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Key 'Milestones' Affecting Community and Administration in the Brisbane Rugby League: 1922 -1987

Paper to the Sporting Traditions XV Conference Australian Society for Sports History Melbourne Cricket Ground July 2005

Greg Mallory, Department of Industrial Relations, Griffith University.

Originally published with footnotes - to obtain a footnoted pdf copy of this paper contact the author gmallory@vtown.com.au

"Rugby League in the new millennium will be, I fear, rather like those Buffalo Bill Shows that toured the world 100 years ago. All the skills will be preserved and on show, but they will be entirely divorced from the landscape and culture that nurtured them." [from Andrew Moore, "Opera of the Proletariat", Labour History, Vol 79, November 2000, p.68]

The statement quoted by Moore reflects the theme of the paper in examining the changes that have occurred to Rugby League in Brisbane over approximately a one hundred year time span. The paper concentrates on seven key 'milestones' that affected the development of the Brisbane Rugby League (BRL). These changes had the effect of Rugby League changing from a working-class sport with a passionate geographical community supporting local clubs to being part of the corporate entertainment business at the elite level.

The paper raises the question as to what this means for more locally based Rugby League clubs and whether there can or will be a return to community identification through communities' local sporting teams.

Rugby League has been played at a club level in Brisbane since 1909. In 1922 the Brisbane Rugby League (BRL) was formed as a 'break-away' competition from the Queensland Rugby League (QRL) and in 1933 'district football' was introduced, which brought about a stronger identification of community for particular suburbs. In 1953 the QRL and the BRL came under a single administration and in 1967/68 brought about direct TV coverage of BRL games to Queensland country.

Around this time residential qualifications were removed from BRL clubs. In 1976 there was a downturn in attendances at BRL club matches and this was attributed to changing population patterns in inner-urban suburbs and changes in media technology.

The QRL commissioned the White Report, in 1977, and its recommendations brought about major changes to the administration of Rugby League in the State within the next four years. In 1987 a decision was made to place a club team based in Brisbane into a 'national' competition run by the NSW Rugby League.

The paper examines firstly examines the impact these changes presented to both the Rugby League community and the local communities in Brisbane and secondly examines these changes in a theoretical framework.


Eileen Yeo defines community as a positive quality of social relationship. It has indicated the characteristic of having something in common, a feeling of common identity and, most positive of all, a quality of mutual caring in human relations. Eileen Yeo, "Labour and Community, and Future: or why Merrie (White Male) England and Mateship are not enough", Proceedings Sixth National Conference of the ASSLH - Wollongong, NSW, October 1999, p. 3

This sense of community as mutual support has also been extended to mean an actual group of people practicing community in a part of their social lives.

This kind of community requires the continual practice of mutual aid by the people within it; it is a community made by people for themselves. To Yeo, community is seen to imply simultaneously similarity and difference. It expresses a relational idea; the opposition of one community to others or other social identities.

Cashman makes the point that sport developed the notion of 'us' versus 'them' and the sense of worth of a community was reaffirmed by its 'local gladiators'. He states,

Community identification with a neighbourhood or a suburb took time to develop. It had to be nurtured by the creation of a sense of belonging, by the articulation of community ideals and aspirations and the establishment of local networks and institutions. Many voluntary associations within suburbs - churches, political groups, and a variety of cultural groups - contributed to a sense of place. The sports club was seen as particularly appropriate for generating community spirit: it provided a visible community focus and meeting-place. Through regular competition against neighbouring communities, sports clubs provided a form of theatre. Richard Cashman, Paradise of Spor:t: The Rise of Organized Sport in Australia, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 1995, pp. 93-94.

Cashman's point is demonstrated in the context of the BRL competition. Each of the clubs, up until the early 1970s had a strong foothold in one or two suburbs in their 'district', for example Norths were associated with Nundah, Souths with West End, Easts with Stones Corner/Coorparoo and Wests with Paddington. Valleys were identified with the business district of Fortitude Valley as well as the suburb of New Farm. Wynnum-Manly, a community on the outskirts of Brisbane were admitted to the BRL in 1952 and Redcliffe, a community outside of Brisbane were admitted in 1960.

Support for Rugby League clubs were very evident around BRL Grand Final This is well illustrated from an interview with Marty Scanlan, former player and coach of Valleys Well for instance, grand final days, or when I say grand final day, they did start to play them on the Sunday and I recall on the Saturday walking through the Valley, we all met at the Shamrock Hotel and marched down the middle of Brunswick Street up to the Valley Hotel which is now Dooleys. The police stopped all traffic. That was a big thrill in itself. The crowds of people, a lot of people used to do their shopping Saturday morning in those times, and this was about 10 / 10:30 in the morning and it was a real buzz to see all that support. They all had their coloured blue and white streamers. I can always recall Sandra and I, we used to do our shopping in the Valley of course on Saturday morning. Walking into the Woolworths, the BCC at the time, Brisbane Cash and Carry. You'd see the girls there, they'd have their blue jerseys on and someone would have the Norths jersey on, the opposition to you. It really gave a buzz around the place. They're just memories and you cherish them.

Marty Scanlan's recollections of BRL Grand Final days in Brisbane fit in with both Cashman's community identification through local sporting teams and Yeo's relational idea of similarity (with support for Valleys) and difference (opposition to Valleys).

Changes to other Rugby League communities: Does the South Sydney and North Sydney experiences relate to the BRL?

Charles Little in his study of South Sydney RLFC examines if the football played a role in the formation and maintenance of an identity for the local community. Little argues that the local Rugby League team created a sense of pride in their community and an increasing feeling of self-worth. He examines other football clubs, Collingwood in the AFL and 'the old firm', (Glasgow Celtic) and he argues that these clubs initially had a perception of inferiority. He asks, does the football team give the community a sense of dignity.

The success of the football team has spin-offs to people who do not even follow the game closely. The never ending changes that affect community bear a relationship with the football club and Little also asks how much the community was able to be involved in the running of the club. He also investigates the club's relationship with the institutions of the community such as trade unions, the ALP, churches, etc. He poses the question "how was the community juxtaposed against other communities?", in the Yeo sense of opposition to another community.

In the South Sydney case, a rival existed with Manly-Warringah, a club which was perceived as being higher up the social scale then South Sydney. Where the teams played are important for our understanding of its significance, in other words, does it serve a physical focus of where people believe they belong?

Andrew Moore argues that changes to the Rugby League community in North Sydney are attributed to three related social forces; firstly geographical dismantlement, secondly diminished sense of community identity and thirdly changing balance of class forces . In the 1950s the Warringah Expressway was built through the heart of the North Sydney community and divided into two . With its close proximity to the Sydney CBD, the North Sydney community changed its identity with property prices dramatically increasing which had the effect of 'gentrifying' the community. People from outside the community moved into the area. This had an effect of changing the balance of class forces in the area.

In attempting to translate this to the Brisbane situation, the gradual 'gentrification' of both inner Sydney and Brisbane has brought about people who would not be traditional Rugby League supporters.

For example Moore examines the rapid 'building boom' in North Sydney and the effect this has had on the local team with the working population not living in North Sydney and thus having no allegiance to the suburb. In Brisbane traditional working class suburbs such as Fortitude Valley, West End and Paddington have either become industrial/commercial or gentrified or changed their character totally. Fortitude Valley and End have become industrial/commercial and Paddington 'gentrified'. West End has changed it character to be seen as an 'alternative' community. Valleys, Wests and Souths RLFCs have all been affected to the extent that Valleys no longer exists in its senior form, Wests is struggling in a lower competition and Souths has been 'saved' by the intervention of Canberra RLFC. The very proud Norths is now described as a 'feeder club' to the Melbourne Storm.


Formation - 1909
In 1908 in Brisbane seven rugby union players formed the Queensland Rugby League. The general feeling from the 'founding fathers' was that Rugby Union had been run by an 'old brigade' who were oblivious to appeals by the players for better treatment. Already the code had been established in Sydney and there was a great opportunity to play a more open game with 26 players on the field as opposed to 30. There was also a feeling that the players needed to have a more direct say in the running of the sport. The new code would be professional and based itself on the Northern Union game formed in Huddersfield in 1895.

The setting up of the new code was viciously attacked by the press and rugby union on the grounds that professionalism would bring about the ruination of sport. The founding fathers became influential men in other areas, particularly John Fihelly, who was a member of the Australian Labor Party, and won the seat of Paddington in 1912 and went on to be Minister for Railways and Deputy Premier. The link between the ALP and the QRL is still strong to this day.

The 'founding fathers' saw themselves as pro-working class and attempting to develop a more democratic approach to the running of the sport compared to their rugby union counterparts. Scott states that Rugby League provided players with extra security for them and their families. This once again contrasted with rugby union. The first club season of Rugby League began in Brisbane on 8 May 1909 with the founding clubs being North Brisbane, Toombul, Valley, South Brisbane and later on Milton. The matches were played at the Brisbane Cricket Ground and were under control of the Queensland Rugby Football League (QRFL and later QRL).

The democratic approach was short-lived as one particular administrator emerged in the QRL who was seen as having dictatorial attitude to the running of the game. His name was Harry Sunderland, a journalist who worked tirelessly for the promotion of Rugby League, particularly during the First World War. He joined the QRL in 1913 and was the first paid secretary. Sunderland worked with clubs, particularly if they got into difficulties, and traveled throughout Queensland promoting the game. Most coastal towns were playing the game as well as Ipswich and the Darling Downs.

He traveled interstate to encourage clubs to visit Queensland. Top players were invited to play in Queensland and all these played under the QRL banner. However by 1918 Brisbane officials were feeling that they were being ignored. In this year the Western Suburbs club was stripped of its premiership points by the QRL for playing an unregistered Sydney player Ricketty Johnson. In response, Wests withdrew from the competition. This event was known as the 'Ricketty Johnson ring-in' case and set in motion events which would bring about the formation of the Brisbane Rugby League (BRFL and later the BRL') in 1922.

1922 Formation of the Brisbane Rugby League (BRL)
The issues that drove this 'breakaway' were the dictatorial attitude of the QRL and the lack of compensation for the players. Scott and Howells state:

So, the Brisbane rugby league was born out of dissatisfaction with the Rugby League administration and resentment over the salary paid to Harry Sunderland. He was receiving a good salary as QRL secretary and at the same time was being paid for his newspaper writing as well. The players were not receiving compensation for injuries and they believed that Sunderland was getting money that was rightly due to them. The issue was little different from that which had caused the original breakaway from the Rugby Union. The players were basically working-class, it was their blood and skin left on the playing fields, and their financial remuneration had been minimal. Max and Reet Howell, The Greatest Game Under the Sun, Leon Beddington Publisher, Queensland Rugby Football League,

The BRL grew in strength combating a QRL attempt at winning back control in 1923-24. The original teams were Brothers, Carltons, Coorparoo, University, Valley and the Grammars club was added the next season. An issue facing the new administration was the location of matches for its representative teams. The BRL obtained the Exhibition Grounds for its matches against Toowoomba. The QRL and the BRL continued to be in dispute through the 1920s and the early 1930s.

With two competitions running in Brisbane, the BRL encountered financial difficulties. Attempts at mediation by the NSW RL failed. However in 1930 a compromise was reached with the BRL having complete control over all club and inter-city games in Brisbane, and the BRL to have its own secretary and treasurer.

In 1932 the Gabba became the home for Rugby League when discussions with the QRL, BRL AND the Royal National Association, controllers of the Exhibition Ground, broke down.

District football, which meant that players had to reside in the club's defined geographical area, was another issue that confronted the new administration. Two positive arguments were promoted for district football, those being firstly that it provided a community base and secondly it made a more equitable competition. Brisbane was to be divided into Eastern suburbs, South Brisbane, Western suburbs, North Brisbane and Fortitude Valley. The Past Brothers club, by their very nature defied the district concept, however proof had to be obtained that the players had been to or have attended a Christian Brothers College .

1933 District Football
In 1933 district football became a reality when Carltons became Southern Suburbs, Coorparoo and Wynnum (formerly Wynnum Rugby Union) became Eastern Suburbs and Grammars became Northern Suburbs. According to Ryan the 'district scheme' introduced strict residential provisions for players and "the BRFL hoped to insure the true identity of the club teams by enforcing a 'locals only' team make-up". In 1934 University returned to Rugby Union, the South Coast was in the competition for a brief time between 1952-5. As stated previously Wynnum-Manly joined in 1952 and Redcliffe in 1960. An interesting point about district football was that until the 1960s, a lot of the district clubs did not control their home grounds.

1953/1954 - QRL and the BRL came under a single administration/Lang Park decision
1953 was pivotal for Rugby League administration in Queensland. In this year the BRL and the QRL merged and Ron McAuliffe was appointed joint secretary of both organizations. McAuliffe was to have a long term influence over Rugby League in Queensland, well into the 1980s. In the long term the consequences of this decision was that Brisbane club football would dominate over other competitions in the State. One of McAuliffe's first achievements was to secure Lang Park as a future headquarters for Rugby League in the State.

The idea was that the stadium would be rectangular in shape, with stands built close to the field and that there would be no cricket pitch. At this time most major Rugby League grounds in Australia such as the Exhibition Grounds, the Gabba and the SCG were circular in shape and hence spectators were further away from the action. It was envisaged that lights would be eventually installed. The QRL would lease the ground of the Brisbane City Council and a summer tenant would be the Queensland Amateur Athletic Association. A loan was obtained from the NSW RL . In 1962 the Lang Park Trust was formed by the Queensland Government and had on its board one member from the State government, one from the Brisbane City Council, two from the QRL and one from the BRL.

1967/68 - direct TV coverage of BRL games to Queensland country and the removal of residential qualifications from BRL clubs
In 1967 district football came to an end. This meant that players did not have to reside in their particular suburbs to play for their teams. This brought about a new 'market' for players. It is argued by Scott that players held little allegiance to their new club and the spectators would feel estranged.

Community football was changing and the open market brought players of high quality to well financed clubs . Direct telecasts of Brisbane club football started in1967 to the country. A video replay was shown at 6 p.m. for Brisbane audiences. The second half of the match was shown. The Toowoomba League opposed this and it was not telecast in Toowoomba. The effect of television on the game was only beginning and this had long term consequences for the game.

The arrival of television brought in jersey sponsorship and sponsorship of competitions as well as ground advertising. This corporate intrusion into the game had long term consequences on administration of the game at all levels. The QRL examined its own programs. In 1968, a QRL State championship was introduced on the May Day week-end to replace the long drawn out state trials.

Rugby League was beginning to change its community base, its administrative decisions were being made on a more commercial basis. There were an increasing number of players going to Sydney to further their careers with the poker-machine driven Sydney clubs and the traditional Bulimba Cup, started in 1930s competition between, Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba was not attracting crowds.

1976/81 - a downturn in attendances at BRL club matches / 1977-81 - White Report commissioned
The effects of television were so dramatic that in 1976 some Brisbane clubs were undergoing financial difficulties as crowd numbers decreased. Television brought the Sydney competition to Brisbane and people sensed a better product 'down south'. Brisbane fans were starting to develop a second team to the one they supported in Brisbane.

Society was becoming more affluent but most importantly population patterns were changing, particularly of the inner-city suburbs who had traditionally supported Rugby League teams. For example, the changes in population to suburbs like West End, Paddington has major impacts on Souths and Wests. Whereas Souths still remained at Davies Park, in the heart of West End, West moved to the outer western suburs of Bardon, which initially saw a boom time with younger people supporting their social activities of discos and dances. However its traditional supporter base was dwindling

In 1977 Eric White Associates were given the task of investigating the administrative structure and running of the game throughout the state. As Rugby League was moving towards a big business an assessment needed to be made. Some of the recommendations were the creation of a one league throughout the state and the replacement of existing leagues by divisions. In 1981 the QRL became the main administrative body in the State and divisions were run by local officials responsible to Queensland Rugby Football League Ltd.

1987 - decision made to enter a club team based in Brisbane into a 'national' competition run by the NSW Rugby League
In 1987 the major issues involved making a decision in relation to putting a Brisbane based team into the New South Wales competition. The New South Wales Rugby League had made a decision about including a Brisbane team into its competition at the end of 1985. Bill Hunter, Chairman of the QRL, was an active supporter of the proposal and he lobbied hard for it with the Brisbane clubs and the regional bodies. He was met with opposition. After an unsuccessful attempt to have a team entered in the 1987 season, much activity occurred in 1987 to have a team organized for 1988. In 1986-87 Ron McAuliffe was the head of a group known as the Norwood-McKay syndicate. This group had been successful in the past with the Victorian Football League.

A second syndicate was formed, led by Darryl Van der Velde, the then current Redcliffe coach. A third syndicate, led by Barry Maranta, a Brisbane businessman, included Steve Williams, Paul 'Porky' Morgan and Gary Balkan. Balkan was then life-time member and Patron of Brisbane Souths. The Brisbane clubs were not in favour of the general proposal as they felt that this would set about destroying their own competition. Their revenue would be decreased as one of their main source of revenue, the selling of 'doubles' would be decreased . The QRL Board met on 23 March 1987, and once again it was lost. Bill Hunter did not vote and the proposal was defeated. The three Brisbane delegates voted against the proposal. The Norwood group kept lobbying and offered the QRL two million dollars to be shared by the eight Brisbane clubs. Maranta approached the Brisbane clubs and offered them 30% of the profits of the new enterprise. He promised sponsorship for each club and two seats on the Board would be held by QRL officials. On 14 April the QRL Board met and voted to accept the Maranta proposal. The Brisbane Broncos thus entered a national competition in 1988. Tom Drysdale, president of the Brisbane Division summed up the fears and hopes for the BRL

The future presents a very stern challenge to all clubs and all divisional administratiors but, on recent indications, all concerned with the propogation of our great code in the area under Brisbane's control are facing this challenge with great resolution and a reasonable degree of optismism. [Howell and Howell, p. 314.]


This paper has addressed the seven key 'milestones' that have affected the BRL since its inception. In doing this it has argued that the BRL over time developed a strong working-class geographical community centred in key suburbs of Brisbane with the exception being the Past Brothers club which had its own Irish working-class catholic community. The second part of this paper examines these 'milestones' in the light of recent theory.

Phillips has argued that rugby league has always functioned as a commodity when it first began to charge spectators to enter enclosed grounds. Rugby League from its inception needed to pay players in order to bring spectators to the ground in order. By becoming a 'professional' code, as opposed to its 'amateur' rival rugby union, Phillips argues that it was necessary over time to change rules, develop big events in order to bring money into the game.

Phillips argues that this set the scene for the commercialism with jersey sponsorship, television and marketing and the whole commercial penetration of the sports culture. He states that Rugby league reflected hegemonic values of capitalist society.

More work needs to be done on whether football communities see commodification as 'natural' in the Gramscian sense but it is reasonable to point out that league, like many other sports, has helped to legitimise the dominant ideologies of mass consumption, commercialism and capitalism. [Murray Phillips - "From Suburban Football to International Spectacle: The Commodification of Rugby League in Australia, 1907 - 1995" from Australian Historical Studies 110, 1998]

However Collins argues that from its inception the need to pay players, bring spectators to the game, necessitated an entrepreneurial class to administer the game. He argues that two types of people emerged in rugby league (the Northern Union) in its early days, the entrepreneur who had a small capitalist mentality and the players who had a working class and a more socialist orientation.

Scott has argued that the QRL and the ALP had similar orientation and thus Rugby League had its orientation to the working-class. The formation of the QRL was a top-down affair, just as the formation of the NSWRL with entrepreneurs such as JJ Giltiman.

However the BRL had a genuine interest in developing a community culture with its establishment of 'district' football in 1933. The BRL, born as an 'opposing' body to the QRL on political grounds of dictatorial administration and less democratic decision-making, immediately attempted to develop communities to the extent that by 1933, 'district football' became a reality.

District football built support amongst local communities, so that each community would be in contest with other communities. It could have been viewed as Stones Corner v West End or after 1933, Easts v Souths. Commodification was intended to strengthen community by charging spectators and thus paying players to produce a higher standard. This community basis remained strong right through until the 1980s, but along the way, technological change, population changes, changes to life-style, more affluences, more variety of choices and a more educated population, had dramatic effects upon the code.

The Appadurai/Bird 'scapes'
A way of examining these changes is to apply the model of 'scapes' originally developed by Appardurai and extended upon by Bird. This has been described as increased 'flows' between cultures and Appadurai has identified five dimensions which he labels as 'scapes. These 'scapes' are not mutually exclusive.

In simple terms ethnoscapes refers broadly to flow of people, financescapes as the global expansion of capitalism and its need to seek new markets, ideoscapes as the flow of ideas, mediascapes as the flows produced by mass media in particular, television and the internet and technoscapes as the flow of ideas that become manifest in physical terms such as machinery, communication and modes of transport.

Bird has added two other 'scapes' to Appadurai, these being landscapes and managementscapes. Landscapes are space and place and their relationship to other phenomena and managementscapes which examine the who, what, when, where and how? An example will illustrate how these 'scapes' relate to sport. Bale has shown the relationship between technoscapes and landscapes by stating that historically sport grew with the coming of the railway by "leapfrogging over geographical space".

Another example could be population shifts from the inner city to the outer suburbs and then a 'gentrification' with a population expansion as a wealthy younger class wanting to live closer in to the city. This has resulted in increased house prices in Brisbane within these 'gentrified' suburbs. This has occurred dramatically in West End, formerly Souths 'key' suburb for supporters.

In the Appadurai/Bird model this could be called ethnoscpes, but relates to some of the other 'scapes', for example landscapes and financscapes. In 1953 the QRL and the BRL came under a single administration and plans were put in place to develop Lang Park as Queensland's leading Rugby League ground. A more centralized bureaucracy was developing and Brisbane was emerging as the focal point for Rugby League in Queensland.

Bird, commenting on the work of Gruneau, sees this as an example of managementscapes leading to a dependency relationship that eventually evolved with Brisbane drawing the best talent from country areas to play in its local competition.

The 'scapes' and commercialism
By 1967/68 the media technologies were becoming more pervasive and the decision to televise BRL games to the country reinforced Brisbane as the focal point as well as opening up a range of commercial issues.

Both Miller and Hargraeves see television as being a vehicle for capitalism to use sport as a medium for selling products. Television opened up the way for jersey sponsorship, the clubs then became dependent on attracting sponsors who would essentially pay the players. This also opened up a dependency relationship with the administrators of the code becoming closely involved with television coverage.

This relationship has been problematic since the 1960s, culminating in the "War" (Superleague) in 1995 and the current 'control' Channel 9 and Pay-TV has over the timing of games. The current debate over the NRL Grand Final being played on Sunday nights reinforces this position.

The Implications of the White Report and the formation of the Brisbane Broncos
In 1981 the White Report recommended a dramatic change to the way Rugby League had been administered in the State. The setting up of a company known as QRL Inc. divided the State into regions which ran their internal competitions but were responsible to the QRL.
The old BRL became the South-East Division and maintained the existing clubs and included Logan City and then Ipswich.

In 1987 when a decision was made to allow a team called the Brisbane Broncos into the NSW RL competition, this brought about the eventual branding of a team who in a sense did not represent a traditional geographical area. Although Brisbane teams had played in the past, they were representative teams, playing in the Bulimba Cup competition since the 1930s. They also played in the mid-week knockout competition originally known as the Amco Cup.

However the term Bronco as a team name did not seem to be any way related to symbols associated with Brisbane. The BRL used to have on its representative jerseys, the poinsettia, a tree that flowers in winter in Brisbane.

These two events redefined the landscape of Rugby League in Brisbane.

Naomi Klein has written extensively on the use of logos in modern capitalist society and argues that people do not but a product but they but an image associated with the product. For example people don't necessarily buy Nike running shoes but the lifestyle and associated trappings that accompany the shoes.

Falcous has pointed out that with the introduction of the Super-League in England, the traditional logos have been replaced by modern American style logos. Traditional clubs such as Wigan, always known as the Riversiders, are now are called the Warriors. Other examples are Hull - Airlie Birds to Sharks and Leeds - Loiners to Rhinos. This has occurred in a slightly different way with current NRL clubs where they are referred to simply as their former nickname. Penrith are Panthers, Brisbane are Broncos and Eastern Suburbs Sydney are Sydney Roosters.

For the current Brisbane clubs, who now play in a state wide competition known as the Queensland Cup, this is slowly happening. For example Easts are known as Easts Tigers. However teams like Valleys were always known as the Diehards and Brothers as the Bretheren, but in my view it was not in any commercial or commodified sense. A more modern example in Soccer is the Queensland Roar, whose name was a product of extensive focus group research. They were originally Hollandia and then lately Brisbane Lions and then Queensland Lions. Tim Baker reinforces the point on 'branding' in the Sydney context:

There was a time - yesterday it seems - when Rugby League was truly tribal... A time when your local club side came from Canterbury or Cronulla rather than some place called the Bulldogs or Sharks. [Tim Baker, Inside Sport, "The Lost Tribes", August 2002, p.68]

Loss of Social Capital ("Bowling Alone")
The demise of community-based sport represents a huge erosion of our social capital, in which public assets are taken over by private business interests for personal gain, rather than the common good. The result is a less connected society and real social costs. Putnam has argued that in the United States of America, in the past 20 years there has been a 10% increase in the number of people bowling but there has been a 40% decline in the number of people bowling in organized leagues. If you enter a bowling alley in America you are likely to see people simply 'bowling alone'. Does the decline in support for local Rugby League teams an example of this concept?


The paper has explored the connection between community and local Rugby League in Brisbane by examining the key-milestones affecting the code over the past 100 years. It has attempted to explain the changes in relation to theoretical models and concepts. In Brisbane the local communities that traditionally supported local clubs have declined dramatically. The community aspect of 'us' versus 'them' has been transferred to Brisbane versus southern rugby league clubs.

However this transference has not been that simple. For example, traditional supporters of clubs like Brisbane Souths, now are active supporters of South Sydney by way of established Brisbane based fan groups.

However in recent years Brisbane clubs have slowly increased their support base with an increase in crowds in the current Queensland Cup competition. The Courier-Mail has given more coverage over the past few years. Last year the Queensland Cup Grand Final attracted 10000 people at Lang Park and it received interest in Sydney, a situation that was never matched in the height of the BRL competition. Queensland Cup games are now shown during the week on Fox Sport and the new digital channel 2.

The new technology, once attributed to the decline in the popularity of the BRL, may now be used to increase interest in the Queensland Cup, a competition which is regarded as the leading second tier Rugby League competition in Australia.



Tim Baker, Inside Sport, "The Lost Tribes", August 2002,

Murray Bird, "Conceptual Development of Managementscapes and its application to the History of Australian Football in Queensland between 1866 and 1890", a dissertation submitted in partial requirement for the Masters of Sports Management, Department of Tourism, Leisure, Hotel and Sports Management, Griffith University, 2004,

Richard Cashman, Paradise of Spor:t: The Rise of Organized Sport in Australia, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne,

1995 Tony Collins, Rugby's Great Split: Class, Culture and the Origins of Rugby League Football, Frank Cass, London, 1998

Mark Falcous "The Resilience of Local Sporting Cultures: A Case Study of the Cultural Impacts of the 'European Superleague", thesis submitted to the School of Physical and Health Education, for the degree of MA, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 1997

Jack Gallaway, The Brisbane Broncos: The Team to Beat, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 2001

John Hargraeves, Sport, Power and Culture: a social and historical analysis of popular sport in Britain, Cambridge, Polity Press,

1986 Peter Horton " 'Scapes' and 'Phases': An Overview of Two Approaches to Sport and Globalisation", Social Alternatives, Vol. 15, No. 1 January, 1996

Max and Reet Howell, The Greatest Game Under the Sun, Leon Beddington Publisher, Queensland Rugby Football League, 198?,

Charles Little, "Local Sporting Clubs and the Formation and Maintenance of Community Identity - A Case Study of the South Sydney District Rugby League Club, Australia, paper found in the Tom Brock Collection, from Tom Brock Collection, Social Sciences and Humanities Library, University of New South Wales

Greg Mallory, "The Brisbane Rugby League: A Case of Southern Imperialism", paper presented to the Teams and Fans Conference, Third Football Studies Group Conference, Sunshine Coast, 1999, donated by the author to web-site, "RL1908.com"

Toby Miller, Globalization and Sport, London, Sage, 2001

Andrew Moore, "The Curse of the Kalahari: the North Sydney Bears and the Ghosts of 1921 - 1922", Sporting Traditions, Vol. 5, 1989

Andrew Moore, "Opera of the Proletariat", Labour History, Vol 79, November 2000

Murray Phillips - "From Suburban Football to International Spectacle: The Commodification of Rugby League in Australia, 1907 - 1995", Australian Historical Studies 110, 1998

Ronald James Ryan, "The History of Rugby League Football in Australia": A Thesis presented to the Department of Physical Education, California State University, Long Beach, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree Master of Arts, December, 1978

Edmond Scott, 'Rugby League in Brisbane: From the Genesis to the Formation of the Brisbane Rugby League'., Masters of Human Movement Studies (Qualifying) University of Queensland

Eileen Yeo, "Labour and Community, and Future: or why Merrie (White Male) England and Mateship are not enough", Proceedings Sixth National Conference of the ASSLH - Wollongong, NSW, October 1999

Marty Scanlan Interview with Greg Mallory, Morayfield, 2001


"Hand-To-Brand-Combat: A Profile of Naomi Klein", The Guardian, 23 September, 2000.

"Moniker meltdown contaminates A-League, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 February, 2005

Social Capital; What is it? Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam http;//www.bowlingalone.com/socialcapital.php3

Tom Brock Collection, University of New South Wales

Originally published with footnotes - to obtain a footnoted pdf copy of this paper contact the author gmallory@vtown.com.au



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