Good footballers are often described as ‘dangerous players’, but none more so than Alex Bruce who had a prosthetic hook on one arm, which made him very dangerous indeed! Less threatening was John ‘Specs’ Bennie who would use up to half a dozen pairs of spectacles during a game. Then there were players who had trouble with the law as the police were obliged to arrest young men who dared to play football on Sundays.

These are just a few of the anecdotes which enliven Mark Pennings’ exhaustive and fascinating record of the early days of Australian rules football in Victoria, Origins of Australian football; Victoria’s early history, volume 1, amateur heroes and the rise of clubs, 1858 to 1876.

Cover illustration of the 2012 book, 'Origins of Australian football; Victoria's early history.'

The author’s aim was to produce for 19th century football what Stephen Rodgers has so comprehensively done for the 20th century with his work Every game ever played. Pennings easily succeeds in this aim. Unlike general histories of the game by historians such as Blainey, Hess et al and Pascoe which provide an overall view, this is an encyclopaedic account of every season, and almost every match. It even examines in detail the pre-history of football in Victoria before there were organised competitions.

Pennings has meticulously checked and cross-checked thousands of newspaper reports to establish an accurate record of results, team lists, match reports, team captains, goal kickers, club colours and playing venues. There are three more volumes to come in this series which will cover the period from 1858 to 1896. It will undoubtedly become the essential reference work for the early history of footy in Victoria.

Wood engraving published in 'Australian pictorial weekly' of an early football match.

Sketches at the football match – Geelong v. Melbourne, APW26/06/80/21

More footy history can be found online via the Football record and for a complete overview of our extensive holdings, see our Australian football page.

Written by Tim Hogan
Australian History and Literature Librarian

This article has 6 comments

  1. When will the other 3 volumes be available?

    • Hi Brian, we are not certain when the next 3 volumes will be published. I have contacted the author asking for information. When we hear something we will let you know.
      Tim Hogan, Australian History and Literature Librarian, State Library of Victoria.

    • Amazing informative post.

  2. [email protected]
    To Tim Hogan.’I have sent information re Dick Lee of Collingwood using his “A Type of stab punt and my conversion of my Stab Kick into my Stab Punt at the age of 15 years in 1949. I converted my drop kick into my drop punt at age 14 in 1948. I at no time kicked the Dyer drop punt. I tried Jack Dyers method and fund it unsatisfactory to use as a field kick. I was a reasonably good kick for goal and as a rover I needed a field kick. Once I perfected the kicks to my standard if perfection I basically kicked nothing else. My kicks were unrecognised till the end of the 1960 season when it was publishes as a “Delightful Little Drop Punt Pass” or a drop punt. My secret kicks for around 11 seasons.
    Jim Johnson

  3. Achieving a special honour on the football field, one which has been acknowledged as a primary effort in its own right.

    “For many Students, this was a busy time, full of varying achievements and stories to last a lifetime. No student found this truer than little Jimmy Johnson, who having attended the primary section of this school attended Lilydale Higher Elementary School between 1946 and 1949, before attending a year at Melbourne High School.111. While Johnson was not overly keen on the academic side of school he was committed to success in both football and cricket, achieving a special honour on the football field, one which has been acknowledged as a primary effort in its own right.112. It took him half a season, but Johnson managed to adopt his kicking technique so that he could make a drop kick into a drop punt and stab kick into a stab punt. I turned the punt kick into the drop punt at school, a kick better suited to the muddy local grounds, where inter- school and inter house matches were played. It gave me extra accuracy and control of the ball— and within half a season, mainly from kick to kick sessions, and aged just 15, I had invented this new kick 113. Johnsons belief was to develop what you have, which he undoubtably did in cricket and football. And later reorganising the variations in kicks used by greats such as Collingwood’s Dick Lee” 114 at the same time, conditions were tough at Lilydale Higher Elementary School.”
    The above extract from “Look to the light” on the Lilydale Higher Elementary School 100 year centenary book by Lynda B Carroll; acclaimed AFL author.

    Jim Johnson

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