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‘Adulation, fame and money’: Sport and celebrity in 1913

Dr Guy Hansen, National Library of Australia, 8 October 2013

HEIDI PRITCHARD: Good afternoon everyone. My name is Heidi, and I am the manager of the community outreach section in Learning Services and Community Outreach here at the National Museum of Australia. It’s great to see you all. It is also very exciting that today we are saying hello to the Hawkesbury digital hub who are listening in the Hawkesbury region. Welcome to everyone there.

This is the last in our 1913 lecture series, and I am seeing some familiar faces here. I know a lot of you have come to all of them. This series has been particularly lovely because the whole idea was to give us a real insight into the year 1913. It is fitting that we are ending this just as the exhibition is coming to a close as well. These lectures were designed for our audience to give you a bit more, because we know that you the audience who comes to the National Museum, you are not interested in skating over the surface, you are not interested in the shallow end of the pool, you are interested in the background, a bit of insight and a bit behind the scenes. That’s what we have tried to do with this lecture series.

We kicked off with Nicholas Brown. I don’t know if any of you were here for that, but Nicholas Brown always gives a great talk and he really set the screen for us in looking at 1913 as a year. Then we had Andrew Sayers, who entertained the heck out of himself by hopping up on stage and saying, ‘This is my last public event as your director.’ We all just laughed and said, ‘Get off. There are going to be a million things before you go.’ Tom Griffiths talked about Antarctica. I don’t know how many of you have read Slicing the Silence, but Tom’s talks are always beautiful and so well illustrated. Helen Ennis talked a bit about photography. Peter Stanley and David Stevens talked about the Royal Navy, which was particularly topical at the moment. I am sure you have all seen what has been happening in Sydney at the weekend. Have you all seen the school holiday program with children playing battleships in the Hall? Isn’t that fabulous? We have had a couple of complaints about the explosions but, on the whole, everybody is really positive.

Then Jill Matthews was talking about leisure time and at the last lecture we had Rae Frances talking about women in white Australia, which was really fascinating for a whole lot of reasons but personally interesting for me because I was up the back behind 20 Canberra Grammar Girls. It was so exciting watching what made 20 grammar girls go ‘Oh’, because they are seeing feminism through a different set of eyes to the eyes that I use. They are new to a lot of the concepts that were being talked about. They were very new to some of the ways in which women were treated in 1913. It was particularly interesting to watch what was interesting these girls in front of me.

Today we have the always fabulous Dr Guy Hansen. We chose Guy Hansen deliberately to round up this series of lectures for us. Guy is one of the originals here at the Museum. He was here before the building existed. I was thinking about it today. I started here a very long time ago when I hadn’t quite finished university. I arrived before 8 o’clock in the morning because it was my first job and I was all dressed up and ready to go. I got laughed at terribly by the rest of the staff who came in at reasonable times to find me sitting on the front doorstep ready to work. Guy was one of the first people to actually welcome me at the time. There was about 40 of us out at Mitchell. That gives you an idea of how long ago that was. It is just recently that we have lost Guy. Guy has spread his wings and fled the nest.

Today Guy is talking about ‘Adulation, fame and money: Sport and celebrity in 1913’. He is perfectly placed for this having curated League of Legends in 2008 for the National Museum as well as Nation: Symbols of Australia and Captivating and Curious. Guy has a lot of interest in the history of sport in Australia. It’s one of his research areas. Now that hasn’t helped him at all with footy tipping this year because he came last - not second last but last. Today I would like you to join me in welcoming Dr Guy Hansen. [applause]

GUY HANSEN: Thank you very much for your kind words, Heidi. I was very lucky to be associated with the 1913 exhibition as one of a team of curators who worked on this exhibition. I am sure you have all seen it but, if you haven’t, make sure you do go and see it because I believe it closes soon. This exhibition Glorious Days: Australia 1913 was the idea of Andrew Sayers, our previous director. It was a great way of focussing on one year in Australian history and trying to understand that year. 1913, just a year before the outbreak of World War I, is a very important year. I like to think of it as a hinge in Australian history. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened in Australia if there wasn’t the Great War and how things would have unfolded. It is interesting to spend some time reflecting on what Australia was like. There is absolutely no doubt the war changed Australia forever. Immersing yourself in 1913 is very productive for historical imagination. Americans like to call it counterfactual. It gets you thinking about how things change in Australia and how history unfolds.

The area I was asked to research for the exhibition was sport. It is no surprise to learn that Australians were obsessed with sport in 1913. There are some continuities in Australian history. Perhaps more surprising, however, was the importance of money and celebrity in Australian sport at this time. Just like today the accomplishments and antics of our cricketers and footballers dominated both the front and back pages of our newspapers. In this talk I am going to concentrate on three sporting celebrities of the pre-war period try to tease out what these characters tell us about Australian sport and culture. The sportsmen I have chosen are Victor Trumper [image that you can see here], Dally Messenger, rugby league footballer, and Snowy Baker.

Let me start by anticipating a question: why have I chosen three men? It is undoubtedly true women were already making an important mark in Australian sporting culture. In the exhibition you can see Annette Kellerman’s swimming costume. While women were achieving and receiving recognition, it was still very much a man’s world in terms of sport - and indeed many would argue still is today. In many ways women athletes at this time were still being treated as a curiosity by newspapers -a lot of tongue in cheek writing by women in sport. For the purposes of this talk I want to concentrate on the way male sportsmen were celebrated. I am aware there is a big absence in what I am talking about. Serious mass adulation of sporting heroes was still pretty much preserved for male sporting stars at this time.

Coming back to my three celebrities Trumper, Messenger and Baker. These sportsmen are interesting not only in terms of sporting achievement but also because how they have survived in the popular memory. These names still have some currency today. There were many sportsmen in 1913. Why is it that some names survive over the generations and still can be referred to in the front bar of the pub? That is why I am interested in these characters because their names come up. I am interested why they made their mark in Australian history.

Let me start with Victor Trumper. I would like you to imagine that it is Saturday, 8 February 1913, Victor Trumper has just walked to the centre of the Sydney Cricket Ground to take up guard. As he made his way to the wicket, the band struck up For he’s a jolly good fellow and the crowd rose as one to give the legendary batsman an extended ovation. Clem Hill, the captain of the fielding team, led his players in a rousing chorus of three cheers. While Trumper occupied the crease, his fellow New South Wales players, including Monty Noble, now immortalised by the Sydney Cricket Ground’s MA Noble Stand, circulated amongst the crowd selling souvenir match programs. Autographed photographs of Trumper sold like hotcakes. The ladies from Her Majesty’s Theatre production The Sunshine Girl were also there on the hill, providing further encouragement to fans to donate money to Trumper’s testimonial fund.

[image shown] I have a photograph here of one of the photographs sold on the hill of the SCG that day. This is in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.

The occasion of this rapturous celebration of Trumper’s cricketing prowess was a testimonial match between New South Wales and a team dubbed the ‘rest of Australia’. Trumper, though approaching the end of his career, was still considered Australia’s greatest batsman and, despite what the Sydney Morning Herald described as ‘uncongenial’ conditions, 13,000 fans braved the weather to attend the match. All present were keen to see Trumper excel. After a hesitant start, on a wet pitch, he went on to score 126 runs. Victorian fast bowler Jack Ryder later claimed that he had Trumper out leg before wicket but, out of respect to the famous batsman, did not appeal. In other versions of the story, one fielder was alleged to have appealled for Trumper’s wicket only to be answered by a unanimous shout of ‘not out!’ from the rest of the fielders. Over the three days of the match, the sum of almost £2,000 was raised. This money was to go towards helping Trumper in his later life.

[image shown] Another object which we have in the exhibition is this bat. It was the bat that was used by Trumper in this innings. It has been signed by members of the Australian and New South Wales side who were there. It was a real celebration of Trumper.

Looking back at Trumper’s 1913 testimonial match reminds us that sporting celebrity is not a new phenomenon in Australian society. Lauded and adored by followers of cricket, Trumper was also hailed as a hero in his career and deeply missed when he died, aged only 37, in 1915. Born and raised in Sydney, he came to prominence in the 1890s, first as a promising junior cricketer, then as a representative player for New South Wales and finally as a champion batsman for Australia. After scoring 11 centuries in the Australian tour of England in 1902, the cricketing bible Wisden declared him the ‘best batsman in the world’. Trumper finished his career in 1914, having accumulated nearly 17,000 runs in 255 matches, with a highest score of 300 not out. His average ended up 44.58 which doesn’t sound that impressive by today’s standards. But you have to understand this was in an age before pitches were covered when there was rain, so batsmen were often batting on what were virtually impossible batting conditions. In this sense his average is quite amazing and can’t really be compared to batting averages of more recent batsmen.

A key part of Trumper’s fame in Australia stemmed from his status in England. His performance in Anglo-Australian tests demonstrated that he was as good as, if not better than, the English cricketers. Trumper’s record against England helped ensure his popularity with the Australian sporting public. In fellow cricketer Clem Hill’s words, Trumper had ‘done as much for Australia as anyone, and in England he is the one Australian batsman they long to watch’.

Trumper’s batting achievements came at a time when the young nation keenly sought the approval of the ‘mother country’. Sporting prowess had already emerged as an essential element of the nascent Australian identity and was seen as proof of Australia’s potential greatness as a nation. As George Reid, High Commissioner to Britain and former Australian Prime Minister explained, the achievements of Australian sporting teams had ‘done more than anything else, perhaps, to convince the British people of the excellence of Australian manhood’. Trumper’s ability to impress the English made him a natural hero for the Australian sporting public. Australians would look to the performance of the Australian soldiers of World War I to prove their worth to the Empire. Sport was very much the focus of why we were carrying on British stock in the Southern Hemisphere.

Trumper’s career was not without controversy. In 1912 he was involved in a dispute between senior players and the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket Matches. When the board broke from the tradition of allowing players to appoint their own tour manager, Trumper, together with Warwick Armstrong, Tibby Cotter, Vernon Ransford, Hanson Carter and Clem Hill, withdrew from the Australian team. This disagreement reflected Trumper’s firm belief that players should have control over their playing conditions, a key aspect of which was the capacity to earn money while on tour.

After his testimonial match in 1913 he reflected that representing Australia came at a high cost:

A trip to England sounds like a grand thing – and so it is – but from the financial point of view it may mean ten times more to a man taking his whole life into consideration, than the recompense that he receives at the time.

Trumper’s desire for athletes to be compensated for their efforts was shared by his friend and business associate James Giltinan. [image shown] This is Giltinan and Trumper together with the trade union leader Henry Hoyle, who were instrumental in establishing professional football in Sydney in 1907. The dominant code of football in New South Wales and Queensland at the end of the nineteenth century was rugby union. Rugby matches between colonial sides attracted thousands of fans prepared to pay to see their sporting heroes. Discontent was spreading in the ranks of players, however, with many calling for reimbursement for lost earnings. Those with a strong amateur ethos within rugby resisted calls for change.

Much of the plotting for the establishment of a new code occurred in a sports store run by Trumper on Market Street, Sydney. Today it’s the site of the David Jones department store. In a small upstairs room, rugby players and officials discussed their grievances. Trumper brought a unique perspective to these meetings with his experience as a test cricketer. Contrary to the general amateur ethos that ruled rugby at the time, test cricketers had the opportunity to earn a share of the profits made during tours of England. Touring rugby union players, however, received a modest daily stipend of three shillings. To make matters worse, no allowance was made for equipment, time lost from work or for medical insurance. While these conditions were of no concern to gentlemen amateurs, they were pressing matters for working class players. Even more galling for the players was the fact that quality games attracted thousands of paying fans.

The bodies administering rugby union were making money, but little of it was making its way into the players’ pockets. Similar issues had already led to tension in association football (soccer) and rugby union in the north of England, with the result that new professional leagues challenged the traditional amateur ethos of British sport. The examples of test cricket and the new professional English codes inspired many Sydney footballers to consider establishing a new rebel code in Sydney.

The disgruntled rumblings in Trumper’s store reflected some important structural changes taking place in Australian society in the early 1900s. Foremost amongst these was the increasing amount of leisure time available to Australians. Shorter working hours and the introduction of work-free Saturday afternoons in the 1880s had provided an opportunity for the growth of team sports. Resistance to paying sport on Sundays for religious reasons also saw Saturdays emerge as the major sporting day of the week. The growth of an urban population with disposable income and increasing leisure timer enabled greater engagement in sport, both in terms of greater participation but also as a popular thing for spectators to go to. With spectators came the opportunity to make money. Elite sport was well on its way to becoming a form of mass entertainment and, not surprisingly, athletes were keen to get a share of the profits.

On 8 August 1907, a group of leading rugby union players and supporters met at Bateman’s Hotel in George Street, Sydney, to discuss the creation of a new union. Trumper, Giltinan and Hoyle were present at the meeting and went on to become key office holders in the newly formed New South Wales Rugby Football League. The trigger for the establishment of the new rugby league was the visit by a professional New Zealand rugby side to Sydney in August 1907. This is the side who were called ‘All Golds’ by the Sydney league [image shown]. While they were All Blacks they were actually professional rugby union players and ‘All Golds’ was a sarcastic comment about the desire to make money.

The tour was organised by Albert Baskerville, author of the popular coaching manual Modern Rugby Football: New Zealand Methods. Baskerville was keen to organise matches in Australia en route to England where the New Zealanders were to play Northern Union sides who were also semi-professional. The opportunity for the best rugby players in Sydney to play against a professional New Zealand side provided the catalyst for mass defections from the amateur rugby union clubs.

After a successful series of matches between a hastily organised New South Wales side and the visiting ‘All Golds’, work began on establishing the NSW rugby football league clubs in Sydney. The foundation clubs Glebe, Newtown, Western Suburbs, South Sydney, North Sydney, Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, Newcastle and Cumberland took the field in the inaugural season in 1908. Adopting the playing rules of the rebel northern union of England, the new code reduced the number of players to 13 a side and included a ‘play the ball’ rule following tackles. That was really the beginning of what today’s rugby league and what you would have seen on the weekend with the grand final between Manly and Eastern Suburbs.

For rugby league to succeed, it was essential that it acquire the services of Sydney’s most popular rugby union player. This is where the celebrity idea comes in as well. One recruit who stood out above all others was Herbert ‘Dally’ Messenger. Messenger, described as the ‘Trumper’ of football by the sporting journal the Referee, was one of the most controversial players in Sydney at the time. I have a shot of him here [image shown]. After starting with Eastern Suburbs as a five-eighth in 1905 in rugby union, he was selected for the New South Wales side in 1906 and by 1907 was part of the Australian team. He was renowned for his flair in attack and his kicking skills of the ball and attracted considerable media attention. As speculation mounted that Sydney might have its own rebel code, Messenger pleaded ignorance about the plans to establish a professional football league. The reality was, however, that he was highly attracted to the idea of being paid as a player. As a boat builder, playing for New South Wales or Australia meant that, while on tour, he needed to employ another worker to take his place in the family business. The opportunity to play for New South Wales against the visiting New Zealanders proved irresistible, and Messenger’s defection gave the new code credibility. Messenger, like Trumper before him, had demonstrated the importance of celebrity in marketing Australian sport.

In its inaugural year, rugby league acquired a strong following among Sydney’s population. At the end of the season, South Sydney was victorious, becoming the first recipient of the Royal Agricultural Shield, which was in the exhibition, the game’s first premiership shield for rugby league. International competition was also a key part of the new code. A representative Australian side played three tests against a touring New Zealand team, losing the series 2-1. With the example of the success of the previous year’s ‘All Golds’ tour in mind, Giltinan financed an Australian tour of Britain at the end of the 1908 season. Christened the ‘Kangaroos’, the Australians struggled through their tour, losing 22 of 45 matches they played. The venture was also a financial failure, and the players’ return passage was paid for by the Northern Union. As rugby league entered its second season, it was not clear whether it would survive. This was the original Kangaroos team who went to England [image shown].

Rivalry between the amateur rugby union and the upstart rugby league was fierce. Debate raged as to which was the superior football code: league or union. In early 1909 an opportunity emerged to answer this question. On returning from successful tour of Britain, the Wallabies, the Australian rugby union side, were enticed to play the Kangaroos. The New South Wales Rugby Football League promoted this clash of codes as a charity event, belying the fact that all of the Wallabies players received match payments for participating in the series. The Metropolitan Rugby Union, the body responsible for administering rugby union in Sydney, immediately expelled these players, leaving them free to defect to the new code. Amongst the stars to join rugby league were Paddy McCue, Chris McKivat, Albert Burge, Robert Craig and Edward Mandible. While the four-match series was inconclusive, the Wallabies and Kangaroos winning two matches each, league was clearly the winner, acquired the services of the best rugby talent of union in the country.

After two years of struggle, rugby league began to consolidate its position. Growing attendances at club games, interstate matches and international fixtures reflected the game’s growing popularity and financial stability. The highlight of 1910 was a visit by the English representative side. This was followed by an Australasian tour of Britain in 1911-12. By 1913 rugby league had emerged as the dominant winter football code in Sydney.

While the debate over the virtues of amateurism versus professionalism continued for many years - debate over which was the better game would continue until today - rugby league had successfully recruited rugby union’s best players and won the popularity contest. In 1913, Eastern Suburbs claimed their third successive premiership and presented Messenger, their star captain and first superstar of rugby league, with the Royal Agricultural Shield in recognition of his contribution to the club. I should mark this opportunity centenary because it’s not actually a centenary Eastern Suburbs just won the premiership on the weekend. Very interesting parallel here when you think about what’s going on in rugby league to what happened then.

The star power is absolutely essential. Today’s drama boy Sonny Boy Williams, whose nickname is Money Boy Williams, has now just today announced he is not making himself available for the New Zealand rugby league side, and speculation is that he’s about to leave rugby league and go back to rugby union. You can see that rugby league and rugby union both want him. He’s an incredible player and will bring spectators with him. The same way that Messenger was recruited in 1908, the same drama is unfolding right now as each code tries to buy very good players. Sonny Boy is of course also a boxer, which brings me on to the issue of boxing in 1913.

The character who I would like to look at here is Snowy Baker, who is another celebrated sporting hero of the period. Here is a slide of Snowy Baker [image shown]. The son of a migrant family, Baker succeeded in transforming himself from a moderately successful athlete in perhaps the most famous Australian sportsman of the pre-war era. Unlike Trumper and Messenger, Baker excelled in many sports rather than specialising in just one. He represented Australia in boxing, swimming, diving, rugby union, fencing, water polo and a number of other sports. Other sports in which he claimed expertise included rowing, wrestling, shooting and tent pegging.

Have achieved considerable fame as footballer, swimmer and boxer in Sydney, he departed for England in 1906 with the aim of winning an English amateur boxing title. You get that strong sense that Sydney is not big enough. You have to go back to metropolis, back to England to produce it. Illness prevented him from achieving this particular goal, but he did tour extensively in Britain and Ireland, participating in swimming and diving exhibitions.

Sporting journals such as the Referee closely followed his exploits and it was only natural that, in 1908, he was invited to represent Australia at the London Olympics in not one but three sports – swimming, diving and boxing. It was at the Olympic boxing tournament that he achieved his greatest success. Fighting as a middleweight, he came close to besting the British favourite JWHT Douglas. Although he was defeated by the English champion, Baker received wide praise in the British and Australian press. Baker’s acclaim in England, like Trumper’s before him, was received with great pride at home. Some went so far as to claim that Baker had actually won the fight, an early version of the all too common Australian sports trop ‘We was robbed!’.

On his return to Sydney in late 1908, Baker was fêted by Sydney’s sporting cognoscenti. Among the many ready to slap him on the back was Sydney’s identity and boxing prompter Hugh ‘Huge Deal’ McIntosh. [image shown] In a few short years, McIntosh would transform Sydney into one of the major centres of professional boxing in the world. Realising the potential of major sporting events to attract large audiences, McIntosh built a new boxing stadium at Rushcutters Bay. For McIntosh, Baker’s triumphant return from London provided an opportunity to use ‘star’ power to promote his new asset. He immediately offered Baker the position of head referee at the stadium. The deal worked well for both of them: Baker gained a lucrative position at the highest level of his preferred sport, and McIntosh gained access to the Snowy Baker brand of all-round athleticism. Celebrity was once again proving to be an invaluable tool in marking sport in pre-war Sydney.

McIntosh’s plan was for Baker to referee the biggest title fight ever held in Australia: African American champion Jack Johnson versus Canadian Tommy Burns. In the racially charged climate of the times, the fight was widely reported as a clash between the black and white races. In the lead-up to the fight, Johnson vetoed Baker as referee, declaring ‘no blond’ – Snowy – ‘loves a nigger’. In the end, McIntosh himself refereed the fight and, after Johnson had pummelled Burns for 14 rounds, announced the African American the winner. While Baker had missed the opportunity to referee the Johnson-Burns fight, he went on to referee many title fights at Sydney Stadium.

Sydney, at this time, was in the grip of a major boxing craze, and Baker’s partnership with McIntosh helped to boost his growing reputation as Australia’s leading sportsman. Each week, Sydney Stadium hosted major fights displaying the skills of fighters from around the world. Back then fights were promoted often with postcards [image shown]. There is a nice selection of them in the exhibition for you to see.

Baker’s position as head referee often placed him in the spotlight of the media interest surrounding these title fights. He proved an effective media operator, often using the press to promote the interests of the stadium. In 1912, he was able to leverage his growing fame by establishing the Snowy Baker Magazine. Focussing on health and fitness, the new magazine was an ideal vehicle for promoting Baker’s other interests, including his gymnasium and mail order boxing instructions.

By 1913 Baker had become a major Sydney celebrity and businessman. The press reported that McIntosh had sold the business to Baker, although many suspected that Huge Deal remained an active if silent partner. Another of Baker’s backers was Influential Melbourne identity John Wren, who was famous for his political influence and links to gambling and professional sport in Victoria. While McIntosh and Wren were in the background, Baker was very much the public face at the stadium. The stadium had become ‘Snowy Baker Stadium’, and Baker was no longer simply the stadium’s lead referee, a position now taken by his brother Harold, but the head of a growing sports entertainment business that included a network of stadiums across the country. For those of you from Sydney, this was what was the Sydney Stadium later on known as the Snowy Baker Stadium looked like [image shown].

Baker’s biographer, Greg Growden, has described Baker in this period as the ‘Czar’ of Australian boxing and his glamorous lifestyle now involved extensive overseas travel and expensive cars. He was firmly entrenched at the top of Sydney society and, as with other Australian ‘tall poppies’, his success attracted criticism. Some of his contemporaries disparagingly referred to Baker as ‘The great I am’, suggesting that he had gone beyond seeing himself as Australia’s greatest athlete to believing that he was God himself.

After the outbreak of war in 1914, the nation’s interest in boxing began to decline. Controversy over the treatment of Les Darcy, the young Australian boxer who died of blood poisoning in Memphis, Tennessee in 1917, tarnished Baker’s reputation amongst sporting fans. [image shown] Here is an interesting photograph of Les Darcy and Snowy Baker, a real grapple between these two as Les Darcy was trying to avoid being controlled by Snowy Baker and Baker controlling what fights he would have. Darcy trying to make his own path.

There were a lot of conspiracy theorists who insisted that Baker, in concert with his silent partner McIntosh, tried to stymie Darcy’s career. This was a black mark against Snowy Baker. He rose above these problems and used his skills as an athlete and horseman to establish a new career in films. Starring in The Enemy Within in 1918, The Man from Kangaroo in 1920, The Shadow of Lightning Ridge in 1919 and the Jackaroo of Coolabong in 1920 – none of these exist in their entirety any more - Baker quickly became one of Australia’s first matinee idols.

In 1920 Baker left Australia for the United States in pursue a career in Hollywood. By the 1930s he was the director of the Riverina Country Club near Santa Monica where he coached many Hollywood stars in riding skills and polo. During his time in America he was credited with having taught Rudolph Valentino how to kiss, Douglas Fairbanks how to fence and Elizabeth Taylor how to ride. By the 1950s, Baker was a celebrated expatriate taking his brand of Australian athleticism to the world. Baker would come back to Australia and usually get a lot of press, be here for a short while and go back to America.

The triumvirate of Trumper, Messenger and Baker tells us a lot about the importance of sporting fame in Australia in 1913. Changes within Australian society had seen sport transformed from a past-time into a spectacle. The traditional ethos of amateurism that Australia had inherited from Britain was beginning to fray. Elite athletes were starting to realise that sporting glory could pay well. There was also a hunger amongst sports fans for Australia to succeed on the world stage, particularly in competitions with the British. Each sporting success was seen as a validation of the Australian project - a trait that is still with us today. Thank you. [applause]

HEIDI PRITCHARD: Thank you, Guy, I really enjoyed that. I found so much of it interesting but one thing I didn’t realise was that Newtown was one of the founding members of rugby -

GUY HANSEN: Rugby league.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: I am a Newtown Jets girl, which is a pity because that team hasn’t really existed for the last 30 years.

GUY HANSEN: You can still go to Henson Park and see the Jets today. It is just that they are playing in a different level of rugby league, and it’s very popular. Apparently there is nothing more groovy than to walk down Kings Street with a Newtown Jets T-shirt on.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: I wish I still had mine. Does anyone have any questions for Guy? One thing I did forget to mention when I introduced Guy is that Guy has flown the nest and he is currently director of exhibitions at the National Library of Australia. But we like to not mention that because we do claim Guy as our own – and we continue to do so. I hope it’s going well for you at the National Library.

GUY HANSEN: Yes, there is going to be a very good exhibition called Mapping our world which will open in November. You should spare some time from your visits to the National Museum and come over to the National Library to see Mapping our world, because it brings some very impressive maps from all around the world and gives you a history of mapping.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: That sounds terrible. You won’t enjoy it at all but you will really enjoy Old Masters, which is coming up here at the Museum. Sorry, Guy. Do we have a question?

QUESTION: Guy, your talk was very Sydney centric in picking out those characters. Do you have any reflections on other cities in the country like Melbourne or?

GUY HANSEN: Yes. Just in terms of the amount of time I had today I tried to use the rule of threes - three personalities where I could look at how these issues played out differently. Professional versus amateur football played out in Melbourne in a different way partly because there wasn’t the competition between rugby - rugby wasn’t so strong there. But you did have elite premiership competitions which was the Victorian Football League and the Victorian Football Association, each of whom had very strong clubs. Starting in the 1890s, both of those associations or leagues became increasingly professional and it was a bit of a competition as to which of the two competitions would go on to be the stronger one.

It’s a bit confusing, but in the end the Victorian Football League was the one which triumphed and had the inner city clubs was able to attract much greater gate takings and succeed. But for perhaps the early period of the century the two associations were quite equivalent and had slightly different rules. I think actually for a while the winner of one competition would play the winner of the other competition, and it didn’t always go the way the Victorian Football League. It did take a while before it became really clear that the VFL was the dominant league, and of course it increasingly became professional. But there wasn’t such a clear-cut split in the way there was in the rugby codes in Sydney. There was incremental professionalism in Victoria. That was a different aspect.

If you look around just concentrating on the winter codes, you have basically Australian Rules Football taking off in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia, whereas the rugby codes remained in New South Wales and Queensland. It’s an interesting moment around this period about whether Australian football would grow. Australian football was trying to grow in New South Wales and also trying to grow in New Zealand but it didn’t quite take off. I think it was partly the success of rugby union. Messenger was even possibly interested in playing Australian Rules. That is one of things – what could have happened? Could Australian Rules have taken off in a bigger way in New South Wales and Queensland? But in the end it didn’t. I am aware of the Sydney centric nature of the talk. I just couldn’t resist these three personalities because they are quite incredible characters, and I come from Sydney.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: And I was just about to add that Guy is a Parramatta boy. He goes for the Eels.

QUESTION: This is not so much a question but a small item of debate. Hello Guy, it is Robyn Pope. I would debate your quick throwaway line towards the end about spectacle and presentation coming in to sport, because from what I know of sporting history in the nineteenth century it was the scullers a little earlier than that who actually put Australia very much on the sporting map. In fact, a guy named Ned Trickett won the World Professional Sculling Title in 1876 and was Australia’s first ever champion in any sport, and from then on of the professional sculling champions from 1876 to 1907, 13 of them were Australian. I just want to put that in perspective. Rowing is a minority sport but it had an amazing impact on the colonies and gave the colonies a tremendous sense of nationalism. But I do accept that, by the era of 1913 we are talking about, professional sculling was very much on the way out and amateurism had kicked in.

GUY HANSEN: You are dead right. If I had really wanted to give you a comprehensive picture of sport in Australia at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century there are many sports which I should have talked about. Rowing was massively popular and another sport was cycling which was incredibly popular at this time. There were stories of clashes between amateur and professional and how sport was marketed and how it was covered in the newspapers, how the newspaper barons would compete and position themselves - all those stories are there.

You are dead right - in terms of absolute popularity there is no doubt that rowing and cycling were still up there at this time. I suppose I just had to make a choice. You referred to famous rowers. I am really interested about the names which actually survive because there are so many great sportsmen from the past who we have completely for gotten. Why is it that some characters actually survive?

The thing about Messenger, Trumper and Baker and other famous athletes too is that often they have the touch of entrepreneurial businessmen about them. Messenger wasn’t a good businessman but he was used by entrepreneurs to market the game and hence was built up. Trumper was a businessman and did market himself. Snowy Baker is actually where it all comes together because he is not only a great sportsman but also a great marketer and knows how to present himself. In some ways Baker was not the best athlete in Australia because he was good at a lot of things but maybe not spectacularly good at anything. In that sense, why did he become so famous? It is all to do with the marketing and the movies. He had his own magazine - so self-promotion. That is what I was trying to get to today about celebrity and the connection with sport.

QUESTION: I quite understand that. Just one other point though, if I may, Fanny Durack and Mina Wyley had won gold and silver medals in 1912 in Stockholm in swimming. They also had an amazing impact in terms of the feminist organisation. It gave a whole new perception to women’s sport.

GUY HANSEN: They did, and there is a photograph of Fanny Durack in the exhibition.

QUESTION: I think her medal is here.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: I think it’s at the Library.

QUESTION: That’s right, at the Library.

GUY HANSEN: I think we wanted the medal but we didn’t actually get it. You get the coverage and get the sense of Australians taking pride in sporting achievement, but the way that the sports writers write about women in this period is incredibly sexist and quite jarring. It is very tongue in cheek the way they write about women in a very patronising tone. You can really tell that there is a long way to go at this point.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: I think that is why it was so interesting sitting behind the girls from Canberra Girls Grammar who were being exposed to a lot of all these ideas with the way women were being referred to for the first time. It was fascinating seeing the things that really outraged them and the things there were able to let slide as well.

QUESTION: This is not so much a question as a comment: for those who are interested in Snowy Baker, you mentioned the 1920s film The Man from Kangaroo. Down on the lower ground floor in our Landmarks gallery we have some footage of The Man from Kangaroo where Snowy Baker plays the boxing parson. So you see him boxing and riding - and winning the girl in the end. It is downstairs near the wooden stage coach.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: This is an excellent time to point out that Harriet is one of our hosts. If ever you need to know anything about the Museum, always find a host. They are an incredible source of information.

QUESTION: My name is Bruce Kennedy, AFL fanatic. One thing in 1908 that could be significant is that the then Victorian Football League basically hosted the carnival in 1908 in Melbourne which contained all states and New Zealand. From that point on, Australian football hasn’t been able to establish anything in the way of international context. In 1908 when rugby league started with Messenger et cetera, I would say there is a fairly direct correlation.

GUY HANSEN: Yes, I think league undermined the efforts to create a national code because I think rugby union would have not been a competitor because of its strong amateur ethos. It wouldn’t have had the broad appeal that AFL has. I think it was an interesting turning point that rugby league took off at just that time in Australia.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: You clearly have a bunch of very passionate sports people here in the audience. I tried to get Guy to talk about motor cycling and he just said no.

I am going to wrap this up. This is where we get to sell stuff to you. On Thursday night we have an event called ‘Award-winning urban farmers’. We have some local Canberra producers who are going to be here talking about the way they are producing local goods but also giving tips so that you can take these ideas home and use them in your own garden. That is Thursday night this week. If you would like some more information, go to the information desk.

You will also find that this entire series was based around the publication we did in association with the Glorious Days:Australia 1913 exhibition. We went through and cherry picked some of the speakers to give you this insight that I talked about at the start and we deliberately asked Guy to come as the last of the speakers to finish us up. I told Guy that he went him last because he was the best and our favourite. If you could join me in thanking Guy for all his work. [applause]

I would like to say goodbye to the Hawkesbury digital hub as well. It’s great to have an audience who is not on site. For those of you who haven’t heard about this thing we are trying at the moment: we are having an audience here in the Museum but now using new technologies we can have audiences that are 350 kilometres away or 5,000 kilometres away or even on the other side of the world. It means that if you physically can’t come to the Museum there are other ways of us communicating with you, which we think makes the Museum more democratic. It means that we can talk to people who can’t physically get through the door. Goodbye to Hawkesbury – it was lovely to hear from you too. Give them a clap. If you get a chance fill out your evaluation form for me, because that is how we work out what worked this time and what we are going to do better next time. Thanks to Guy Hansen again. [applause]

Date published: 31 October 2013