AFL, 1933: Wave the two flags!
As a Victorian and South Australian team prepare to do battle for this weekend’s AFL Grand Final, representative teams from the two states fought it out 84 years ago for bragging rights as the nation’s top Australian Rules football side.
At each end of the ground stood two of the greatest goal kickers of all eras – both AFL Hall of Fame inductees and names immortalised in their home states. For Victoria, Gordon ‘Nuts’ Coventry - the record-breaking Collingwood sharp-shooter, whose 1299 VFL (Victorian Football League) goal tally would remain unsurpassed for over half a century. For South Australia, North Adelaide goal machine Ken Farmer, considered the Bradman of the goal square in his home state and in the middle of a decade-long run of goal-kicking centuries in the SANFL (South Australian National Football League).
For most modern day football fans, the pair remain just static names of the past – gloriously adorning stadiums and statues but unseen in moving images in their prime. Until now.
Footy legends on film
Part of the 8th Australian National Football Carnival, the game between Victoria and South Australia featured the two full forwards going head to head in front of 8000 spectators at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 7 August 1933. Coventry booted seven and Farmer six, the Victorians emerging victorious in a high quality group phase match, winning 128 to 113. The two teams again met in the Carnival final the following week, the Victorians repeating the result to claim national honours.
Representing his state wearing the same jersey number (5) he wore for Collingwood that year, Coventry is seen kicking a clever goal (see image at left) on his non-preferred left foot during second quarter action. For a brief moment, he and arguably the most decorated player of all time, Fitzroy on-baller Haydn Bunton (No. 8 for Victoria), appear in frame together before the goal is kicked. Astonishingly, this fragment marks the only known surviving footage of Bunton in a match. Moving images of Coventry are scarcely any less rare, a tally amounting to seconds rather than minutes. This little snap is believed to be the first known surviving film of the Magpie legend held by the NFSA kicking one through the big sticks.
Equally revered in South Australia for his still-unsurpassed 1417 goal tally, not a single second of film of full forward Ken Farmer in action had been confirmed to exist until positive identification of this footage by his son, Milton.
Though Farmer kicked six for the day, including one from a towering mark, the newsreel only features a hurried point the North Adelaide spearhead (wearing number 9, image at right) snaps in the first quarter, under close checking from tough North Melbourne fullback Charles Gaudion (No. 17). A later passage of play involving Farmer contesting a pack mark is spoiled by Geelong champion Reg Hickey (No. 2 for Victoria), resulting in a fine goal to SA skipper Percy Furler during the second quarter. Other players of note captured in the film include Glenelg legend Len Sallis (No. 23 for South Australia) and Geelong Team of The Century inductee Jack Collins (No. 12 for Victoria).
With only a limited amount of film allocated to covering such events, the newsreel cameras of the day were notorious for failing to capture many a sporting contest’s finest moments. Almost all of the film included in this 35mm black-and-white Cinesound Review newsreel report appears to derive from the first half of the game and the segment’s original soundtrack commentary no longer survives. Tantalisingly, a segment in the very next edition of Cinesound Review (No. 94) featured a report of the same two teams playing in the Carnival final, though sadly nothing of this is held by the NFSA. More than two decades before television began broadcasting the sport into Australian homes, the rediscovery of this 1933 Australian Rules football footage reminds us of two of the game’s greatest goal-kicking legends and their importance to the early history of Australia’s remarkable ball sport.
Read Mike Sexton’s fascinating story of Ken Farmer that led to the discovery of this film at The Footy Almanac.
With thanks to: Ken Berryman; Col Hutchinson, AFL Historian; Michael Roberts, Collingwood Football Club; and Mike Sexton, ABC TV (South Australia).