Central Eastwood Rugby is a community rugby club, competing in the Eastwood Junior Rugby District competition.
We are a club run entirely by volunteers. Past players and parents, all coming together to provide a safe, fun environment in which our kids can grow by learning the physical and mental skills that are part of the game of rugby.
John Woodford OAM
In late March 1923 a meeting was held which would chart a new course for junior rugby and eventually the senior game in Eastwood and its district. At that meeting the Eastwood Junior Rugby Union Club was formed. The local member of state parliament Mr D.M. Anderson was elected Patron and Mr W. Drummond its President. The strength of support for the establishment of this club is evidenced by the election of twenty two others, including three local doctors, to the position of Vice President. The newly elected Secretary Mr A. Campbell appealed for additional players but stated that a large number were already training for the coming season which he predicted would be successful.
The formation of this club, currently known as Central Eastwood, has a continuity of junior rugby to the present day. This is due not only to the club itself but also the former Hillview and Epping Junior Clubs who kept the junior rugby game alive in Eastwood between 2005 and 2014 and were vital in the re-emergence of Central Eastwood in 2015. Today Central Eastwood can safely claim that they have a direct link and are the inheritors of a rich tradition of the game of rugby played by Eastwood junior sides dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century and celebrate the centenary of its establishment as a club in 2023.
Although senior rugby had been played in the district as early as 1892 with Ryde Football Club holding the distinction of being the first rugby club, the first mention of a junior side from Eastwood appears in a match report from 1909 when a side called “Eastwood Ionia” played Baulkham Hills.
Young Men’s Institutes were established in 1912 in Eastwood and Epping and both had junior sides playing in the JD Alexander Cup conducted by the Northern Junior Rugby Union. From newspaper reports Eastwood had two sides entered in this competition, one played as Eastwood and the other as Eastwood Royals. It is unknown what age parameters were set for these teams but all evidence indicates it was for older boys.
Geographically and demographically the decision to route the northern railway in the late nineteenth century away from Ryde and through West Ryde, Eastwood and Epping was a significant factor in determining the emergence of Eastwood and Epping as the primary centres for the development of rugby in the district in the early years of the twentieth century. The railway meant improved access to the rest of Sydney and the subsequent new urban development that followed the opening of the line increased the player base.
Senior rugby competitions in Sydney were suspended during World War One and a total of 3991 men enlisted. This constituted ninety seven percent of the players playing prior to the suspension of the game of this number 413 were killed. Despite senior competitions being suspended occasional non competitive games were organised for men in reserved occupations and returned servicemen. According to The Land newspaper in April 1918 Eastwood participated in one of these games when they were beaten by a YMCA team.
Locally seniors players who did not volunteer may have switched to league as it continued to run competitions and there was an Eastwood club. It is interesting that newspaper match reports of rugby league games in Eastwood disappear from the local paper after 1923, coincidentally the same year that Eastwood Junior Rugby Union Club was established. It can be assumed that the league side did not survive past that year with its demise probably hastened because rugby was able to re-establish itself in Eastwood in the post war years and senior players had moved back to rugby.
Despite the suspension of competitions for senior sides the junior teams flourished during the war years and continued to grow into the early 1920’s with more juniors playing than their senior counterparts. Due to this growth of juniors playing rugby, a meeting was held in early March of 1923 which established the Eastwood Junior Rugby Union Club under the leadership of the persons mentioned at the beginning of this history. Junior teams entered in competitions now played as part of this club and were restricted to players under nineteen years of age. The club’s colours were black and white.
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers’ Advocate of April of 1923 reported on a subsequent meeting of the newly formed club held later in the month. An address was given by Mr C.A. Fairland, President of the Metropolitan Junior Rugby Union. In his talk he stated that “the Eastwood lads had excellent prospects; their membership was assured whilst their material was good.” It is perspicacious that the newspaper report concluded with – “ It is understood that this Junior Union Club is the nucleus of something more extensive.” Little did they know at the time their actions would ultimately lead to our senior club which is about to celebrate 75 years in the Shute Shield.
Senior sides were still playing for Eastwood Young Mens’ Institute and continued to blossom culminating in their sides being invited to contest the Burke Cup in the Sydney Sub-District Competition in 1927 and later the Whidden Cup. The 1927 team won in their first year in the competition, beating South Sydney in what was reported as “a very rough game.” South Sydney were excluded from the competition the following year. The Eastwood sides had considerable success in the 1930’s winning the Burke Cup at least twice and the Whiddon Cup in 1934.
The significance of the establishment of the Eastwood Junior Rugby Club was not only did it provide juniors playing opportunities but it also provided the impetus to form the current senior club, Eastwood District Rugby Union Club which emerged from the junior club in 1935. Originally “District” did not appear in its name as that was included when the club gained district status to play in the Shute Shield in 1947. In an article which appeared in the 1952 annual report of the Eastwood District Rugby Union Club, Bert Gunns, then President of the junior club referred to the district senior club as the “lusty infant” of the junior club. This seems to indicate that the senior club was established by the junior club in 1935/6 to provide playing opportunities for players moving from the junior ranks and to enhance its case for eventual inclusion in the Shute Shield. Evidence of the strength of the Eastwood junior club is contained in the same report where Bert stated that between 1947 and 1952 one hundred and twenty three players had made the transition from the Eastwood junior club to grade. This group included John Wall, Lyle Cantle and John Bain. John Bain became Eastwood’s first Wallaby in 1952. The second Wallaby from Eastwood Juniors. With the establishment of the senior club the Young Men’s Institute failed to field sides after 1935.
Eastwood Junior Rugby Union Club must have prospered in the years up to and including World War Two. In memoirs written by Jack Shute and Bert Gunns, which appeared at different times in the “Club Window”, both recall the success of teams from 1941 to 1943. The 1941 side, which was coached by Perce Woodford included Ken Smallwood, Jim Mathers and the actor Vincent Ball. All would eventually play in Eastwood’s 1947 first grade side. Another member of this team was Arthur Buchan who we can claim as Eastwood Juniors first Wallaby. He was selected in the team that toured Britain and Ireland in 1948. After the war he played his club rugby with Randwick. Other players from the juniors from this era, who played with the senior club in the early years, included Jim Gillies, Owen Jones, Bruce Burton, Eric Wicks, and Reg Smallwood.
Bert Gunns whose involvement with and dedication to, both senior and junior rugby in Eastwood, from the First World War, rightly earns him the title of being the “Father” of Eastwood Rugby.” It was due to his efforts with the assistance of Arthur Bailey, Perce Woodford and others that ensured the continuing strength of junior rugby in Eastwood during the nineteen forties. This was an important factor in providing support to the senior club’s application to join the Sydney competition in 1947.
During the war years Eastwood Juniors had two under sixteen sides called the “Diggers” and the “Commercials”. Significantly the “Diggers” played in a blue and white barred jumper. This is the first mention of the jersey that would eventually be identified from 1948 with the senior club and eventually Central Eastwood. At that point of time Eastwood senior sides played in blue and red bars.
In the years immediately following the war successful Saturday morning coaching clinics for schoolboys were conducted by Bert Gunns, Perce Woodford, Max Levy and Jim Mathers a forerunner to the senior clubs “Learn to Play” initiative.
In the nineteen fifties Eastwood Junior’s fielded teams for older players from under eighteen and above and they appear to have played in different competitions. In 1953 an Eastwood junior side played in the finals against St John’s and a match report exists of a game against South Hurstville playing in the St George Junior Rugby Union Competition in 1954. Ultimately these teams played in the Gordon/Northern District Competitions in the late nineteen fifties and early nineteen sixties. Junior players who moved to the senior club and played first grade from this era included Barry and Dick Taylor, Ken Manly, Harry Tiley, Ross Latham, Frank Watkins, New Dayman and John Phillips.
In 1957 the NSW Junior Rugby Union was established assuming responsibility for junior rugby throughout the state and the A.C.T. One of its first initiatives was to establish the State Cups. Initially they were conducted in the it under fourteen and under sixteen age groups. Eastwood entered teams in this inaugural 1957 competition and both were successful becoming the state champions. These sides had emerged from the senior club’s learn to play program and it is unclear whether they were entered in the State Cup by the senior club or the junior club. The under sixteens beat Newcastle in the final. This was the beginnings of what turned out to be an era of phenomenal success in State Cups for Eastwood sides up to the present day. It was early evidence of the success of Eastwood’s post World War 2 junior programs and the “Learn to Play” initiative which had started only two years previously.
The under sixteen team in 1958 was unfortunately defeated by Randwick in the final of the State Cup but were premiers in the Gordon Northern District Competition. The entry of under sixteen, under eighteen and under twenty-one and under twenty one reserve sides in these competitions was another advance for junior rugby in Eastwood and the Eastwood Junior Rugby Club. Eastwood junior sides were again playing against other clubs on a weekly basis. Sides from Lane Cove, Chatswood, Lindfield, Roseville, Turramurra, St Ives, Manly Savers, Manly St Matthews, Northern Suburbs and the Naval Apprentices School at Schofields (Narimba) were among the clubs represented in the competition. Whilst the State Cup competition for players under sixteen continued they were not conducted at in the older age groups where representative teams were selected by each union to play against each other. From these games Sydney and N.S.W. representative sides were selected.
1959 was an important year for not only the Eastwood junior club but also Hillview and Epping when they were represented at the meeting which formed the district junior union. Eastwood was represented by Frank Tiley, Hillview by Joe Hall and Epping by Ray Paget. This meeting was held on the nineteenth of November 1959 above what was the Tanners’ Building in Railway Parade. (Now part of the Eastwood Club.) Thanks to Barry Taylor who was in attendance the office bearers appointed were:- President; Bob Newton, Secretary: Roy Bullivant, Asstant Secretary/Registrar: Barry Taylor, Treasurer: Frank Tiley, Assistant Treasurer: Phil Matthews, Vice Presidents: Ron Singleton,and Jack Mapledoran, and Joint Patrons: Alderman E.L.S. Hall and Mr A.L.C Irving. The establishment of this union meant that from 1960 competitions for boys from under ten to under fourteen would be conducted by Eastwood.
It is interesting that this newly formed body was originally named Eastwood and District Junior Rugby Union. The “and” was most probably included to differentiate it from the already existing Eastwood Junior Rugby Union Club. At a later stage the “and” disappeared as the change of playing strip and eventually the name change by the Eastwood club to Central Eastwood further differentiated it from the district junior union.
With Eastwood, Hillview and Epping the other newly formed clubs entered teams in the district competitions which commenced in 1960. These were conducted in under ten, under twelve and under fourteen age groups to coincide with the NSWJRU State Cup divisions. Games were played on the full field in all age groups. The year that the district under sixteen competition commenced is difficult to determine at this point of time but it was most probably 1960. Eastwood Juniors continued to field their under eighteen and under twenty-one sides in the Gordon/Northern District Competition.
The president in 1959 of Eastwood Junior Rugby Club was Harold Fox who had been involved in the district club’s learn to play program from 1955. Harold, as president, was a driving force in the continued development of the club and junior rugby at a district level. Harold had two boys playing and conducted a paint shop in Eastwood. This was the time of no seat belts and people could be conveyed in the back of a utility. Harold had a Volkswagen ute and it was used as transport for away games. The fifteen players of an under twelve side plus reserves fitted nicely in the rear of Harold’s utility.
Around this time the Eastwood junior club established a relationship with the Royals club in the A.C.T. Annual games on a home and away basis were instigated. It is interesting that in a report in the Canberra Times reporting on these matches eligibility for some of the games was determined by age and weight. Criteria which is again being embraced today.
The senior club had changed its playing strip in 1958 from the royal blue and white bars to the white with three royal blue bars and despite the formation of the district juniors the Eastwood Junior Rugby Club continued to play in the new district strip. Whilst this wasn’t a difficulty prior to the establishment of the new district competitions it soon became obvious that one had emerged. The other junior clubs had chosen their own strips made up of a variety of colours and patterns. None had chosen the district colours. The district representative sides played in the senior club strip and it was felt that it diminished the prestige of selection if boys played in a strip which was worn by one of the clubs playing in the weekly competitions. As a consequence a request was made by the district management to Eastwood Junior Rugby Union Club to change its strip. This change was to commence at the beginning of 1963 season.
The committee, of which I was a member wanted to keep the colours of blue and white. It was decided to revert to the strip worn by the senior club for the decade commencing in 1948 namely the royal blue and white bars. The decision was the clear choice of the management committee and a group was formed to propose a club badge. My memory is that the final proposal which was accepted and basically remains the same for Central Eastwood today was based on one that was then current for the Hunters Hill Club.
Because of the strength of the game in schools at the time the numbers of boys playing in the district competitions were very strong. When I began my involvement with what was to become Central Eastwood in 1961 we had two teams playing in all district divisions.
Both George Mills and Frank Tiley who were vital to the establishment of the learn to play program were still very involved with the club as members of the committee. In the history of junior rugby in Epping, George played an important role as he had conducted Saturday morning coaching clinics there prior to establishment by the district club of the “Learn to Play” programme in 1955. He also had a significant role with Joe Hall in the establishment of Hillview. On game days at Eastwood Oval which remained the the club’s home ground, Frank was a fixture with his wooden medical box, administering to the injured. The under eighteen side was defeated in the grand final of the Gordon Northern District Competition in 1961 and with the under twenty one sides continued playing in that competition until 1962.
1963 was noteworthy for the club because they commenced playing in its new strip and activities during the year were focussed on the club’s first interstate tour. The under sixteen and under twenty one sides were to visit South Australia. Events and raffles were conducted to help defray the cost to the players. The teams travelled by train via Melbourne, on two overnight journeys and were hosted in Adelaide by the Glenelg club. The under sixteen side was managed by Bob Watson. Bob was an American who had married an Australian girl when he was based in Sydney during World War Two. Her family owned what was then an orchard adjacent to Milner Field. Bob became a strong supporter of senior and junior rugby. I was captain of the under twenty one side which was coached by John Wadsworth and managed by George Mills and Norm Calvert. I was asked to coach the under sixteen side as their regular coach Neville Dayman was unable to make the tour.
This Australian Under Sixteen Championships coincided with Eastwood’s tour and as there was an uneven number of state sides Eastwood was invited to participate in the competition as the bye side. One of the games was against NSW and although beaten Ian Southwell who was a member of the side remembers Eastwood giving a very good account of themselves. I think that this is probably the only time that a club side has participated in this interstate carnival. As the concluding games NSW played Combined Southern States first selection and Eastwood played the seconds which we won comfortably. The Australian Rugby Union had sent Bryan Palmer to the carnival and he assumed the role of coach of the Southern State’s firsts. In two days of coaching they were able to beat NSW. Bryan had coached the Wallabies the previous year but had not been appointed for the tour to South Africa which was in progress at that time. This was seen as a great injustice by many in the rugby community.
This tour and involvement in “Gala Days” was to become an important feature of the club, particularly over the next decade. In a letter to the editor of the Club Window in 1972, the then secretary detailed the club’s program for that year. Tours were to be undertaken by the under twelves to Victoria; the under thirteens and under sixteens to South Australia and the under fifteens to Perth. These visits were to be reciprocated in 1973. In addition to the planned tours the club hosted and or participated in six “Gala Days” held in Sydney, Newcastle and Bowral. The letter also listed the names of a total of thirty one officials and coaches filling various roles for the club. The organisation, fund raising and logistics of these events indicates a very strong level of support from both the parents and the local community.
1964 saw another significant change when the club’s under eighteen and under twenty one sides played in a competition organised by the district. Sides included Narimba and Drummoyne. Eastwood had two under twenty one sides playing in that completion and the firsts were premiers. That side was coached by Terry Maloney who had a health food shop in Eastwood. In 1965 these teams played in a competition conducted by Parramatta District with the under 21 team premiers again.
To play grade for Eastwood in 1967 players were required to train both nights. A number of potential players, mainly due to university or technological college attendance, were therefore ineligible and had to play in a team with less stringent training demands. To meet this need Eastwood Juniors entered a team in the Sub-District competition under the name of Eastwood Enterprises which was at the time the name of the Eastwood Club.
By 1969 the club no longer fielded sides in the under twenty one division. This void was filled in 1970 when the district club entered the Sydney Colts Competition.
The first indication that the club had been renamed Central Eastwood is in the Club Window of August 1970 so the name change occurred sometime between 1968 and 1970. Like the jersey change in 1963 it may have been to further differentiate the club from the the district junior union.
The story of the club from 1968 till its demise in 1995 and its reformation as an amalgamation of Hillview and Epping will need a great deal more research to complete the history. Likewise the history of both Hillview and Epping Rams, from their establishment to their amalgamation also needs exploring, as these histories are now important to the Central Eastwood narrative.
Despite the fact that Central Eastwood was no longer viable as a club from 1995 both Epping and Hllview continued to field teams but were finding it increasingly difficult to attract enough boys to maintain competition teams. This was not a problem experienced exclusively by junior rugby clubs in the Eastwood district as it was a state wide problem. This is confirmed by the annual reports of the NSWJRU.
Locally this was exacerbated by a change in both the demographic and ethnic mix of the local area. Since the mid seventies the rugby culture that had funnelled boys into the game had come under the strains of the perception that there were dangers involved in playing and the game had almost disappeared from the state school system. Although rugby still had a stronghold in the private school system the majority of their games were held on Saturday which clashed with the district competition.
The recruiting difficulties that Hillview and Epping Rams were experiencing in the years 2013 to 2015 for all age groups from under sixes to opens were causing concern. It became obvious to both clubs that they were seeking to attract players from a reduced pool and from basically the same local area. In fact the Epping home ground was closer to Eastwood and the Hillview ground was closer to Epping.
From 2013 Michael Larkin from Hillview and Luke Holman from Epping Rams had a range of discussions with the intent to merge the two clubs at the junior level into one club. Both had a long heritage of nearly sixty years so it was understandable the players, parents and supporters wanted to retain a connection to their name, colours and their association with their home grounds. As a consequence neither club was willing to fold into the other club.
The decline both clubs had been experiencing in getting enough players to field viable teams placed additional pressure upon them and this resulted in the formation of “joint venture” teams in 2015. This strategy enabled the clubs to field teams in age groups that would have been impossible for them to do on their own. This initiative enabled players, parents and officials from both clubs to work together for the benefit of junior rugby.
The establishment and success of the joint venture initiative became the nucleus around which the successful merger of the two clubs occurred leading ultimately to the re-emergence of Central Eastwood.The joint venture clubs were aware of its existence prior to its folding in 1995 and that it had an important historical connection with the playing of junior rugby.
In 2015 with the help of the parents of boys who had played previously for Central Eastwood a new neutral identity was available to the Hillview and Epping Rams clubs. Central Eastwood had played in the blue and white bars which were the strip of the senior district club from almost its inception till 1958. Accepting these colours and strip for the proposed amalgamated club would affirm a strong connection to the district senior club. Hillview and Epping Rams were prepared to leave their respective names and colours behind and move forward under the name and colours of Central Eastwood, but most importantly not their history.