Frank Hyett: Successful sportsman, unionist, politician and victim of the Spanish flu.



This story was first published by The Footy Almanac in 2011. It is about a successful sportsman, unionist and politician, Frank Hyett, who happened to die from the Spanish flu just after WW1. At the time time Glen Davis was seeking information about Hyett and he received an excellent response as can be seen in the comments section.





I don’t know much about Frank Hyett, but if any Alamanackers know more, I would be interested in hearing. Sportsman who can reach the higher levels of their chosen sport tend to be rare when it comes those who are also active in left wing politics in Australia, which is why I am interested in Frank.


His sporting claim to fame was as a cricketer for the Victorian Sheffield Shield team in the early 20th century. A keeper-batsman he played 3 games, and in his 4 innings he scored 129 runs at an average of 43.00, with a top score of 108no. I was informed he played VFL football for Carlton, but in my readings I can’t find him listed anywhere, so this does not seem accurate, though he certainly played locally for Brunswick.


Away from the sporting arena he was prominent, firstly in the Victorian Socialist Party of which he was a deputy secretary. Inspired by people like Tom Mann, and Federal Australian Labour Party Parliamentarian Frank Anstey, he joined the Australian Labour Party. In 1911 he helped form the Victorian Railways Union, and became its General Secretary. They were the fore runner of what is now the Rail, Bus and Tram Union. He was involved in the Victorian Trades Hall Council,and played an active role in the mighty struggles opposing conscription in this period.


Unfortunately he had a short life. He was born on 9 February 1882 at Bolwarra near Ballarat, and was one of many who perished in the influenza outbreak following the end of World War 1. On Anzac Day 1919, he passed away aged only 37, leaving a wife, and 3 young children. If any almanackers know more about his sporting prowess, or related issues please share.




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  1. I did a fourth year honours history thesis on Frank Hyett in 1970. You are most welcome to borrow it. Like you I was attracted to the mixture of radical socialism and sporting achievement. Technically Frank did not play Sheffield Shield because the competition was suspended during World War One but he certainly represented Victoria. During the time that Tom Mann was Secretary of the VSP (and Frank Hyett was his deputy) the VSP saw itself as a competitor of the ALP. Hyett and his colleague and close friend John Curtin joined the ALP when they became Union officials, They remained members of the VSP but after Mann left Melbourne it was a less radical organisation. Hyett became secretary of one of the Victorian craft unions on the railways and by a series of amalgamations helped to build it into a militant industrial union (the VRU). The ARU building in the 60s was actually called Hyett Hall but I am not sure that this building still exists

    I don’t think he ever played for Carlton. Curtin played for Brunswick and was on the committee at Carlton. I didn’t investigate this link when I did my thesis but perhaps Frank was on the Carlton committee as well. It would be fairly easy to check. Sometime during the struggle against conscription or the campaign for a Railway Wages Board there was an edition of the Melbourne Herald where Hyett was damned for his political actions on one page and praised for his cricket achievements on another. I don’t think another similar case occurred until Brisbane in the 60s when promising young tennis player Brian Laver (cousin of Rod) emerged simoultaneously as radical student leader Brian Laver. (unfortunately I no longer have the photocopy of the Melbourne Herald that I made about Frank Hyett in 1970)

    Glen, if you would like to borrow the thesis (or make a copy of it) email me on [email protected]


  2. Fantastic stuff – Glen & Dave. The intersection of sport, politics and society has always fascinated me -because it is people in their wholeness – not the one or two dimensions we see in politics, sport or workday life alone. A good friend always said to me “people are pretty normal until you get to know them better.”
    Would love to read the outcome of your research when it is realised. As an adolescent I loved the Frank Hardy’s portrait of all these people because it made them real and not bloodless archetypes. I could despise Wren and Anstey equally from opposing perspectives, and understand them sympathetically at the same time.
    Eddie Gilbert was the man I most saw in the crosshairs of politics, sport and society when I read his story as a kid. Mundine and Mark Ella rolled into one, without Muhammad Ali to give him a context.

  3. An interesting piece of Labour history. I too am not familiar with Frank Hyett, but if he was a friend of John Curtin and a sportsman, he may have been connected with the Victorian League of Sportsmen which was funded by John Wren.
    You might be intertested in a couple of good reads on Frank Anstey: Ian Turner’s biography and Peter Love’s article in the Labour History Journal about 10 years ago.
    Do you blokes have any connection with the Melbourne branch of the Labour History Society? I was a member about 30 years ago when John Arrowsmith was secretary and Lloyd Edmonds was treasurer. At this time we produced two journals – one on the eight hour day movement and one on the revolt at Eureka.
    The history of Eddie Gilbert’s non selection for the Australian cricket team was racial discrimination at it’s worst.

  4. Glen.

    Ken Williams, Cricket Victoria’s honarary statistician has been involved in the massive atsk of attempiting to compile player stats for all players in District/Premier cricket since its inaugural season of 1905/06.

    Some records remain incomplete, but bravo Ken, you are a champion.

    Frank Hyett represented Coburg in their only season of District Cricket (1905/06) and in his 5 games made 18 runs at an average of 3.60, including a top score of 10. Didn’t bowl, no catches/ 1 stumping.

    In 49 games for the Carlton Cricket Club between 1914/15 & 1918/19 he made 980 runs at an average of 23.33, with a top score of 118. His 980 runs included 1 century and 4 half centuries. He took 0/22 with the ball, in a career that included 24 catches & 35 stumpings.


  5. G’day Mark, i’ve always liked history, and combining sport and politics is something i am interested in. I have a History background, majoring in history as an under-graduate, and doing my Honours in History ,with a thesis on Ned Kelly; no it wasn’t sporting linked. I have presented a history segment on 3CR since 1994, and am always interested in knowing more. I recall both Lloyd Edmonds, Spanish Civil War veteran, and John Arrowsmith, and their small, occasional publication, was it the recorder? So if we can find some more news on progressive sporting figures, i would be interested.

  6. Alovesupreme says

    Fairly recently, I read David Day’s biography of Curtin, and there’s some detailed references to Hyett in the book. Curtin and Hyett were best mates as you probably know. I expect that this isn’t news, and certainly Dave N’s thesis will be a more useful source.

  7. Ta, Alovesupreme. Are there any other progressive sporting types we know about?, I know people like Brent Croswell had decent left politics, but how many others do we know of who were prominent in both left wing poltics and the sporting arena?

  8. Glen – Bob Hawke? Not sporty enough? Not left enough?

    I’m sure Dawn Fraser political.

  9. Glen, unfortunarely I think you may struggle to find progressive left sportspeople/socialists/communists who were or are active in politics. Most of them are conservative people and have been used by the major parties in State politics for their celebrity status popularity rather than their political philosophy and idealogy. This probably should not be a surprise because the history of this country is one of anti-intellectualism where most people do not have a great knowledge of history, political philosophy and literature. Examples of progressive lefties are probably more likely in the first half of the twentieth century, especially in the post great depression time when the Communist Party had 30,000 odd members/supporters, but this was relativlely shortlived. The Liberal party has probably attracted many more sportspeople than the Labour party. I agree that Brent Crosswell and Dawn Fraser as two possible examples of lefties. I think Ian Chapple could be another with his support of humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. I believe that very few sportspeople listen to quality radio stations such as the ABC Radio National and 3CR where there is the best coverage of philosophy and history. I once heard Warwick Hadfield, who used to work as a media manager for the Geelong Footy Club, say that he knew of only 3 AFL people who listened to Radio National and they were Mick Malthouse, Kevin Sheedy and Chris Judd.
    What is your 3CR program?

  10. Justin Madden – leftie
    Kirstie Marshall – leftie
    Peter Garret – leftie (I think he likes sport!)

  11. Glen, As well as my honours thesis there is also one done on Frank Hyett by someone at Latrobe in thelate 70s. David Day refers to it in his book on Curtin.

    There were several sportsmen who became Labor politicians but most could not really be described as Lefties. Nipper Trezise at Geelong springs to mind. Daryl Baldock in Tasmania is another. Both great sportsmen and decent blokes and reasonable pollies, but not leftwingers in the sense that Hyett or the young Curtin were.

    There was a former State Secretary of the CPA in South Australia who played Shield Cricket for the croweaters named Sutherland. I have forgotten his first name but there will be other almanacers who will remember it.

    During the MUA strike/lockout of 1998 Peter Bedford and Bernie Evans who had both worked as wharfies were part of an MUA ad in the Football Record. Again, I don’t think either of these guys were radicals but any MUA member tends to be a bit left of centre – goes with job.

  12. Glen, you have opened an interesting ‘can of worms’ here. Well done!
    Another possible couple of names for your list of progressive lefties – Gordon Briscoe, who was a talented Aboriginal soccer player who played in England and had an influential career in Aboriginal affairs, especially the health and legal services, and was a qualified historian. I have just seen a very interesting history doco. on NITV, which also mentions Charlie Perkins, another talented soccer player who played in England and in the N.S.L. – Charlie had a great career in political action with things such as the Freedom Ride in the ’60’s and government administration in the ’70’s. I also think that Charlie Perkins was the first aboriginal to get a uni. degree. The doco. also mentions Briscoe’s memoir ‘Racial Folly’, which is probably worth reading.

  13. Alovesupreme says

    Mike Fitzpatrick leaned left, although I guess in the eyes of most Almanacers, his record is now coloured by his association with League Headquarters.

    John Devine, Tom Veivers and Gil Langley are examples of those recruited to Labor politics for their name recognition, just as you cite Baldock and Tresize, DN. Justin Madden is in a similar category, although he and Simon both were active in the Players’ Association when it behaved more like a union.

    Dave, There’;s also a question here of the worker/intellectual divide, as evidenced by your recall of Bernie Evans and Peter Bedford associating themselves with the MUA at the time of the dispute. Billy Swan (Dane’s dad) was also a wharfie,iirc, and I would expect that there would be a stack of Port Melbourne and Williamstown names from the past who would fit the worker/lefty association.

    Phil Cleary qualifies, provided his VFA career meets the sport prominence criterion.

    Mordi Bromberg, now a judge, sought Labor pre-selection, and had a brief career at St. Kilda.

  14. Alovesupreme says

    It’s always been assumed that Steve Waugh is on the progressive side of politics, perhaps just in comparison with most others in his very conservative sport; the children’s orphanage and a curiousity about the sub-continent is very evident in his writings, and he was an acknowledged republican (cf. Tubby Taylor).

    As a Blues’ supporter, I have to acknowledge jsut slightly off-topic, a dark secret. Dennis Armfield was the Carlton player answering the personal questions in last week-end’s Football Record. He responded to the question of your “favourite Australian personality” …… John Howard.

  15. Glen, your interesting topic of discussion has got me thinking about what it means to be active in left wing politics. I believe it has evolved from the times of people such as Frank Hyett, Frank Anstey and Tom Mann in the early 20th century when there was genuine committment to socialism. My understanding of the political terms ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ is that they mean liberal and conservative respectively. These meanings originate at the time of the French revolution when liberals sat on the left side of the speaker and conservatives sat on the right side.
    Over time I think left wing has meant an allegiance to socialist and communist ideologies and right wing has meant an allegiance to capitalism.
    In today’s world of ALP and union poiltics, allegiance to the left or right faction is unclear and is often done for expediency purposes only. My experience of being involved as a member of the Victorian ALP left wing faction in the 70’s as a branch secretary and state delegate was that some left wingers were not liberal or progressive for some issues such as women’s and aboriginal peoples equality. The Communist Party was generally more liberal/progressive/left wing on these issues.
    Ideologies such as socialism, communism and capitalism are not relevant in today’s world where most people believe in a pluralist welfare society with social democratic governments and freedom of speech and association. I believe that our socialist forefathers in the trade unions and the ALP played a significant role in this outcome.
    With respect to most of the sportspeople mentioned in this discussion, I believe that they are liberally minded without being radical and their motives have been to try and make a difference and improve the human rights of all people.

  16. I have been very disappointed in Justin Madden as he was probably the most effective President the Players’ Association ever had. There is no doubt he was quite progressive in the days he played football and early in his ALP career. However he ended up as one of the worst planning ministers Victoria has ever had. He simply didn’t seem to know how to say no to developers no matter how shonky their plans were.

    It is possible that some of the kudos Justin earned as AFLPA President should have gone to Mordi Bromberg who was the barrister representing and advising Madden and his committee in 1993. The story (which I haven’t verified) is that Mordi was Players Association Rep at St Kilda and that that was why was cut from their list prematurely. He wouldn’t have been the first Players’ Association delegate cut by a conservative committee, Essendon did the same thing to Ray Smith some years earlier. Mordi however was the only one to get revenge in the Arbitration Court.

  17. Dave,
    I had also heard that story about Mordi Bromberg being axed from St Kilda
    for political reasons.

  18. Alovesupreme says

    A couple of other blasts from the past which are vague deposits in my memory, which I hope may be clarified by some other almanackers from my era:
    Four Australian rugby union players who toured South Africa in 1969, were radicalised by their experience, and were active opponents of the notorious 1971 Springbok tour. The only name I can recall is Paul Darveniza, and I note (Wiki) that he played his last test in Bloemfontein in 1969; this may be related to his “political” stand.

    The other reference is clear in my mind but I have no idea of the names of those involved. 8 May 1970 saw a spectacularly successful moratorium march against Australian involvement in the Vietnam War. The following day North Melbourne (wooden-spooners for the season) were heavily defeated, scoring only 5 goals. The Age report of the game noted without naming them that three North Melbourne players sat down in Bourke Street on Friday, and observed rather cruelly that the team virtually sat out the match the following day.

    Dave, Your criticism of Justin M. is fair enough, but in the context of a Government that is (was) hell-bent on population growth, the Planning Ministry is a poisoned chalice, probably more so even than Transport and Health – the traditional State Government activities which present insoluble difficulties. It would challenge Solomon to reconcile, the advocates of “save our suburbs” with their opposition to higher density housing and those arguing against the extension of suburbia, unless there are plausible policies for restricting population growth in aggregate or specifically within the metropolis.

  19. Alovesupreme.
    1. There certainly were Rugby Union players who came back from South Africa as active opponents of Apartheid but like you I have forgotton their names.

    2. I remember that Age Report and the cruel comment about North Melbourne. As an active member of the Moratorium campaign and a football fan I tried to find out the names at the time but I had no links to North or the sports journalists on The Age so I never did find out who they were. I believe Brent Crosswell also participated (much to the annoyance of R.D. Barassi who was a member of the Liberal Party at the time and Crossa’s coach at Carlton) Carl Ditterich’s mother was a member of Save Our Sons but I rather think if Big Carl had been on the March someone would have photographed him and put it in the paper, particularly in light of the fact that one of the papers did print a picture of Saints’ coach Sgt Jeans on duty during the Moratorium

    3. I think your comments about the impossible position that Planning Ministers in “high growth” Governments find themselves are reasonable, but I also think that Justin had a total personality change as Planning Minister. As a footballer and as a Youth and Sport Minister he always had a self-deprecatory, humorous approach which allowed him to charm opponents. As Planning Minister he moved into Architect mode (he was an architect before he entered Parliament) and started displaying the “I know better than my clients” approach that far too many architects have.

  20. Two VFL premiership players that I remember from the Hawke Government days of the 80’s. Both were Assistant National Secretaries in the ALP National Office in John Curtin House. Both were genuinely good blokes who showed a real commitment to progressive politics over the careerism of today.
    Geoff Pryor played on a half back flank in the Essendon premiership of 1965, and full back in their losing grand final of 1968. Geoff retired in 1974, and was the Inaugural President and driving force in the foundation of the AFL Players Association. He was one of 5 Essendon players who went on strike for the first game of 1970 when they wanted $3 instead of $1 for every training session and a minimum $40 a game for the first 50 games of a career. The club wanted to pay it but was prohibited by the VFL. There is a fascinating record of how badly treated the players were in the early 70’s in correspondence from Geoff and David ‘Swan’ McKay at Today the AFLPA has a Geoff Pryor Hardship Fund that pays medical expenses of ex-players who have found hard times. From my memory of him in Canberra in the ‘80s Geoff had a social activism that went far beyond football.
    Ken Bennett was a wingman/rover in the famous Collingwood 1958 premiership team, when Murray Weideman distracted the brilliant Melbourne team with fisticuffs while his teammates won the game. I can remember Ken’s cheeky grin 30 years later when Collingwood premiership players were as rare as rocking horse shit after the disappointments of 1970, 1977, 1981 etc etc. The Collingwood Past Players Newsletter records “Among a group of mellow and dignified, yet proud men, perhaps the most interesting in terms of life after football is Ken Bennett. He is the pint-sized, crew-cut, blond apparently standing up to Big Bob Johnson in a famous photo from the game that portrays the intensity of the day. Then only 18, Bennett drily says his assertiveness in that moment came from the fact that “Weed” was standing nearby. After football, Bennett became involved in politics and rose to the position of assistant national secretary of the ALP. He now lives in the Aboriginal community of Wadeye, south-west of Darwin, and has committed himself to improving the circumstances of indigenous people in that desperately under-resourced, under-privileged part of Australia. He does this in honour of his late wife — the Elaine Bennett Scholarship fund is her legacy.” Sadly a later newsletter records that Ken had a serious car accident in late 2009.
    Both champion blokes and premiership players who have given a lot to society through their lives after footy.

  21. Switching to right-arm around the wicket, I note that “Big” Carl Rackemann has signed on for Bob “The Mad” Katter’s Party….highly unsurprising on all counts.

  22. Well this has certainly been an interesting process. A few further points from me. I am unsure if my political lexicon includes ALP parliamentarians as left, or progressive. Certainly, in some ways, they are preferrable to overt right wingers from the Libs, etc, though in hindsight people like Brian Dixon looks progressives as our world lurches further, and further Right. Dixon as a minister in the Hamer Liberal Govt of the 1970’s had some empathy with people represented through his portfolio, though how some one of his back ground ended up in the Libs always had me stumped when i was a youngster. I imagine the Melbourne footy club might have been a factor. Ta to Mark Doyle , re some of your points. My history segment is part of Susanna Duffy’s Left after Breakfast @ 09-00 on Fridays. I am curious re points about North players and the 1970 moratorium; which game did North score the 5 goals post moratorum? I recall a North v Fitzroy game around then at Arden st, or was it North v Collingwood? Need to check up my scores. There is the more recent photo of the Bulldogs Robert Murphy with the anti-Iraq invasion slogan displayed in a team photo circa 2003-2004. Thankyou to all for your comments, and let’s continue this conversation re the mixture of sport and politics. Glen!

  23. How/when did those on the left of politics hijack the word “progressive”. Its always intrigued me.

  24. Good reminders re Ken Bennett and Geoff Pryor. I think Craig Turley and Chris Lewis might also be involved with some remote area aboriginal community. I remember meeting Ken Bennett and his wife at the Clyde Cameron College in Wodonga about 1979 or 1980 and they were both impressive people.
    Re rugby union, the liberal progressive people that should be remembered are the Watson brothers who refused to play for South Africa in protest against the Apartheid regime. I think they were actively involved in the protest movement with other liberal white South Africans as well as playing with and coaching black people in the townships.
    Re Justin Madden – his name is mud in Barwon Heads because of a couple of his planning decisions.
    Glen, I agree re Brian Dixon and Dick Hamer – they along with blokes such as Fred Chaney, Chris Puplick and Ian McPhee were/are more liberal and progressive than a lot of ALP people.
    Further to mentions of Dawn Fraser and Kirstie Marshall, are there any other sportswomen deserving of mention?

  25. Well Mark, one we would not mention is Margaret Court,w hose politics are of the extreme Christian right. Mischa Merz, the boxer and author is quite progressive, also i have an inlikng Nona Peris-Kneebone has some progressive links, but i’m not 100% sure. Beyond that i’m not too sure of Australian sportswomen. Back to AFL, didn’t ‘Crackers’ Keenan, and another player, who i can’t recall, appear inj some anti Workchoices material. I think it was an indigenous player, but i can’t recall who. Can someone shed some light on this?

  26. JTH would know about Nathan Djekurra’s family who, i think, have poitical roles in NT Gov’t.
    Blokes like Maurice Rioli, of course, have been Reps.
    “Point” Percy tried once upon a time!

  27. I don’t suppose that Graham Cornes’ wife counts!!

    Nipper Trezise seemed more than token.

    Doug Nicholls became Governor of South Australia!

  28. Yes ‘Point Percy’ was a Liberal candidate quite a few years back. I can’t recal if it was State or Federal, but he proved a far more talented footballer than political aspirant.

  29. Gerard Neesham always seemed an unconventional thinker, a political thinker and a social contributor.
    His successor at Freo, Damian Drum, became a pollie.

  30. Glen, Margaret Court’s sister and niece in Albury are the family radicals. I have a vague memory that Shirley Strickland-Delahunty was once a candidate for the federal parliament, but cannot remember which party that she was aligned with and do not know anything about her politics. Apart from her athletics career I think she had some science career.

  31. Alovesupreme, Dennis Armfield might have been referring to the actor. After all, he played the lead role in the movie version of David Williamson’s “The Club”.

  32. Alovesupreme says

    I wish! Recall actor John Howard’s famous appearance in the Games with an apology to the Indigenous Australians (for foreign consumption). “Good evening, I am John Howard, and I’m speaking to you from Australia…”
    Shirley Strickland-DeLaHunty ran for the Democrats (as a Senate candidate, I think).
    Percy Jones was the Liberal Candidate for the State seat of Melbourne in an election in the 1980s. Damian Drum is a current Member of the Victoria Parliament as a National.
    Crio, Re Nipper Tresize, I think Dave was making the point that he and Baldock who became Ministers in Victoria and Tasmania respectively, were probably chosen for the name recognition factor, rather than any overt political profile they had prior. I’d agree that Tresize was an effective Minister, and notably from your POV for the racing industry.
    Nigel Smart ran as a Liberal (Norwood) in the SA State election prior to the current one (2006?)
    Doug Wade was a National Party candidate (Polwarth) in a Victorian State election in the 1980s or thereabouts.
    Dips, I’d suggest that progressive was associated with the left in comparison to the alternative of conservative (whether lower case or capital “C”). From a divergent perspective, I’m equally unhappy with the word reform being used for any change which the advocate wants. The Reform Acts of 1832 in the British Parliament were about extending the franchise and removing some of the egregious features of the pre-existing electoral system.

  33. Alovesupreme – yes “reform” is used whenever anyone wants to go to the toilet these days. Inherent in the use of the word “reform” in a political conversation, is that the change will be good, which of course is nonsense. It also carries with it a presumption that things MUST always change, which is equally nonsensical.

  34. Dips there is only thing in life which is constant, and that is change. Day becomes night, tomorrow becomes today, young becomes old, life becomes death; change isn’t always good, but it is constant.

  35. Wally Lewis made a very public show of his support for the MUA in the infamous waterfront dispute of not too long ago.

    Interestingly as a young tacker I met Eddie Gilbert a couple of times whilst I was playing cricket at the very beautiful Wolston Park Ground just west of Brisbane. Eddie was an inmate at the adjacent Wolston Park mental institution and was let out on Saturday afternoons to watch the games there. He asked me for a cigarette.

    On another occasion I was playing golf on the course that also abutted the institution when I hooked a drive badly over the fence. I approached the fence and asked the nearest inmate, Eddie, to throw me the ball. He once again asked me for a cigarette. Being a non-smoker I had to ask my playing partner for one which I passed through the fence to Eddie and he dutifully handed me the ball.

  36. Wasn’t there a story during the Bjielke- Petersen days of the Nationals using Wally Lewis in an election commercial only to have Lewis object and publicly declare his support for Labor?

  37. Wow, the comments make for interesting reading nine years on.
    And Mark Doyle. Whatever happened to him?

  38. Colin Ritchie says

    A history lesson in those comments above. I must check some of the info out.

  39. Kevin Densley says

    Australian history is filled with interesting figures like Frank Hyett, who combined notable sporting and public lives. The many comments above point to this, of course. Excellent to hear a little about him, and hope that considerably more has been discovered since the article was written.

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