The history of the St Mary's football club began in 1952. The entry of the club into the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) expanded the Australian Rules game from a four team, to a five team competition. The other four teams in the competition at this time were "Works and Housing", "Buffaloes", "Waratahs" and "Wanderers". At this stage of the games history in Darwin, there was no reserve grade or junior competition.
Thus, competition for a place in one of the teams was fierce. This fact is highlighted by Bill Roe's oral account of his early days of football in Darwin. Bill, who was the winner of the 1954/55 "Best and Fairest" (Nichols Medal) award told how he tried to get a game with Buffaloes and that when he could not break into their ranks, went to the opposite end of the field to try his luck with Wanderers. Consequently, the entry of St Mary's into the competition increased the opportunity to play.
The circumstances under which the club was formed, were a sign of the times. In those days racism was so pervasive that it retarded many aspects of society, including Australian Rules football. The NTFL football insight records that "with the exception of Wanderers no NTFL team would allow 'full blood' Aboriginals to play in their teams". This meant that many talented Aboriginal players could not get a game. Many of these Aboriginal men were Tiwi Islanders who had found work in Darwin. This exclusion was soon to become a contentious issue through the advent of the St Mary's Football Club.
A recorded interview with Terry Lewfatt revealed much detail of the beginnings of the Saint's Football Club. Terry claimed that Ted Egan and Ronnie Smith, both of whom played for Workers and Housing at the time, were kicking a ball near the Catholic church in town, when several "full blood" Aboriginal men who were working there decided to join in. Terry stated that "Ted and Ronnie were so impressed with the marking and kicking ability of those blokes that they decided to form a St Mary's team." The team was to include "full blood" Aboriginals in its line-up and the move meant a major turning point for Australian Rules in Darwin. This change was highlighted through a statement made by Bill Roe. He states that previously Wanderers only had five "full blood" Aboriginal players in their side whereas "when we first kicked off, we had fourteen to sixteen in our side". Changing conventions of social establishment however, is never an easy thing to do and there seemed to be little difference in this case.
Strong conservative forces had to be overcome so that changes could be made. It appears that these changes were forced by a group of people that included Catholic priests and brothers, and most prominently, the Patron of the Club, Bishop O'Loughlan. Several people claimed that without the Bishop there would have been no St Mary's Football Club. Both Terry Lewfatt and Bill Roe confirmed this point and Vic Ludwig gave a similar indication. However, the manner in which the Bishop was involved is unclear. Other people who influenced the outcome were people who were associated with the Catholic church.
Vic Ludwig, the President of the club since 1963, asserted that among these people were a number of policemen who played an important part in overcoming the opposition to the club's formations. Vic did not elaborate on the nature of their actions, except to say that they had their ways and means. The main inspiration to form a team, however, came from three particular individuals. According to Terry Lewfatt, Bishop Collins AM (a Catholic Bishop, who is now Patron of the club), Ted Egan and Ronnie Smith were the three main people who were behind the initial organising and forming of a team to enter the competition. Terry stated that "those three are the main people who organised it". In spite of' the strong reactionary forces, St Mary's were established in 1952 and quickly rose to prominence.
St Mary's won their first premiership within three seasons of entering the NTFL competition. Their defeat of Buffaloes in 1954/55 by a five goal margin was an outstanding achievement for a team that had only recently entered the competition. This was due in no small part to the brilliant skills of the Tiwi players who comprised most of the team. According to Terry Lewfatt they were extremely fast and agile. The well Known Territory entertainer Ted Egan captained this team. Ted who is already mentioned as having been an important initial contributor to the establishment of the club also led the team in the two previous seasons. Other outstanding players of this first premiership team were Bill Roe, Benny Cubillo and Terry Lewfatt. As mentioned before, Bill Roe won the Best and Fairest award in the 1954/55 competition. Shortly after he was recruited to play for the East Perth Football Club in the Western Australian Football League (WAFL). He was the first of many NTFL players to be recruited to southern competitions. Bill was a member of two WAFL premiership teams and was also a State representative.
The late David Kantila was another one of the St Mary's men who established himself as a great player. He was a Tiwi Islander from Bathurst Island. He is remembered and respected throughout the Northern Territory and South Australia as a champion of the game. The NTFL had paid tribute to David by naming Kantilla's Restaurant at the NTFL Stadium after him. Bill Roe claimed that "he is God in Adelaide". He further stated that he was "down there in sixty three or sixty four, for a holiday" and went to watch David play. Bill claims that later "he took me into a few pubs and we didn't have to pay for a beer". David was a South Australian State representative on four occasions during the 1960's, and played for South Adelaide in their 1964 premiership win."
Apart from the great players that are mentioned here, there were many aspects of St Mary's early days that helped to shape the club. For example, club functions were purely social gatherings of families associated with the club. Very little money was made from these gatherings, but people generally had a good time. In the 1950's and 60's Darwin was still a small town and the game of Australian Rules was still undeveloped in the Territory. Financial concerns were considerably less important than they are today. This point greatly distinguishes the early days from the present. In the early days costs were incurred through the purchase of items such as boots, shorts, socks and faces. Many of the players such as the Tiwi men could not afford to buy these items themselves. This was because, as Bill Roe pointed out, "full blood" Aboriginals were not on the basic wage.
Consequently, the club had to cover the costs of these small but essential items. Thus, club functions that were largely social gatherings also served to raise money for these purposes. According to Bill Roe, "all our parties used to be at Dripstone caves". He referred to them as "folly water parties". They were held once a month, when the mission truck would be borrowed from the Bishop to help transport people to these functions. The proceeds from the sale of drinks at these gatherings were largely for the purpose of on-field costs of the team."
Another of the few avenues of fund raising in the early days was a pub raffle. Very dedicated people conducted this activity. It was a chore that was not rewarded by personal financial or material benefits. However, these workers got enormous satisfaction from seeing their team play and win each Saturday. Bill lvinson was one of these people. According to Terry Lewfatt, Bill Roe and Vic Ludwig, Bill lvinson was a tireless worker for the club. A conversation with Bill revealed some of the detail of his activities." The raffles were unlicensed and were therefore formally illegal. However, Bill claims that informal permission was given to Saints to operate raffles in three pubs. They were the Vic Hotel, Don Hotel and Darwin Hotel. Complications arose at one time because permission to conduct raffles had come from the Police Commissioner and instructions relating to these new circumstances had not been relayed to police at the street level. Consequently, Bill was reprimanded on several occasions and even taken into the Station. The matter was later cleared up through a great deal of conversing and discussion. Afterwards, Bill continued his activities without further hindrance. This was just one of the many functions performed by Bill lvinson. He also attended the football games where he helped with the rubbing down of players as well as various other related activities. There were other people who also contributed a lot to the club, however lack of space here does not permit further elaboration on them.
The hallmark of the early era of the club's history was simplicity. The population of Darwin was fairly static, the community was small and, many would argue, more cohesive. Nearly all, if not all the players were local people, and knew each other. These aspects of Darwin life seem to have promoted an atmosphere of kinship and loyalty within the various football clubs. Each club consisted of closely related families that played against other closely related families. This promoted a sense of rivalry, which ensured great spectacles of football. However, although there was great competitiveness, the game was still purely social in orientation. This orientation however, began to change during the 1970's.
Australian Rules Football clubs in the NTFL gained a more professional outlook during the 1970's. As Darwin expanded from a town into a small city, development brought more people from southern States. Some of these people became players and others became involved in administration. They brought with them different perspectives on the nature of the game and these possibly impacted on football development in Darwin. What is more, future security of clubs became an important aspect of administrations. Previously clubs such as St Mary's had held functions at people's homes and in outdoor locations. During the 1970's, however, this all began to change. St Mary's for example started searching for a suitable clubhouse. This did not eventuate until the late 1970's however, but in the meantime the game had developed in other respects.
Another aspect of this new era was the fact that players were increasingly acquiring economic value. As players became prominent locally they became more attractive to southern clubs, who pursued their services. Initially, St Mary's possibly like other clubs, let their players go with little financial benefit to themselves. At that time it was the players' interests which were the prominent consideration. The NTFL clubs were thrilled to see their players go on to bright futures in the WAFL, SANFL or VFL. Nevertheless, as the local clubs expanded and developed, finances became more important to them. Costs of running a club and fielding teams, by this time, were amounting to thousands of dollars and players could no longer be passed over to southern clubs without proper economic considerations. A letter from Vic Ludwig of the St Mary's Football Club to the South Fremantle Football Club in the WAFL raises these concerns. It identifies several ex-Saints players, who had been recruited to South Fremantle over the years, for a very low sum of money. It then goes on to outline the rising costs of the club. "For example, air fares and accommodation in 1976/77 cost $6,110.00 while the total club expenditure was in excess of $60,000.00". After asserting these facts the letter then goes on to ask for "some reimbursement to help compensate the club". Thus, this letter is a significant indication of the financial considerations that began to surround players. It was because of these developments that the St Mary's administration become more professional in management, and many people would attribute their subsequent success to this change.
One person who has given much direction to the club over the years is long serving President Vic Ludwig. His strength in leadership has largely ensured the success of the club through changing times. The NTFL Football Insight, asserts that "Vic's strength has been an ability to match the changing times and to look to the future for the good of both the club and football." Vic's efforts and achievements were also recognised by the 1991 Northern Territory Sports Awards, when he was nominated for the Administrator's award." The Profile asserted that "Vic has been prominent in the development of juniors with St Mary's and Northern Territory representative teams, and is regarded as a strong and capable leader." The profile further asserts that he provided "the administrative backbone for the club's dominance of the Northern Territory Football League." Thus, it has not only been the skills and ability of players that have made St Mary's successful, but also a strong and dedicated leadership and administration.
Development of juniors is an ongoing commitment of the club. Through the 1970's and 80's the club increasingly stressed the need to develop players at junior levels. Senior players were often involved in this process. Not only did they coach juniors within the club, but also contributed a great deal of time to coaching clinics held at various schools around Darwin. This fast point served to promote the game as well as bring new players to the club." It is partly because of these efforts that St Mary's have managed to remain a dominant force in the NTFL for so long.
St Mary's have been the most successful club in the NTFL since their inception in 1952. The record books are full of statistics that are evidence of this. Apart from the many players that were recruited from St Mary's to southern clubs, the club boasts a whole host of other achievements. For example, the league team has won twenty two premierships since it began and has been Grand Finalists thirty six times. Between 1983 and 1998. Saints won eleven of the thirteen premierships that were contested." This achievement is awesome, and much credit must be given to Coach John Taylor who moulded consecutive teams. What is more, many family names that were a feature of the 1950's and 60's were still prominent in this era. Among them were the Longs, Dunns, Roes, Vigonas, Riolis, Liddys and many more. In speaking to Bill lvinson about some of these family names and the great players that they have produced over the years, Bill asserted that there was none better than Jack Long. Jack, who must hold the record for having the most sons playing in the one team, was according to Bill lvinson, "never beaten"." Bill did acknowledge that Jack's sons were good players, but for him, they paled in comparison to their father.
Although St Mary's have not been as strong in the Reserve grade as they have been in the League grade, their fourteen Reserves premierships are still impressive. This grade was formed in 1953, one year after the club was formed. They did not win their first premiership until the 1958/59 season, however, following this they dominated the competition right up until 1966."
The St Mary's junior grades have also featured highly in premierships. The Senior Colts that was formed in 1956 has won twelve premierships. They dominated the competition in the mid to late 1970's and throughout the 80's and 90s. " Even more impressive, however, is the record of the Junior Colts grade, which was formed in 1976. In its short history, this St Mary's grade
has annihilated most of its opposition, often keeping them scoreless. What is more, they have on several occasions gone undefeated throughout the season." Other junior grades have also acquitted themselves well so well in fact they have won 19 junior premierships. Many of the champions who have played in the league team, came through these junior ranks.
Many people will remember the season 1978/79, because it was the season when St Mary's won the premiership in all grades, five in all. This season witnessed an awesome display of the level of talent and skill that could be found within the club. To my knowledge this achievement had not been accomplished before nor has it been repeated since.
The number of Nichols medals (NTFL Best and Fairest) that have been won by St Mary's players stood at eighteen in 1999 among the champions who won this award, was a youngster named Willie Rioli. Willie accomplished in the 1988/89 season something which his older brothers had never been able to achieve." Another great player to win this award was Gympie Lewfatt who won it in the 1964/65 season. As well as this Gympie won the equivalent award in the Reserve grade three times. According to Bill Roe, "Gympie has won almost every award that the NTFL has got". Pat Murphy won the league's Best and Fairest Award in two consecutive seasons. He won it in 1971/72 and 1972/73. This feat has never been accomplished by any other St Mary's player. John Pepperill was another brilliant player to win this award. After winning the equivalent award in the Central Australian Football League he then came to Darwin and won the Nichols Medal in the 1969/70 season. These are but a few of the St Mary's men who won the NTFLs most coveted award. Regrettably lack of space here does not permit further expansion of this discussion.
The most famous of the St Mary's footballers, are those that have become successful in the southern leagues. Several have already been mentioned, but there are still a couple that must be mentioned. Maurice Rioli was the best known Territory footballer ever. He played for St Mary's in the early 1970's before being recruited to the South Fremantle Football Club. Maurice was outstanding in the WAFL. He represented Western Australia on a number of occasions and was also an Australian representative in Gaelic football (a modified version of Australian Rules) against the Irish. After displaying his brilliant skills in Western Australia, Maurice was then recruited to the Richmond Football Club, in what was then the Victorian Football League. Maurice won Richmond's league Best and Fairest award in 1982 and in the same year was awarded the Norm Smith Medal for a Best on Ground performance in the Grand Final. Maurice Rioli was a household name throughout the Northern Territory and possibly Australia. He was idolised by young and old people alike. His conduct on the field was an example to aspiring young players and his magic like ability was a thrill for all to see." Maurice's efforts may have attracted more attention to the NTFL from other leagues. Possibly from clubs hoping to discover players of similar ability.
One player who has followed Maurice Rioli's example is Michael Long. Michael rose through the St Mary's junior ranks and then established himself as a permanent league player. While representing the Northern Territory against a number of Australian Football League (AFL) clubs, Michael was recognised as a player with great potential. He was subsequently recruited to the Essendon Football Club in the AFL. Michael was immediately included in Essendon's league team where he has remained and performed consistently. He was a member of their 1993 Premiership win, when he won the Norm Smith Medal for his Best on the Ground performance. This award was presented to him by Maurice Rioli."
As well as producing a lot of top class footballers, St Mary's have also attracted many. They can not all be mentioned here because they are numerous, however some attention will be given to a few. One of these players was Michael Graham. Michael had played for the Sturt Football Club in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL), where he established himself as one of the great players of the game of Australian Rules. Later he came to Darwin and played for St Mary's in the 1973/74 season, when he won the Nichols Medal. This win made it three in a row for the St Mary's Best and Fairest winners. Pat Murphy had won the previous two. There were many other notable southern players who were also attracted to St Mary's. Among them were Gary Menzel from the Norwood Club in the SANFL. Gerard Neesham from the Swan Districts Club in the WAFL and Wilbur Wilson from the SANFL. These are but a few of the many exceptional footballers that have played for the Saints. Some of these players had come to Darwin without offers from the club. However, others may have been encouraged with attractive packages. Bill Roe, who in talking about the success of St Marys stated that "if they need a ruckman [or a particular type of player], they just go out and buy one, raised this point.
The Saints' ability to attract good footballers has helped them in their quest to win more premierships. Sometimes filling weak positions with good players can not be done with the local stock of players. In these cases Saints tend to recruit players to fill those positions. This does tend to create a large degree of animosity among the locals. However, the St Mary's administration must feel the need to do so because they have continued with this practice. The danger in continuing this practice is that they may lose much of their local talent because of it. Consequently, the practices that seems to have aided St Mary's in the past but may hinder them in the future.
In conclusion, the St Mary's Football Club was established in 1952. The club was formed to provide "full blood" Tiwi Islanders with an opportunity to play Australian Rules in the NTFL. There was a great deal of initial opposition to the club's formation. However, that opposition was overcome by determined people who were associated with the St Mary's Catholic Church. The St Mary's teams of this early era consisted of mostly Tiwi men. Within three seasons of entering the competition, the Saints won their first premiership and produced their first Nichols Medallist. These achievements were similarly repeated many times over the following years. Saints have produced many champion footballers, some of who have gone on to represent other clubs and States.
The early era of St. Marys that was before the 1970s was characterised by a purely social ethic. The game of football was an instrument for social interaction. At this early stage the teams still consisted of mostly locals with a couple of exceptions. The professionalism that began to develop during the 1970s was not yet a feature of the game or the club. Behind the scenes, administration was yet undeveloped, and functions were held outdoors or at private residences. During the 1970's, however, this all began to change.
Australian Rules and the St Mary's Football Club expanded and developed with the growth of Darwin. This development-brought people and ideas from interstate and the club began to develop new characteristics. More and more recruits from southern clubs began to appear in the St Mary's line-up. Many of these players have served the club well. However, they have a tendency to stay for one or two seasons and then move on. The dilemma here is that local footballers often miss out because of the inclusion of interstate recruits. Consequently, the locals tend to leave and go to other clubs and this could be a big problem for St Mary's in the future.
I acknowledge the unknown author of the History of the St Marys Football Club. I have updated it to the present date.