A memory of Swansea Swans/Bulldogs: Gone, but not forgotten

 

 

 

For some time, I have lamented the demise of country football clubs. Demise caused by several key reasons: a lack of employment opportunities for youngsters who have had to move elsewhere for work, limited or no funds to run the clubs and no capacity to supplement player shortage through buying in from elsewhere.  Changing local demographics is also a factor, especially an ageing local population. For similar reasons, it was with sadness that I learnt recently of the folding of my old hometown football club Swansea (going by the “Swans” and also “Bulldogs”) on the Tasmanian East Coast.

 

As I write this piece, I am awash with memories and nostalgia sets in. Swansea is where I was born and where I learnt to play footy. It is where my grandfather played in the early part of last century and his sons (my uncles) played during the 1940s-60s. It is where most of my cousins, friends and their families had a role of some sort at some time: playing, helping out, supporting. I remember vividly my first game as a 14 year old in the Swansea seconds against the St Marys Tigers. I played on the wing and was scared.  I also remember still being scared in my second game against the rough and tough Mathinna side and being guided and encouraged on the day by my cousin David, a wily and seasoned veteran.

 

At home games I had to rush to the umpire’s room after the seconds match to change into whites to run the boundary for the seniors. My Uncle Roger, club Secretary and “Jack of all trades” for the club paid me one pound to do so. I was so keen back then that no-one was allowed near my gear except my mother.  I had a Friday night ritual whereby I cleaned my boots and their screw-in stops and washed my laces before hanging them in front of the fire to dry overnight. I also laid out the rest of my gear neat and tidy on the back of a kitchen chair ready to pack into my footy bag the following morning; game day.  For two years I played in the Swansea seconds before graduating to the seniors at age 16.

 

Bill Coleman, former TFL and Sandy Bay player was Swansea coach from 1951 to 1962 – when the club had been both the Swans and Bulldogs.  Bill won many premierships for the Swansea Swans as playing coach in the 1950s. After his playing and club coaching days were over Bill concentrated his footy attention on the kids in the town. Bill taught many young local boys the skills of the game including yours truly. He taught me how to torpedo punt and stab kick, both of which I became pretty good at.

 

From its beginnings Swansea had always been the Swans but when it joined the Fingal District Football Association in 1961 it chose the Footscray-style colours and became the Bulldogs.  This was because another club in the association, St Helens, were already the Swans.

 

As I write, I’m studying some photographs I have of early and more recent Swansea teams.  One is of the 1920 team and there is my grandfather – eighth along in the photo from left to right.  There are several photographs of the team in the mid 1950s which include my uncles Ross and Don.  There is the 1966 premiership winning photo of the Swansea Bulldogs; the team that defeated the mighty Rossarden team – the mountain men – to win its first flag in the Fingal District Football Association.  Rossarden had won the previous five titles and were formidable, especially the Lowe brothers, Reg, Lou (“Loppie”), Barry (“Basher”) and Robert, all brothers of Brian Lowe, former NTFA City South player who rucked for Geelong during 1961-63 before coaching Cooee in the NWFU.

 

Accompanying the photographs, I have an old local magazine article.  The article discusses the many good footballers that Swansea has produced since its inception and those who have gone on to play in the state’s top competitions.  It is a long and impressive list; too long to mention everyone in this piece.  I note mention of the Johns brothers Herb, Bob and Mick who I remember my grandfather telling me about when I was a boy. They were the pride of the town in the early part of last century when they played for Cananore and North Hobart and the State. Another set of brothers who engendered pride in the town are the famous Graham brothers, Stan, Lyell, Tas and Des.  All were former great 1950s and 60s North Hobart players (all played in the 1957 North Hobart premiership-winning side).

 

The article also mentions the Swansea youngsters who have made Tasmanian state schoolboy representative teams such Des Graham, Shane Flynn, Peter Lewis, Craig Press, Wayne Kean and Patrick Cusick.

 

Many other youngsters from Swansea have also represented various state and regional combined sides (yours truly included!) and a number who played in the top underage competitions in the State.  At one point in the early 1970s, a strong North Hobart U19s side had 5 players from Swansea in the team – I was one and vice-captain.

 

Former club centre Neville Dilger is in several of my old photographs. Neville possessed an exceptional leap and was a wonderful high mark – spectacular to witness. There is universal agreement that he is one of the best footballers Swansea has produced. He chose to resist constant offers from NTFL and TFL teams and Carlton in the VFL to stay at Swansea where he had a trucking business.  As a boy, I remember seeing him take some incredibly high marks equally as good as any that one would see in the top Tassie leagues or the VFL at that time – even today.  He dominated local country football in his day.

 

The Swansea Football Club was formed in the late 1890s and at that time all of its games were played on local paddocks.  The teams it played against were small hamlets such as Lisdillon and Riversdale until the early 1900s when Triabunna and Buckland joined the local competition. In those days cars were few and travel between Swansea and the other towns was done mostly by horse and cart; even by bicycle. At other times a horse-drawn coach was hired to take Swansea players to games.  These were the days when playing footy was an all-weekend event. The common practice was to depart Swansea very early on a Friday morning; play Triabunna (about 50 km away) in the afternoon then, on Saturday morning, travel to Buckland for an afternoon game and return to Swansea on the Sunday!

 

When I was a boy my Dad’s cousin Rex Cook and my grandfather regaled me with wonderful tales of East Coast Tassie footy in the early to mid 1900s.  Tales such as when some Swansea players were travelling to a match at Triabunna in a horse and cart. While travelling down a steep incline, both shafts of the cart broke which caused the players to have to return to Swansea to source another conveyance. They were able to do so and made it to the game on time. Another tale was about a player from Riversdale called Tossetta who travelled from Riversdale to Swansea (10 km) to play riding a penny farthing bike!

 

Maria Island, an island close to the Tasmanian East Coast and Triabunna/Orford, joined the local competition in the 1920s along with Nugent. For all teams playing Maria at home it was a boat trip, with Swansea having the longest leg. My grandfather told me that the Swansea team used to travel to Maria Island on a sailboat named the Brinhill which was owned by local identity old Mick Ford. This was an approximate round trip of four hours or so from the Swansea jetty to Darlington on Maria Island. Apparently, on one occasion when the team was returning to Swansea after playing Maria Island, the sails caught alight and the team had to use shirts and any other available material as sail replacements to get the Brinhill to shore at Lisdillon, just south of Swansea.  Back then most of the players probably smoked and certainly would have enjoyed longneck beers in an era before stubbies and cans.  Perhaps cigarettes mixed with longnecks and after game shenanigans played a role in the near-disaster!

 

Like many country associations football lapsed on Tasmania’s east coast during The Depression and war years.  The East Coast Association reformed in 1947 with teams from Cranbrook, Swansea, Triabunna and Buckland. Sorell joined for seasons 1951-1953.  The association folded for good after season 1957 when only Triabunna and Swansea could field sides. In these years the East Coast Association was a strong competition with players from Hobart and elsewhere travelling to play with local clubs. Between 1947 and 1957 the premiership winners competed strongly in the state country premiers football carnivals. Swansea competed six times winning two country pennants which is an indication of how strong the game was on the East Coast at that time.

 

Between 1957 and 1961, before Swansea joined the Fingal District Football Association, some Swansea players travelled 42 miles along a dirt road to play for the Campbelltown Robins in the very powerful Midlands Football Association.  The story goes that Swansea applied to be a member of the Midlands competition in 1961 but while all the other clubs in that competition were supportive, Campbelltown delegates attending an association meeting, voted the Swansea application down against their club committee’s instructions.  Apparently this was because the delegates decided that they didn’t want to lose the likes of Neville Dilger (especially!), Kevin Bryan and Don Barden who were key senior players in their team, and any future Swansea recruits. As it turned out, they lost out anyway because Swansea applied to and was accepted by the Fingal District Football Association.

 

In small-town footy there is no separation of duties and responsibilities like in the city. I remember in my youth at Swansea the Secretary performed a variety of roles, including as a player. The Treasurer was also the underage coach as well as the reserves back pocket. My Aunties on the ladies committee baked cakes, washed the guernseys, sold the savs, sandwiches, sausage rolls and made coffee/tea at home games.  A committee member looked after the entry gate while others were the goal umpires for home games, e.g. my grandfather. With no qualifications at all, others performed massaging and taping-up roles for the players and acted as trainers during games. It was marvellous what a splash of water or sucking on a piece of orange did for all types of injuries in those days.

 

In a small town during the winter months the local football club is the heartbeat and soul of the town. Swansea was no different in my childhood. Many of the local community events and gatherings were centred around the football club. For many people it was their main social interaction for the week.

 

I have pleasant memories of Sunday mornings spent with Dad at the clubrooms where a free keg of Cascade beer was tapped at 10am for players and supporters.  This was done after some of the players had a short recovery training session with the out-of-town playing coach. The clubrooms were always packed!  We had to be home before one o’clock so Dad could carve the Sunday roast. Dad and I often walked home with wobbly boots which didn’t impress Mum, especially in my case, she used to get annoyed with Dad for allowing me to imbibe alcohol at my tender age.  If only she knew! Actually, Dad never ever gave me a glass of beer it was always someone else, usually his mates or my ‘of age’ older cousins and friends.  It only took a couple then to make me a little wobbly.

 

As a young boy, I also remember Thursday training nights standing behind the goals and retrieving the ball to kick back to Vic Hugo, the club’s then full-back.  Vic was practising kicking out while the forwards were practicing kicking for goal. After training while drinking the free soup and eating the sausage rolls on hand, I would observe the players being massaged with liniment by old Vic Webb the club trainer.

 

I have special memories of the end of season Footballer’s Ball and trophy nights. This was a big event for my small town and the local hall was packed. In my first year in the seconds I won the trophy for the best player in the finals. It was like I ‘d won the Brownlow.

 

I guess Swansea is not the first, nor will it be the las,t small country town club to fold. There have been many in recent years and I am sure many others will falter at the gates due to the COVID-19 crisis. I suspect that some Swansea players will join old East Coast Association rivals Triabunna in the Oatlands District Football Association where Swansea have been for most of this century. It would make Triabunna a strong team. The clubrooms, the oval, the scoreboard, the pennants and the photographs on the clubroom walls…I wonder what will happen to them.

 

From hereon until whenever, there will be no more matches for Swansea, no training sessions, no committee, no social functions.  A footy club like Swansea was always the sum of its people and I wonder what effect its demise may have on the town.  Perhaps not a lot these days given the lack of employment in the town and its gentrification.

 

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The man reflects: he is a youth again and playing for the Bulldogs in a home game. The diminishing sun still provides a glow over the adjoining nine-hole golf course, Waterloo Point and Great Oyster Bay. A breeze floats gently over the graveyard on the eastern boundary where many former players rest. The goalposts stand tall, the grass is crisp and green and shimmers in the misty afternoon fading light. Swansea are five points down in a must-win game against the mighty Rossarden Redlegs and their Lowe brothers.

 

He takes a mark, a well-judged one. The umpire blows his whistle. A moment later the siren sounds. With the Tommy Sherrin in hand, he lines up the goals. He imagines he is about 50 metres out, a slight angle. It will be his favourite kick, the torpedo punt, a kick he is good at, his technique taught by Bill Colman whom he respects as much as Tom Hafey. He kicks, right foot, the ball sails through the air just like an actual torpedo, spinning like a top. At the end of its flight it dips downwards and curves away from its trajectory – as some torpedo punts do.  It is high enough though to beat the outstretched arms of Rossarden’s Lowe brothers and flies true.

 

He has kicked the winning goal.  He is exhilarated. He imagines the car horns blaring, the long-necks being passed about, half-eaten saveloys and sausage rolls thrown in the air with glee, spectators running to greet him and the team.  He is carried on shoulders.  He thinks his dad is watching; he knows his mother isn’t, she is not a fan.  He knows his grandfather and Uncle Roger are there too; they never miss a game. I am the man. Ah, the thrill of it all.  Dreams and memories…

 

Check out some Swansea FC team photos forwarded by Allan Barden HERE

 

 

Read more from fine story-telling from Allan Barden HERE

 

Read other Almanac articles on Tassie footy HERE

 

Read about the Almanac’sconnection of local footy club stories Footy Town HERE.

 

 

Source: Swansea Swans – Facebook

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Kevin Densley says

    What a great read! The social history dimension of this article is perhaps even more important than the football history one, though the latter is also excellent.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab story Allan, thoroughly enjoyed it. I love reading about historical grassroots footy etc as it brings back many memories I experienced & stories my dad told me. Sadly, in many cases it’s only memories we have left of these clubs.

  3. I have a query for the writer here. According to the records I have (which do clash) Swansea won the East Coast flag in 1958 (John Stoward’s book) and/or Spring Bay (AKA Triabunna apparently) played Glamorgan in the grand final on August 23 (The Mercury) but no result was published. Any thoughts on this? Also, I don’t suppose you have any records from 1962 or 1965 from the Fingal competition? I need the ladder at the end of the home and away season. I have the finals and I know Swansea lost the preliminary final both times and it was during Rossarden’s five in a row run you mentioned.

  4. Enjoyable read,Allan sporting clubs are the hub of existence especially country towns ( geez aren’t we noticing that now the mental health toll of this disease is massive also ) may I suggest sending thru the photos etc to be added to your article thank you

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic read and great memories Allan. Very sad when your club goes under, my club folded in 1999 and local footy has never been the same for me.

  6. Grant Burdon says

    Played here from 2009 – 2012, some great memories of the town and the club but more so the blokes I played with, some characters and some talented players. Hope one day we see Swansea on the top of the ODFA table again! Great read, thanks for sharing!

  7. Love it.

    Any old pics? Please send!

  8. Fabulous story, Allan.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Local footy is a tough gig – both on and off the ground.
    I fancy that there will never be a tougher time for footy at all levels than post-Covid19.

  9. Stewart Gray says

    Fantastic Read, love playing in the red white and blue, great memories

  10. Peter Clark says

    Thanks Allan for your evocative story. So many clubs like Swansea have suffered the same fate but your writing helps us keep the memories alive and kicking.
    On my first visit to the Swansea football ground in 2008 I was fascinated to see the graveyard adjacent to the boundary line – in fact the boundary line curved inwards slightly, didn’t it, to accommodate the fence enclosing those who have passed, Paul Daffey (in his book ‘Beyond the Big Sticks’) has a brilliant photo of a young boundary umpire hurtling back from the cemetery after retrieving the footy.

  11. Allan Barden says

    Peter – Yes, the boundary dog leg is still the case as far as I know. The cemetery was there before the football ground and the club just accommodated it. I once was one of those boundary umpires who used to jump the fence to retrieve the ball from the cemetery. Also, at times on the other boundary where the ball was often kicked into the backyards of the adjacent houses. I know of the Daffy book but haven’t read it. You’ve encouraged me to do so.

  12. Paul Daffey says

    Extraordinary piece, Allan. It’s got everything. I must credit the photographer, Ian Kenins, for the pic of the lad retrieving the ball from the cemetery. I forget how we came across the detail and decided to follow it up. My regret is that I did not make the trip to Swansea that day. I had to stay in Hobart to speak at a function at Fullers bookshop (one of the great bookshops). One day I’ll get to Swansea to check out the cemetery on the wing. In my mind, I link it with Maldon in Central Victoria, where there is a small courthouse on the wing. They’re still playing at Maldon. Unfortunately, not so at Swansea.

  13. Allan Barden says

    Timelord- I haven’t read Stoward’s book but I do know of it. I don’t know where he got his information but my understanding from my research and discussions in Swansea is that there were only 4 or 5 roster games played in 1958 and all between Triabunna and Swansea the only two teams remaining in the competition. As a result it was decided to fold the association. I also don’t know of a team called Glamorgan? Swansea was of course the principal town in what was then the Glamorgan Shire, so perhaps the team was called one of either names from time to time? You’ve raised a couple of interesting points and I will have them checked with some others. I have bits and pieces (and memories) of the period 1961 1966 but I don’t have the ladder at the end of the home and away games for any of these years. I can probably find out and will try for you. I suspect that the information is in the Swansea historical society records where I got some of my information about the early days. I can tell you though that Rossarden would have been on top of the ladder for every year. Swansea made the finals in 1962, 64, 65 and won the premiership in 66 under Stan Lavelle (ex Glenorchy).
    Much of my piece is based on my memory/recollections, information from a variety of people in Swansea including family, relatives etc. I also spent many hours trolling through records at the Swansea historical society. I also got some information from the small history room at Morris’ General store. Ray Whelan’s family also gave me a stack of papers that Ray (now deceased and former player, committeeman, “Jack of All Trades” like my Uncle Roger) kept which I passed to the society for safekeeping. An interesting source of stories was the Swansea Tavern and RSL Club! I also had access to two oral histories including my Grandfather. Generally it is unfortunate because information is somewhat scant these day. Many old p-layers and supporters etc have passed on too. There are on or two people though in Swansea that I think may have records but I haven’t talked to them at this point.
    Originally the information I gathered was because I had the objective of writing a history of the club but decided against it because of time and difficulty chasing people down and living in Geelong nowadays. I actually wrote a lot of the current piece in December when in Swansea and was going too use it as a Local Hero article on Bill Colman. I was stimulated over Easter to knock it off after learning of the club’s
    demise. The piece on Bill will come soon though I hope. Yesterday a relative in Hobart called me to mention that some of what I had written about the old days was mentioned in a late 1990s book on Tasmanian country football by a Buck Anderton. I don’t know the book and I don’t know him but my relative has the book which I’ll be keen to peruse when next in Hobart. You might be able to chase it up for yourself. My relative is checking his records regarding the lend of season ladder for 1962-65. I’ll let you know what he comes up with.

  14. Allan Barden says

    Paul – Following the comment from Peter Clark I feel that I must read your book! I’m searching it out online to buy it. Cheers

  15. Hi Allan, What is the name of the local newspaper/newspapers? They may be available online – digitally copied and on Trove, or elsewhere. Cheers JTH

  16. Thanks, Allan. You could be right – Glamorgan (per the Mercury) could well have been Swansea. Triabunna were definitely called Spring Bay at various points. The Mercury is available at the State Library of Victoria but of course that has to wait until it re-opens for obvious reasons. If I remember correctly the note of the game I mentioned may have been amongst the umpiring appointments in the Friday edition (August 22) and I think it was listed there as a grand final. So maybe that might have been what you remember as the last roster game? I admit to guessing on that one. Trove only goes to 1954 so no point going there.

    I did a web search on the Buck Anderton book. It’s called Football: the country way. The National Library in Canberra has it. On the same web search I noted an obituary for Buck from 2018 unfortunately. Further research showed that the State Library of Tasmania also has it in Hobart and so do the local libraries in Swansea, Oatlands, Orford and Sorell. So if you do a follow up visit it would be great if you could follow up on all that. I have all the Fingal District ladders except for those two back to World War 2 (and for everyone else’s interest I have many others across Tasmania).

  17. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Great read Allan.

    It’s paywalled, but you may appreciate this story about his visit to Swansea from the artist otherwise known as @ichymochek

    https://www.themercury.com.au/news/tasmania/victorian-footy-fan-finds-cemetery-encroaching-on-football-ground-at-swansea/news-story/fa7c699fda0e300a991c910087611644

  18. What a fabulous read. I can just picture the Rossarden Lowe brothers! Menacing men no doubt.

    Its sad that these clubs cease. Sad because a piece of history is gone and sad because the young locals will miss out on all the great things that happen a a truly local footy club.

    Would love to have attended a few of those Sunday morning free kegs!

  19. Fenton Jones says

    That is a terrific piece Alan (Ned) Brought back memories of North Hobart under 19’s and then I saw the photos. Well done on a wonderful piece of writing . So sad to see the demise of some many sides that were an institution in their day Cheers Fenton

  20. Kenneth Gregson says

    Allan’s excellent article on the Swansea FC to have a rest period for season 2020 may include all teams in the ODFA, whether intended or unintended!

    As a young lad, watching Neville Dilger and Max Hall’s aerial mastery was an absolute delight on a Saturday afternoon, with Dick Press kicking for the sanctuary of the cemetery, or on the opposite wing, Col Targett’s rose garden, for a respite at centre half back in a close game, juxtaposed with the impeccable Vic Hugo drop kick from the full back line, all considered to be features of the game!

    Swansea’s admission to the Fingal District Football Association (FDFA), as explained by Allan, required a logo and jumper change, with brief contemplation of Hawthorn colours by the committee met with player revolt!

    It is believed that Rossarden’s 1960’s winning streak may have been aided and abetted by a finals recruitment drive from East Launceston, who were normally “cellar -dwellers” in the NTFA?!

    Unfortunately, the Rossarden FC flags, trophies and memorabilia, may have been lost in a fire at the small Rossarden Museum?

    A mentor for Allan was the late Bill Colman, captain-coach, coach, of the Swansea FC, and a wonderful storyteller with a wry sense of humour.

    One moment in country football I will never forget was at the St Mary’s Football Ground, where unfortunately, a player had fractured his leg. With no stretcher available, a decision to remove the door from the distant change rooms was thought to suffice, until a complexity of navigating the re-entry of the change room required the temporary door stretcher to be tilted to one side, with unintended consequences for player welfare!

  21. David Glas says

    Hi Ned I just texted with Fenton.Darwin 74 what a town and what time.Forever indebted for your hospitality while us Vagabond got work.Im on Messenger I’m not sure if you are.My ph 0467342326 cheers

  22. Ray Aitchison says

    Hello Timelord, Do you have any ladders for derwent Valley based competitions – am interested if you have – Ray Aitchison

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