AFL Round 5 – GWS Giants v Gold Coast: Kicking the footy in Canberra

The late Don Selth was a South Australian cricketer and athlete of note. Among many other things he was a school headmaster, author, sports historian and show pigeon enthusiast. In his book, More Than A Game – Canberra’s Sporting Heritage 1854-1954, Selth related details of some of the early Australian football matches that took place on Manuka Oval, or Manuka Circle Park as the ground was known before the oval was fenced. Football has been played on the Oval since 1922. Early matches took place between teams such as Canberra, Eastlake Diggers, Duntroon and Federals (also known as the Sewer Rats because many of their players had found their way from work in the Broken Hill mines to employment in the construction of the sewer system for the new city of Canberra). Selth also mentions the innovation that took place at the start of the 1927 season when the Canberra league “was urged to use bells to signal the end of each quarter instead of banging on kerosene tins”. For many years, Don Selth was a goal umpire in the ACT Australian football competition. It is extremely doubtful that he would have ever made a decision with one foot in the field of play.

Manuka Oval is now named StarTrack Oval when Greater Western Sydney comes to town, the name change proving a minor “parish pump” issue in the letters pages of the Canberra Times – although perhaps not to the same extent as the huge lacrosse-stick floodlights that were erected in time for the Prime Ministers XI cricket match in January.

The Friday email from Forbsey oozed bewilderment “It’s closed,” he said, referring to his favourite pre-match eatery and venue for pre and post-season tipping competition discussions and settlements. “What are we going to do for lunch?” It was quickly pointed out that there are about twenty other café eateries nearby. Cannelloni and a passable red. Yep. And so to Manuka/StarTrek/StarStruck, sorry, StarTrack Oval. The crowd, just short of 7000, was way down on the 11,000 who turned up to see the Giants play St Kilda just two weeks prior. Don’t the programming powers-that-be know that on the pseudo long weekend brought about by Anzac Day, many Canberra folk head to the coast?

The match. After suffering a humiliating defeat on their first visit to Canberra last season, the Suns shone in the sunshine. Narrandera youngster Zac Williams played his first game for the Giants. Together with Zac Smith, that made a shillings worth of zacs at Manuka. In a welcome return after a broken jaw in the corresponding match last season, Charlie Dixon was best on ground. He took strong marks and his six goals for the match represents a club record. Ablett was, well, Ablett. Strong running, deft touches and precision kicking. Just how did he evade four close surrounding opponents without any of them laying a finger on him – and then kick the goal? O’Meara is one to watch.

After an even first quarter, the Suns pulled away. However, inaccurate kicking, together with long range goals from Smith, Shiel and Cameron kept the Giants in the game. The torpedo from Devon Smith was sensational – kicked from a very long way out towards a vacant goal square it rolled and rolled and rolled through.

Shiel, Ward and Smith et al all linked together well just as they do every week. Too often, however, a good systematic passage of work by the Giants is undone by a basic error. Lachie Whitfield continued to impress – a superb pass delivered lace-out at full pace to Tomlinson. Goal. “Here they come, they’re on the way back,” said Nev. “How many times are you going to say that?” came the retort from Mr Droll behind us. After a positive start to the last quarter by the Giants, the maturing Suns stormed home leaving the ever-patient Giants fans longing for the banging of the kerosene tins. It was an entertaining match in which both teams produced good passages of open, fast football.

However, the last quarter Giants fade out is becoming a habit. Later, in his post-match press conference, Kevin Sheedy seemed to suggest it might not be the last of them. While his comments then turned lateral, equating the fortunes of his players with Black Caviar running the Melbourne Cup or sprinter Betty Cuthbert competing in a 400m event, his assessments of his young, inexperienced team continued to be positive.

By this time we had adjourned to the Kingo. “That’ll be $19.50,” said the barman.” “1950, now that was a good year,” said the bloke standing next to me. “Who won the flag that year?” I asked. “Dunno, but it was the year my dad proposed to my mum.” So it goes.

Gold Coast                              3.3  10.11 13.18  21.22 (148)
Greater Western Sydney         3.3  7.4  12.6 16.8 (104)

Gold Coast: Dixon 6, Ablett , Smith 3, O’Meara, Lynch 2, Matera, Prestia, Stanley, Brennan, May
Greater Western Sydney: Ward, Smith, Cameron, Oh’Ailpin 3, Palmer 2, Tomlinson, Shiel, Coniglio, Bugg, Scully


Gold Coast: Dixon, O’Meara, Ablett

Greater Western Sydney: Ward, Shiel, Smith

Umpires: Schmidt, Armstrong, Mitchell

Official crowd: 6832

Our Votes: 3 Dixon (GC) 2 O’Meara (GC) 1 Ward (GWS)

About Peter Crossing

Peter Crossing loves the pure 'n natch'l blues. He is a member of the silver fox faction of the Adelaide Uni Greys. He is something of a cricket tragic although admitting to little interest in the IPL or Big Bash forms of the game.


  1. PeterSchumacher says

    As an former Canberra resident I enjoyed reading the history of Manuka Oval, why in God’s name call it anything else. Your comments about it being a dumb time to stage a game in Canberra were spot on, no one stays there on a long weekend even if this one was only technically such a weekend, as in that most of Australia didn’t take Friday off.

    I really liked this game too from the vantage point of my lounge room. It was fast and free flowing but of course I did wonder how much latitude would be given to either team to run free as occurred in this game by the elite teams of the competition.

  2. As a former Canberran myself, i am interested in the history of Manuka Oval, which has seen over the years many clashes between Manuka Football club and Eastlake Football club, whom had digs on either side of the ground.

    Also interesting regarding the Federals or sewer rats, you can follow a trail of men from the Gold fields of Ballarat and Bendigo to Broken Hill, and then on to Kalgoolie, and the Western Australian fields, and many other mines and projects in this country and even overseas.

    Wherever these miners went, they took the indigenous game with them.

    There was a club that played football in Canberra in the late 1930’s from Captains Flat (gold mining town) called Mines Rovers, the team had plenty of miners from WA, and was apparently named Mines Rovers to identify themselves with Mines Rovers in Kalgoolie.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great write up Peter interesting re Manuka my 1st memory is of a young David Boon making a ton in the Prime Ministers Game 2 may be 3 yrs away from GWS v Gold Coast being the undisputed Match of the Round and 1950 Norwood went top

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