Almanac (Footy) History: Geelong FC’s Original Home Venue – the Argyle Ground

Geelong-Football-Team-circa-1877-Argyle-Ground – Image: gnet.geelongcollege.vic.edu.au

 

 

 

Geelong Football Club’s Original Home Venue – the Argyle Ground

 

 

A recent short piece I wrote for the Almanac about my memories connected with Geelong Football Club’s former home ground, Corio Oval – and the responses I received to this vignette – got me thinking. My thoughts turned to the club’s previous and earliest home venue, variously called the Argyle Ground, Argyle Square, Argyle Football Ground and probably Argyle-Something-Else, too. I mentioned this place briefly in the article concerned.

 

Most of the basic facts about the Argyle Ground are well-known by those into Geelong football history, it seems: how Geelong started playing football there around 1860; how the place was in Geelong West (formerly called Ashby), in the vicinity of the old Argyle Hotel, which is now a pub called Murphy’s; how, in 1877, the owner of the land – the notoriously litigious Silas Harding – ploughed up the field after a dispute with the club over rates payment, which led to it being unable to play there on a particular Saturday, and contributed to its move to Corio Oval as their next home ground … it seemed to me to be a difficult enterprise to say much that was new about this earliest location. Then I wondered what the Argyle Ground looked like, and thought that it may be a Holy Grail of a quest to locate an early photograph or picture of the place, as no-one in their immediate responses to my Corio Oval piece provided me with a solution in this context. Soon, though, without much difficulty, I located a photo of the Geelong Football Club team taken at the Argyle Ground around 1877, wearing their then-new blue-and-white hoops uniform. (That’s the photo attached to this article.)

 

All this being the case, I thought I’d take this piece in another direction, and pose the question: why do the words ‘Argyle Ground’ resonate so much with me, in other words, feel so close to home? Well, when I reflect upon them, these words did have connotations of being ‘close to home’ literally, as well as functioning that way in a metaphorical sense now. My personal associations with this specific area are numerous. For a start, our family home during my teenage years was in Austin Street in leafy Newtown, about 800 metres in a mainly uphill direction from where the Argyle Ground was located (near the corner of Aberdeen and Pakington Streets), and if you walked about 400 metres the other way from my house, slightly downhill, you would be in the vicinity of Kardinia Park. Also, I played bass guitar in a band called Murmurs at the Argyle Hotel on a number of occasions in 1980, when I was eighteen, still living in Austin Street at the time. Furthermore, years later, in the 1990s, I rented a few rooms in the historic Geelong mansion, Rannoch House, mainly built in the 1850s, the second storey of which would have virtually overlooked the Argyle Ground in its glory days; in fact, from the second level balcony, it’s very likely that one would’ve had an unimpeded view of any game played there during the 19th century period that it was Geelong’s home venue.

 

Scanning through a range of Geelong Advertiser newspaper articles of the 1860s and 1870s that deal with football games played at the Argyle Ground is a fascinating experience. One may read a piece that indicates there was already a program of matches, a football ‘season’, for Geelong Football Club at least as early as 1865; then peruse a report from August 1871 in which Geelong and Ballarat played a hard-fought draw; then one from May 1872, in which Tom Wills* captained the Geelong team in the season opener against Carlton – even if he did turn up late! – and played in the side with his brothers Egbert and Horace, as well as an aboriginal man called Pompey … and so it goes. From reading these early football pieces, one gets the clear impression that the game was still quite a bit like rugby**, and that the exciting spectacle was almost as important as the result – the scores were typically low. One would see that women formed a significant part of the crowd, too.

 

.      .      .

 

I must have walked past the area where the Argyle Ground used to be over a thousand times in my life. In an era long gone, I had quite a few beers at the Argyle Hotel, too. But there’s no field in the area now, just various buildings, mainly of a nondescript, oldish variety. Next time I walk by where the ground was, it will feel like a ‘Field of Dreams’ experience, I reckon – I’ll imagine Geelong football players of the 1860s and 1870s on a wide expanse of hallowed turf, weaving their magic and taking their spills, to the passionate cries and roars of those watching on.

 

 

@DensleyKevin

 

 

*Tom Wills is often referred to as the ‘father’ of Australian football, of course.

 

**It’s relevant to bear in mind in this context that playing Australian football on an oval shaped ground was not a regular occurrence until around 1878.

 

 

Main Sources

 

Geelong Advertiser newspapers of the 1860s and 1870s via NLA’s  TROVE online collection

Geelong College (gnet) article In Search of the Blue and White

Wikipedia entry on Tom Wills

 

 

More from Kevin Densley HERE

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His work has appeared in print in Australia, the UK and the USA, as well as on many online venues. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.

Comments

  1. I’d like to know a bit more about Silas. Sounds like he didn’t muckaround. I’ll have a look in the two Geelong histories.

    Thanks for the piece Kevin.

    PS I read the Addie pretty much cover to cover for 1877 to 1886 and made many photocopies. I’ll see whether I can find the Silas reference from 1877. Just need to fond that old PhD box!

  2. Thanks Kevin . Interesting stuff.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks JTH and Dips.

    JTH – re Silas Harding: I read quite a few Addy articles about him in preparation for this piece and the obituaries (he died in 1894) are particularly interesting. He was, it appears, very ready to take anyone to court, including the Victorian colonial government, as well as the church that was built next door to his property. He threatened to make it pull down and re-align one of its side walls because (from memory a cornerstone) he believed impinged on his property by a few inches. As you’d know, he died fabulously wealthy, and his widow was someone about forty years his junior, a former servant, who he married in his seventies. She died near Dunkeld, Victoria, only a few years after him in a terrible horse-driven vehicle accident.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Well researched piece Kevin. I love stories of old grounds, this was one I had no idea ever existed until your previous article.

  5. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks Luke! I’ve found that the nineteenth century history of Australian football is chock full of very interesting and often surprising facts.

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Oh – another Silas Harding connected postscript … when his widow died just a few years after him, she left the majority of her estate (i. e the Harding fortune) to her brother, Marcus Oldham – yes, he of the agricultural college name.

  7. Marcus Holt says

    I grew up living on Aberdeen St, a few hundred metres from the Argyle. My mum worked there behind the bar in the early 70s. Do you happen to know where the ground was in relation to the pub? I’ve always presumed it was on the eastern side of the hotel and the northern side of Aberdeen St but something I read somewhere a long time ago hinted that it may have been across the road on the Barwon River side of Aberdeen St. I’d love to know. Also, following your Corio Oval story I tracked down an old B&W aerial photo of the ground, and in a book I found at an op shop, n aerial colour photo of CO when it was still operating as a trotting track, with the salt marshes along Portarlington Rd in the background. I’ll try and post them when I have a chance.

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your response, Marcus. My understanding is that the Arygle Ground was on the Geelong West side of Aberdeen Street, near the corner of Aberdeen and Pakington Streets and behind the Argyle Hotel – these locational indicators emerge from what I’ve read. Interestingly, Silas Harding’s Geelong mansion (as opposed to the numerous other properties he had) was very close to the ground, too, on the Newtown side of Aberdeen Street, not far from the old Argyle pub. This impressive building is still there, behind what is now the land occupied by the Aberdeen Motor Inn – this land used to belong to the mansion. (Rannoch House, incidentally, is behind the current St John’s Lutheran School, which I presume used to be its “front yard”.)

    I look forward to your post connected to the Corio Oval.

  9. Kevin Densley says

    Correction, paragraph 2, line 4: Silas Harding ploughed up the Argyle Ground – and prevented Geelong from playing there on a particular Saturday – in 1878, not 1877.

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