Australia's Strongest Sports
In 1947 the Daily Telegraph produced a
souvenir supplement to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the
founding of Newcastle. The following article titled 'Australia's
Strongest Sports Centre' mentions many of Newcastle's sporting
heroes of the day
AUSTRALIA'S STRONGEST SPORTS
Newcastle in proportion to its size is the
strongest sporting centre in Australia. Eighty per cent of its
male population of eligible age take part in some sort of
sport. And Newcastle's greatest successes have been in the
tougher sports - football, boxing, racing. As it was with their
forefathers more than 100 years ago, sport is always the topical
conversation over a pot of beer, on the pit tops, and in the
factories champion becomes a public idol.
players and supporters are just as proud that young Cyril Burke
is getting a trip to England with the Australian Rugby Union
team as they were when League men like Wal Prigg and Herb Narvo
A sporting visitor is always well received
and cared for at Newcastle. Sixty years ago the captain of the
English Rugby Union touring team, W. Sneddon, was drowned while
swimming at Maitland. Newcastle and Maitland people still look
after Sneddon's grave in the local cemetery as if he had been a
local born idol. It all developed from a time more than 100
years ago - long before organised sport was thought of, and
Newcastle sport was a weird and wonderful thing.
miners made their own sport on pay Saturday. Publicans provided
it on back Saturdays. Miners played a strange game of Rugby, in
which rules were few. They also loved their racing on the small
tracks in the outskirt villages. The publicans arranged pie
eating, cock fighting and porridge waddling contests, quoits,
and club swinging. The publicans' sports continued until early
this century. The porridge waddling contests were famous and
Newcastle had its champions. The porridge was cooked in a huge
copper behind the hotel. Contestants would gorge themselves. On
lookers would bet big money about which candidate would eat
most. Those porridge waddlers could eat too. A character known
as 'Bibby" is supposed to have eaten 84 plates of porridge to
win the title at Lambton in 1889. Newcastle was as proud of "Bibby"
then as it is of champion boxer Dave Sands today.
Newcastle produced quoits champions too. The old miners will
tell you that "Chook" Henderson was the greatest quoits player
Australia has produced. Henderson threw 25 successive ringers
with two and a half pound iron quoits on clay ends 18 yards
apart in 12min. 5 sec. at Empire Hall, Kurri Kurri in 1905.
Quoits is still played on the distant coalfields, but only in a
small way. Before quoits reached its heyday the men bet on all
sorts of freak sports. A character known as "The Flying Pieman"
became famous for his performances in freak sport just 100 years
These are some of "The Flying Pieman's "
•At Maitland in 1847 in seven weeks, he walked
1000 quarter miles in 1000 quarter hours.
•The same year he
walked backwards half a mile in 6 min., ran one mile in 7 1/2
min., and wheeled a barrow one mile in 15 minutes without a
•Did 50 leaps 2ft 6 in high 10 ft apart in 6 min.,
28sec., put 50 stones weighing half a hundredweight each a yard
apart in 14 min., walked one mile in 11 min., wheeled a cart
half a mile in 11 1/2 min. He accomplished all this in 90
•He bet £100 he would pick up 100 cobs of corn a
yard apart and place each in turn at a given point in 55
minutes. He did it in 53 minutes.
The Flying Pieman is
still talked about in Newcastle and a local racehorse was named
C. Hearne was another notable in the freak
sports. He defeated T. Wall in a 100 yards race backwards in 15
sec. for a £20 side wager at Maitland in 1935. In 1884 Joe
Byrnes cleared 120 ft. in 10 standing jumps. Bill Hickey, one of
the colony's best rowers, on three successive Saturdays in 1865
beat J. McLear for £100, R. Green for £200 and H. White for
£200. He used a different type of boat each Saturday Hickey won
15 successive races that year, including the championship of
Australia. He again won the championship of Australia in 1873.
Newcastle had its track champions in those days too. In
1875 Bob Walson broke the Australian 440 yards record when he
ran the distance in 50 1/4 seconds. The first fight on record in
the Hunter Valley took place at Hanging Rock, a gold digging
near Nundle on November 1852. H. Young beat Quinn in 11 rounds
for a side wager of £100. They fought bare knuckle and each
knock down ended a round.
The Paddy Sinclair v. "Yellow
Jimmy" fight at Maitland in 1857 was the first fight stopped by
police in Australia. Sinclair beat "Yellow Jimmy" in seven
rounds and won a side wager of £100.
Newcastle began to
organise its sport in the latter part of the 19th century. Rugby
Union was the first to take shape, and competitions were
arranged. Soccer football, which has developed into Newcastle's
strongest sport, had its birth there in 1884. Four Scotsmen,
named Jack Winning, Bill McCrorie, John McCrorie, and Bob Frame,
received a newspaper from home. They read about the growth of
Soccer in Scotland, and decided they should have soccer in
Newcastle too. They sent home for a book of rules and a ball.
The book of rules and a five panel ball arrived 12 months later.
The four Scotsmen posted a notice on the pit top at Lambton
inviting anyone interested in the "new game of football" to
attend practice in a nearby paddock. They got a good roll up,
and after a few weeks practice, the players had learned enough
to arrange a match against a Sydney team called the Caledonians.
The match was played at Lambton on August 17 1885. The Newcastle
team won 3-2. The Newcastle Herald reported the match two days
later in its district news column. The paragraph was headed " A
Strange Game of football"
Newcastle played a prominent
part in the founding of Rugby League in Australia in 1908. It
formed a team and played in the Sydney competition that year.
Under thorough organisation Newcastle sport began to flourish.
Many champions were produced, and Newcastle soon was well
represented in international contest. Newcastle boasts it has
produced more than 20 Australian boxing champions. In recent
years it has been the feeding ground for Sydney in both Soccer
and Ruby League football.
About 15 years ago Wallsend
could put a Soccer team on the field worthy of representing
Australia. At least 80 per cent of Australia's greatest Soccer
players came from Newcastle In Rugby League Newcastle players
have built up almost every Sydney club. Newcastle has produced
nine Rugby League internationals in the past 20 years - Wal
Prigg, Jim Gibbs, Len Dawson, Herb Narvo, Dave Parkinson, Ron
Bailey, Noel White. Seven of the New South Wales team of 17
which toured Queensland this year learned to play in Newcastle.
Many champions would never have got a chance if they had not
gone to Newcastle settled there, and learned the ideas on which
local champions are built.
Test cricketer Arthur
Chipperfield is the outstanding example of this. Chipperfield
was an 'unwanted" in Sydney, could not even get a job. He
settled in Newcastle, immediately became happy with real friends
all around prepared to help him. Within two years Chipperfield
was chosen in the Australian team to tour England in 1933 - 34.
His selection was a shock in Sydney, but it wasn't in Newcastle.
Newcastle people had seen how his form had improved under the
happy life they had helped give him. For since the days of the
porridge waddlers and 'The Flying Pieman" friendliness has been
one of the characteristics of Newcastle sport
Telegraph 1 September 1947