Book Review: Queensland’s footy origins worth cheering about

Athenians and Red Invincibles Front Cover

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Murray Bird is a former AFL umpire who, by his own admission, is known for the Brownlow votes from one specific match in 1993. However, judging by the quality research of his book on the origins of Queensland football, he will soon be better known as an author.

His book “Athenians and Red Invincibles: the Origins of Queensland Football” is so heavy with stories that most footballers could use it to workout. Almost 400 pages packed with a decade of research and historic photographs, make this fascinating reading. If you’re even just a little interested in social history, sports, or a good read, then buy up now for Christmas because this book is definitely stocking-worthy.

It tracks the development of football in Queensland – and that’s football of all colonial flavours – from Queensland’s first match in 1866, through to the collapse of Australian Rules and domination by Rugby in 1890. Murray’s done so well because he clearly has a passion for the stuff.

Until now, who knew that the first footy of any type in Queensland was played in Queen’s Park, now known as Brisbane’s City Botanical Gardens. The game went for five hours over two weekends, and was declared a scoreless draw.

Then there was the match between the Queensland Police and the Brisbane Football Club two years later. Squaring up with the authorities seemed to take precedence. “Couples were seen in various parts of the field wrestling manfully and quite oblivious of the whereabouts of the ball.” That game finished when the ball went flat.

Murray corrects a number of historical errors. For example, the first football association in Australia was formed in Toowoomba in 1876 (Victoria and South Australia followed a year later). The first Rugby match in Queensland was played that same year (not six years later as the QRU previously thought).

For Australian Rules supporters, there’s anguish as the book builds to the inevitable decline in the northern colony of your favoured code. Maybe the sport’s administrators today should read Murray’s book to learn a thing or two.

If you have Queensland ancestry, you’ll probably even find a relative or two. My uncle’s grandfather Steve Welch was a multi-code star, who Murray named as vice-captain of the Team of the 19th Century. For train enthusiasts, Welch’s father was the fireman aboard the first train in Queensland, and was celebrated this week in Queensland Rail’s 150th anniversary festivities.

There’s value in “Athenians and Red Invincibles” for everyone.

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About Harold Peacock

Author | Historian | Detectorist


  1. Dr Rocket says

    Thanks for this review Harold.

    I got my copy off Murray over a coffee in one of his favourite haunts The Jetty in Bulimba.

    As a father of an Ipswich Grammar School boy I was delighted to read how that school played Brisbane Grammar in football way back in 1870. The GPS rugger types think that their the traditional game…

    Really interesting about Toowoomba forming an Association in 1870 – the history of the game that is dominated by a Victorian narrative needs to be re-written by a Queenslander!

  2. Thanks Dr. The book is so interesting, and a sports history from a Queensland perspective is well over due. That said, Murray’s book gives clarity to the development of sport in colonial times in general, so anyone from any state would definitely enjoy it.

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