In 1904 a local controversy erupted about the indigenous players in the Condah football team. An anonymous letter written by a person calling themselves “fair play” appeared in the Portland Observer. A number of people took objection to the racist views expressed in the letter. Amongst them, and the only person to sign his name, was the club captain, Norman McLeod aka Scotty (b 1880 d.1918).
In addition to being a talented footballer Scotty was a poet, horsemen, shearer, soldier and at times, a larrikin. His World War 1 service records show that he was disciplined on a number of occasions for the following offences: ‘being absent on parade and drunk’, ‘overstaying leave’, ‘created a disturbance at 10.50pm’ and ‘did not cease talking when ordered to do so’. Scotty was killed in action on May 31, 1918.
The letters that follow are “To THE EDITOR PORTLAND GUARDIAN” and by the date they appeared in the paper.
SIR – Your football team, and that of Tyrendarra, got rather a bad beating in the contests for the Righetti medals, and probably Heywood will get ditto next Saturday, owing, I believe, to the quick eye and fleet foot of a few black fellows hired for the occasion. Is this, I ask, a faircontest between team and team? And if so, where is our boasted claim to a “White Australia,” when a few poor units from a lower race can beat the sturdy sons of our own people in their national games? Now I claim that unless conditions are equal there can be no fairtest of skill in any contest. Let the teams be all white or all black, then we can decide who the real victors are. Why cannot these teams act like white men, and stand or fall by their own merits, and so show what power lies in their own efforts to win a promised trophy rather than depend on the help given them by the progeny of a race said to be the lowest in the scale of humanity, although from the contest I rather doubt the latter statement.
SIR – Your correspondent, writing under pseudonym of “‘FairPlay,” is evidently much exercised in his mind at the inclusion of blacks in the Condah football team. It will perhaps be a surprise for him to know that Heywood and Tyrendarra also are proud to count men of colour in their respective teams. Portland would undoubtedly be glad if they could do the same, as it must be admitted that the aborigines have mastered the games taught by their white brothers, with whom they are equal, if not superior, as far as footballis concerned.
District teams should consist of the strongest possible combination, and if a player of exceptional skill, be he black or white, be omitted, the team would not be thoroughly representative. Surely it is carrying the White Australia cry too far when we refuse to recognize the descendants of the original possessors of this land as our equals, even in the matter of football. ‘FairPlay’ pays the dark-skinned players a very fine compliment when he attributes Condah’s success to their efforts. It is to be hoped that they will appreciate it, as it will take away the sting of the remainder of the unmerited outburst against a most inoffensive race, many of whom hide a very white heart under a dark skin.
Yours AUSTRALIAN NATIVE.
SIR – Having noticed in your issue of the 15th inst. a letter written by an Individual signing himself ” fairplay,” wherein the writer ventured to make a number of wild statements, and in a general way air his opinion on a subject about which he apparently knows nothing, I consider it only fair to my own team that the public should hear the correct version. But first let me deal with the individual who, in his own straight-out manly ” FairPlay” still stands behind the shelter of his ‘nom de plume’ and fires mud at better men than himself. Why, even the meanest of the blacks who he goes out of his way to insult, would not play the game so low. At least let him show his face, or forever hold his peace. I assume that ‘FairPlay” has no knowledge of the facts and therefore I pity his ignorance. Were it not so, I should apply the lie direct. So much for your scribe, now for his statements, which I take in their order and blow them out seriatim.
The Portland team were not so badly beaten as he states when it is remembered that they played two men short, and had to depend on the services of a number of juniors against the full strength of the Condah team. Neither were the Tyrendarra players badly beaten. In fact up to the end of the third quarter they had all the best of the game. Then how could the win at Tyrendarra be ascribed to the smartness of the colored players in the team when they were matched with a team containing a number of aborigines. Conditions, therefore, being equal, as they will also be at Heywood on Saturday. Again, the Condah Club do not hire players for any occasion, as stated by ‘the chip in hiding’ every man they play being bona-fide members of the club and, circumstances favouring, they will continue to play their team at its full strength, be the players black, white or yellow, and willingly concede to their opponents the right to do the so.
Now, in conclusion, I sincerely deplore the fact that ” FairPlay” should be so paltry as to insult without provocation our coloured countrymen and fellow subjects. Let us, if we are in any way superior, extend to them in fair play the right hand of good fellowship, and encourage them to be and do better. We whites have taught them to play our national game, so well that now at times the pupils can beat their tutors. Shall we refuse to associate with them in the game, we have taught them? Again deploring the ignorance falsity, or smallness of spirit of ‘the chip in hiding’ and thanking you in anticipation.
Yours etc NORMAN McLEOD, Captain, Condah F.C.
SIR – There is one who is greatly worried over the turn events have taken for the Righetti medals. “FairPlay” no doubt was in the past impressed with the idea that he was born to wear a medal, but since noticing the successes of the Condah team, which have made him bilious, be is loth to acknowledge the inevitable, which leaves the final issue very much in doubt. In the estimation of some the medals may be won, but I should say not engraved.
Strange that in past years a proportion of the Condah team was made up of the Mission players, yet never a word was spoken against the latter taking part, but from the commencement of this season, up till the present time, every effort has been utilised to exclude the Mission players, which only number four at the outside, three being the usual number to play. Somebody knows who stirred up this matter, fearing the insult if the colored players were included. If, as “FairPlay” suggests, the teams be all black or all white, on that score Condah would come out much in advance of either Heywood or Tyrendarra, as our team’s best players are very much white.
Another portion of ” FairPlay’s” remarks which I doubt very much, is that these three or four players, included are being hired for the occasion. If so I would like to know by whom. Certainly not by the Club, which has not yet graduated to this extent. Saturday next will tell the tale, when our team meets Heywood on the latter ground. All we ask is for an impartial umpire, when, with a fair field and no favor, this football champion for the contesting teams may become convernant of the fact that some of our white players are no “mugs’, and he may return home a sadder and a wiser man.
Yours, SA CONDAHITE
SIR- I noticed with considerable regret that in your last Wednesday’s issue of the Guardian, a certain thoughtless person had suddenly contracted a passion for foolishly making little of a certain race whose country we now possess, and the promotion of whose interests and welfare are certainly the duty and care of every right-minded citizen. This person, who has evidently written without a moments thought, or probably was unable to bear the strain of a moments reflection on the matter, has made some rather thoughtless and unpleasant remarks with regard to the race referred to in his letter. These remarks have elicited very strong comment in certain parts of the district, and have naturally aroused the feelings of certain sensitive members of the race alluded to. This person writing under the apparent misnomer, “FairPlay?” judging from the tone of his letter, seems to belong to that poor specimen of humanity, whose sole objects in life seem to be the raking up of unpleasant recollections, and the kicking of a person when he is down, and one who seems to glory in the domination of a defeated race.
If he would only take the trouble to study the rules of the competition, he would at once find, that any person living within a certain fixed distance of the town, whose club he desires to represent, is eligible to play for that club. As far as I can judge the teams have one and all done their utmost to secure the services of the best men available within the prescribed distance, irrespective of race, and until the rule mentioned is broken no person has the slightest right to protest against their action. To me the letter strongly savours of a tendency to whine when probable defeat is at hand. Then, again, this self styled “FairPlay”, has insinuated that one of the teams, (clearly Condah) have won their matches “owing to the fleet foot and quick eye of a few blackfellows hired for the occasion”.
In the first place I desire to state that though the coloured members of the team referred to are excellent players, yet it is decidedly foolish for any person to make such an erratic statement as that. There are of course 18 men in a team. It is obvious that “FairPlay” made a mistake when reckoning up the numbers, or probably he is so one eyed that he could not see clearly enough to count correctly. Then, again, he has made the statement that these men had been “hired for the occasion”. As I am fairly well acquainted with the management of the Condah team, I can without hesitation give that statement a most emphatic denial. The Condah club has never for an instant entertained the thought of hiring those players, who by the way, are quite as ” white” at heart, aye, and probably more so, than the so called “FairPlay”. Their sole reason for playing with the Condah team is found in their intense liking for the game, and in the fact that they are kindly treated by the members of that team, a team who will not be too proud of a victory nor too sorry for defeat.
I ask “FairPlay”, or rather “Unfair Play”, to carry his feeble memory back to last season’s football, and recall to mind the fact that last season one team was almost entirely composed of the class of players he now objects to. I ask him, have these same individuals deteriorated during the last twelve months? Then, again, he should not make any unfair distinctions. If he desires to object to the personnel of the Condah team, let him remember that at least two other teams in the competition are not solely composed of white men. I say “Let them all play”. If in the future the committee of the Condah club should be in urgent need of advice probably “FairPlay” may again come to their aid, and help them to solve the difficulty that confronts them.
In conclusion, I would strongly urge upon “FairPlay,” the great necessity of little preparation before action, and when he again feels tempted to write would he kindly do us the favor of writing facts and commonsense,
Yours etc “SUPPORTER”
SIR – A few weeks back a letter was published in your column dealing with the question of aboriginals playing football side by side with the whites, and signed “FairPlay”. Now, sir, although I strongly differ from the view taken by your correspondent “FairPlay”, I have been publicly accused by Mr F. Trigger, of writing the said letter under an assumed name. I beg space in your valuable columns to give this statement an emphatic denial, and I will donate £45 to the Hamilton Hospital if the statement can be verified. I am extremely modest and do not wish to take the credit (?) of writing such a one-sided letter as the one referred to.
I trust that you will publish this as I feel grossly insulted at being charged as the author of what I consider a remarkably narrow minded letter such as the one signed “FairPlay”, which is a real misnomer.
Yours BERT STEEGE,
Heywood, July 21, 1904.