A Family of Tossers

As a youngster in Adelaide, whenever I met someone for the first time, the first utterance was often “Schwerdt! Are you related to the sheaf tossers?”

Although my real life exposure to that arcane agricultural activity was negligible, I was able to proudly puff out what passed for a chest and respond “Yes, that was my grandfather C.P. and his brothers and their father.”

I hadn’t been asked about the tossing of the sheaf for many years, until it was raised recently by a fellow Almanacker, so I had to reacquaint myself with the facts.

The story was proudly documented in “The Family History of Schwerdt in Australia 1854-1971”, which was reprinted in 1986 to coincide with a major family reunion as part of the South Australian Jubilee 150 celebrations held at Hamley Bridge Oval (where else?).

There was a demonstration by a few of the remaining brothers, including from memory John and Pat, who removed their suit jackets, rolled up the sleeves and , well, tossed.

(In keeping with the times, there was also to be a Breakdancing demonstration by some of the younger members of the Schwerdt clan – I don’t often get asked if I’m related to the Breakdancers !!!)

Here are the extracts from that book (excuse the quality)

Sheaf1

Sheaf2

Sheaf3

Sheaf4

Sheaf5

Sheaf6

And yes, sheaf tossing is still going strong, at least in SA and Victoria.  You can find information on current day competitions by googling “sheaf tossing adelaide show”.

But it seems that the granting of a “World Record” might be the equivalent of the belts sanctioned by boxing’s various bodies as the current rules vary geographically:

https://www.facebook.com/EastCoastHeavyEventsChampionships/posts/387163178072670

Update 22nd Mar 2015

gf schwerdt kidneys

Confirmation from the Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record, Thursday 18 January 1934, page 10, that I am indeed descended from a long line of “champion tossers”.

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right

Comments

  1. Mickey Randall says

    Swish- We spoke on-line of your family’s proud history in sheaf tossing late last year. Well done on your research. It would be brash and inappropriate to say you, too, are one of the great tossers!

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done Swish a obscene amount of work goes in to compiling the info for a article such as this what was your kids reaction ? Thanks Swish

  3. Great stuff Swish. When I saw your name come up on the site it triggered childhood memories for me from the early 60’s. My parents were involved with the P&C at Fulham Primary School (since bulldozed for housing) near Adelaide Airport. “Mr Schwerdt” was the ‘lolly man’ (in a good sense) that my mother got the wagon wheels, sherbet fizzes etc from for the canteen. Shwerdt’s Schweets is burnt in my childhood memory. Mum would take us to the Royal Show to watch Mr Schwerdt and his brothers toss bags of wheat over a pole vault bar with a pitchwork. They were all dressed in what looked like lawn bowls creams (long trousers and collared shirts). It seemed all very gentlemanly and restrained compared to the wood choppers in blue singlets that shared the same arena.
    My grandfather was a wheat inspector with the SA Farmers Union. One of my earliest memories is touring the mid north with he and Nan as he checked out the wheat and barley stacks. The concrete bulk handling siloes were only gradually becoming the major system of grain storage. Grain stacks were huge open-sided sheds with corrugated iron roofs, full of bagged grain.
    Sheaf tossing was the practical way that strong men got the bags from the farmers truck to the top of a stack in the days before conveyor belts.
    Pop had to make sure that the mice were not getting into the grain, or that it was not ‘shot’ if there was rain. I can remember going to the stack at Mt Rat on Yorke Peninsula. I remember thinking “why have it at Mt Rat if you are worried about mice”?
    Thanks Swish for the memories of childhood and our rural heritage.

  4. Mary Schwerdt says

    Hello Peter B
    ‘Mr Schwerdt’ the ‘lolly man’ was my father, George Schwerdt. After retiring from the Police Force, then a stint at farming at Clare, took up a confectionery distribution round. He was one of the sheaf tossers, both at the Adelaide Show and nationally, as were several of his brothers. Dad died in 1994 at the age of 89, having lived a very full and interesting life.
    thank you for remembering him.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Royal Adelaide Show 2014 Sheaf Tossing World Championships

    CONDITIONS
    1. The weight of the sheaf will be 3.6 kg.
    2. The size of the sheaf will be:
    Length: Minimum 56 cm – Maximum 66
    cm.
    Circumference: Butt end: Minimum 56 cm –
    Maximum 66 cm.Tail end: Minimum 40 cm
    – Maximum 50 cm.
    3. The sheaf will be made of oaten hay (tail
    end) which will be wrapped in an old type
    3-bushell wheat bag and sewn with twine.
    No material other than the hay, twine and
    bag will be permitted.
    4. Prior to the commencement of the event, the
    sheaf will be weighed by a member of the
    committee.
    5. At the conclusion of the event the committee
    may, at it’s discretion or upon request,
    make an examination of any sheaf or
    sheaves used during the event.
    6. The event will be conducted on level
    ground.
    7. Each competitor is entitled to three throws.
    If unsuccessful, he must then retire.
    8. In the event of a sheaf slipping off the fork
    whilst being tossed, it will be counted as a
    throw.
    9. Ordinary hay forks must be used, no accessories
    of any kind will be permitted. Forks
    must not exceed 1.8 m in length.
    10. If a sheaf touches the cross-bar and goes
    over it is to be counted as a successful
    throw. A sheaf that clears the bar will better
    one that touches.
    11. Competitors must wear white trousers, shirt,
    singlet or flannel shirt. Footwear optional.
    12. Entries will be accepted on competition day,
    however, late entrants will be required to
    pay an admittance fee for entry to the Show.
    and late entry fee
    LOCATION, DATE AND TIME
    The Sheaf Tossing competitions will be held at
    the northern end of the Beef Cattle judging lawn
    on SUNDAY 14 SEPTEMBER, commencing
    at 10.00 am.
    ROYAL ADELAIDE SHOW SHEAF TOSSING CHAMPIONSHIP
    Class 1 – THE MURRAY W SCHACHE PRIZE
    Open Handicap
    Entry fee, by closing date – $12
    Late entries – $15
    • First prize $250; Second $125;
    Third $75; Fourth $50; Fifth $30;
    Sixth $20 sponsored by Murray Schache
    Class 2 – THE ALLINGTONS OUTPOST PRIZE
    Royal Adelaide Show World Championship
    Highest Toss Over Bar.
    8lb sheaf
    Entry fee, by closing date – $10
    Late entries – $13
    tt First prize $350, Voucher (value $200);
    Second $200, Voucher (value $150);
    Third $100, Voucher (value $100);
    Fourth $50, Voucher (value $50); Fifth
    $30; Sixth $20
    • $250 sponsored by Trust Funds &
    Challenge Awards- SA Brewing
    • $500 sponsored by Allingtons Outpost
    An Australia vs Ireland Team Challenge will be held after the World Championship

  6. Congrats Helena. A long lineage of sporting Schwerdt high achievers (the exception proves the rule). Swish’s piece got me thinking about the Adelaide Royal Show as a kid in the 60’s. The Wayville Showgrounds was still the main trotting track (a 600 metre saucer – great for leaders) and it had an oval in the centre for show jumping and the big event of the day – the Grand Parade. Farmers in white coats would proudly lead out their prize jersey; merino; mare etc. Each section led by a sign on a stick like at the Olympics (for example dairy cattle; sheep; horses to assist city slickers unfamiliar with the variety of four legged god’s creatures). The denouement of the Grand Parade was horse drawn bakers carts (milk; fruit & veg etc was home delivered by horse and cart only 50 years ago kiddies) racing around the trotting track and throwing bread rolls into the crowd. Only half a dozen children and senior citizens required daily hospitalisation after being crushed in the stampede for a crusty poppy seed crescent roll. And we were a better nation & people for it.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    A tenuous Almanac connection – The daughter of one of those “Breakdancers” played a young Cathy Payne in the movie Ride Like A Girl.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Great piece, know nothing of sheaf tossing, sounds an ideal sport for AFL curtain raisers?

    Can’t wait to see Swish/Swisch breakdancing to “The Pride of South Australia” at the 2020 Almanac Grand Final Eve lunch.

  9. Daryl Schramm says

    Luke. If the Crows are in the big one I’ll be there to witness it as well.

  10. Nice one Swish. No respect for tossing anymore. Fabulous photos and history.

  11. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks again. I reckon that Here We Go Camry Crows has a better beat, but no Crows songs will be heard in September for a while methinks. I think they’ve tossed in the towel for a few rebuilding decades.

  12. This is wonderful, Swishter. Truly wonderful.
    It really is a family story of which to be proud.

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