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


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  [email protected] 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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  1. Great review, Rocket.
    I’ve had my copy of the book for a few weeks now and love the Appendix 3 at the back which lists footballers — since WW2 — who have played in 6 or more senior flags.

    A fellow I’ve known for some time is on the fourth line: 10 premierships.

    He’s Matt ‘Tooley’ O’Toole who played in four with Ultima (1996, then 2002-2004) one with Tyntynder (1999) and then all five recent Golden Square flags (2009-2013).

    I’ve received a copy of your more recent review of The Totem Poles of Ouyen United via e-mail. Which website or blogsite did that one go up on??

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’ll be unwrapping mine next week. The History Victoria bookshop had a few copies on hand.

  3. Good review Rocket Nguyen, Paul’s book is certainly a worthy entrant in the Community History awards.

    Looking at the names of localities, teams, such as Nyang, Watchupga, Cowangie and Tiega show us the unique settings of our game. To hear of players travelling down from the Northern Territory to turn out for teams in the Mallee emphasises the fact this is Australia’s national game.

    Ouyen provides a nice setting for this book. It’s a long way from the big smoke, with a ‘challenging’ landscape highlighting that part of Victoria. I remember the first time I went through Ouyen in 1992, stopping off for a wonderful meal at the Victoria Hotel. Truly an oasis.

    Reading the names of the clubs, leagues, from the Mallee & elsewhere that are no longer with us made me think of my own family links to rural Australia. I think about other Leagues that are no longer with us, such as the Coreen& District Football League up in the Riverina. Teams like Balldale, Buraja and Rennie are but memories. I was just looking at the 1924 team photo of Buraja, who won the flag that year. In the front row is my Grand Uncle, Larry Conrick.

    In Chapter 10 Paul touches on the changes of the Victorian population over the last century. From the end of the 19th century Australia has become a predominantly urban nation: that’s modernity. As sad as the demise of these small communities and their sporting teams are I wouldn’t romanticise them. They were indicative of Australia at a certain time, a time that has passed. Let’s savour their memories.

    Before i close off my two bobs worth I’ll never look at the word Twig in the same light! I’m very curious about the links Dan ‘Mad Dog’ Morgan had with the Mallee. I’m aware of places Morgan roamed in the Riverina; Henty, Lockhart, Tumbarumba, yet my knowledge of Morgan with Victoria goes as far the hulks he was incarcerated in situated in Williamstown, with of course Peechalba where he was shot. I’d like to know more about his links to the Mallee.

    A big thankyou to JTH for access to a copy of Paul’s marvellous work: Ta.


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