The legend of Padui

Lately a group of men have gathered in Darwin to put together a list that will upset everyone.

This is the one hundredth year Australian Rules football has been played in the top end. Their task is to select a team of the best ever players.

Imagine being a gecko on the wall and overhearing the stories of the game as played in the Territory – glistened by humidity and infused by indigenous Australia as nowhere else.

This is one of them.

It is about the man who captain-coached St Marys to the 1955-56 premiership. The team photo that year is a spread of beaming Tiwi Islanders. Amid them is a six foot two white fella. The Tiwi called him Padui which translates as wild horse.


He appeared mythically at the Royal Darwin Show in June 1955. The event was in its infancy and to generate interest organisers had a pot of £500 for an athletics carnival. The blue ribbon event was the gift which was worth £100 – the equivalent of six months wages for a working man.

No one paid much attention to this white bloke during the handicapping heats. He scraped in each time, finishing third.  Ron Cooper was the fastest man in Darwin and in the final he was the bookies favourite running off two yards.

The stranger won it by 15 yards.

“He scorched it,” is how Ted Egan describes the race.

Egan was on the Show committee and so presented the prize.

“I asked him if he felt like a beer and he did, so we went to the tent for a cold one.”

As the drowsy heat of the afternoon wore on Egan nudged him for information.

He had just arrived in the top end to work for Territory Enterprises who were mining uranium at Rum Jungle. In addition to the sprints, the new bloke had won the high jump competition and confessed to Egan he had dreamed of competing in the decathlon at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 but was ineligible because he had been paid a bit of money to play footy.

Egan’s antenna twitched. He had created St Marys Football Club three years earlier as a favour for the Catholic Bishop of Darwin who wanted some recreation structure for the Tiwi men who came to Darwin for work. In only its third season, the club had just won the premiership with Egan as captain.

“Do you play footy?” he asked.

“Yeah love footy.”

“Who you been playing for?”


“What Richmond Presbyterian fourths or something?”

“No – Richmond in Melbourne.”

Egan’s mind spun. He was a Tiger supporter and dots were joining.

“You’re the bloke who had a fight with Alby Pannam aren’t you?”

“Yeah I should be in Melbourne but I am here.”

“You played in the VFL?”

“Yeah and with Glenelg in South Australia before that.”

“You were in the carnival in 53?”


“All Australian?”


“What is your name?”

“Neil Davies?”

“Stay there.”

With that Egan dashed to his car where he kept transfer forms in the glove box. By the time the beer tent at the Darwin show closed the wheels were in motion for Ted Egan to stand down as Captain-Coach of Saints to be replaced by Davies.

The players soon saw how good he was – especially in wet conditions. His gregarious personality helped him fit into the club despite having no history in Darwin.

Davies grew up in Broken Hill and played as a junior at Centrals. Glenelg recruited him in 1951. In his first match he stood Port Adelaide’s Magarey Medallist Dave Boyd and in his second he stood dual Magarey Medallist Bob Hank of West Torrens.

So impressive were the teenager’s performances that he was immediately selected for South Australia. In 1953 he was All Australian.

Davies had a rare mixture of athletic ability, game smarts, competitive desire and toughness. In one game against Torrens he marked the ball one-handed and an opponent in frustration flicked the ball loose and went for him. Davies knocked down with one punch.

On a windy day at Glenelg he mis-kicked the ball and it flew high off his boot. He stormed down the field contested in a pack and marked his own kick.

He had itchy feet – always seeking to test himself. He tried to go to Woomera but Glenelg wouldn’t clear him then there came an approach from Sturt and eventually he went to Richmond. He disliked Pannam and cleared out after two games – heading north.

At St Marys he found a club with enthusiasm and talent. According to Egan he got on famously with the Tiwi players, marvelling at their intrinsic skills. They loved him. Padui was not an exclusive name but Tiwi who are called Padui are strong and dashing.

He played the season without peer, winning the Nichols Medal as the competition’s best player as St Marys again pushed for the flag. In the Preliminary Final against Buffaloes he was targeted physically by two opposition players.

“He knocked them both out,” says Egan. “He could really box I learnt that at the gym.”

In the Grand Final against Waratahs, St Marys trailed at three-quarter time by 11 points in a low scoring contest played in driving rain.

Club stalwart Vic Ludwig still has a vision of the final term.

“Davies was rucking and he just took them all on – I mean took them on and won that game. They were premiers, he was brilliant.

Egan considers the 1955-56 combination to be the best the club has ever fielded.

Davies is fourth from the right back row (i.e. only white fella)

Davies is fourth from the right back row (i.e. only white fella). Click image for larger version.



The week after leading Saints to the flag Davies boarded a plane for England. His horizons now stretched beyond Australia and its native game.

In 1955 Rugby League started being played in Darwin. Davies was intrigued by it and became involved with a club called Wallabies. His size and speed made him a natural and so soon he was playing football on Saturdays and league on Sundays.

Egan still marvels at his physical capacity.

“He would play on Saturday and everyone would all go back to the club and have a curry and rice and a few glasses of soft drink. Then we would go out because he liked a drink. Then he would get up Sunday morning and play rugby. He was either on a wing or full back, he was incredible.”

So quickly did Padui take to his new sport that word spread. Rugby League clubs in the UK weren’t permitted to recruit Australian players from Queensland and New South Wales where the game was strong but there was nothing stopping approaches being made elsewhere.

One man watching Wallabies was Ted Talbot who Vic Ludwig describes as “a sawn off little pommy bloke who couldn’t believe what he was seeing”.

Talbot had a connection with Warrington in Cheshire. On his enthusiastic recommendation they made an offer to Davies.

So less than a year after he arrived from nowhere, Neil Davies was gone – leaving only his legend.


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About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a freelance journo in SA. His scribblings include "The Summer of Barry", "Chappell's Last Stand" and the biography of Neil Sachse.


  1. E.regnans says

    Brilliant, Michael.

    Ted Egan is a wonderful character of Australian life, isn’t he?
    He was “Chief Administrator” of the NT for the year we lived in Darwin (2004-5).
    He gave a rousing speech on the Tiwi islands one Sunday – we were there – to celebrate the 300th anniversary of a Dutch landing party.
    Larger than life.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks Mike. I barely knew of Neil Davies. Even though he was back at the Bays when I was born, it looks as though he was on the move again after that (do any of our Qld followers have anything to say of his time up there?).

    Perhaps it is because many of the big names of the 50s were still around SA footy in the 60s and 70s, that his story wasn’t as, well, storied as other SA All-Australians from 1953 such as Fitzgerald or Hank.

    Thanks again.

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Saw him perform at the Port Fairy Folk Festival last weekend; still looking and sounding good!

  4. Great tale Mike.
    Different times…how’d he not get rubbed out in the Prelim? (Ted probably had some influence?)

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