Bendigo and Shepparton: Queen Elizabeth Oval or Deakin Reserve?

by Peter Sweeney


As a boarding school attendee on the outskirts of Bendigo between 1967 and 1971, I was reared watching footy at the Queen Elizabeth Oval.

Maybe, it was the fact we were out “of jail” for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon that explains why I loved being there so much. But the QEO had something else – the class of the footballers showing their wares was a large part of it – and has long been my favourite footy ground in Victoria.

I haven’t yet relegated it, but after spectating at the Goulburn Valley Football Netball League grand final at Shepparton’s Deakin Reserve last Sunday week, the QEO has opposition with this ageing but still fanatical country footy fan.

Deakin is in the middle of a burgeoning regional centre, but has a country feel about it. It’s great to watch from, and looking at the surface, appears like carpet to play on.

It sure was for Kyabram, the Bombers of the GVFNL, whose 13-point win over Rochester, the Tigers, capped off an unbeaten season. (Rochy were the Bombers in the Bendigo League when I watched footy there, but had to swap colours when they joined the GVFNL).

Many had come to Deakin, where the late and great Tommy Hafey spent much time, to see Ky go through without a black mark. But just as many were there supporting an upset.

Standing underneath the scoreboard, I watched while trying to compare grounds, which is probably akin to comparing apples and oranges.

I had given the “which is the better ground” game away, when three much younger than yours-truly fellows sidled up.

“Geez, how good is this? It’s better than the QEO,” one said as two heads nodded in agreement. The trio was from Bendigo.

It brought a reaction from my watching colleague, Peter McRae.

“What’s wrong with the QEO?” Macca, arguably the best known name in Bendigo football and cricket circles following a lifetime playing, coaching and being on committees at senior and junior level, snapped.

A day earlier, he and I had sat in the historic grandstand at the QEO watching the Bendigo Football Netball League grand final, when hot-pops Sandhurst beat Golden Square. The same clubs played in the ressies; the end result was the same.

The last time I saw the Dragons in a premiership play off was about 45 years back, when their side had the likes of (Geoff) Southby, (Trevor) Keogh and Brian (Walsh) – a trio who played for Carlton soon after – but couldn’t overcome Echuca.

Last Saturday, Square led by five points at the main change, but the second half became as gloomy for them as the skies did for the crowd.

The rain hit and as “they” say in that kind of weather, the cream rises to the top. Sandhurst, runners-up to Strathfieldsaye the past two seasons, reigned supreme. Party time.

As for the venues, Shepp may have the surface, but the QEO has the grandstand. Ah, maybe it still has no.1 spot in my spectating ladder.

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  1. Interesting observations Peter.

    I also attended this year’s GVL grand final at Deakin Reserve where I first saw one in 1964 when Tommy Hafey was coaching Shepp and Dickie Clay and Rossie Dillon were playing for Ky.

    I haven’t seen a game at the QEO since 1981 when Echuca beat Rochy in a semi final. Rochester left the comp after this game for the GVL. Its a great ground. But due to the mindless efforts of the now departed Bendigo VFL club it is now an oval not a rectangle. A great loss of tradition given the very early grounds for our game were reserves – like the Camp Reserve in Castlemaine.

    BTW, Rochester were the Demons in the Bendigo league – wearing red and black and red sox.

    Still can’t come at Sandhurst being the Dragons when they were the Cardinals or Maroons for more than a century.

    Pretty sure Ky was the first team to go through the season unbeaten since the finals system was introduced. But Rochy gave them a scare.

  2. Pete, given your travels to Australian sporting venues east and west, north and south, how does Bendigo’s Queen Elizabeth Oval rate when up against Tammin Oval?

  3. Richard Jones says

    AS always Dr. Rocket (Rod Gillett) has entered some very pertinent comments about Bendigo’s Queen Elizabeth Oval.
    It’s a great ground and as he has pointed out was a unique, rectangular shape with extra wide pockets before the now defunct VFL club orchestrated the ground renovations which altered it for all time to an oval configuration.
    I’ve just completed my fourth decade of reporting on, and broadcasting footy from, the QEO. Forty years — no, I don’t remember where all those years went, either.
    Seen many a great grand final there including my very first in 1977 when Sandhurst won by thee points.
    The 2012 big dance when G. Square hung on by three points to beat Gisborne remains my favourite, though.
    Back in the day I was the ground announcer for the BFL and was left, throttling the microphone on the boundary line, as Gisbone’s Rod Sharp lined up for his after-the-final-siren set shot to win the game for Gissy. Even tho’ he’d landed a snag from inside the centre square, on the run, only moments before this time Sharps’s shot was punched away from the goal-line — for NO score.
    Square won. Margin — three points. Again!
    Perhaps the memories I’ll cherish forever came in those moments before play started in the 2000s grand finals. After introducing the grand final anthem singer and just standing there gazing up into the packed QEO grandstand — the heritage listed, early 20th century grandstand which rates as one of the most magnificent buildings of regional and rural Oz.

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