Revelling in the Riverina: Episode 8 – Bowsers, Wowsers, and Peppercorn Trees

REVELLING in the Riverina



The vintage years


Episode 8:                                                                

Bowsers, wowsers and peppercorn trees



Ariah Park, NSW (the ‘Northern Jets’ – Ariah Park-Mirrool merged with Ardlethan in 2004 – Farrer Football Netball League)


Stage 8: Barellan to Ariah Park


This stage of our Riverina journey is a classic road trip day of pub stops, visits to footy grounds and strolls around quiet country villages.


Continuing eastwards along Burley Griffin Way towards Ariah Park, keep your eyes open for the railside villages of Moombooldool and Kamarah. At our first stop we will park the Falcon under the trees beside the old recreation reserve at Moombooldool. In days long gone we could have wet our whistles with a Burnleys Ale, for sixpence a mug, at the local rural store on our way to a game of footy at Moombooldool.



former Moombooldool Sports Ground

(Google Earth)


A plaque situated on the roadside at Moombooldool (originally, simply named ‘Erin’) recognises the former football, cricket and tennis players of the district. The inscription on the plaque advises that a football club was formed in 1912 and that the first game was played on the recreation ground in 1915. The club, known as the ‘Greens’, won nine premierships between 1919 and 1950, with its vintage years coming in the three seasons 1948, 1949 and 1950. Shortly afterwards the club disbanded but was reincarnated in 1955 in a merger with Kamarah. 



Kamarah Sports Ground

( Google Earth)


A tinge of green in the centre of the satellite image above hints that the Kamarah Sports Ground is still in use. The Kamarah Cricket Club, which celebrated its centenary in 2013, is still active with the bat and ball participating in the Ardlethan Barellan Cricket Association. But it is over 50 years since the local football club lost its identity and was absorbed into the Barellan United combination. 


Kamarah’s halcyon days were recorded nearly a century ago when the club won seven premierships in succession between 1924 and 1930. During that wonderful streak of flag-winning football, the Narrandera Argus and Riverina Advertiser (22.10.1930) summed up the fame of the club:


Few country football clubs can claim such a fine record in the field as that of the Kamarah team, which has won six premierships in recent years, but it is not difficult to understand how Kamarah has achieved fame. The players are enthusiastic, and they are given every assistance by the club’s officials and other staunch supporters, as well as by a very energetic committee of ladies.


To have won the pennant seven years in a row, there must have been some serious football talent around Kamarah. In 1930-31 Kamarah also held the Wagga Amusements Cup, a trophy awarded for the winner of challenge matches in the Riverina. The Narrandera press waxed lyrical about Kamarah’s play:


Its fast, scintillating, and often spectacular movements, (Kamarah) were very effective. (NA&RA, 29.7.1930)


Ably led by captain Arthur Boyd, and with well known football names such as Elwin, Litchfield, McDermott and Allen, Kamarah were a formidable force well beyond the Barellan-Ardlethan district. The maroon and gold jumpers of the Kamarah footballers were always worn with great pride. 


At this point we acknowledge a former Kamarah-Moombooldool footballer, Ross Elwin, who was recently inducted into the NSW Australian Football Hall of Fame. Ross played his first footy at the club (1963-64) before joining Leeton where he shone so brightly that South Melbourne soon came calling. He started at the Lake Oval in 1968, but like too many players in that era, Elwin suffered a VFL career-ending knee injury. Upon returning to the Riverina in 1970 he continued playing and took on a series of coaching assignments. Ross represented NSW seven times and received the trophy for NSW’s best player against the VFL in 1972. Ross Elwin represented the South West District Football League on 20 occasions and the big, tough man is widely regarded as one of the Riverina’s best and fairest of his era. He also appeared on the cricket grounds of the district with distinction. 


My first time out this way was on a uni trip from Canberra to Innamincka SA in ‘72.  A visit to the open cut tin mine at Ardlethan was our afternoon educational tour on day 1. Ardlethan lies within the so-called ‘canola belt’, a triangle whose base is the Canola Way between Grong Grong and Marrar and its apex is Lake Cargelligo. It is country where canola runs alongside wheat in the cropping stakes. And it is a place where Australian Football has historically outshone the rugby league code as the town’s original footy club, the Ardlethan ‘Stars’, attested.


Ardlethan’s notoriety in rural circles is its role in the development of the kelpie breed of working dog. Kelpies are known Australia-wide for their boundless enthusiasm for the task of working sheep. As the old saying goes: “a kelpie must do it today while a border collie is happy to wait until tomorrow”.


Ardlethan is the home of a well travelled footballer who made it in the big time in three states – NSW, Victoria and South Australia. Centreman/ruck rover Greg Smith played his junior and early senior footy with the Ardlethan Stars before joining East Wagga (Farrer League) in 1978. South Melbourne liked what they saw and recruited Smith in 1980, just prior to their move north. After 96 games with the Swans, and a prized Victorian jumper in 1983, Smith switched to Collingwood where he played 31 games across two seasons in the mid 1980s. Not to be denied more league football, Smith moved interstate to play with the Central Districts club in the SANFL. He notched 100 games for the Bulldogs, with a best and fairest award in 1988 and club captaincy in 1991 and 1992. Greg Smith was a football journeyman of some note who carried the tag – the ‘bionic man’ – for his ability to play on without succumbing to injury.


My next visit to the canola country was in 1977 when the  Beckom Pub beckoned, the same year that Jackson Browne recorded ‘Running on Empty’. Let’s listen:




As Jackson Browne warns, it’s time to refuel the V8 and at what better place than the country highway roadhouse, just out of Beckom on the Newell Highway. 


A short detour run up the Newell lands us in Mirrool. In episode 13 we will hear the story of how a Geelong football legend, who hailed from another town on the Newell, helped put Mirrool on the map after enjoying a few beers at the local. These days a sign in the shape of a sunburnt Sherrin greets visitors as they enter the town, with the words: Welcome to Mirrool – Population twenty one – Home of the Silo Kick.


On our approach to Ariah Park the roadside sign advises we have arrived at the “birthplace of Australian bulk grain”. Rolling into town we start with a lap of the wide main street which is adorned with peppercorn trees and heritage verandah-clad shopfronts. 


The town’s motto of “bowsers, wowsers and peppercorn trees” requires a little explanation. Peppercorn trees and old petrol bowsers line the main drag, Coolamon Street, but what about the “wowsers”? Apparently, back in the 1920s, the editor of the local newspaper coined the phrase, tongue-in-cheek, to describe the town. The reference to “wowsers” was directed at the temperance-minded locals of the time, who made a successful challenge in Temora Court in 1926 against the popular application for a second hotel licence for Ariah Park. It was an ironical decision. Temora had 11 hotels serving a population of 3500, while Ariah Park was restricted to just one licensed premises for its population of 1500.


Ariah Park formed a football club in 1901 called the Broken Dam ‘Rovers’. Broken Dam was a nearby settlement that existed before the town of Ariah Park was gazetted in 1907. The route of the railway line from Temora through Ariah Park precipitated its growth, but came at the cost of Broken Dam. In 1914 Ariah Park became the centre of a bush football league initially taking in Linton, Methul, Tara and Mirrool. In 1951 the Ariah Park and District League folded, precipitating Ariah Park’s move to the SWDFL.


Ariah Park merged with the nearby wheat silo town of Mirrool in 1953, having almost instant success by winning two SWDFL flags in succession – their vintage years. Some great Riverina and VFL footballers have come from Ariah Park, most noticeably South Melbourne’s Ricky Quade and Jim Prentice.


The name Quade is integral to the DNA of the AP-M football club. One member of the Quade family clan is now a member of a much bigger football fraternity. Ricky Quade was recently inducted into the NSW Australian Football Hall of Fame. He began his senior football career at Ariah Park-Mirrool in 1967 as a 16-year-old and enjoyed a break-out season kicking 131 goals. South Melbourne then snapped him up in 1970. He captained the ‘Bloods’ for three seasons (1976-79) during his 163-game VFL career. Ricky later coached the Swans (1982-84) after their move to the ‘Harbour City’.


Ellis Noack is another NSW football name linked with Ariah Park-Mirrool and he is part of a strong contingent of former Riverina players recently inducted. While his greatest contributions were with Sydney clubs, Ellis Noack started his senior football at Ariah Park in the mid 1950s. Ariah Park-Mirrool is also proud of one of its former coaches, Doug Priest, who is another in the historic first 100 hall of fame contingent. We will learn more about Doug in the Epilogue episode upon our return to Holbrook, the town where his football journey commenced.


In selecting the period 1953-57 as the greatest era of the Ariah Park-Mirrool Football Club we acknowledge the achievement of the Brown Bombers’ first premiership in the SWDFL (1954), back-to-back flags (1954, 1955) and two years as runners-up (1956, 1957). On three of those occasions their opponents were fierce rivals Ganmain.


Fresh into the South West League in 1953, the Brown Bombers took off in a hurry, their sights fixed on pace setters Ganmain who were the benchmark. In their first season AP-M outshone the Ganmain ‘Maroons’ to take second place on the ladder at the end of the home and away fixtures. But heartache was just around the corner as the Len Pedler-led Brown Bombers lost consecutive finals, on both occasions by a solitary point. Ganmain pipped them in the preliminary final and the Clinton Wines-coached outfit went on to take the flag a week later to close out one of the tightest finals series imaginable.


In 1954 the Brown Bombers lost only one game and took the big prize by easily accounting for Ganmain in front of 10 000 at the Narrandera Sportsground. More about that venue in episode 10.


Leeton took pole position coming into the 1955 SWDFL finals with AP-M hot on their heels in second place. The Brown Bombers met the Redlegs twice in the finals, winning narrowly by seven points in the second semi and then doubled that margin to take out back-to-back flags. Captain coach Bernie Sculley led the way with seven goals in a best on ground performance. Ricky Quade’s brothers – Tom and Pat – were in the side that day, while the whistle was blown by VFL umpire Alan Nash. ‘Three from three’ was now the Brown Bombers mantra. 


Ganmain, as we will learn in the next episode, had pride and jealousy as strong motivators to pull out all stops and prevent the newcomers from across the Riverina wheat fields in potentially equalling their record of three successive flags (1949, 1950, 1951). A great rivalry was thus born. In episode 9 we will unwrap the rivalry between Ariah Park-Mirrool and Ganmain, from the perspective of Ganmain football folk.


Fifty years after those vintage years of 1953 and ‘54, the Brown Bombers linked with Ardlethan to form the Northern Jets in the Farrer FNL, where they have won two flags – 2005 and 2007.


The Northern Jets (Ariah Park-Mirrool/Ardlethan) in 2024

The Jets have won as many as they have lost in 2024 and stand in fifth place on the ladder. With a general bye followed immediately with a club bye in the next two weeks, we will see if they can emerge from the pack with a win over strong contenders Marrar in round 11 (June 22nd).


Riverina Spotto


22 yards bowled over and 11 to go


the last post Irish pub a slice of pizza
faithful canine sheep and dog the family club
22 yards two felines 31.12.74
truckie’s stop submarine a shearing team
all among the wool one pub town Sherrin
three  bees square footy hub


Next episode: Stage 9 – to Ganmain



Previous episodes of Revelling In The Riverina, and more from Peter Clark can be read Here.


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About Peter Clark

is a lifetime Geelong supporter. Hailing from the Riverina, he is now entrenched on the NSW South Coast. His passion for footy was ignited by attending Ovens and Murray League matches in the 1960's with his father. After years of watching, playing and coaching, now it is time for some serious writing about his favourite subjects… footy, especially country footy, and cricket.


  1. Hi Peter
    You are nearly up to Ungarie- Daniher Country.
    The Big Football was unveiled a few years back.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Greg Smith is still up and about in Adelaide. His daughter Shelby captains the Centrals SANFLW team

  3. Riverina Rocket says

    So good to read about Greg Smith and that he is still going well over in Adelaide.

    When the NSW squad arrived in Adelaide for the Bicentennial interstate carnival in 1988 – the last-ever national carnival where every state and territory played under their own banner – we were allocated Central Disricts as our host club – and Greg Smith was our liaison officer!

    He, of course, knew all the players except for North Shore boys Mick Byrne and Phi Bradmore as the rest were all from the Riverina/Murray border – and joined in training.
    Smithy trained so well coach Tommy Hafey wanted to add him to the squad!
    Greg hadnt been nominated in the 24-player squad due to a run of injuries playing for Centrals the previous season – as the one who had prepared the list that had NSW elevated to First Division for the carnival Tommy wasn’t happy with me!

    Best game I ever saw Smithy play was when he kicked 4 goals at CHF for East Wagga in their upset win over Wagga Tigers. He usually played in the centre. Great fella, very popular with team-mates and opponents alike, always the last one to leave the after-match drinks wherever.

  4. Peter Clark says

    Hi Dan,
    Our Riverina road trip loops back and forth in order to cover as much territory as possible. Check out episode 4 – Ungarie. And yes – the big Sherrin.

    Swish, thanks for your input. Do you have memories of Greg Smith at Centrals?

    Riverina Rocket, fancy upsetting T-shirt Tommy!

  5. Great stuff again, Peter.

    Looking forward to visiting the home of the great Frank Gumbleton.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Greg Smith was as tough a player as Centrals ever had. He was often playing hurt or out injured due to his fierce attack on the ball. He retired after his 100th club game in 1992 as injuries caught up with him. A very popular player.

  7. Peter Clark says

    Swish, that’s a big wrap for Greg Smith. I remember him at the Swans and Collingwood – a perfect blend of skill and courage.
    Yes Smokie, next week at Ganmain we will be amongst the Gumbletons and Carrolls. Also where the wide travelling Frank Hodgkin made a mark.

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