Almanac Book Review – The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy by Paul Daffey

BOOK REVIEW:

The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy (2019)

Paul Daffey

Review by: Rodney Gillett

 

 

The “Mallee”, as author Paul Daffey points out in his latest book on country football, The Totem Poles of Ouyen United: Travels in Country Footy, is much more than a name of a region, it conjures up images of red soil, blue sky, blazing sunsets, and a dry, arid landscape. “It is a tough place, demanding sweat and toil” (p.35). And so are its people and this is encapsulated in their footballers and football grounds

 

The boundaries for the Mallee set by the Victorian colonial government in 1883 was “all unalienated crown land in the north-western district wholly or partly covered with the Mallee plant” (Pickard, 2019). And just as Henry Lawson proclaimed that everyone knew where the Riverina was, so do country folk know where the Mallee is, and where its roots are.

 

The recurring theme in Daffey’s book is that the demographics determine the continuity of football in a district, and in particular, how a diminishing population, particularly of the youth, leads to the decline of active football clubs and either their amalgamation with neighbouring clubs or extinction. As Daffey show most clubs choose to “bury the hatchet” with a fierce local rival and agree on a new name, new colours, and where the new entity will play its games.

 

The earliest merger of football clubs in the Mallee was in 1914 when Speed and Turiff combined as Goyra. It has been a never-ending process ever since. There was even a triplicate merger in 1971 when Tempy-Gorya (which had merged in 1965) amalgamated with Patchewollock. They became known as the TGP Saints and initially enjoyed success winning premierships in 1974 and 1977.

 

This entity lasted until 1997 when it joined with Ouyen Rovers to form Ouyen United for the reincarnation of the Mallee Football League made up of the remaining clubs from the Southern Mallee FL and the Northern Mallee FL. This competition folded at the end of the 2015 season.

 

Daffey’s research shows that thirty-two football clubs have folded into the Ouyen United Football Club that now competes in the Sunraysia Football League based around Mildura.

 

In order to pay homage to the antecedent football clubs of the Ouyen United Football Club the Year 9 students at the Ouyen P-12 College in 2009 decided to paint totem poles that had been erected at the entrance to the club’s home ground, Blackburn Park. The students painted nine poles in the colours of the clubs that had folded into one another over the years to form Ouyen United.

 

The totem poles provided the inspiration for the title to Daffey’s book and also the stunning cover designed by Megan Ellis based on a painting by Swan Hill dentist John Harrison.

 

In telling the story of footy in the Mallee, Daffey comes across some real characters none larger-than-life than Michael “Boozer” Robertson, who simply becomes Boozer with no italics given that he is so well-known as such in the Mallee and beyond. He dominates the narrative of football in the Mallee.

 

Daffey first came into contact Boozer when he was writing the history of the Victorian Country Football League (VCFL) Behind the Goals published in 2017. Robertson had played in the first VCFL representative team that played the ACT in Canberra in 1980. He was the only player in the team from a district league.

 

When they renewed acquaintances at Ouyen a few years ago at a function for the VCFL book Boozer offered to take him on a tour of all the old footy grounds in the district; an offer Daffey subsequently took up and provided a road-map for this book

 

Paul Daffey stated at the outset that the main purpose of the book was to focus on football in the Mallee in order to provide a snapshoot of footy in the country. What is occurring in the Mallee is being replicated in country areas all around Australia.

 

The book also includes chapters about Daffey’s travels in country footy taking in Wedderburn in the North Central League, the old gold-mining town of Inglewood, Boolara in the Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland, Horsham in the Wimmera and the Mornington Penisula. The chapter on the Pines v Sorrento grand final is highly captivating and the match report exhibits Daffey’s exquisite writing skills and social insights into the game.

 

The Appendices are most comprehensive and in addition to detailing all the statistical history of football in the Mallee there is a review of the season for country leagues in Victoria and southern NSW. An added feature is a list of all the players that have played in six or more premierships since WW II. Brad Hartigan, who has played an “unfeasible” number of premierships – twelve for the Horsham Demons in the Wimmera Football League – is the subject of the final chapter.

 

As Daffey says in the opening chapter he has a penchant for writing about local footy – amateur football, suburban football, but the best stories are in the country.

 

To buy a copy of the book email  pauldaffey27@gmail.com with your address and he’ll email the bank details.  Books are $30 per book plus $10 postage for up to five books.

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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