written by Sean Fagan

Arthur Tonkin (1947-48 Wallabies tour of the UK, Ireland, France & Nth America).
Arthur Tonkin (1947-48 Wallabies tour of the UK, Ireland, France & Nth America).

Second only to the Australian cricket XI as the nation’s oldest representative sporting team, the Wallabies have been playing internationals since the end of the 19th century when Queen Victoria was ruling colonial Australia.

Prior to the founding of the ARU in 1947, the Australian side’s jersey design was generally decided upon by negotiations between the QRU and NSWRU, with the latter organising the arrangements for most tours to and from Australia. Over the Wallabies first 30 years their jersey was sky blue, maroon or a hooped combination of both.

In the lead up to the 1914 home series against New Zealand the NSWRU and QRU began discussing the adoption of an Australian jersey design without using state colours. The QRU suggested the use of the “Olympic colours” of green and gold. However, there was insufficient time remaining to produce the jerseys for the 1914 games against the All Blacks. 

In the aftermath of WW1 a movement towards expressing a uniquely Australian sentiment, as distinct from Britain and the Empire, began to emerge, with the wattle, its flower, and the pre-war established ‘Wattle Day’, serving as patriotic symbols. By the mid 1920s the green and gold had begun to signify Australian sporting teams and athletes.

The resumption of Rugby in Brisbane under the QRU, along with the growth of the code in Victoria, saw the NSWRU join in a renewed debate about whether to move to the national colours for its Wallabies jersey.

The sky blue had gained an international reputation, particularly via the tours to the UK in 1908 (Wallabies) and 1927 (Waratahs), and it was distinctly different to any other Rugby nation’s jersey colour at the time. However, there was a school of thought that a change was timely, and not having the Wallabies team turn out in re-badged state jerseys would impress upon the players and spectators that representing Australia was an honour in itself, and not an afterthought to state selection.

In May 1929 a dark green jersey was adopted, adorned with the Australian coat-of-arms badge, white shorts, and green socks topped with gold.  Sydney’s The Referee reported, “Alternative suggestions were many. One was an all gold jersey, another green with half-inch gold bars every four inches, and another green with a gold V-neck.” 

It was immediately pointed out that on wet and muddy fields against the All Blacks the Australians’ dark green would quickly become indistinguishable, that the Springboks had already long established that dark green was their colour, and Ireland’s jersey was not that different either. However, the prospect of a gaudy gold jersey was too much for contemporary taste, and the Australian authorities pushed onwards with dark green.

Over the ensuing decades the kit clash with the South Africans was dealt with by the Wallabies adopting sky blue for their 1933 tour, and white at home in 1937 and 1956.

In 1953 the Springboks turned out in white jerseys when they hosted the visiting Australians in green.

In 1961 the Wallabies wore green against Fiji, gold on its mid-season tour of South Africa, and then green again for a one-off Test against France to close the season.

The now traditional  gold was finally made permanent in 1962.

© Sean Fagan

Sean Fagan, The Rugby Rebellion
NSWRU / ARU archives