Hurst a key club in early days of Bendigo footy

By Richard Jones

Sandhurst has been a key club in Bendigo football circles since the foundation of the league (then known as the Association) back in the 1860s.

Former Bendigo Advertiser editor, footy writer and historian Cyril Michelsen bequeathed a heap of old footy documents and match-day Records --- which he’d produced weekly from the early 1920s --- to me back in the 1990s.

He had written about the formation of footy in Bendigo going right back to the early 1860s.

Cyril said the very first display of football on the Bendigo goldfields came in early 1861 on the Lower Reserve --- now Rosalind Park.

The Bendigo Advertiser reported the next day that “the ball after being well kicked and hunted a number of arguments were provoked and the game terminated abruptly.”

Cyril told me in notes I’ve kept to this very day that there were very few rules for Aussie Rules back then.

“It was a tough, rough game and with frequent fights there wasn’t a great deal of progress in a game where scores were few and far between.
“However, the very first (official) game ever played in Bendigo was held on 15 June 1861 between Sandhurst and the Volunteers --- an Army unit.

“It was a marathon effort,” Mr Michelsen said. “Sandhurst scored one goal on the first day when activities had another abrupt ending and the match was adjourned to 22 June.”

The Addy writer said no goals were scored on the second day after two hours of play and the match was again adjourned until the following Saturday.

“When the players arrived at the Lower Reserve on 29 June for the third Saturday there was a large crowd present to celebrate St Peter’s and St. Paul’s day and they disputed the right of the players to resume the match.

“And so it was abandoned,” Cyril’s notes conclude.

Goals only counted and were scored in mid-19th century footy as the rules then did not extend to behinds.

Goalposts were apparently made of roughly hewn timber with the goal opening much wider than it is in today’s footy.

The footy played in Rosalind Park was on a very rough surface. Not only was the surface extemely muddy, but there were gold diggers’ holes everywhere.

There were no recognised boundaries and no marked areas as there are today, across every oval from the MCG to junior, bush footy grounds.

But Michelsen noted the players of the early Sixties “relished the rough conditions and the Rafferty’s rules under which they were played.”

Sandhurst and the other foundation club Bendigo played a number of games each winter with the honours reasonably even.

Play took place on the land now occupied by the former Post Office, the Law Courts and the old police station.

”It was a pretty barren piece of land and definitely not conducive to fast flashes of play as we know it now.

“And incidents of rough play -— just like back in those first June Saturdays of 1861 --- were not uncommon. “And despite stricter controls and constant reports by modern-day (1980s) umpires there are still frequent incidents in modern day football,” Michelsen wrote.

These days with three central umpies plus three boundaries there seem to be fewer numbers of match-day reports, but it has to be recalled Cyril was writing of his memories of 1970s and 1980s Bendigo footy.

One Bendigo Advertiser article from mid-September 1881 highlighted the sort of scenes prevalent in footy of that period.

It was headed ’Football or Riotous Behaviour’ and the editorial writer heatedly sounded off the sport for a nasty scene in a match between Sandhurst and Bendigo at the Upper Reserve (now the QEO).

“Yesterday will long be remembered by the spectators of the football match played at the Upper Reserve as a forcible instance of the length to which some people will sometimes allow their vicious propensities to drag them.

“The many sober-minded true lovers of the new game who were present will not be much impressed with the behaviour of a great proportion of the rising generation and of a large number of those who should have known better.”

The flowery style of writing of 140 years ago probably over-exaggerated the on-field events of that match, but the Addy writer concluded by stating “if matches between the Bendigo and Sandhurst clubs are to be attended by such riotous behaviour as was witnessed yesterday, it would be far better if the two teams never met at all.”

Of course that advice never became law and indeed visiting Melbourne teams played occasionally on public holidays.

A combined Bendigo goldfields team drew with VFA powerhouse Port Melbourne and went reasonably well against top teams from Essendon and Geelong.

And Sandhurst accounted for South Melbourne which in this era, like Geelong, had won three VFA premierships in succession.

South was the top VFA team in the 1888-89-1890 seasons while Geelong had been the premiers in 1878-79-1880 and again from 1882 to 1884 inclusive.

The VFL, forerunner of the AFL, didn’t come into existence until 1897.

In the 1870s many local matches were played on the Kennington ground established by the Bendigo United Cricket Club.

It was often referred to as the ’Back Creek Oval’.

Other matches were played also at the Bendigo Showgrounds, now the Tom Flood Sports Centre, at Kangaroo Flat and, of course, at Eaglehawk’s Canterbury Park.

Horse-drawn vehicles would ferry spectators to Kangaroo Flat and Canterbury Park and then transport them back into central Bendigo in late afternoon.

I’ve mentioned early teams such as North Bendigo, Long Gully Alberts, Coachbuilders and Charing Cross in earlier articles.

One I forgot to note was Banks and Law comprised of, as the name suggests, young men from the banking and legal professions.

This club, like Charing Cross, enjoyed quite a short period of existence.

One visiting team which also played during the foundation years of Bendigo footy was a touring English combination.

It was made up of soccer players, of course,

“The English team visited Bendigo twice in their tour of 1888 and succeeded in defeating both the Bendigo and Sandhurst clubs,” the Advertiser editor noted.

“These victories were especially creditable to the Englishmen in that they were unused to the Victorian rules,” Michelsen’s notes stated.

The Bendigo Football Association had come into being in 1880 with the foundation premier being Bendigo.

In the first 20 years of the local footy competition Eaglehawk won nine pennants, including five-in-a-row between 1894—1898, Sandhurst won seven, Bendigo three and South Bendigo (founded 1893) one.

Like Eaglehawk, Sandhurst had a ‘purple patch’ winning three consecutive premierships from 1889-1891 with the 1889 season especially memorable.

The Cardinals went through the ’89 season undefeated and additionally downed South Melbourne, Adelaide and St. Kilda in what were billed as ‘Test matches’.


More to come as Bendigo footy entered the 20th century, the interruption caused by World War 1 and then Depression-era contests and finals series from the late 1920s up to the start of WW2 in 1939.

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