Almanac Poetry: ‘Chicken’ Smallhorn





‘Chicken’ Smallhorn



The name of ‘Chicken’ Smallhorn is not often heard today,
Which is just a touch regrettable, I think I have to say.
He must have been a player of some skill and wizardry.
For he won the Brownlow Medal back in 1933.


Not only that, he must have had a fair amount of drive,
For he won it with a playing weight of 61.5!
He wasn’t one for breaking packs. To let his spirit sing,
They gave him some protection, placing him out on the wing.


His mother dubbed him ‘Chicken’ for his light and wiry frame,
But it didn’t stop him rising to the summit of the game.
His playing days were shortened by the coming of the war,
Where winning was more critical, but no one kept a score.


Imprisoned, then, at Changi, in that time of fear and strife,
He clung by just the very smallest, finest thread to life.
He dropped to 19 kilograms! That’s barely bone and skin.
It must have been a battle he had doubts that he could win.


Back home in Australia, and safe from bomb and gun,
He faced the illness of his only child, a precious son;
Stricken by leukaemia, at age fourteen, he died.
Who knows? Perhaps another star career was in that way denied.


‘Chicken’ was a Lion, for he wore maroon and blue,
And his love of Fitzroy Football Club was ever firm and true.
It must have been an awesome sight, a grand and noble thing,
To see that Smallhorn Chicken dancing sprightly on the wing!


© Stephen Whiteside   02.11.2020



Read Adam Muyt’s story about Chicken Smallhorn HERE.



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About Stephen Whiteside

Stephen Whiteside is primarily a writer of rhyming verse. He has been writing for over thirty years, and writes for both adults and children. Many of his poems have been published in magazines and anthologies, both in Australia and overseas, or won awards. His collection of rhyming verse for children, "'The Billy That Died With Its Boots On' and Other Australian Verse", was published by Walker Books in May 2014. Stephen performs regularly at folk festivals around the country - mostly in Victoria. He is also a great fan of the Australian poet C. J. Dennis. He is a foundation member of the C. J. Dennis Society, and is closely involved in the organisation of the annual Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival. Stephen is a long-suffering Melbourne supporter.


  1. Shane Reid says

    I really enjoyed this Stephen and Adam Muyt’s recent piece as well. I knew the Changi story but not about Chicken’s lost son. I hope this is the first of many poetic odes to Fitzroy’s Brownlow Medallists!

  2. Thanks for the story Stephen, before reading this , the only “Chicken” I knew of was Port Adelaide’s Neville “Chicken” Hayes. Hayes was a tough half back in Port Adelaide’s golden era of the fifties and early sixties. He is also noted for having his jaw broken by a certain Norwood rover, Peter “Buckethead” Vivian one evening under lights at the Norwood Oval.

  3. Thanks Stephen.

    Timely given tomorrow’s commemorations too. (Nov 11).

    I recall Chicken Smallhorn from ABC Panel days – I always thought he looked like one of the chaarcters in F Troop. The elder statesman of the Hakowies?

    Chicken Smallhorn grew up a stone’s throw from here – in North Fitzroy. Definitely worth a look at Adam Muyt’s piece too. The link is just above at the end of the poem.

  4. Thanks, Shane – food for thought. I was surprised to learn today that Haydn Bunton Jr never played in the VFL.

    Thanks, Fisho. I tried Googling Peter ‘Buckethead’ Vivian, but drew a blank.

    Thanks, John. Talk about a small world!

    Yes, Shane and John, that piece by Adam Muyt is a beauty! Talk about a hard life…

  5. Stephen, you can fing Peer Vivian in Norwood’s post of past players. He was also noted for being reported for striking Foster Williams. Vivian, a rover, was Norwood’s captain in ’61, his final year, and a noted goal kicker.

  6. Great work, Stephen.
    Having spent three years in Changi and then losing his 14-year-old son a decade-plus later, it put Chicken’s lack of team success at Fitzroy in the 1930s firmly into perspective.

  7. Thanks FitzroyPete.

    Yes, so true!

    I took the information from “The Brownlow – A Tribute to the Greats of Australian Football” (Geoff Slattery Publishing Pty Ltd 2003).

  8. Brilliant stuff Stephen, thanks.

  9. Thanks, Jarrod.

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