Almanac Rugby League – Glory, Glory to South Sydney

by Arabella Douglas


The chant “Glory, glory to South Sydney” will be ringing loud in rugby league loving Aboriginal homes and Aboriginal communities this Grand Final weekend.


To understand the importance of rugby league, and in particular the South Sydney Rabbitohs, to Aboriginal people, you need to look back in time and understand the social constructs which have shaped the experience of Aboriginal people over time.  The passion of the game and what it means to Aboriginal families starts at a time before structures or imposed policies demanded you know your tribe, language group, clan or the country you were from. My family comes from the Tweed area in northern New South Wales and my community was simply known as the ‘coloured’ area, which included the ‘Blacks’ of the coast – a fishing village of ‘Aboriginal Natives’ and Islanders from South Seas, Solomon and parts of New Hebrides that colloquially became just ‘Islander’.


For a community that worked hard in labour intensive jobs, like cane cutting, working farms, fishing and tree felling in the surrounding areas, the work was hard, and the rules were harder. You could be a great worker, and take pride in being quick in the paddock or a strong workhorse, however gaining respect on the farm did not always translate to respect off the farm and access to the pubs or other parts of working man’s life within regional Tweed. Many families were measured on how respected their males were as workers and that conversation still lingers on the lips of the locals today, albeit after a comment about how too sensitive people are now.


The ‘Blacks’ during this period were allowed to be good at sport, music and hard work. Local opportunity was vey much based on how the community defined you, and your capabilities. Education was limited to a special ‘Blacks’ year 4 during the time of my grandparents, yet the community flourished in its attraction to education through the study of theology, and the words and books from the missionaries. Upon reflection I often wonder what would have been our history had those books been books of science, maths or an encyclopedia of ideas.


The internal struggle for my family was to retain their dignity, assert their humanness and demand respect within this bubble. Being good Christian folks seemed to be the easiest channel of acceptance and Fingal Head embraced it. The women in my family were church going people and encouraged their children to attend and participate in the music education offered to them through the church.  Sport and being acknowledged for this gift was also the other badge of honor bestowed upon the ‘coloured’.


It was no surprise then, that for my Uncle Geoffrey Douglas Compton, a man growing up in the 1950s who learnt music through the church, that as he developed his ideas it was music that took him to the city and took him to Redfern: and the blending of sport and music became the foothold of maturing acceptance.


As a young regional man becoming politicised in Redfern it may have felt like church versus suffocation. For Uncle Geoffrey this resulted in a journey to the music scene culminating in joining forces with other talented musicians Mac Silva and Steve Lugnan to win ‘Battle of Bands’ (‘The Voice’ of its day), and playing at a Labor party event that thrust forward their new leader, a tall man called Gough.


The other stream of political consciousness that permeated the mind was sport, used as a tool to set the level playing field in its attempt to reflect the new horizon of a maturing Australia.  Uncle Geoffrey embraced rugby league, playing for the Redfern All Blacks and becoming a devoted life long South Sydney Rabbitohs fan.


The South Sydney Rabbitohs – the team in which the socially marginalised felt accepted and valued, which embraced the working class as the superior driver. High brow social commentators like Malcolm Gladwell talk of the necessity for encouraging disruption with a dash of adversity to create resilience which breeds brilliance, innovation and tenacity. If that is the case, the Black communities had that in spades and the Redfern All Blacks and South Sydney were the sentinels for the Redfern Mecca. When we didn’t have options to exercise that tenacity in other spaces, the grace of rugby league became a foothold to define ourselves differently.


The Platform of League – The rivers of gold

Rugby league took over rugby union in the Tweed in 1914 when Billy Boland passed a motion seconded by Jerry Riordan that the Tweed Wednesday Rugby Union, play rugby league instead of union. The grace of the football gods played their next hand, in the shape of the South Sydney Club coming to the Tweed, without stars Howard Hallet and Harold Horder but still including Arthur Oxford and Roy Almond. You can imagine the delight of the locals!


What non-Indigenous folks may not appreciate is that by Souths visiting the Tweed it set long lasting grooves in the psyche of my community affirming three things: (1) rugby league was the game of the future for the Northern Rivers; (2) the game was colour blind; (3) and if that wasn’t magical enough, the Sydney football club that appreciated ‘Black’ talent was South Sydney.


Following this visit from South Sydney, the All Blacks rugby league team was started in Chinderah and then became known as the Tweed All Blacks before becoming the Redfern All Blacks – with my family and most of the ‘Black’ families in the area having starters and stars in most years. Souths became a reflection of possibility, appreciation and value; a spiritual kiss for the ignored.  From those years ‘Blacks’, ‘coloured’ ‘natives’ and ‘Islanders’ played well and played hard, as sign of integration, as sign of strength, as a sign physical prowess that bred an affection from the white in the districts, and the broader league followers.


Pride of the communities in being a football star became one of the first signifier of excellence and this itself is still the podium to which young Indigenous men frequently aspire. To be a great player means more than being a great athlete it means taking and holding community respect in such a way it is like trading gold between communities and generations. The trade is the value measured by the high regard of the game and the value of the talents being shared, allowing a family, a community to boast about the success which by osmosis infects the family and the community like gold dust swirling within the stories.


I suspect there are a number of small towns on which the pressure of the town rested its aspirations for a local football star, but what is unique about Indigenous communities is that our stars not only got to prove they were good enough to be the hero of the town, they also got to prove that a suppressed people, a hidden people, an excluded people were still there – proud, brave and deadly talented.


The feeling is more akin to how Australians feel taking down the English in cricket, Union or many years ago tennis. A ‘national’ surge of emotional connection which was demanded by the win, or demanded by the star. If you accept, as you should, that Indigenous communities are nations and multi nations, then you start to appreciate how communities and families felt a surge of nationhood for their local star, and more broadly for any Indigenous star, that does well on the football field.


I often wondered whether sport could be religion, my own mantra is kindness is my religion. Yet when I consider the brilliance of my family roots, the struggle of humanity against brutality, and the eruptions of talent, in music and on the football field and in the untold stories of excellence that abound in my family and throughout Aboriginal communities more broadly. I can only believe that to erupt from a volcano of suppression for a river of talented gold you have to be met with those that caress its flow and encourage its journey.


The South Sydney Football Club is such a place and for that Aboriginal communities and my family and will forever chant Glory Glory to South Sydney.


In honour of Geoffrey Douglas Compton – 8 August 1946 – 31 August 2014.

Son of Ivy Compton (nee Currie) and John Lomassa (Lomas)

Grandson for Charles Currie and Elizabeth Slabb

Great grandson James Currie I and Ellen Currie I

Father to Bernadette, Eliza, Ragina, Letitia, Joshua, Adam, Geoffrey Jnr (dec)






  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Congrats Arabella. And to Souths as well. A great sporting story. I recall watching the ABC series on Souths some years ago and was fascinated by the culture of the club.

  2. Well done Arabella and the Rabbitohs on the great writing and the great win. You beautifully put Souths and their indigenous fans and players in the broader context of discrimination, struggle and achievement.
    It is a sad and beautiful story, beautifully told that deserves a wider audience.
    Well played.

  3. Wonderful yarn Bella

  4. Patrick_Skene says

    A joy to read Arabella,

    I felt your words resonate on the streets of Redfern on Sunday night.

    Black and white bound by the red and green.

    Glory Glory indeed!!

  5. Peter Fuller says

    Thanks Arabella for this great story. I hadn’t realised the extent of Souths’ engagement with indigenous communities beyond their Redfern territory. Your account had extra interest for me, as my Dad was involved with the Rabbitohs during their glory years in the 30s. As he was a noted bullshitter, I’m not sure if I can trust his claim that he couldn’t make the seniors only because of the internationals in the side.
    Last night was a wonderful occasion, and a superb performance by the red and green (I’m unconvinced by this cardinal and myrtle propaganda).

  6. Fantastic read Arabella. As a Victorian I don’t much know the history of Rugby League and each team’s fit and connection to the community. What I should know more about though, is the story of indigenous Australia, which sadly I don’t as our education system is sadly lacking in this aspect. Glad that you have shared your family’s and your community’s story with sport via the Almanac and hope to read more from you in the future.

  7. Thanks Arabella. Brilliant.

  8. A good yarn Arabella, giving me more appreciation of this important subject. When i was younger i was influenced by the all so true adage, “White Australia has a Black History.” This yarn provides further evidence of the importance of that statement.


  9. Neil Anderson says

    I’m blown away by your writing. Both the quality and the content. I have never followed the NRL except occasionally keeping an eye on the Bulldogs. Until the lead-up to the Grand Final and the history of the Rabbitohs being mentioned all the time, I had no idea the Club was based in Redfern. All I knew was that Russell Crowe was a part owner and Andrew Denton was a celebrity supporter,
    Thanks to the Rabbitohs (my new NRL team) great win, your wonderful writing and programs like ‘Redfern Now’ we learn more about those hidden and excluded people you talk about,

  10. An excellent article and great tribute to your late uncle. It’s a pity that he missed the Rabbitohs well deserved victory.

  11. Great read, many thanks and here’s to the joy of what your writing celebrated.

  12. Great reading Arabella. Growing up in the catholic tradition the Glory Be is a prayer that Is said along with the rosary ( it’s been a while and stand to be corrected) as hymn of praise and affirmation; something in the tone of your writing and the title of your article that reminds me of this. Thx

  13. Thank you so much to all of those that commented and enjoyed the article.

    I genuinely appreciate the time and effort in reading my article, and you taking the time to provide a view. I will be contributing more in relation to the dynamics of power and race and how that relationship is often expressed through sport in the first instance and as the first arena of change.

    I hope that you will find it engaging.

    Warmest energy

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