When Coranderrk won the premiership: A story by Roy Hay

Historian Roy Hay recently spoke at  the Lilydale Historical Society about his  book a week or two ago and  told  the following story which was well received . The Footy Almanac is pleased to publish the story for your reading pleasure.


With the footy season about to begin, perhaps it is time to disinter a forgotten story of Aboriginal success on the field and its aftermath. In the years before the First World War teams in the Upper Yarra Valley competed for the Stevens Trophy. In 1911 four teams took part—Healesville, Yarra Glen, Lilydale and Coranderrk. The first three represented the townships and the fourth, Coranderrk, the Aboriginal station on the outskirts of Healesville near Badger Creek. Over the years all the teams bar Coranderrk had success and the competition was often fierce and even. Coranderrk might have done better had not some of their leading players been snaffled by Healesville and there was even talk of amalgamating the two clubs to make a stronger outfit. The footy clubs were the lifeblood of their communities and the prospect of a winter without the local league haunted the organisers and the local press.


Badger Creek in 1906. Coranderrk seems to have changed its football club name from 1906 to 1908 to Badger Creek, but reverted to Coranderrk thereafter. Source: Colin Tatz & Paul Tatz.


Coranderrk met Healesville for the first time in 1911 at the Aboriginals’ home ground and the visitors prevailed by four points. The umpire at the end of the game told Healesville’s captain he could not understand how his team won, for Coranderrk was much the better side for most of the day. The teams did not meet again until the final match of the season, when the return game came off at Healesville. Healesville was still four points ahead of their opponents so a home win would secure the Trophy.

The largest crowd at any football match in the competition this year was present, the gate money totalling £7 11s. The afternoon train from Melbourne brought a large number of supporters from Lilydale, Yarra Glen, Coldstream, etc. Arrangements had been made to keep the spectators off the playing arena, and it was a distinct advantage. But Coranderrk won by 2 goals 11 to Healesville’s 1 goal 9 behinds.


There was a fight in the third quarter between William Terrick of Coranderrk and G Bram of Healesville. Bram, in shepherding, was keeping Terrick from the ball. Terrick became incensed, and struck Bram, who, immediately prepared to defend himself. The police rushed across and separated the combatants, and at the close of the match Constable McLeod (Yarra Glen) took Bram’s name, with a view, so he said, to prosecution. Why didn’t he take the name of the other man too?

The umpire, one Keyhoe, got the blame. ‘Keyhoe, as central umpire, was incapable of umpiring the game satisfactorily, and caused many outbursts of indignation from the crowd by his erratic decisions’.


Coranderrk’s win meant the teams were level and a final match would have to be played to decide the destination of the trophy. It was agreed that this should be played on neutral ground at Lilydale.


On Saturday 9 September 1911 a special train from Healesville brought the two teams and a huge crowd of spectators. There were four coaches for passengers and a number of trucks carrying wood as well. Each of these was invaded by folks who had missed out on seats. There were Indigenous people festooned inside, outside, on top and hanging off the sides. It was probably a miracle that no one of the more than 200 who came by train was killed on the journey.


There was the biggest crowd seen at a footy match in Lilydale and the barracking was extraordinary. The game lived up to the its importance. It was a final for the ages.


The teams read like family albums. Healesville had two Harrises and two Reeds, while there were three Kings, including towering ruckman Paddy, two Mulletts, two Wandins, two McRaes, two Campbells and two Terricks in the Coranderrk line-up.


Healesville was the favourite and dominated the first quarter despite some desperate defence by Coranderrk. The first quarter ended with Healesville leading by 1 goal three to nil.


The match reporter had difficulty with identifying the players but Phillips scored the first goal for Healesville. Among the Indigenous players he seems to have managed to identify Paddy King, not surprisingly and King was heavily involved in both defence and attack and he scored Coranderrk’s second goal as it took command in the second quarter. By half-time Coranderrk had their noses in front by 3 goals one to two-four. The third quarter was a tight struggle with Coranderrk adding one goal one, while Healesville could not register even a point. Hunter, of Healesville received a knock and had to spend some time on the sidelines, but got back into the game.


In the final quarter, Coranderrk kicked another goal and 5 behinds, while holding Healesville scoreless once again. The match report concluded:


It was a great game, one of the best ever seen on the ground, and, as a Healesville player remarked, the better team won. After the match the winners here enthusiastically cheered by their supporters and King was carried shoulder high to the dressing room. Healesville barrackers and players, by no means dismayed, give the customary cheers in a hearty manner. All sportsmen will congratulate Coranderrk on their victory, which they deserved. A word of praise is also due to the Healesville team for the way they have played throughout the season and though not winning the premiership they have every reason to be proud of their performance in the competition. Every man on the field did his best on Saturday, and instead of singling out two or three for special praise on this occasion, we will congratulate all the players on playing the game so well.


Despite the lack of individual identification, the Indigenous players are treated with respect in the match report and the aftermath. The game even got an extended paragraph in the Melbourne Herald, which noted that the Indigenous team ran the Healesville players off their feet in the second half, the reverse of what happened on numerous occasions in the early days when Indigenous teams often started at a furious pace which they were unable to maintain for four quarters. The Herald concluded: ‘The win by the blacks was very popular, the players being carried shoulder high off the ground’.


It would be nice to tell that this victory was the start of a great era for Coranderrk football but it was not. In fact the station was unable to field a team the following year as the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines of Victoria moved to close the station down. Many of the inhabitants were more or less forcibly relocated, some left, some went to Lake Tyers in Gippsland, others to Cummeragunja on the New South Wales’ bank of the Murray, where the football team had an even more brilliant history than Coranderrk. They won the Western and Moira League five times out of six in the 1920s and were promptly handicapped by the League who banned them from fielding players over 25! For many years the playing field for Aboriginal footballers was never level.


Coranderrk football. Not a game and a picture of the same players at cricket was taken  in 1904 by the wonderful Nicholas Caire. Source: State Library of Victoria.



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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Wonderful read Roy. Must be time for another book!

  2. Thanks, Col. I was down to do three academic conferences this year, one in Scotland, but I suspect that will not happen. So I will have no excuse for not finishing Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin’s biography this year. The only real problem is I keep finding new material. I’ve got Cassandra Pybus’s biography of Trugannini—a marvellous book— so I will have to lift my game if I am to get anywhere near her quality.

  3. Jennifer Kloester says

    What a great article and account of Indigenous football prowess in 1911 and after. It is heartening to read that the Coranderrk players – Indigenous or otherwise – were treated with respect and appreciation. I hope your excellent book and article encourage today’s footy fans to take a leaf out of their forebears’ book and respect current players regardless of race.

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