Kalgoorlie City may have enjoyed rather less in the way of premiership success than the ‘big three’ of goldfields football - Mines Rovers, Railways and Boulder City - but the club boasts a unique and enviable tradition that makes it every bit their equal in other ways.
When the Hannans Football Club was formed in 1895 the West Australian goldfields region was at the height of its prosperity following the discovery of gold in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie three and two years earlier respectively. Football, however, was still only played on an informal, impromptu basis, with proto-clubs like Hannans being intermittently joined in informal competition by temporary loose affiliations boasting names like ‘Bendigo Camp’, ‘Victoria’, and even ‘Rest of the World’. In 1896, however, the first formal controlling body for goldfields football, the Hannans Districts Football Association - direct precursor of today’s Goldfields Football League - was formed, and Hannans, along with fellow Kalgoorlie club Victorians, plus White Feather from Kanowna, and Boulder City, contested the inaugural premiership, with Boulder City emerging triumphant.
In 1897, Hannans boasted a line-up of quite extraordinary strength, including players of the ilk of future Collingwood champion Ted Rowell, former St Kilda player R.G.Robertson, Alick McKenzie, who topped the HDFA goal kicking that year, Jock Tyson (one of six brothers to play senior goldfields football), ex-Fremantle champion Billy McIntyre, and Jerry Gullan, who would ultimately emerge as the hero of the season. Boulder City was also very strong, and the two clubs waged a season long tussle for supremacy which ultimately went down to the wire with a decisive, last gasp play-off which was effectively a ‘grand final’.
The encounter took place on the grassless Kalgoorlie Recreation Ground, with Hannans managing to do just enough to keep their noses in front for most of the day. With five minutes left, following a brilliant drop kicked goal by Gullan, the score was 5.6 to 4.7 in Hannans’ favour (behinds not counting), when an all-in brawl erupted, followed by a mass invasion of the playing arena. Despite the best efforts of the local constabulary (in the form of a single, mounted trooper) it proved impossible to restore order, and the umpire had no alternative but to abandon the match. Later that month, Hannans was quietly awarded the premiership cup following the umpire’s assertion that the Boulder City players had left the oval before the match had officially been abandoned, and in so doing had effectively forfeited the game.
Hannans’ pre-eminence was short-lived, despite the arrival in 1898 of top quality players such as Joe Marmo and Ted Lockwood from West Perth. By 1899 the team was being thrashed more or less every week, and spectator support dried up. It would appear that the club effectively folded at the end of the 1899 season, before undergoing a reincarnation of sorts under the name Kalgoorlie City the following year. Whether Kalgoorlie City was actually a different club or the same one under another name is a moot point, but the Kalgoorlie City honour board certainly lists the 1897 Hannans premiership among its accomplishments. Moreover, the silver cup which was presented to Hannans that year still exists, and is the property of Kalgoorlie City.
One thing Kalgoorlie City definitely either inherited or maintained was Hannans’ atrocious latter-day form, as well as lack of general stability, dual factors which eventually precipitated the club’s temporary demise in 1906. After just one season in mothballs, however, the club re-formed, and although on field performances were slow to improve - in one match against Boulder City in 1907, for instance, the team lost by the almost incomprehensible margin for the time of 189 points - on this occasion the Magpies, as they eventually became known after the first world war, were in the "big time" to stay.
In 1922, Kalgoorlie City underwent a drastic and wide-ranging re-organisation which involved an amalgamation with a local junior club, South Kalgoorlie, and relocation to that club’s premises at the Foundry Ground. A couple of years or so later Kalgoorlie City began to be referred to as ‘the Kangas’, a nickname it retains to this day.
Success under the new structure and moniker was not long in arriving. In 1925, the Kangas played off for the flag for the first time since the Hannans era, but went under by 38 points against Boulder City. Two years later, however, the big breakthrough arrived as Kalgoorlie City, having won the minor premiership, overcame the setback of a lost final against Railways to turn the tables on the same opposition a week later with a 7.15 (57) to 6.10 (46) challenge final win that was somewhat more comfortable than the scores might suggest.
Prominent and famous players for the club during the 1920s included future WANFL coaching legend John ‘Jerry’ Dolan, Ted Pool (later the first West Australian to play 200 VFL games), Dave Ferguson (later a star with Geelong), future WA state team captain Dick Lawn, Ernie Martiensen, a Lynn Medallist with East Fremantle, Ted Cahill (who went on to play with Footscray and Subiaco), and 1929 Sandover Medallist (with East Perth) William ‘Billy’ Thomas.
In a sense, Kalgoorlie City had now ‘arrived’, and although the club would not go on to enjoy any particularly sustained periods of dominance, neither would it again endure the prolonged misery of its first two and a half decades in league ranks. It procured a second premiership (or third if you include the Hannans flag) in 1930, and another in 1941, the final GNFL season before the competition ceased because of the war.
The 1930s was a profitable decade for goldfields football, at least in comparison with most of the rest of the country, which was in the throes of a severe economic depression. In 1936, Kalgoorlie City could even afford the luxury of an eastern states trip, during which a match was played against the eventual premier team of the Sydney competition, Newtown. The Kangas proved that football on the goldfields was still of a high standard by cruising to victory by 29 points.
The fact that, for most of the 1930s, the goldfields economy was in a somewhat healthier condition than most other parts of the country undoubtedly helped the region’s football clubs to hang on to their better players longer than might otherwise has been the case. Similarly, a contract to coach, or even just play for, a goldfields club could be quite an attractive proposition as far as top state league players were concerned. Kalgoorlie City, for example, was home at various times during the thirties to such top quality players as the Claremont pair of Johnny Compton and ‘Snowy’ Hardingham, former Collingwood champion Frank Murphy, Graham Little (ex-East Perth), and ex-Swan Districts full forward Ted Holdsworth. Meanwhile, players like Arthur Ballantyne, who captained the GNFL to victory over Western Australia in 1934, Charlie Ferguson, Cliff Tyson and Jim Sullivan, all of whom played in the win against South Australia three years later, resolute back pocket specialist Ray Steward, brilliant centre half back Rick Rees, and skilful left footer Ray Southcott all spent all or most of their careers with the Kangas.
Goldfields football was still capable of attracting top players in the immediate post-war years, and from 1947-9 Kalgoorlie City was captain coached by arguably the greatest full back in football history, Jack Regan (formerly of Northcote and Collingwood). The closest Kangas came to a premiership under Regan, however, was a humiliating 99 point grand final loss to a Jack Broadstock-led Boulder City in 1948.
The 1950s proved to be a more auspicious decade. Indeed, in 1953 the club enjoyed the finest season in its history, winning premierships in all three grades (A Grade, B Grade and juniors), and providing both the league’s top goal kicker in Jack Johnson (43 goals) and its fairest and best player in ruckman Don Willox. The following season saw the Kangas go ‘back to back’ for the first ever time after one of the biggest boilovers in GNFL history. Opposed in the grand final by Mines Rovers, which had won every match for the year up to that point, Kalgoorlie trailed at every change by 5, 4 and 7 points, before surging home in the last quarter with 2.4 to 0.2 to win 11.9 (75) to 9.14 (68).
In the half a century to have elapsed since that dramatic triumph the Australian football landscape has altered dramatically, seismically, and irreversibly, so that what was once an undulating plateau has become a single pyramid with one elite competition - the AFL - surmounting the apex. Whereas the GoFL was, at one time, among the most pronounced of the plateau’s many undulations, it now finds itself near the base of the pyramid, invisible to all but the most dedicated, conscientious or assiduous of scrutinisers. This observation is not made by way of value judgement or criticism; increased complexity almost inevitably gives rise to reduced flexibility, to a certain rigidity of pattern and structure, and this in itself can neither be regarded as inherently right or wrong. Whereas a young goldfields footballer of the pre-world war two period was comparatively free to select from a diverse range of more or less comparable career paths, his twenty-first century counterpart has only one pathway available to him if he wishes to reach the top.
All GNFL clubs have faced a tough time coming to terms with what, to all intents and purposes, is a harsh and unforgiving new reality, but perhaps none has had to struggle as hard as Kalgoorlie City. In 2004, for instance, the senior side failed to win a single game, a return that was reminiscent of the club’s formative days. A hundred years ago the club was confronted by the prospect of an untimely demise, and yet through hard work, careful planning and astute management, it not only survived, but went on to enjoy some memorable successes. The lie of the land in the early twenty-first century is such that there can be no question of history actually repeating itself, but there is no reason at all why, with an equivalent amount of hard work, careful planning and astute management, Kalgoorlie City should not still be around, in some shape or form, a century hence.
As if to emphasise that point, the Kangas enjoyed a much improved season in 2005, winning 11 of 16 home and away games to qualify for the finals in second place, and ultimately reaching the grand final, where they lost to Boulder City. An identical win-loss record in 2006 yielded third place on the ladder, which was also where they ended up after the finals. In 2007 they managed just 5 wins, but this was still sufficient to procure a finals berth. They then overcame Boulder City by 11 points in the first semi final before bowing out of premiership contention in the preliminary final against Railways. After that, the 2008 season proved an immense disappointment as the side managed just 4 wins and a draw to finish last.
The Kangas finally re-emerged as a force in 2012 when they reached the grand final, only to lose by 45 points to Railways. A year later they made amends with a 10.5 (65) to 7.2 (44) grand final defeat of the same opponents. A third straight grand final appearance in 2014 ended in disappointment for the Kangas as Railways cruised to victory by 8 goals. Following that they finished fourth three times in succession (2015-16-17) and third in 2018..
John Devaney - Full Points Publications