Queenstown’s infamous gravel oval

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Some great footballers have cut their teeth on Queenstown’s infamous gravel oval. And like everyone who has played on the iconic ground they also cut and grazed their knees.

Brisbane Lions coach, Chris Fagan, grew up on gravel. Collingwood premiership captain, Sid Coventry, Carlton star Arthur Hodgson and Sydney’s Darryn Cresswell were all gravel-hardened.

A number of footballers fighting on a gravel football ground during a match
                                                                                                A brawl on the gravel oval in Queenstown in1981.(  

Supplied: Adrian Reynolds Collection

Gravel and Mud: An anthology of football in the mountains of western Tasmania tells the stories of 133 years of football in the west, much of which was played on grass. And Rosebery’s oval, with an annual rainfall of around 2 metres, was somewhat over-watered.
A football team poses outside a rusted corrugated iron change shed, club flag held aloft at the rear.
                                West Zeehan Football Club, Zeehan Association Premiers in 1951. Team photos often capture the raw character of the place.(

Supplied: Ron Bradshaw Collection

Age columnist Martin Flanagan recalled his first glimpse of footy in Rosebery:

Flanagan is one of the great writers on football and one of 16 contributors to the book. Historian Geoffrey Blainey is another, having played for Smelters in the early 1950s while researching the Peaks of Lyell.

Tight portrait in black and white of Geoffrey Blainey, smiling
          Historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote the definitive social and mining history of Queenstown, the Peaks of Lyell. He also played football on the gravel.(

Supplied: Geoffrey Blainey Collection


A goal umpire in a raincoat waving flags after a goal on the gravel
                                                          Typical conditions for football on the west coast and on Queenstown’s infamous gravel oval.Carters versus Lumpers at Trial Harbour

The first western Tasmanian football match was played in Strahan in 1888, near Regatta Point.

“The next game was played at Trial Harbour between the Carters and the Lumpers. The Carters took ore from the Zeehan [silver] mines to Trial Harbour with a horse and cart,” Mr Newport said.

“The Lumpers were the poor buggers who loaded it onto ships in the rough seas they have there.

Aerial view of gravel oval, 1930s
                          Queenstown’s famous gravel oval in the 1930s. The ground was inducted into the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame in 2007.(Supplied: Galley Museum Collection)

Since then, around 100 teams have formed and often folded quickly, their fates tied to a new mine or the booms and busts of the enduring mines.

What is this white stuff?

The most hostile physical environment was Williamsford on Mt Read where footy was played until 1962.

“There’s a chapter on rugby union. Back in the 1980s, a Launceston team bussed to Williamsford to play a local team and as the bus climbed it began to snow,” Mr Carswell said.

Football team shot on gravel oval, mid 1970s
The Lyell Gormanston reserves team of 1976, photographed on the gravel. Current Brisbane Lions coach, Chris Fagan, is third from left at the front.(Supplied: Galley Museum Collection)

“They had a lot of Pacific Islanders from the maritime college and a couple of Tongan guys asked the driver: ‘What is that white stuff?’.

“They didn’t want to get off the bus but the game eventually went ahead.”

In the early days, football teams sprouted from every area of the Mt Lyell mine — Smelters, Miners, Flux (quarry), Mechanics, Railways. These were workplaces but team names too.

Even the Fire Brigade and the YMCA fielded teams.

A ruckman with lots of frizzy hair leaps over the pack on the gravel oval
       Phil Evans, a well known Queenstown businessman, is seen here as a ruckman for City club, leaping high while his hair was heaping high in the 1980s.                                                                                                                   (Supplied: Galley Museum Collection)

Team photos show a unique and wild area. Backdrops are mountain ranges, rusted iron sheds, miners’ cottages built on the boundary line.

A team from Rosebery smiles from a steam train headed through the rainforest to play Tullah.

Footballers hang off the side of a steam train for a photo
Rosebery team aboard the Wee Georgie Wood steam train, off to play Tullah in the rainforest on the other side of the mountain.(Supplied: Winter CollectionA photo in the Queenstown Crows changerooms shows every knee bloodied.

“We had these trainers, George Rubens and Tubby Knowles … Tubby wadded cotton wool and gave it to George,” Mr Newport said.

“I scrubbed my own knees until they bled after games. You had to get them clean.”

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