Perhaps best known as the club which first unleashed the prodigious talents of Darrel John Baldock on the football world, East Devonport deserves to be extolled for much more. Formed in 1901, the club endured and ultimately overcame a faltering first forty-five years to emerge during the second half of the twentieth century as a mainstay of one of Tasmanian football’s three major senior competitions, the North West Football Union. On no fewer than four occasions between 1901 and 1945 the club was forced into recession, either for economic reasons or because of a lack of available players (or a combination of both), but once given the impetus of regular high standard senior competition it swiftly went from strength to strength. When the NWFU resumed after world war two in 1945 East Devonport was admitted to the competition’s four club Eastern Division and went on to contest the grand final, losing by 31 points to APPM (known since 1956 as South Burnie). The following season it went one better, downing Burnie 14.14 (98) to 8.9 (57) to annex its first senior premiership in any competition since the club’s formation.
After dropping down the list in 1947 East Devonport was back to the fore the following year when it overcame the grand final challenge of Wynyard by 15 points, 15.12 (102) to 12.17 (87).
When Darrel Baldock made his debut for the club as a sixteen year old in 1955 East Devonport had fallen on harder times, but the young genius was soon to inspire a rapid rise up the ladder. As far as Baldock’s individual playing prowess went, “he was an instant sensation, being judged best afield in his first 3 games and gaining selection in the NWFU intra-state team”. He finished the season by winning the club’s best and fairest award, and in 1956 he made the first of his 19 interstate appearances for Tasmania. A Wander Medal followed in 1957, but the one achievement that eluded Baldock during his four season, 71 game career with East Devonport was participation in a premiership team. The closest he came was in 1958, his last season with the club, but East were comfortably defeated in the grand final by Burnie, as indeed they were in 1959, the first of Baldock’s seasons at close rivals Latrobe.
During the mid to late 1960s players like John Bingley, Ron Tait, Frank Brown and Garry Davis helped re-establish a combination capable of challenging for the flag after a number of fallow years. The long awaited breakthrough finally came in 1968 when the side won its way through to the grand final from the first semi and overran pre-match favourites Ulverstone by 28 points, 15.16 (106) to 10.18 (78). This proved to be the Swans’ last NWFU flag, with its only remaining grand final appearance coming in 1971. On that occasion, the ignominy of a 61 point trouncing was, if anything, intensified still further by the fact that the team inflicting the damage was Latrobe - captain-coached by a certain Darrel Baldock. When the NWFU and NTFA joined forces in 1987 to form the NTFL East Devonport found the new style competition, bereft as it was of TFL statewide-bound heavyweights like Devonport, Burnie and North Launceston, much more congenial than the old. A grand final appearance in the NTFL’s inaugural season brought a hard fought 13 point loss to Ulverstone, but the following year the Swans finally reigned supreme after a superb 20.7 (127) to 18.15 (123) defeat of Burnie in a rip roaring classic of a match played in front of a record NTFL grand final crowd of 8,750 at Devonport. For good measure, full forward Mark Williams booted 119 goals for the year, setting a club record which still stands.
The loss of a number of key players, including Williams who joined Latrobe, saw East Devonport plummet down the ladder to last position in 1989, since which time the club’s supporters have grown giddy after a veritable roller coaster ride of inconsistency which has yielded the extremes of consecutive (losing) grand final appearances in 1997 and 1998 and completely winless wooden spoons in 2000 and 2007.
The return to regional competition in 2001 of erstwhile statewide competitors North Launceston and Burnie effectively raised both the stakes and the standard in the NTFL, and East Devonport found the going difficult. (Indeed, in both 2006 and 2007 the Swans finished an undignified last, with just 1 win to show for two complete seasons of football.) The 2009 season saw a truncated NTFL competition in operation following the withdrawal of the bigger clubs to compete in a newly formed statewide league. Ostensibly, this was good news for the Swans, but in fact they have continued to struggle, and in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 they ended up with the wooden spoon. Since then there has been a modest degree of improvement with the side finishing sixth of eight in 2015, contesting an elimination final in 2016, and dropping back among the chasing pack to sixth (of seven) in 2017, seventh (of eight) in 2018 and fifth (of seven) in 2019. In 2020 the NWFL operated on a reduced scale basis because of the coronavirus pandemic and East Devonport finished swell out of contention and above only Latrobe on the seven team premiership ladder.
1. A Century of Tasmanian Football 1879-1979 by Ken Pinchin.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications