Almanac Footy: The Ian Brown Memorial Fund Match – Ballarat FL v Bendigo FL 1953





JULY 1953



More than 12,000 spectators packed into the Upper Reserve at Bendigo in July 1953 to watch the Ian Brown Memorial Fund interleague match between Bendigo FL and Ballarat FL.





Over the last two seasons country football has faced some very real challenges. While the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 has shaken the game to its very roots, the decision, taken by the AFL in 2019, to abandon support for the concept of Interleague football, was another setback to community football…


“ Representative football dealt a blow by AFL Victoria with interleague Community Championships scrapped for 2020 …A pathway to higher-level football suffered a blow last Thursday with AFL Victoria abolishing the Community Championships in 2020.”  Source: ‘The Latrobe Valley Express’ November 18th 2019.


Country football officials were simply stunned by the news. It seemed to be the wrong decision at the worst of times; and again exemplified the rift that had always existed between the ‘big smoke’ and the ‘bush’ in football.


Peter Cole, the Chairman of the Heathcote and District FNL, summed up the feelings of his ‘country cousins’ across Victoria…


“We are very disappointed by today’s announcement that AFL Victoria will no longer support inter-league football…


As a league we have worked extremely hard to develop a strong inter-league culture over the past few years with many players and administrators volunteering their time and energy to support it.


“Inter-league to us was not only the opportunity to showcase our best footballers and netballers, but also give our younger players opportunities at the highest level. Source: ‘Bendigo Advertiser”  November 14th 2019.


With country towns engaged in a fight for survival against such  powerful forces as  urbanisation, diminishing returns on global markets, deteriorating rural infrastructure,  aging communities and drought, the AFL’s decision to ‘walk away’ from country football was the ‘last straw’ for football officials in rural communities.


Moreover, the   fact that the AFL had played matches in China, while the game floundered in the bush, was unintelligible to most dedicated country football followers. It was felt that the decision, to abandon the country championships, reflected a degree of arrogance and certainly revealed a lack of knowledge regarding the game’s history. There is ample proof that Interleague football has been an important stepping-stone,  for many young country footballers, to  find a pathway to AFL ranks.


The following story endeavours to highlight:


  • The importance that interleague football matches once held in the hearts and minds of country communities.


  • How the AFL has misread the vital role that country leagues play in the promotion of the national game.





One of the finest interleague clashes in VCFL history took place in Bendigo in 1953. The match was between two of the power leagues of the bush in that era, Ballarat FL and Bendigo FL.


The match was named the ‘Ian Brown Memorial Fund Match’ or referred to, in some newspapers, as the ‘Ian Brown Trust Fund Match.’


The background, to the naming of that game, is not a happy story as Ian Brown had died as a result of an injury sustained in an earlier interleague match between the two above-mentioned leagues.





Ian Brown was a popular and much admired country footballer; and his selection,   to represent the powerful Bendigo FL, was evidence to suggest that he was a ‘serious player in the scheme of things’.


Ian’s early playing career was elusive to unearth; and, despite enquiries to Castlemaine FC, no information was forthcoming. However, a   small extract, in a local newspaper, suggested that he may have played for Chewton in his teenage years. It is known that he had crossed from Maryborough to Castlemaine in 1950.


NOTE: One source said that Ian was a transport driver and was married with three children.


It seems that Ian had played 50 games with Castlemaine prior to his death in 1953; and he was a proud member of the Castlemaine premiership team in 1952.  That season, Castlemaine defied the odds and overcame a strong Sandhurst team to win in handsome style. On that momentous occasion, Castlemaine won by 29 points to break a ‘long drought…’


“A massive crowd of 15,000 people paid a record gate to watch the Magpies break the game open in the third term. Castlemaine booted 5.4 and held the Maroons to just five behinds on their way to a 15.9 (99) to 9.16 (70) victory. It was bedlam in Castlemaine that night as the Magpies celebrated their first BFL flag since 1926. Source: ‘Country’


Ian Brown was mentioned on several occasions for his strong play in the match review carried by the ‘Riverine Herald’ …


“He was one of the best players in the grand final victory…”


It was a famous win for Castlemaine because premiership pennants had been a rare commodity in the club’s long history. Castlemaine FC, which was formed in 1859, had won only one flag up until that point of time (and that was in 1926).Much credit for the victory was directed to the club’s coach and former Hawthorn star Wally Culpitt.  The celebrations for ‘Wally the Conquer’ in 1952 were extensive, raucous and something for the township to savour…


“More than 2000 packed the street outside the Castlemaine town hall to welcome the victorious team. Crackers, rockets and car horns greeted the players.” Source: ‘The Age’ September 29th 1952 Page:  13.





Castlemaine had three former VFL players in its ranks that day including Wally Culpitt who had been a star for Hawthorn in the period 1940-48. Wally, who was born in Perth, played 125 games for Hawthorn and booted 116 goals. Wally won the club’s best and fairest in 1947; and in that same season represented Victoria. He was a strong footballer who caught the eye of spectators and umpires alike and in 1947 Wally finished equal third in the 1947 Brownlow Medal.


It is thought that the player named ‘Bower’ mentioned in the match report may be the same Ray Bower who had been at Richmond and Essendon during 1944 and 1945.


The other ex-VFL player in the Magpies’ line-up that day was Les Murray (sometimes known as ‘Toey’) who had played 11 games with of Footscray in 1951. Les was originally from Maldon FC, (which was formed in 1873).  Teenager, Graham Minihan was later to play 77 games with St with St Kilda.


Sandhurst, coached by former Hawthorn personality Kevin Curran, also included former VFL players Charlie King (ex- Geelong) and Ken Shaw who had won the Reserves Grade Best & Fairest trophy at Carlton in 1948 and 49. Ken was said to be a brilliant midfielder with Sandhurst but, for some unknown reason, never played a senior VFL game.


A youngster who played for Sandhurst that day was Graham Arthur. Graham became one of Hawthorn’s most decorated players and captained Hawthorn to its first-ever premiership in 1961.


An exhaustive search turned up one faded photograph of the 1952 Castlemaine premiership team. Ian Brown can be seen at the extreme right on the back row.



Castlemaine team. Premiers of the Bendigo League 1952
Back row: J. Marwick, C. Gray, J. Jeffries, R. McKnight, L. Murray, I. Brown
Centre row : R. Sheehan, S. Brain, A. Perry, J. Kelberg, R. Phillips, J. Scholes, G. Minihan.
Front row:  J. Merlo, M. Gale, F. Langdon, W. Culpitt (Capt and coach), R. Armstrong, R. Bower, T. Reilly.

Source: The Weekly Times  November 19th  1952. Page. 23


Note: There is no available evidence to suggest that Ian Brown either trained or played at VFL level;  and care needs to  be taken in research as ‘another’  Ian Brown played six games with Geelong in 1944-45. M.Gale in the front row above may be a brother of Bert Gale (from Campbell’s Creek)   who trained at Richmond in 1952.






 Source: Riverine Herald Monday 29th June 1953, page 1.


As mentioned above, Ian was selected to represent Bendigo at Ballarat on Saturday 27thJune. It was an historic meeting as, according to the available records, it was the first time that the two provincial cities had met in a football match since 1923.


The incident that claimed Ian Brown’s life occurred early in the first quarter of that game…


“Twenty three years old Castlemaine footballer, Ian Brown, died at Ballarat Hospital yesterday morning from injuries he received during, the inter-league match between Bendigo and Ballarat leagues on Saturday.


Brown received the injury early in the game -when he got a severe knock on the head in his first encounter with the play.  He fell heavily to the ground, but played on after receiving attention from the trainers. Shortly afterwards, he  was removed from the ground in a dazed condition and was admitted to Ballarat hospital. An operation was performed at nine o’clock Saturday night by a leading Ballarat surgeon after it was ascertained that Brown was suffering from a cerebral haemorrhage.” Source: Riverine Herald June 29th 1953, page 1


Ian  clung to life throughout that night; and it was reported  that that two of his team mates  George Illsley ( Eaglehawk FC ) and  Dick  McGillivary ( Echuca)  consented to give   blood  for any required transfusion during  the medical procedure.  Despite all efforts Ian ‘slipped away’ at 9.15am on Sunday 28th of June


Note: While the results of the match, pale into insignificance to Ian’s sad death,  the game ended in a draw with both teams locked on 12.14 (86)  apiece when the final siren blew.





The news of Ian’s death reverberated around Victoria;  and grabbed front page headline in the progressive and popular metropolitan paper ‘The Argus’ on the 29th of June. By the time of Ian’s burial service at Castlemaine, people’s thoughts had turned to how they could best assist his surviving wife and children.


Little time was wasted establishing an appeal to help Ian’s family and, in next to no time, donations were rolling in from across Victoria.  Within hours of the appeal being launched, hundreds of pounds had been promised.  The Bendigo Football League donated £300 (pounds); and by Monday 6th July £2000 pounds had been raised.


Officials of the Ballarat and Bendigo leagues were on the ‘front foot’ also; and promptly organized a return match between the teams as another opportunity to raise funds for the Ian Brown Appeal. The date for the match was set for Saturday 18th July; and it was to be played at Bendigo at the Upper Reserve (now known as the Queen Elizabeth Oval).







In reading about the outpouring of grief that followed Ian’s death, it is obvious that the district had suffered a deep loss; and, as is often the case in tight-knit country towns, the people responded with kind hearts and sizeable donations. The promotion of the game by metropolitan and provincial newspapers was superb and helped swell the donations to the appeal.





Backs Dryburgh Grieve Brain
Half Backs Clark McGillivary Kyne
Centre Cowling McDonald Jarvis
H’ Forwards Shaw Illsley Jones
Forwards Morgan Murray Evans
Rucks Tonn Kenna Lenaghan
19th & 20th Blackmore   Smith





Backs Pike  Chanter Challis
Half backs Icke Howard Malone
Centres; Templar Roche Lloyd
H’ Forwards Hunt Taylor Orr
Forwards Mason Wells Walton
Rucks Ebery McGowan Rawle
19th & 20th Cuthbertson   McGee






Source: Sporting Globe July 15th 1953 page: 5



The match received a massive build up in the local and metropolitan press and it had the desired effect of creating interest** and drawing a packed house.


Some 12,000 people squeezed in to the ground and journalist Alan Fitcher (ex- Fitzroy ruckman -1929-1936) painted a colourful picture of the opening stanza…


“All the thrills of a League final on: MCG were packed into the first half   of the Ian Brown Trust Fund game at Bendigo last Saturday. It was footbaII at its best-so good it couldn’t last…Ballarat were first to break…”  Source: ‘The Sporting Globe’ July 22nd 1953, page 5.  


**Note: With the recent demise of many country newspapers, the articles found in this research again underscored the important role of the press in the lives of country towns. Local scribes ( often unpaid ) played an essential role in fostering interest in football and the match reviews of local fixtures were eagerly awaited by fans.


The game opened in brilliant style,  and the forwards,  of both sides,  found avenues to goals with eleven majors in the first term. The combatants were the best in their respective regions; and their class stood out. It was exciting to watch and most a fitting display in honour of Ian Brown.


Hopes were high for a Ballarat victory and the Bendigo defence worked like ‘gold miners’ to hold the visitors at bay.  However, slowly but surely, Bendigo chipped back the margin and by the ‘big break interval’ had   gained the ascendency and a three goal lead which gave some breathing space as the players headed into the historic ( classical style grandstand) changing sheds at the Upper Reserve.


The following highlights of game are taken from the Riverine Herald match report…


  • It was a game marked by outstanding high marking and good: kicking with neither side resorting to negative spoiling tactics…”
  • It was nip and tuck for most of the second term, but the turning point came just before half-time, when Illsley at centre half-forward struck an inspired patch and was responsible for three goals, which was his side’s margin at the long interval.
  • The third term produced champagne football, with both teams ; swinging the ball- freely around the wings, the difference being that Bendigo shot truly while  Ballarat were off the target.
  • Ballarat fought the game right out but they could not score against a confident defence.



As is often the case in football, the journalists who witnessed the clash held different views on the better players but it seems that George Illlsey was the ‘stand out’ across the forward line for Bendigo. It was a game where forwards excelled and George, Harry Morgan, Les Murray and Bill Wells’ provided plenty of thrills for the crowd.


Peter Banfield , a respected  writer from The Argus ( Monday 20th )  heaped praise on Bill Wells’ performance for Ballarat against the former VFL star Ollie Grieve…


“ Brilliant kicking by the veteran 32 year-old Redan full forward Bill “Bomber” Wells for Ballarat did much to keep his team in the fight. From nine kicks he scored seven goals, with two  others hots hitting the post. An easy leader in Ballarat League goal-kicking competition, he was too fast and determined all day for Bendigo full back Ollie Grieve.”  


Bill Wells was a standout in that game; and there is no doubt would have raised the eyebrows of VFL officials and scouts at the game. However, Bill was 32 years of age and his best years were behind him. Bill had played with North Melbourne and St Kilda during the war years; and  had made created news by making a miraculous return to football after sustaining serious injuries in the Middle East on active duty,


While Bill Wells was superb for Ballarat, it was the Bendigo trident of George Illsley, Les Murray and Harry Morgan that proved an unstoppable combination that provided too many options for Bendigo and ran the Ballarat defence ragged. The three-pronged attack booted a combined total of twelve goals and dominated proceedings in the second half.


As the quarter-by-quarter analysis indicated, Bendigo ‘held sway’ in the second half while Ballarat could only find the big opening on four occasions. The winners took home ‘the prize’  and more importantly bragging rights.





The quarter by quarter scores  were :


Bendigo FL :    5.1    10.7.   13. 6    17.10 (112)

Ballarat  FL:     6.6.     7.7      9.13   11.16 (80)


  • Goal kickers for Bendigo:   Morgan 5  Murray 4 Illsley 3 Evans 2 Tonn Jones Lenaghan
  • Goal kickers for Ballarat: Wells 7 Rawle Roche McGown Orr


  • Best players for Bendigo: Illsley Tonn  Kenna McGillivary Shaw Morgan
  • Best players for Ballarat: Wells Pike Howard Templar Taylor  Hunt



THE APPEAL TOTAL- £11,000 ($323, 000).


While Bendigo’s 32 point victory was important, very few people who attended that game that day would have forgotten that the over-riding concern of the match was to raise money for the Brown family.


The gate takings of £1037 fulfilled the hopes of the leagues’ officials, which in today’s currency equates to approximately $37,000. It was a ‘tidy sum’ and something to present to Ian Brown’s family but more was to come. When the appeal closed, more than £11,000 (pounds) had been raised.


That sum is now equivalent to $323, 000; and says much for the strong bonds that exist in country football and the respect that the football community held for Ian Brown.


A search of metropolitan and regional papers failed to find any information regarding the presentation of the cheque to the Brown family but it is safe to assume that such a sum, given with such willing hearts, would have been appreciated.






Source: Riverine Herald November  27th 1953, Page:  4


The coronial inquest, which was set to officially determine the circumstances of Ian Brown’s death, concluded in the Ballarat Court on November 24th 1953.


Despite his lengthy deliberations, the Coroner (Mr.  D. J. Duggan S.M)   was unable to deliver a definitive determination regarding the cause of Ian’s death…


“I find that Brown died at the Ballarat Base Hospital on June 27, from laceration and contusion of the brain and haemorrhage, caused ‘by a fracture of the skull received when he was struck on the head while playing in a football match. The evidence does hot enable me to say with any reasonable degree of certainty, what kind of blow the deceased received, who delivered it, or whether it was deliberate or otherwise,” said Mr Duggan.


It would have been a gloomy experience to have been present at that coronial inquest; and ‘The Riverine Herald’ ( November 27th 1953) gave  a dour but comprehensive account of the proceedings. The a same newspaper also reported upon Mr Duggan’s qualms about the incident.  In his summation, Mr Duggan did not ‘mince his words’; and, at a one point his remarks would have created a degree of discomfort for some local football braggarts.





The Bendigo combined team included some very well-known footballers including such players as: –


  1. Alan McDonald is a legendary figure in Bendigo football; and is a member of the BFL Hall of fame. Originally from South Gippsland ( Meeniyan and Leongatha), Alan made his name at Richmond FC as midfielder;  and,  in the period 1939-43, played 49 senior VFL games . Following a stint at Camberwell in the VFA, Alan headed north and took on the position playing coach at South Bendigo FC.


He was a highly successful leader and steered SBFC to five flags; and such was his wisdom of the game and its strategies that it gave rise to him becoming dubbed the ‘Old Fox’ of Bendigo football.


In 1957, Alan was appointed as the coach at Richmond but,   in the following four season, he struggled to lift the Tigers up the VFL Ladder. In 72 outings, as the Tigers a coach, Alan had a win-loss ratio of just 31%; and he returned to South Bendigo as coach in 1960.


  1. Jim Clark played 161 games with Carlton before he unexpectedly departed Princes Park to coach Echuca in 1952 (after winning the club’s Best & Fairest in 1951).  Jim represented Victoria on five occasions and played in two Carlton premiership teams in 1945 and 1947.  The fact that Jim came from Elmore FC to Carlton may have been a major factor in his return to Bendigo.


Jim had a stellar career in country football and, according to ‘Holmesby and Main’ he was still playing football at 48 years of age. Jim was inducted into the Carlton FC Hall of Fame in 1992. He died at Echuca in 2013.


  1. Ollie Grieve is a classic example of how country football attracted VFL stars to the bush in that post-war era of football. It was not only money that took from VFL ranks but often business opportunities, employment possibilities or simply family concerns were strong reasons to ‘pack up and go bush.’


In Oliver Kelvin Grieve’s case he had procured the license of the Court House Hotel in Bendigo. After 137 games for the Blues as a key defender, Ollie accepted the coaching position at Eaglehawk FC in 1953.


One of Ollie’s highlights in his impressive career (1942-52) was being Runner-up in the 1948 Brownlow Medal to Bill Morris of Richmond.


Having won Carlton’s Best & Fairest award in 1952 , his departure from Princes Park was a recruiting coup for Eaglehawk and indeed the Bendigo Football League. Ollie later coached at Irymple FC in the Sunraysia FL in 1956 and 57.


  1. Noel Jarvis is another forgotten footballer in the post war era of VFL football; but he was a talented, speedy and highly regarded wingman for Fitzroy in the period 1944- 52. Originally from East Brunswick FC, Noel represented Victoria (at Hobart in 1947) and played 159 games for Fitzroy. In 1947, he finished tenth in the Brownlow Medal with 12 votes. Wally Culpitt (mentioned above) polled 18 votes to finish third behind Bert Deacon of Carlton ( 23 votes) and the brilliant midfielder of St Kilda , Harold Bray ( 21 votes).Noel’s  decision to go to Rochester in 1953 left a gaping hole in the ranks at Fitzroy.


  1. Les Murray who had played for Footscray had been a teammate of Ian Brown at Castlemaine (see above).


  1. One of the most interesting footballers in the Bendigo line-up that day was Heinz Gustav Tonn. Heinz was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1921. He served with the Australian Army during World War: 2 and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Heinz was one of the finest followers in country football in that era and played for Fitzroy in 1947. In 1948 he won the BFL Best & Fairest award when he was playing with Golden Square.


In 1947 Heinz won the Medal with 27 votes and Vin English ( Sandhurst/ Carlton ) was runner up with 25 votes Heinz took on the coaching position at Castlemaine FC in 1949 and repeated the feat with another  medal.


  1. Despite never having played at VFL level, Bob Dryburgh was, nevertheless, a player with a most impressive resume. Bob was born at Grong Grong, and later played with Narrandera. Bob represented NSW on five occasions in interstate matches from 1947and 1948; and it is known that he trained with Richmond in 1947.  In 1949 he was cleared to South Bendigo and soon gained a reputation as a foremost player in the BFL.  In 1951, Bob was appointed coach of Echuca East and won a competition medal.


An interesting fact emerged when researching Bob’s selection for the NSW team for the Hobart Carnival in 1947, as one of the players,  included in that squad,  was the legendary superstar of Australian cricket,  Keith Miller.  Keith was then playing football in Sydney and his selection added a great deal of interest to the NSW line-up and the Carnival previews.


  1. The centre half back for Bendigo in that game was Dick McGillivary. His correct name was Malcolm Donald McGillivray; and he originally hailed from Gunbower. Malcolm, a farmer, played one game for Essendon in 1950 (Round: 18 v St Kilda). Malcolm was a leading player in regional football;   and won Echuca’s Best and Fairest award in 1952 and 1953.


In 1954 he returned to Gunbower FC as coach and steered the Demons to a premiership in the Northern District FL  in 1954


  1. It was difficult to establish if Frank Kyne , one of the best defenders in that era was related to the former Collingwood coach, Phonse Kyne. Frank was awarded Life Membership of the South Bendigo Football Club in 1962.


  • Another BFL player that hit the headlines in the exciting period of country football was Noel ‘Nobby’ O’Brien. Noel did not play in the Ian Brown Memorial Match but, from all reports, was the best spearhead in BFL in 1953. Noel was the target of a massive recruiting campaign to lure him from Echuca FC to Princes Park. He eventually joined Carlton and set the Blues’ alight with 118 goals in just 32 games (at 3.69 goals per game) before being cruelly cut down by a serious ankle injury in 1956.





  1. Len Templar (ex-Redan FC) was selected on the wing that day in Bendigo; and the following season, he was cleared to North Melbourne FC. He made his debut for NMFC against Fitzroy at the Brunswick Street Oval in Round: 3 1954; and  went on to play 60 games, mainly as a winger, Len starred in the 1954 Semi-Final against Melbourne with five goals. Len Templar is a record holder at Ballarat FC for  having coached the club for 15 seasons


  1. Vic Chanter was described in a text as ‘one of the most talented defenders of that era.’ Vic’s Father had played for Fitzroy in 1920. It is written that Vic was recruited from Alphington (VAFA) but a little known fact is that Vic played with Melbourne Seconds at one period.  He crossed to Fitzroy after the war; and at the age of 25 years played his first game for Fitzroy against South Melbourne in Round :6 in 1946.   Vic played 108 games for Fitzroy; and won the club’s Best and Fairest trophy in 1951; and also represented Victoria against South Australia in that season.


Much has been written about Vic’s robust style of play but one of his greatest claims to fame was the match in 1952 which he held the legendary John Coleman goal-less. It was the only occasion in John’s stellar career that he failed to register a goal. Vic left Fitzroy in 1953 and coached Maryborough for three seasons.


  1. Frank Pike made the news in 1950 when in his first season of Ballarat football, he won the Courier Trophy ( now the Henderson Medal ) for the Best and Fairest player. Frank, who had been listed with Geelong (1945-47)  was a brilliant defender for Ballarat FC.


  1. Bill Icke, selected on the half back flank that day for the Ballarat FL, had an impressive background in football. William George Icke (born 1921) came under notice when he was playing in the Polwarth FL with Forrest ( originally known as Yaugher FC). Bill was recruited to South Melbourne in 1943 but crossed to Geelong in 1946. While he could only muster 16 VFL games he built a ‘name for himself’ in country football. One source stated that Bill was the brother of the famed Laurie Icke of North Melbourne.


  1. Another indication of the strength of regional football in that era was the fact that Percy Hunt started on the half forward flank for Ballarat. Percy, was recruited to Geelong from Ballarat. Percy was not a big man but his speed and ferocious attack on the ball gave him an edge. Although best known across half back for the Cats, Percy booted five goals against Collingwood in Round: 3 1947. He played 112 games for Geelong before returning home and becoming a drawcard in Ballarat football. Percy was made a Life Member of Geelong FC in 1951.



  1. Keith Trevillian Rawle was captain of the Ballarat team that day. Keith was another VFL star player who saw certain advantages in ‘going bush’** in that era (**see below); and, after 111 games ( in two stints with Essendon), he   took on the task of coaching Redan in 1950.  Keith coached Redan until 1956 during which time he brought success to the club and carved a handsome personal reputation in Ballarat football. Keith won the Henderson Medal in 1951.


Keith had the fine distinction of representing Victoria in football (‘B’ team) and cricket (against Tasmania in 1948). Keith was selected in Redan’s ‘Team of the Century.’


It is not widely known that Keith was the son of George Rawle (1889-1978) who debuted in Essendon’s premiership team in 1923 (at the age of 33 years).





Other players from the above match who made VFL appearances included:  Alex Cuthbertson (St Kilda), George Illsley (Carlton) , Jim Walton ( Richmond) and Max Orr who played seven games with Melbourne in 1952-53.


It was hard to verify but the family name ‘Howard’, at centre half back for Ballarat that day , may have been Frank Howard who  had played for Richmond in two stints (1943 and 1948).


Once again the background(s) of the players in the Ian Brown Memorial Fund Match underlines the fact that every footballer ( and sportsperson ) has a story  of interest;  and,  in drilling down on their lives, some astounding aspects of players can be uncovered ( e.g. Bill Wells’ military career).


Every footballer has a tale to tell and certain wisdom to share regarding their journey through life and sport.





The status of the game was reflected in the appointment of one Victoria’s finest umpires, Jack McMurray Junior, to take charge of proceedings. The McMurray family made a substantial and lasting contribution to Victorian football. Arch McMurray played a total 130 games with South Melbourne and Port in the 1880’s.  Jack McMurray Senior (Arch’s son) played with Port Melbourne; and then ‘tried his hand’ at umpiring with resounding success. Jack (Senior) began umpiring in VFL ranks in 1917 and officiated in more than three hundred games and23 finals (including six grand Finals).


Jack McMurray Junior (1915-2004 umpired VFL football from 1941- 1955; and in 216 games was the central umpire in six grand finals. Younger readers may not know that in those days, there was only one central umpire; and umpiring was not only a test of fitness but fortitude (as the nature of boisterous barracking was quite different with today).


Jack had a good reputation across all levels of football and was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996. He is also member of the Tasmanian Hall of Fame.





The flight of VFL footballers to country leagues in that era was substantial.  In 1953, the following VFL players departed VFL ranks to coach or play football in the bush. Factors such as employment opportunities, match payments, housing and life style prompted players to ‘go bush.’


Note: The following list is not exhaustive for 1953:-


Vic Chanter ( Fitzroy to Maryborough), Noel Jarvis ( Fitzroy to Rochester ), George McLaren ( Footscray to Colac),  Ted Jackson ( Melbourne to Tongala),  Robert Johnston ( Melbourne to Hopetoun),  Bill Smeaton ( Melbourne to Ballarat ),  Ron McMahon ( Melbourne to Maryborough) , Leo Francis ( North Melbourne  to Wedderburn), Brian/Bryan Hogan (Richmond Seconds to Penshurst), Tom Ryan ( South Melbourne to Stanhope),   Ron Richards ( Footscray to Maryborough), Nick Bloom ( St Kilda to South Warrnambool),   Dick Wearmouth ( Footscray  to Terang), Bill Dicks (St Kilda to Corowa),  John Coffey ( St Kilda-Morwell i.e. protracted clearance  dispute ),  Ollie Grieve ( Carlton to Eaglehawk), Jack Conley ( Carlton to Seaford),   Arthur Hodgson ( Carlton to Tasmania FL  ),  Ron Lunn ( Essendon to Birchip) and Bill Snell ( Essendon to Stawell).





Country football and the township of Castlemaine were ‘the poorer’ for the early and sudden passing of Ian Brown; and it is hoped that this article may, in some small way, serve as a tribute to a fine sportsman.  While Ian’s tragic death was a dark day for football, the joint efforts of various country leagues to ‘put things right’, for the Brown family, was nothing short of magnificent.


That interleague match in Bendigo was a wholehearted attempt to assist Ian’s family cope with his tragic loss and find a way forward in such a sad time for his club, teammates and friends.


Despite the game being hastily arranged, amid the worst of circumstances, it still remains a genuine highlight in the history of Victorian interleague football.  The ‘return bout’ between Ballarat FL and Bendigo FL in 1953 was a shining example of the ideals of competitive sport and community involvement.


Football plays such a vital part in country communities; and the Ian Brown Memorial Match again underlines that football is more than ‘just a game’. After the enforced hiatus (due to COVID-19) that country football experienced in 2020, AFL Victoria Country   will face some difficult challenges. Perhaps one positive step could be to reconsider its role in unreservedly endorsing and promoting interleague football.


A recurrent motto during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 was:  ‘We are all in this together’; and nothing could be more explicit for the game of Australian Rules. The AFL needs the bush like ‘never before’ and it is now time to build new bridges to country communities.



Roger Spaull, December 2020.




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  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for this Roger.

    Can anyone tell me how the AFL’s takeover of country leagues benefits the game in any way?

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