Film: Full points to Cohuna-Union rivalry flick

By Paul Daffey

Ivanka Buczma, a landscape architecture student at Melbourne University, had a piquant first experience of a country footy rivalry.

The 20-year-old and a dozen fellow students were on a field trip in Cohuna in northern Victoria as part of their landscape heritage subject. The students, as well as two lecturers, had entered the Cohuna Hotel (research, you see) when they noticed a chill in the air.

“There was just … silence,” Buczma said in an interview in a Fairfield cafe.

One of the uni group, lecturer Danius Kesmanis, was wearing a green footy jumper with a gold monogram. He had picked it up earlier that day in a Cohuna op shop for a couple of dollars.

A pair of drinkers approached Kesminas and asked what he was doing wearing a Union footy jumper in the Cohuna pub. Kesminas, a weedy man, thought it was magnificent that two burly locals were bearing down on him. Now the students could witness the feeling that a country footy rivalry stirs in the local denizens.

Kesminas defused the situation with a quip (he really is weedy) before explaining that the students were in Cohuna to study the heritage aspects of the Cohuna footy ground. The oval is known for its size (it’s enormous), but to landscape architects it’s also significant because the reserve was designed by Hugh Linaker, a prominent landscape architect through the first half of last century.

A big part of the ground’s heritage is the historic rivalry between the co-tenants, Cohuna and Union. Danius explained to the men in the bar that he was wearing the Union footy jumper for heritage reasons. He was celebrating one of the great country footy rivalries! The drinkers would have to forgive him for not knowing that Union supporters drank up the road.

And so a Melbourne Uni lecturer who had strayed beyond his natural habitat of North Melbourne pubs became the first man to wear a green jumper in the Cohuna Hotel. Kesmanis, mindful of the thanks he owed, ploughed coins into the juke box and played air guitar with a pool cue. Locals joined him in bellowing out power ballads, while students stepped out on an impromptu dance floor between the pool table.

“I don’t think they’d seen anyone dance like that before,” Buczma said.

The next morning, the students tip-toed Bellamy-like into the clubrooms at the footy ground to catch a glimpse of a practice that many had thought extinct, The Sunday Barrel. Attendees of The Barrel got off their elbows to help the students by tracing an imaginary line that marked the division between the two clubs that shared the ground. Union players and fans stayed on one side; Cohuna people stayed on the other. No one crossed the line without risking death or 20 push-ups.

The students had read about such practices during their study of Farmers Weekly articles in the archives of the Cohuna history society. The articles depicted long and fraught council meetings in which it had to be decided which club could train on the ground on a particular night. During The Sunday Barrel, the students witnessed ancient rituals in which fans of Cohuna sang songs about Union fans, and not in a kind way. The Barrel was a divisive yet rich experience.

Buczma was struck by the feeling between supporters of the two clubs, especially when you consider that they merged in 1996 to form one club, the Cohuna Kangas. The difficulty of the merger is not unexpected when you consider that the Kangas wear Fremantle colours.

Buczma noted that the town of Cohuna still appeared to be divided along Cohuna-Union lines. She was also taken by the rivalry’s theatrical elements.

“There’s a bit of Hollywood in it,” she said.

In her assignment on the field trip, Buczma decided to depict the rivalry in a Hollywood form: in film. She originally planned a 30-second trailer but ended up making a six-minute film that is like nothing else you’re going to see on a country footy rivalry. It’s creative, even arresting. It might be going too far to say it’s a work of genius, but only just.

Buczma, who’s now 21, can be proud of her film, as can the people of Cohuna. A quirky part of their town’s footy history has received the attention it deserves.

Ivanka Buczma’s Cohuna vs Union can be seen on:

The film is part of the Strewth! That’s Heritage exhibition that is being assembled by Andrew Saniga and Hannah Lewi, with assistance from Ivanka Buczma. The exhibition is being opened in the Winderlich Gallery on the ground floor of the Architecture Building at Melbourne University at 5.30pm on Tuesday 9 February. It continues until 26 February. All are welcome.


  1. Daff – that’s fantastic. What a story !

  2. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says


    This was a pretty fierce rivalry – just how back does it extend?
    Presumably Union was known as such, and Cohuna by their nickname – what was it?

    Just as country pubs if there are more than two in the town don’t use the name of the town if its in the pub name – the Kyabram Hotel is known as the “Bluebrick”, the Tumut Hotel as the “Star”. Most usually, of course, like Rushworth & Henty, its the top pub and the bottom pub – based on topography not ratings!

    Shame that when Cohuna and Union merged they adopted a most unimaginative nickname, Kangas…

    Just down the river, Barham and Koondrook, whose rivalry was also very intense, became the River Raiders.

    In terms of intra-town rivalry, there was I think a similar divide in Orbost between Orbost and the Snowy Rivers – these are much more intense than the big city rivalries in places like Bendigo & Shepp (although I’m sure our colleague Dicky Jones can shed some light on the Bendigo ones!). Shepp & City United have only been rivals since the early 1950s.

    The situation in Broken Hill was also unique – people rarely crossed to other parts of town up until the 1960s unless it was for a football match with a cross-town rival. More to come on this.

  3. Pamela Sherpa says

    Hi Dips, all, as Daff knows I went to high school at Cohuna so can recall the rivalry between these clubs vividly.They played each other in finals often. I can recall once when Union beat Cohuna in the GF the Cohuna coaches driveway was painted in Union colours overnight.The booking of the hall for GF celebrations was another issue too

  4. Pamela,

    Do tell. Did the celebrations involve the burial on the home oval of some totem pertaining to the other team? That’s always a popular one.

    I was speaking to someone from Drysdale the other day who told me about the Drysdale celebrations in 1978 which involved burying a piece of couta bought from the local fish and chip shop (Queenscliff are the Coutas) and a toy tiger (Torquay are the Tigers). Drysdale won their next flag only last year when they defeated Geelong Amateurs (who should be back in the Amatuers) in a GF boilover.


    In my humble estimation, the rivalry between Union and Cohuna was in the top three for the fiercest in the state. The other two would be Nathalia v Numurkah and Hamilton v Hamilton Imps, both of which are likely to go on forever.

    Why was the Cohuna one so fierce? I think Cohuna was for the townies and Union was for the farmers, but the level of emotion suggests something beyond the initial reading.

  5. Pamela Sherpa says

    What I find interesting about the fierce rivalry is the size of the town – not big- we all went to the same High school
    There was always a great build up in the week before clashes and plenty to talk about the week after- especially at finals time.

    Everytime I see one of my old school mates I tease him about that Freo jumper- let’s just say that it is a result of ‘compromise.’ The merger itself was an episode in the rivalry.

    I’m glad the students had a great time at Cohuna. From all reports they were a fantastic bunch of people .

    Can’t wait to have a look at the film.

  6. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    Hi pam,

    Can you please tell us the colours and the nicknames of the two clubs?

    And just how far back does it extend?
    This information is crucial to Daff’s thesis?

    Always interesting to see the socio-economic divide come into it…
    Cohuna for the townies & Union for the families – wonder if the name Union was an offspring of the name of a farmers’ organisation?

    Of course, the religious divide is often a popular explanation for divisions in towns for footy clubs.

  7. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    Hi again Pam,

    Just watched the film clip.

    Looks like were red & whites (Bloods?) v green & golds (Grasshoppers?) – which one is which?

    The bank on the corner looks like an old Bank of New South Wales….?

    How many pubs? Did the Cohuna footy club drink at the Cohuna Hotel? What was it called by locals?
    Shame the clip did not explore these issues…given its focus on football
    guess their geographers?

    Its a fascinating rivalry – it’d be great to know more about it.


  8. Richard E. Jones says

    Rocket, judging by the story at the top of Ivanka’s story Union wore the green and gold. The lecturer bloke walked into a Cohuna pub wearing the hated colours.

    Yep, Daff, fierce rivalries in the Bendigo F.L. QEO co-tenants South Bendigo and Sandhurst had the fiercest: South was the Protestant club, Sandhurst the Catholic.

    You can imagine the kerfuffle when Sandhurst champion Frank Lenaghan crossed to South. In my time big Bill Nalder was ‘shown the door’ by South president Jim Summers in the early 80s. No longer a coach, big Bill marched down the short distance to the Sandhurst rooms and was immediately placed on the Dragons’ list. (In your day Rocket the Hurst would have been the ‘Maroons’).

    To further rub salt into the South wounds, not only did Sandhurst beat the Square to win the 1983 flag [17.16 to 17.9] but Bill Nalder won the BOG award — apropriately called the Nalder Medal, named after a former top official of the Golden City F.L.

    And to forestall additional questions, I think Bill Nalder is related to the family after whom the medal is named.

    Of course, there’s great rivalries between the city-based clubs (South, Sandhurst, Square, Eaglehawk and Kang. Flat) but latterly the feeling between Kyneton and Gisborne when they clash is not a manufactured one.

    There’s real feeling there. Only problem is, the Kyneton Tigers can’t beat the Graveyard Bulldogs.

  9. pauldaffey says


    My father told me that South and Sandhurst were like different planets. Proddies played for one; Catholics the other.

    But when South were strong in the early 90s their teams included Catholics. Plenty of the kids from Catholic College Bendigo went to South under-18s (as well as Sandhurst and Square). The religious divide seems to have broken down by then.

    I remember playing against an Alan Nalder from Lalbert, who at the time was the captain of the Richmond under-19s and a student (I say that advisedly) at Melbourne High. There’s plenty of Nalders in the Swan Hill area.

    Is a big reason for the Kyneton-Gisborne rivalry the fact that Bundy Reaper left Kyneton for Gisborne amid controversy at both clubs? Nice bloke, Bundy, and not one to let the emotions of others affect him at all. The thought that he was at the centre of a brouhaha makes him chuckle. He now works at the VCFL.

    And, Rocket, I think you’re spot on regarding the Farmers Union. I might have to find out for sure.

  10. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says


    As you would expect there is a Rochester connection – Bill Nalder played with Rochy in the GVL after Richmond (yes, Daff he was originally from Swan Hill). Bill had married a Bamawm girl (Paisley O’Brien) and returned to the area to teach. Think he may have played with Lemnos before he was transferred to Bendigo. Awkward ruckman, played a bit like Barry Round, kicked the ball as well as him too, great bloke! Just like Roundy.


    The Frawleys and the Nihills lived in and around Elmore all went to play with Mount Pleasant – with all their cousins and fellow parishioners from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Even Mary Conroy featured in your best-seller Big Sticks used to travel to Mounts from Rochy to help out.

    A good mate of mine from Henty always claimed that Mangoplah-Cookardinia was a better footy team because they were nearly all Catholics & drank at the same pub (no choice there!) – whereas Henty had Protestants, Lutherans, and some Catholics and drank in separate pubs.

  11. George Callum says

    Have just viewed the film piece by the landscape architecture students at MU.
    At best it is self-indulgent, otherwise it is a wank.
    It gives us nothing.
    Leave it on You Tube.
    Not at an exhibition on the heritage of football!

  12. pauldaffey says


    You’re too harsh.

    My comment that it’s almost a work of genius is a bit ripe, but it was written in the fun context in which the film was made.

    The film is made by a student who’d never known anything about country footy. She doesn’t claim to be a footy historian.

    It’s her light-hearted comment on a weekend she really enjoyed, made in the light of her lecturers’ encouragement to think outside the square.

    As her lecturer, I think you’d be rapt with Ivanka’s innovation. And she’s got the essential elements of the rivalry right.

  13. Pamela Sherpa says

    Agree with Paul, it was a short film – great effort for a student who knew nothing about country footy in a small town and only spemt a weekend there. Squeezing the crux of the story into a short film was a challenge in itself. She has done it exceptionally well. I thought it was interesting the way she used different techniques/ material including the old photos and clippings to depict the history of the rivalry in the town. I found it very amusing and there are some clever, subtle elements in there too.
    Well done Ivanka

  14. Eudunda, just on the edge of the Barossa: top pub and bottom pub on tha basis of height above sea level.

    The good Lutherans of the town shared their time between the two.

    Footy team is called the Roosters. The ground is bigger than the Adelaide Oval, and the same shape. Wind hhowls. The footy can get caught in the golf course pocket for days.

  15. George

    The font of the pub’s name, and the semi-trailer load of 44 gallon drums, are enough. Tonihgt, for me, four stars.

  16. I can’t get over how such fierce rivals even contemplated merging let alone actually achieved it. Remarkable. Then again they found peace in Northern Ireland (mostly) so I guess they had a precedent.

  17. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    My research and some pertinent and valuable social information from Pamela Sherpa has helped me unveil more information about this intriguing rivalry.

    Cohuna (formed in 1913) originally wore red & white and were the Bloods; Union (formed in 1919) wore green & gold and were the Kangaroos (same as Dimboola). When they merged in 1996 and became the “Cohuna Kangas” they adopted the Cohuna name and Union’s nickname, but Fremantle colours (red, white, green, and purple, but no gold…).

    Dips – I think a major reason they merged was to be competitive in the new league, following the virtual merger of the Northern District league with the Mid Murray league, to create the Central Murray league. At the same time all their old rivals from the NDL got together, Leitchville merged with Gunbower, as did Barham and Koondrook. Kerang and Kerang Rovers had merged in 1991, and then took in Appin from the Kerand district leaguein 1996. The other original NDL club Pyramid Hill chose to move to the Loddon Valley district league. All the old Echuca league clubs went to Murray league, except for Lockington-Bamawm United who initially went to the Bendigo league and then to the Heathcote league.

    The closer settlement acts by the Victorian government in 1905 and the creation of the Torrumbarry Irrigation Area which provided for “intensive irrigation” in this part of northern Victoria in this period was very successful around Cohuna and Koondrook. Further major growth occurred after WWI with the soldier settlement of farms in the district – this is when the team known as Union came into existence. Clearly, more research needs to be done to ascertain whether it was the farmers that formed this club. From all reports the organisation known as the Farmers’ Union formed the football club.

    Interestingly enough, the local newspaper is called the Cohuna Farmers Weekly.

  18. Pamela Sherpa says

    Fortunately, Ross Bateman at Cohuna has done a marvellous job of preserving and maintaining the history of football in the district It’s on display at the Historical society in Cohuna. As mentioned -with the merging and changing of leagues it’s interetsing to look back on previous eras.

    Dips, rivals having to merge does seem unthinkable ( and it did to Cohuna and Union)- but geography plays a big part in the country.
    This has had to happen in many other places as well- sad, but a reality of the changing landscape of country football.

  19. Stuart Appleby is from Cohuna. He once told me that dairying motivated him to be a better golfer. If only I was the son of a dairy farmer.

  20. Daff,

    There been a few goings on between Kyneton and Gisborne. Bundy Reaper going after a dispute with coach George Ferguson there was alot of mouthing off at Bundy that day. Bundy won the mouthing off when we played them at home he took a mark in the goal square went back and drilled the ball about 3 streets away and made the comment ” You lost me and theres another $110 you just lost”.
    Maybe this year we will get close.

  21. Andrew Muir says

    Just logged on…. a few days after the last post’o (150), what a great read, thanks!

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