Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Special Collections Fossickings 47: Football fever has a long north Queensland history

Were you screaming at the TV on grand final night? Was your house decked out in blue and yellow? Are your kids still wearing their Cowboys gear?
Recent publications in the NQ Collection about football in the north.
A recent acquisition for the North Queensland collection, Neil Cadigan’s “Twenty Years in the Saddle” celebrates the comparatively short but vivid history of the team that, more than any other, north Queensland sports fans identify with. While anyone under the age of twenty-five probably cannot remember a time when the North Queensland Cowboys did not dominate the local sports pages for 7 months of the year, for older residents the question might be – why did it take so long for the north to get its own NRL team?
Lou Lister of Townsville, highly acclaimed footballer and cricketer. circa 1928, Football Album, North Queensland Photographic Collection, NQID 15113.
Rugby league began its life in Australia in the first decade of the 20th century, not long after it had established itself among the English working class as a game distinct from the more “upper class” code of rugby union. As Tony Price writes in his history of the game in North Queensland, “Rugby league followed the working man, and gold brought the working man to north Queensland.” As gold diminished, the rise of sugar brought waves of hardened workers to the coastal towns from the Burdekin north to Cairns, and by 1918 league had become our leading winter game. It never looked back.

North Queensland Rugby League football team 1919 (Probably the first NQ side)
Football Album, North Queensland Photographic Collection, NQID 15129.
Price’s book, “More than the Foley Shield” tells the story of more than 100 years of rugby league in the north, with detailed accounts of some of the historic clashes -  like the local derby between Townsville and Herbert River in 1982 which lasted for nearly two hours but still ended in a draw, at 25-all. (No “golden point” in those days). Or the FNQ side that, twenty years earlier, played a blinder against a touring Great Britain side in Cairns, with the Brits scoring a last gasp try to snatch victory by just 2 points in the closing minutes.
Charters Towers Team vs Combined Country Team 32-0. Photographer: Don J. Peininger, Charters Towers. Date unknown.  (Back Row: T. Wilson, W. Dick, J. Egan, R. Barrald, E. Haigh, J. Spillane.  Second Row: W. Tredrea, F. Wellington, A. Carroll, D. Egan - Captain, W. Pratchett, F. Lewis, F. Arnold.  Front Row: W. Park, H. Carroll.)           Football Album, North Queensland Photographic Collection, NQID 15127.
The Foley Shield competition itself was originated in 1948 to celebrate and commemorate one of the North’s  great players, Townsville’s Arch Foley, who had died the previous year at the age of 59. Foley, son of a local state member of parliament, had begun his rugby career as a union player, but soon switched to league when it was brought to the city in 1915. He went on to captain South Townsville, Townsville and North Queensland sides, leading them to many victories before becoming a coach for his old club, Souths, and a talented administrator of the game.
Victoria Football Club Premiers 1924, Football Album, North Queensland Photographic Collection, NQID 15124.
Out of such rich history the North Queensland Cowboys were born, at last providing local stars with a home team in which they could compete at the top level. The game had come a long way since 1908 when Ola Olsen from Charters Towers became the first north Queenslander to play for a state side, or 1920 when Harry “Mucka”  Fewin, described as North Queensland’s first rugby league superstar, became the first to play for Australia.

Harry “Mucka” Fewin
Belgian Gardens State School Album, North Queensland Photographic Collection, NQID 7225.
From 1995 players born and bred in the north – like Matt Bowen, Ty Williams, Aaron Payne, Scott Bolton and Ray Thompson – could remain in, or return to, North Queensland and still pursue a football career at the top level. In this year’s historic grand final both try-maker Michael Morgan and try-scorer Kyle Feldt grew up in Townsville.  And so what if Johnathan Thurston was born in Brisbane? The fans made him their adopted son a long time ago.

Story by Miniata

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