Hobart footy, late 1800s

In June 2014 I had a chance meeting with Nigel Reid on a wayfaring trip to North Hobart Oval. Nigel, director of the North Hobart Social Club, later sent me a copy of the North Hobart Football Club history: “Never Say Die.” It’s a beauty, written by many, though various chapters are attributed to Warren Brewer, Cecily Dougan, Peter McGee, Ross Gates, Geoff Poulter and Adrian Collins. It features a foreword by Dr Bruce Felmingham. Adrian Collins is acknowledged for his ‘meticulous research.’

With Nigel’s blessing, I can share some pearls here. (May include some things for the present rules committee to consider.)

The following excerpt is from “Never say die: The North Hobart Football Club; a history”

North Hobart 1892

North Hobart 1892 team

“Toward the end of the 19th century Hobart Town had grown rapidly. In 1880 there were approximately 22,000 people. By the end of that century the town’s population had almost doubled. The port crowded with ships and their crews engaged in whaling, sealing and general shipping came from around the world. Port Arthur prison had only recently been closed. Consequently the population included many ex-prisoners supplemented by new opportunists and adventurers mostly from the Victorian gold fields. It was a tough and lively town with an abundance of public houses and dance halls.”

Football emerges

“As early as 1866 there are press records of games of football being played on an occasional and social basis in locations such as “Charlie Butler’s paddock at Battery Point and the Cricket ground on the Domain”…. It seems they played a hybrid game combining aspects of Soccer, Rugby and Gaelic football. A similar situation prevailed in the North and Northwest. No wonder the game did not prosper as it did in Victoria. Conflicts about the rules, team size and grounds were frequent.”

“On 12 June 1879 however a significant development occurred with the formation of the Tasmanian Football Association… The first business to be conducted was the resolution of the rules problem. “The Victorian Code of Rules, with a minor alteration” was adopted. The “minor alteration” was the retention of the crossbar between the goal post requiring players to kick over it to score a goal… In the next decade the winter game quickly came to exceed cricket, in terms of team participation and attendance, as the principal sport on the island.”


The Rules

Rule 1 – The maximum length of Australian Rules Football ground shall be 200 yards, the minimum breadth shall be 100 yards. The length and breadth shall be marked off with flags, and the goals shall be upright posts, 8 yards apart, with a tape across them 10 feet from the ground.

Rule 2 – The winners of the toss shall have the choice of goals. The game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side winning the toss: the other side shall not approach within 10 yards of the ball until it is kicked off.

Rule 3 – After a goal is won the losing side shall kick off. In the event, however of no goal having fallen to either party at the lapse of half the allotted time, ends shall then be changed.

Rule 4 – When the ball is in touch, the last player who touches it shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left the ground, in a direction at right angles with the boundary line, and it shall not be in play again until it has touched the ground, and the player throwing it in, shall not play it until it has been played by another player.

Rule 5 – When the ball is kicked behind the goal line, it must be kicked off by the side behind whose goal it went within 6 yards from the limit of their goal. The side who thus kicked the ball are entitled to a fair kick off in whatever way they please without any obstruction, the opposite side not being able to approach within 6 yards of the ball.

Rule 6 – No player shall wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots.

Rule 7 – A goal shall be won when the ball is fairly kicked over the tape between the goal post, not being thrown, knocked on or carried.

Rule 8 – Running with the ball shall be allowed, provided that it is bounced on the ground at intervals of five yards.

Rule 9 – A player so running with the ball may be held by the opposite side.

Rule 10 – Neither tripping, nor hacking, nor pushing with the hand shall be allowed: and no player shall hold an adversary unless he is running with the ball.

Rule 11 – If a player throws the ball or passes it to another, the opposite side shall claim a free kick.

Rule 12 – Captains will decide all disputes.


“Never say die,” Chapter 1, written by Warren Brewer. Thanks for the permission of the Club Board to reproduce this here.

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Hi E.regnans,

    This is an interesting story and I didn’t know that rules had been different between states. Are current rules different to rules you mentioned here?


  2. I love reading about all the various forms of early footy.

    Thanks for sharing

  3. G’day Yoshi,
    The formative years of Australian Rules football would have been pretty interesting times. Lots of ideas, lots of opinions, across a wide land with communication and transport difficulties.
    I imagine that divergence of rules would have occurred across the areas where the game was being played.
    As for your last question – the short answer is “yes”.
    The rules (and their interpretation) are frequently reviewed and adjusted.
    Saying that, I’d love to see a Heritage Round in which all of those 12 rules are adopted. Imagine that. Cross-bars, flags. And Rule #12, alone, would be worth seeing in action.

  4. G’Day E.regnans,

    Thanks for your good explanations on footy rules. I have heard that too many rule changes had happened in AFL footy and many fans were not happy with changes.

    When and where is a Heritage Round played?

    Thanks :)


  5. Rule 5 is intriguing; two steps bounce, two steps bounce, be interetsing seeing a ‘Gabba’, or Manassa run bouncing so regularly. . Ditto rule 11; was the handpass invented then ?

    North Hobart, they’re the Demons, Devils,or some similar title i think ?

    Finally, who was the last North Hobart palyer to play in AFL ranks?


  6. G’day Yoshi,
    I’m not sure whether Heritage Round exists in the AFL any more. But in previous years, AFL marketing staff placed a “theme” name over some of the “rounds” of each season.
    For instance: “women’s round”. “rivalry round,” and others.
    Heritage round was a title given to a round in which teams would wear old-style jumpers and fans would be encouraged to think about the past.

    A better idea for a Heritage Round would be to adopt those 12 rules, and those 12 rules only, and see what kind of spectacle develops.

    G’day Glen,
    I’m don’t know about thiese points of history (the handpass, the last North Hobart player to play VFL/AFL). I’ll hand that over. Anyone?
    But yep, North Hobart are the Demons. Played the last couple of years as “Hobart City,” rather than North Hobart.

  7. G’Day E.regnans,

    I have researched Heritage Round in AFL and it seems to exist. Also I know that there are Indigenous Round and Multicultural Round, as well as before a game between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, women clubs representing both clubs play.

    It’s good that many footballers have different heritage – for example, Nick Riewodlt has German heritage and Leigh (Joey) Montagna has Italian heritage. Also I learned that the AFL has Irish heritage players such as Late Jim Stynes.


  8. Yoshi we have footballers drawn from all corners of the globe, as well as many indigenous players. I’m trying to think if we’ve had anyone of Japanese origins.

    I recall Peter Bell, whose origins were South Korean, but i can’t think of any one from Japan.

    Can any almanackers help me?


  9. Glen, I don’t think there is any footballer who has Japanese heritage. Unlikely to Chinese and South Korean, Japanese people are less likely to migrate to another country. I really want to move to Melbourne to fulfil my life in the very near future! I heard that the Western Bulldogs has a player who has Taiwanese heritage. – Yoshi

  10. Very interesting ER. You can see how much the early game was a modification on rugby union. Particularly Rule 4 sounds like the lineout in rugby. We have just added an umpire to do the throw, instead of the players as in rugby and the early game.
    You are penalised for a throw, but there is no mention of handball. Presumably the options were run or kick.
    Great stuff.

  11. Yeah good call, PB.
    Same with Rule 5. Sounds like a re-start in rugby.
    I can visualise the rolling maul of players, all without gutta percha on the soles or heels of their boots, following the ball around the fields of Battery Point.
    It’s a fine image.
    Gives pause for thought as to how we reached the game as it is today.

  12. TheBlackCat1859 says

    Does anyone know when the crossbar was removed? I can’t imagine it lasted that long (more than a decade or two).

  13. Daryl Sharpen says

    Last North Hobart (Robins then Demons) player to play in AFL might well be Colin Garland (Melb). The club unfortunately is no longer North Hobart but the “Hobart Demons”. Long (foolish) story; too long for here, a lunch, a few beers after work or even a sportsman’s night! Priors are Paul Williams, Peter ‘Percy’ Jones, Daryn Cresswell, Chris Bond, James Manson, Jim Wright & Simon Minton-Connell to name but a few. A lot of greats have played or coached there after illustrious careers incl. John Devine, Ian Bremner, Garry Davidson, Mark Yeates and even the so-called “lesser light” Brendon Bolton! Regarding club historian Adrian Collins, probably the most meticulous collector and assembler of footy historical records on the island.

  14. Jimmy Wright played for Geelong in the early 70’s. To my recollection he wore contacts. he was accused of allegedly kicking “Tuddy’ @ Windy hill in 1972. A tough wingman, flanker type. I don’t think he played many/any games after the kicking allegation.


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