P.O. Box 2065, Boulder, Western Australia 6432
Goldfields Football League (GoFL) and precursors since 1896
Digger Daws Oval
1896, 1898-9, 1907-8-9-10, 1913, 1924-5, 1928, 1932-3, 1935, 1948, 1950, 1959, 1977, 1982, 1986, 1989-90, 1994, 1997-8, 2005 (26 total)
Boulder City, which was officially formed in 1896, has the distinction of being the oldest country football club in Western Australia. Indeed, records show that a team going by the name of Boulder was in existence, and playing scratch matches against the likes of Hannans, White Feather and Kanowna, as early as 1895. However, it was in 1896 that the first controlling body for goldfields football, the Hannans Districts Football Association, came into being, with Boulder City being joined as inaugural members by the Kanowna-based White Feather, plus Hannans and Victorians from Kalgoorlie.
It is important to recognise that, at this particular period in history, when most of Australia was in the throes of a dismal economic depression, the Coolgardie-Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia was, thanks to the recent discovery of substantial gold deposits, enjoying unprecedented prosperity and growth. Among the hordes of hopeful migrants who descended on the region were large numbers of eastern states footballers of varying degrees of prowess and experience, but including sufficient bona fide champions as to make the standard of football on display on the goldfields, for a time, the equal of that being played anywhere. During the HDFA’s first few seasons, for example, Boulder City boasted players of the calibre of Oscar Hyman, Jack Leckie, Vic Watts and the long-serving Rouse brothers, Dick, ‘Butcher’ and Will, while during the first decade of the twentieth century, after the competition had been renamed the Goldfields Football Association, the club was home at various times to the likes of Phil Matson, the Shea brothers, Paddy, Jack and Tom, Fred ‘Charger’ Hailwood, Dick Bliss, Richard ‘Bendigo’ Vernon, Alec Robinson, Charles Baldock, ‘Burley’ Beaglehole, Charlie Roland, Herman Kruss and Hugh Gavin. Small wonder then that Boulder City was the most successful pre-world war one club on the goldfields, with a total of eight flags in nineteen seasons, two more than nearest rival Mines Rovers, and three more than Railways. It never quite managed to win the state premiership, losing to East Fremantle by 31 points in 1909 and by 5 points in 1910, and to Subiaco in 1913 (47 points) and 1924 (23 points), but it might be judged unfortunate in that, when it boasted probably its strongest ever line-up in 1907, it was unable to come to an agreement with WAFA premier Perth over arrangements to play a match.
Boulder City was at the centre of a major controversy during the 1900 season when its captain, Jack Leckie, was suspended, and the club reacted by withdrawing from the Association. The HDFA’s response was to ban all Boulder City players from participating in its competition for the remainder of the 1900 season, and the whole of 1901, thereby effectively preventing anyone from ‘jumping ship’ to a rival HDFA club.
In 1901, in order to ensure that its team had somewhere and someone to play, Boulder City instigated the formation of a rival competition to the HDFA. Known as the Boulder Football Association, this league continued even after Boulder City resumed its membership of the HDFA in 1902.
In 1909, while on course for its third consecutive premiership, Boulder City embarked on an eastern states tour. After travelling to the coast it played the strongest team in the WAFL, East Fremantle, where its “excessive handball and short style might have pleased the ladies, but was useless against long kicking and heavy bumping”, and it went down by 31 points. A journey by ship to Adelaide followed, where the Boulder City party enjoyed the hospitality of the local premiership side, West Adelaide, which won the match between the two teams by 2 goals 5. Melbourne was the next port of call, and the goldfields side was given the rare honour of playing against a VFL representative team which, though not full strength, contained a large number of top quality players. Hardly surprisingly, the home side proved much too strong, and won by 10 goals, but the main purpose of the trip had been to engender and reinforce morale and club spirit, and in this it had eminently succeeded. Moreover, the performances on tour of players like Alec Robinson, ‘Burley’ Beaglehole, Hugh Gavin, ‘Dido’ Hebbard and Tom Puddey gave eastern states football supporters at least some insight into the high quality of goldfields football at the time.
The quality of the football may have been excellent, and there may have been enough money spinning around to enable clubs like Boulder City to embark on expensive interstate trips, but in other respects football on the goldfields during the first decade of the twentieth century was unabashedly ramshackle. For instance, until 1909 all matches were played on bare ground or gravel, and even after the laying of turf at the Kalgoorlie Recreation Ground that year the majority of GoFL matches were played on surfaces that presupposed both high levels of courage, and tough knees, on the part of participants.
The heyday of goldfields football continued until shortly after the first world war, but the exclusion of the GoFL from voting membership of the Australasian Football Council in 1919 precipitated a decline. Between 1920 and 1925 the GFA affiliated with the Victorian Football Association in a rather fruitless gesture of protest.
Boulder City continued to enjoy consistent success during the 1920s, winning premierships in 1924-5 and 1928, with players like future Sandover Medallists Lindsay ‘Blue’ Richards and Jack Rocchi, formidable forward Jack ‘Taxi’ Martin, future West Perth champions Don Marinko and Frank Hopkins (who also played with renown for Claremont), Bert Rowley (later of Claremont Cottesloe), the Milner brothers, Jack, a supremely polished centreman, and ultra-solid defender George, Bill Lowry, sometimes referred to with dubious affection as ‘Miss Australia’, Steve Kellow, Stan Maynard (who wore a felt hat while playing), Charlie Mitchell (later of East Perth), F.S. Hamilton, Vincent ‘Wingy’ Marelich and Ted Cahill.
In the 1930s goldfields football enjoyed something of a mini-renaissance as economic hardships elsewhere in the country helped ensure that many of the region’s top footballers stayed at home, where the economy was stronger. Fine players from elsewhere in Australia also descended on the goldfields in search of work, much as had been the case in the 1890s. Boulder City contested four grand finals in the 1930s, beating Mines Rovers by 17 points in 1932, Kalgoorlie City by a point the following year, and Mines Rovers again in a high scoring classic in 1935 by 26 points (this after trailing by 7 goals at the first change). The 1938 clash with Mines Rovers produced the only grand final reversal of the decade, with the Diorites scraping home by 3 points. Key performers for Boulder City during this decade included Phil Crabb, Lin Richards, Jack Martin, former Sandover Medallist (with Swan Districts) George Krepp, Sam Broom (who later played with East Perth and for the state), prolific full forward Bob Hopkins, Jack Ritch from Port Adelaide, renowned tough man Gus Hill, and talented ruckman Jack Reeves (who later led Claremont’s ruck in its premiership-winning teams of 1938-9-40).
If the story of football on the goldfields since the end of world war two has generally been one of declining standard and, in a national context, importance, impact and profile, there have nevertheless been numerous moments of drama, excitement and noteworthy achievement. As far as Boulder City is concerned, such moments have, overall, been sporadic, with the 1960s in particular being a decade of meagre accomplishment, but since capturing the 1977 flag with a resounding 24.12 (156) to 11.10 (76) grand final defeat of Kambalda the premierships began to arrive, if not quite thick and fast, at least consistently.
For much of the past half century or so the GoFL has tended to occupy a similar position in relation to the WAFL as that competition now occupies relative to the AFL. That is to say, paraphrasing Mike Coward’s memorably succinct appraisal, it is less a career than a conduit for players boasting high levels of ambition and talent - players who, in Boulder City’s case, have included the likes of Claremont’s 1949 Sandover Medallist Gordon ‘Sonny’ Maffina, South Melbourne and Glenelg rover Dick Jones, Kevin Crompton (Claremont), Vin Zani (Swan Districts), Don Fraser (West Adelaide), Glenn O’Loughlin (Subiaco and, very briefly, West Coast), and Neville Way, who was runner-up in the 1947 Magarey Medal count while playing with Norwood.
It should perhaps be stressed that the process by which the GoFL was transformed from ‘career to conduit’ was gradual, unlike the overnight transformation which beset the WAFL in 1987. During the early post-war years in particular the goldfields continued to attract a fair number of high quality league footballers who were by no means past their peak. Jack Broadstock, for instance, a former West Adelaide and Richmond champion, coached Boulder City to the 1948 premiership, while East Fremantle star Clarrie Reynolds was a star for the club in the early 1950s. Meanwhile Brian ‘Bulla’ Macgregor, who actually hailed originally from the goldfields, returned there in 1968 as captain-coach of Boulder after a distinguished 150 league game WANFL career with East Perth.
The GoFL may no longer be a top, or even second or third, tier competition, but its importance in helping shape the modern football landscape, and the quasi-national competition which teeters astride it, would be difficult to over-stress. Moreover, the histories of the clubs which were instrumental in making the goldfields competition, for a time, of equivalent stature to any in the land, arguably warrant significantly more attention and exposure than they have thus far been granted.
The Tigers’ recent record is a good one as they qualified for four of the last six grand finals, losing to Mines in 2003 and 2004, thrashing Kalgoorlie City by 75 points in 2005, and going down narrowly to Railways in 2006. The 2007 season brought a decline in fortunes, however, as the side bowed out of premiership contention in the first week of the finals against Kalgoorlie City, a result that was repeated, this time at the hands of Kambalda, a year later.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications