have a higher chance of winning a few games, less travel and a good chance of retaining players, and a lot of people from the KDFL and Wunghnu agreed to the move, saying it would really help the Magpies, but it was surprisingly knocked back, so they will fight out another year in the PDFL, playing 15 year olds in the seniors and getting thrashed, week in, week out. In fact, Wunghnu has won just one game in the past four years. A disturbing record. But, in typical Wunghnu fashion, they are digging the boots in, and are refusing to die.

The Victorian Country Football League has given a February 15 deadline to find four football sides and two netball teams. There was a crisis meeting called last week, where up to 80 supporters showed up, but a lacking of players. The situation is dire, but they are still preparing for Round One.

Some interesting notes from Wunghnu’s long and proud history:

-In 1924, the Wunghnu and Drumanure Football Clubs merged to form the Drumanure-Wunghnu side. This side lasted until 1928, when an annual football meeting decided to withdraw the two combined sides. Drumanure moved to the Katamatite association, while Wunghnu was again rebranded ‘The Magpies’ in its sole right.

-1931 saw Wunghnu’s first premiership, although this statement may be incorrect as it was said that the Magpies may have won one in their earlier days in the 19th century.

-In 1935, Joe Sellwood is cleared by the Magpies to Geelong West, where he began his VFL career with the Cats. Sellwood went on to play 187 games for Geelong, and kick 90 goals, as well as being a Premiership player in the 1937 grand final victory.

-Percy Hunt, one of Wunghnu’s own, was also cleared to Geelong in 1945.

-Wunghnu celebrated its second premiership in 1958, with every player awarded a packet of cigarettes.

-A hattrick of premierships for Wunghnu came a few years later, with a tight victory over Yarroweyah 8.10.58 to 8.8.56 in 1964, a 28 point victory over Barooga in 1965 and defeating Katunga 16.14.110 to 13.10.88 in 1966. An interesting note that showed how loyal players were in those days: only 27 players were used for the three flags.

-1971 was one of Wunghnu’s proudest years, with all divisions in their football ranks winning the premiership, as well as two Netball sides. That’s six premierships on the one day!

-A September victory over Waaia in 1973 saw the Magpies win their seventh flag, 8.4.52 to 6.9.45.

Since then, things have gone pear-shaped for Wunghnu, which was largely due to paying out several Indigenous players from local team Rumbalara to come play for the Magpies. This saw many positions, formerly owned by club stalwarts, taken, therefore the players went elsewhere looking for more opportunities. The Aboriginal players maxed out their time with the Magpies, before leaving, and Wunghnu were stripped of many players, and have never fully recovered.

The aforementioned crisis meeting granted permission for Wunghnu to try and find a football team within two weeks. It is sad to say, but one would think it is over for this proud club.

CONFIRMATION:

On the 1st of March, 2011, the Wunghnu Football Club has voluntary folded. A sad end to a very proud club, but perhaps there is still a light at the end of the tunnel?

Comments

  1. Great story, Josh. It always makes me sad to see clubs go under or even merge. But these things are a fact of life, I suppose. No matter what the future holds, I hope there’s someone who will make sure that the club’s history and stories are not lost with the passage of time.

    Your article is a great starting point.

  2. Dave Nadel says:

    Very sad story, Josh. Just to put it into a broader context, do you know how much the population has declined in Wunghnu since the glory days of the early 1970s? What was the main industry in Wunghnu, fruit growing? Daff, if you happen to be reading this can you add any other information to Josh’s excellent piece, like what the rationalisation was for knocking back Wonghnu’s proposed change of League?

  3. Andrew Fithall says:

    Well done Josh. As someone who lived in Numurkah from age 4 to age 7, I have always been very proud of being able to spell Wunghnu. It is a shame the Almanac website sub-editor cannot.

  4. #3. That was me. Sorry. Correction will be made shortly.

  5. #3 & 4. And now that I’ve made the correction, AF, you can say to me, “now there’s Wunghnu missed”…

  6. Robert Macdonald says:

    Good article Josh.

    @ Dave Nadel: Wunghnu, like surrounding areas, has local farms including some dairying, some orchards, and other broader acre farming. There are some good people at Wunghnu but over the last 20 years there would also be a reputation for some of their players to be ‘a little rougher around the edges’ than perhaps some at other clubs in the Picola League, and perhaps the odd mercenary player did little for the long-term future of Wunghnu too. But with a long history of poor on-field performance, why would the Kyabram League want the club?

    Notwithstanding the effects of long-term drought on local farming (and more recently, flooding and insane water policies ripping the guts out of the region), local population of the town itself has only a bit to do with sustainability, for there are many decent sized population centres in the area (ie close to home: Shepparton, Numurkah, Nathalia; and Cobram, Yarrawonga, Echuca not far away either), but this is countered by the drain of footy aged blokes to Melb for work or study. So the question of sustainability comes down to whether the culture of the club attracts or scares away good people and good players, and whether the club committee has the capacity to resist engaging in unsustainable chequebook warfare to draw players. Anecdotal (and most certainly unconfirmed) reports I’ve heard from up here suggest some clubs feel they need to raise upwards of $50K pa to keep the club ticking over at a basic level if paying players. Just crazy money. Unfortunately for Magpies supporters, it is likely the death spiral started back in the 1990s and once the thrashings start, it is mighty hard to retain good players or attract new ones.

  7. Steve Healy says:

    Good one Josh, it’s certainly sad that such an iconic club have given in. They should’ve signed Fev! And im interested in this vanilla slice

  8. John Butler says:

    Good work Josh.

    Like Steve, I’m intrigued by the vanilla slice. A missed marketing opportunity for the footy club?

  9. John Butler says:

    Steve, from the sounds of it, they have enough to worry about without inviting Fev to town.

  10. Paul Daffey says:

    Dave,

    I can’t add to Robert’s excellent analysis. Those same population problems have afflicted every small community in Victoria, but Wunghnu didn’t have a strong enbough club culture to survive on commuters from Shepparaton. This essentially is how most clubs in the region survive. The club that picks up the best recruits from Shepparton wins the flag.

    I am actually amazed that Wunghnu have lasted as long as they did. As Josh said, they’d won one game in four years. The four years before that would have been no more successful. Every week some media outlets list the highest score and lowest score round the state. Wunghnu often featured as the lowest score, while its opponent had the highest score.

    The fact that always fascinated me was that the club took one particular player as coach three times and each time he left halfway through the season. You think they’d learn, but then desperation drives you to unfortunate measures.

    And finally, the bakery in the Mallee town of Ouyen won the title for the best vanilla slice in Victoria several times. Do I now learn that it has lost its crown?

  11. Richard Jones says:

    #6 & #10. YES, it’s an absolute shame that country footy clubs fold. Think Chewton, Yarrawalla (Loddon Valley FL), Tooborac (Heathcote DFL),Primrose (in the Maryborough area) and even in the major league Bendigo FL: Northern United and Kennington-Strathdale.

    The last-named once went under the startling nickname of The Cockerels. I think it had something to do with sponsorship from the then Courage Brewery.

    And Daff, speaking of that vanilla slice winning cafe/deli in Ouyen, didn’t Jeff Kennett go there annually to present the prize? In his former life as State Premier, not as Hawks supremo now wont to regularly bucket Angry Ant Clarko!!

  12. Wayde Petersen says:

    I thought I would post something about the Wunghnu Magpies because I was going to send some photos from the ground to the website, scoreboard pressure today, and one of the things that did Wunghnu in more than anything else was that the population in the town is aging (the Tennis, Netball & Cricket Clubs have also folded, the Bowls club is the only sporting club left in the town), and like most small town sporting clubs in Australia, they don’t have enough young people to keep it going.

    Also, Wunghnu has on it’s doorstep, Tallygaroopna (Kyabram DFL), Katandra, Katunga, Waaia (Picola DFL) & Numurkah (Murray FL), and all apart from Tally have 4 grades to fill (Seniors, Reserves, Under 17′s & 14′s, Tally has Under 18′s only), plus all of those sides have been reasonably successful over the years, so that helps in keeping players, and also the dreaded chequebook, which causes an arms race where only a few teams have a hope of competing (like in Major League Baseball, which is in a sick state compared to the NFL, which has a salary cap and revenue sharing, how socialist for the home of dog eat dog capitalism).

    Also, they had Invergordon nearby (they folded in the late 80′s, due to the same reasons that ended Wunghnu as a club).

    After reading this, and looking at how badly clubs like Mathoura, Yarroweah (Picola DFL), Longwood, Ardmona (Kyabram DFL) & Tocumwal (Murray FL, they are looking to go into the Picola League to save the club), are faring right now, I can’t help but to think that Wunghnu will be one of several clubs to disappear, or to have their survival tested in the coming years.

    P.S
    If you’re heading that way, go into the 1U (get it :) café to get a homemade Vanilla Slice & Lime Spider

  13. Josh Barnstable says:

    I rate the 1U Cafe as well Wayde.

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