A timeline of Rugby and general football history in Australia
Compilation & text © Sean Fagan – 2013


1829:  Sydney newspapers record soldiers of NSW Rum Corps playing football on the parade ground at George’s Square Barracks (now Wynyard Park).

1832: large groups of Sydney youths reported by local press to be “eagerly engaged in playing at football on Hyde Park”.

1840: first Sydney report of folk football game played as part of a holiday celebrations (tradition continues in cities & towns across the colonies until the late 1860s).

1847: Rugby football is played regularly by schoolboys at Christ’s College in Bishopsbourne, Tasmania.

1855: In the wake of the 1854 Eureka Rebellion in the Victorian goldfields, a 13-aside Rugby-style game is played in Castlemaine between British “soldiers of the 12th and 40th Regiments and an equal number of ‘diggers’.”

1858: games ostensibly under Rugby rules are played by footballers in South Yarra (where a football club is in existence) and elsewhere in Melbourne, including schools/colleges.

1858: Rugby School old-boy Tom Wills in Melbourne writes letter to Bell’s Life in Victoria calling for a football club to be formed and drawing up of a code of laws.

1859: in Victoria the Melbourne FC is founded, followed by other clubs (incl. Geelong, Castlemaine & St Kilda), each adopting its own rules for football.

1860: first football club in Adelaide, South Australia, founded (unknown playing rules).

1860: clubs meet in Melbourne and agree on laws of the game, resolving they be called “The Victorian Football Rules” (Melbourne, St Kilda, South Yarra, Richmond, Scotch College, University, Williamstown, Collingwood & Boroondara; Geelong also assented to the rules).

1863: students at Sydney University commence playing in-house Rugby games.

1865: the Sydney FC and a football team under the Australian Cricket Club are founded, joining the University as the city’s three clubs.

1866: Brisbane FC is founded, the first club in Queensland; Melbourne rules are initially adopted, but over ensuing years club evolves own rules.

1874: Rugby clubs in Sydney meet to form “Southern Rugby Football Union” (now NSWRU); founding clubs Wallaroo, King’s School, Newington College, Goulburn, Waratah, Balmain, North Shore, Sydney University & Camden College (Redfern) / non-affiliated: St Leonards, Bathurst, Mudgee & Maitland.

1876: Brisbane’s 2nd and 3rd football clubs are founded (Rangers FC & Bonnet Rouge FC) ; both adopt Rugby laws, but soon introduce local variations.

1876: first Rugby game in South Australia is played by members of Woodville FC (dividing into two teams).

1877: Melbourne and country clubs meet and resolve to form Victorian Football Association (Victorian rules / Australian football).

1877: clubs meet in Adelaide to form South Australian Football Association, adopting Victorian rules (with some modifications).

1877: matches played in Sydney between Waratah club and Carlton FC (Melbourne) under Rugby laws and then Victorian rules.

1878: Waratah and Carlton meet again in games under each other’s playing rules, this time in Melbourne.

1878: Rugby matches start being played in Western Australia at the Bishop’s Collegiate School (Hale School) in Perth.

1879: clubs under the Tasmanian Football Association play trial games in Hobart under Rugby, “soccer”, local rules and Victorian; the latter code is subsequently adopted (with some modifications).

1880: clubs in Brisbane and Ipswich meet to form Queensland Football Association, adopting Victorian rules, but also passing a vote to play Rugby every 4th Saturday.

1880: Sydney’s first English Football Association (aka “soccer” or “British Association”) game is played at Parramatta between Wanderers FC and King’s School.

1880: meeting in Sydney results in forming the  New South Wales Football Association to play Victorian rules and establishing the Sydney and East Sydney clubs.

1881:  Melbourne Cricket Club’s “Wanderers” Rugby team play the British Navy’s “Detached Squadron” at the MCG.

1882: Western Australia’s first four football clubs are founded in Perth (three adopt Rugby, one Victorian rules).

1882: the QFA and NSWRU negotiate for a Queensland team to play in Sydney under Rugby rules, including two games vs NSW (now recognised as first NSW Waratahs vs Qld Reds games).

1882: NSW team makes first Rugby tour of New Zealand.

1882 NSW team (NZ tour)
1882 NSW Rugby football team (NZ tour)

1883: NSW Rugby team visits Queensland for the first time; afterwards the QFA re-forms as exclusively Victorian rules body, followed by the founding of the Northern RFU (now QRU).

1884: English football (“soccer”) commences in Melbourne; NSW vs Victoria played at East Melbourne Cricket Ground.

1884: the Anglo-Queensland Football Association (“soccer”) is founded in Brisbane.

1884: South Australia’s first Rugby club is founded in Adelaide.

1884: New Zealand Rugby team makes first visit to NSW.

1885: clubs in Perth and Fremantle meet to agree on rules and form West Australian Football Association (adopting Victorian rules).

1888: Victoria’s first Rugby club is founded in Melbourne.

1888: first British Lions tour Australia, playing Rugby (NSW, QLD & VIC) and Victorian rules (NSW, VIC & SA).

1889: first Rugby game between Victoria and NSW is played (at the SCG).

1891: first Rugby 7s tournament held, in Rockhampton, Queensland.

1893: West Australian Rugby Union founded by clubs in Perth, Fremantle and gold field towns.

1894: NSW Rugby team travels to Melbourne for the first time, meeting Victoria in two games.

1895: NSWRU introduces annual City vs Country game.

1896: Queensland make their first Rugby tour to New Zealand.

1896: clubs in Perth and Fremantle begin playing “British Association” (“soccer”).

1897: in Melbourne clubs breakaway from the VFA, establishing the VFL (Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, South Melbourne & St. Kilda). [Now AFL]

1899: first combined Australian Rugby team plays four Tests against the visiting British Lions in Sydney and Brisbane; the tourists also play NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

1900: NSWRU (via MRU) disbands all existing clubs in Sydney (except University), replacing them with “district scheme” dividing the city into Balmain, Norths, Wests, Easts, Souths, Newtown & Glebe (subsequent boundary adjustments create Manly, St George & Sydney). [Now Shute Shield]

1901: in Sydney new/re-formed Rugby clubs establish a rebel competition unaffiliated to the NSWRU, and is later named the City and Suburban Competition (“Subbies”).

1903: first Rugby international between Australia and New Zealand played (Sydney).

1904: third British Lions tour of Australia.

1905: Australian Rugby team makes first overseas tour with visit to New Zealand.

1907: NSW Rugby team sails to Perth for a 4-game tour that includes two matches against Western Australia.

1907: NSW v New Zealand Rugby game at the SCG draws 52,000 spectators – the largest crowd to any football contest in Australia and any Rugby match in the world.

1908: rugby league commences in Sydney & Newcastle (NSWRL), and in Brisbane (QRL); teams in the Sydney premiership: Glebe, Newtown, South Sydney, Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, Western Suburbs, North Sydney, Newcastle & Cumberland. [Now NRL]

1908: fourth British Lions tour of Australia.

1908: the NSWRL and VFL commence discussions in Melbourne to merge rugby league and Australian rules.

1908: the Australian Wallabies play matches against Victoria and Western Australia at the start of their tour to the British Isles and North America.

1908/09: in the UK the Wallabies defeat England, are beaten by Wales, while Ireland and Scotland decline to play them, claiming the team’s 3s per day allowance is professionalism; the Australians also defeat Cornwall (for Great Britain) to claim the gold medal at the London Olympic Games.

1908/09: the Kangaroos undertake a 45-match tour of England and Wales; after the final game many of the players sign contracts to join English rugby league clubs.

1909: Melbourne Rugby clubs’ Dewar Shield competition established (Melbourne, East Melb., Sth Melb., St Kilda & University).

1909: Sydney and Melbourne Universities meet in first inter-varsity Rugby game (played in Melbourne).

1909: nearly half of the 31-man Wallabies touring team accept financial terms to play in a four game “Kangaroos v Wallabies” series under rugby league rules in Sydney; eight go on to have significant careers in the rival code.

Compilation & text © Sean Fagan – 2013. Prior written permission from the author is required to reproduce any or all of the above text in any format.
Books by Sean Fagan
Books by Sean Fagan