Backward Glance – Tales from the field
  • Wednesday 28 August 2019
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Rugby league has a rich history on the Sunshine Coast. Looking back over the past 100 years, it has grown exceptionally since a Monday night in early March 1920 when the North Coast Rugby Union committee met to discuss the upcoming season and came to the momentous decision to adopt the ‘new game’ for the following season.

The original clubs of Woombye, Buderim, Nambour, Cooran, Eumundi, Palmwoods, Yandina, Cooroy, Pomona and Mooloolah adopted the new game following in the footsteps of clubs in Brisbane and Sydney, and so began the proud history of the game on the Sunshine Coast.

A Queensland Rugby League official visited the clubs, briefing them on the changes required under the different rules. 

On 22 March 1920, the Nambour Chronicle reported a training night was introduced to improve the standard of the game in the forthcoming North Coast Rugby League season, heralding the beginning of a more professional approach.

In the early years, transport between fixtures was hazardous to say the least. On many occasions the players were called upon to push motor lorries out of bogs, up hills and out of ditches. On one very wet circumstance the players just gave up and walked home!

The Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser reported on Friday 21 May 1927, that at a meeting with the North Coast Rugby League, it was resolved to write to Mr H F Walker MLA asking for his co-operation in requesting the Railway Department place a lighted carriage on the goods train every Saturday during the football season for the convenience of players.

Travelling caused more chaos when in 1923 the executive met to determine the winners of the Osborne Cup. They decided that the match should be played at Pomona on 6 October however Yandina refused to play at Pomona contending that they had already travelled to Cooroy and Pomona several times to play important matches. 

Then on the evening of 6 October the Osbourne Cup was presented to Pomona. However the saga continued with the executive meeting again and deciding that the match would be played at Yandina on 20 October to decide the Osbourne Cup winners. This decision received general approval from the meeting but of course, on 20 October Pomona did not turn up to play.

These circumstances were considered peculiar and steps were taken to bring about an amicable and harmonious conclusion to the season’s games. A round table conference with an independent chairman was decided to be convened – the outcome of which is unknown.

The keenness and excitement of the supporters was causing concern and league officials were to procure the services of the police to stop spectators from rushing on the field during play. This did not happen during a 1926 match between Yandina and Nambour in Mr Lacy’s paddock. Despite it being sodden after two days of rain, the fast and exciting game was too much for the large crowd who reportedly invaded the playing area and considerably hampered the players.

Off the field there were many social events, one was reported on 10 July 1925 when the Maleny School of Arts hall was decorated with black and gold streamers. The Balmoral Football Club held a most successful dance in aid of their funds. There was a large crowd of merrymakers present and it was noticed that all the Maleny Rugby League clubs were well represented. Exhilarating music was supplied by Mrs G Glasgow and the popular Balmoral jazz orchestra, while an inviting supper was supplied by the ‘fair’ supporters.

The junior game also has a long history and many stories. One story is about Donald (Don) Archibald McCowan. At the age of 13 Don moved to Nambour Rural School achieving sound achievements in his scholastic subjects but he was very enthusiastic and excelled in sporting activities. His parents had discouraged this as their religious beliefs regarded sporting activities as heathen.

The Schools Rugby League Association based in Brisbane wanted to form a first ever Queensland schoolboys team and on 3 June 1921, a combined Brisbane team travelled to Nambour to play a trial match at the showgrounds against boys from the Nambour Rural School.

This was the first time Don had played in the team. After the match, which Brisbane won 8 points to 3, Don along with Hector Scott, Alf Wright and George Greathead were invited to Brisbane to play in the Queensland trials.

There was one problem for Don – he had no football boots! For the Nambour match he had borrowed a pair of soccer boots from the North Arm butcher but was not able to take them to Brisbane. He played at Davies Park in Brisbane in a pair of boots borrowed from another student which were far too small. His feet were red raw and hurting dreadfully but he was very determined to be selected for Queensland. He impressed the selectors and was chosen to play for Queensland in the second trial match the next morning against The Rest. Overnight his swollen feet were bathed in friar’s balsam.

Don worked out a training program for himself – he ran up and down the hill to the farm house with speed every day and ran two miles a day as fast as he could on the railway sleepers to stretch his stride. 

The first Queensland Schools Rugby League Schoolboys team was scheduled to play New South Wales in Sydney on 6 August 1921. Again, Don’s parents disapproved but his sister bought him a suit made by the tailor in Nambour, Mr Kerns. The teachers at his school passed a hat around to buy him the much needed pair of football boots.

The Nambour Chronicle reported the send-off party for Don and Hector Scott, “Never before in the history of the Nambour School has football been marked with such distinction as it has enjoyed this present season. To have two boys from the school selected to represent Queensland is surely a credit to their school and their enthusiastic coach Mr Walker.”

Don was praised with the Referee newspaper saying “that schoolboy matches were good if they produced footballers like McCowan” and “Australia was in good hands with young footballers like McCowan coming on”.

There have been many Dons over the years with their stories of determination and skill to make it to the highest levels, but behind every player is the constant theme of support and comradery of their families and the community.

Thanks to the Heritage Library staff for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

Sunshine Coast Council is proposing a planning scheme amendment to advance the protection and management of our local heritage places and character areas. Visit council’s website to share your thoughts on the proposed historic cultural heritage planning scheme amendment before September 16.