Footy History: Frank Ivory

Mbird Frank Ivory

Frank Ivory


Australia’s best Indigenous footballer of the nineteenth century was a Queenslander. Frank Ivory hailed from Maryborough, 160 miles north of Brisbane. Fifty years after his playing days newspaper reports noted that Ivory was one of “the greatest footballers Queenslanders had ever seen”.


Prior to the mid 1880s the football clubs of Queensland played Australian Rules. The Brisbane Football Club was formed in 1866, and over the next twenty years more than 50 Australian Rules clubs were formed throughout the northern colony.


Australian Rules was particularly strong in the Wide Bay region where the code was played in all schools. Frank Ivory attended Maryborough Grammar. Frank’s mother, Caroline, was from the Wakka Wakka tribe in the Burnett District. His father, Francis, a descendant of a Scottish Lord, was the parliamentary representative for his electorate.


By the late 1880s Frank Ivory was playing in Maryborough for the Victorias Football Club and was clearly the best player in the competition. It was an era where selection in colonial representative teams was usually restricted to players from the capital city. Frank Ivory was the only player from a regional centre to be selected for Queensland Australian Rules teams in 1889 and 1890.


When Queensland were defeated by the all-conquering South Melbourne at the Breakfast Creek Sports Ground in 1890 Frank Ivory was in the best players.


Reports noted that Ivory’s name “was a household word”. He was a “veritable hero” who was a “humble man” and an “ideal sportsman” who was “unperturbed” by his fame. Ivory’s “great turn of speed and football brain” were lauded. His “splendid physique” and “great record on and off the field” were noted, as was the fact that most of the rugby and Australian Rules clubs in Brisbane would seek his services. They had “never seen a better player”.


Indigenous presence in football was almost non-existent throughout the nineteenth century. Albert “Pompey” Austin, who won many prizes in athletics, played one match for Geelong in 1872. Joe Johnson played for Fitzroy between 1904 and 1906.


An Aboriginal team from the Point McLeay and Poonindie missions played Adelaide clubs in the mid-1880s. In 1889, at the time Frank Ivory was emerging as a star of Queensland football, a number of Indigenous
footballers were making their mark in South Australia. Harry Hewitt (1889–92), W. Rankin (1892), J. Wilson (1891–92) and Alfred “Darkie” Spender (1889) were playing for the Medindie (later North Adelaide) Football Club.


Jimmy Melbourne (West Perth 1900–01, South Fremantle 1902, Subiaco 1903–04) is recognised as the first senior Indigenous footballer in Western Australia.


The presence of an Indigenous athlete in an all-white team was extremely rare in both Queensland and the rest of Australia. Johnny Mullagh was the only other Indigenous athlete to represent his colony in the nineteenth century. He played cricket for Victoria against England in 1879.


Australian Rules ceased in Maryborough after 1890 and Frank began a brilliant rugby career that saw him play rugby for Queensland in 1893 and 1894.


Not only was Ivory the first and only Aboriginal sportsman of the nineteenth century to represent Queensland in a team sport, he was clearly Australia’s best Indigenous footballer (of any code) in this period.


This is an extract from Murray  Bird’s Athenians and Red Invincibles: The Origins of football in Queensland which will be launched at the Royal Melbourne Hotel, 629 Bourke St, Melbourne, on Thursday, June 18 at 6pm.


Murray Bird

[email protected]




  1. Interesting stuff. Why did Aussie Rules wane in popularity in QLD after being so strong in the early days?

  2. Terrific photo. Love the fob watch. He looks quick and alert even sitting down. Reckon he would have been lightning on the field. Thanks Muz.

  3. Dr Rocket says

    This is excellent Murray.

    Too many great footballers from the 19th century and early 20th century haven’t been recognised because of lack of awareness about them. Your body of work will help to redress this.

    Look forward to securing a copy of the book. Hard to believe that my son’s school, Ipswich Grammar School played Australian football long before they played rugger.

  4. Fred Ivory, like Eddie Gilbert was in the wrong place in the wrong time. If he was playing now who knows how he’d be perceived.


  5. Allan Godbold says

    Murray, I am Frank Ivory’s great nephew and am pleased to read your write up. However not only was he an accomplished football player but also an administrator of the code at local levels in Qld. He was also an outstanding cricketer and all round athlete. From a factual viewpoint Frank was not of Wakka Wakka heritage. His mother Caroline, my great grandmother, was from the Gureng Gureng Clan. I have detailed news paper clippings, photos etc covering his exploits and life history. Allan G

Leave a Comment