written by Sean Fagan

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 three decades the team jersey was sky blue, maroon or a hooped combination of both.

An Australian jersey from the 1907 series against the All Blacks (image courtesy of NSW Hall of Champions)
An Australian jersey from the 1907 series against the All Blacks (image courtesy of NSW Hall of Champions)

 1899 (4 Tests) vs British Lions:
Cambridge blue aka sky blue (in Sydney); maroon (in Brisbane)

Australia’s first appearance on the Rugby field was in four home Tests held in 1899 against a visiting Great Britain side – eighteen months before the colonies joined into a federation to form the nation ‘Australia’.

The NSWRU negotiated the tour, and it’s first preference (and that of the public) had been for the Test series to be played by ‘Australasia’ (combining the Rugby-playing colonies of NSW, Queensland and New Zealand) and not ‘Australia’.

While the NZRU eventually opted out, the QRU successfully negotiated to host a Test in Brisbane. Seemingly as an afterthought, in late May 1899 the QRU wrote to the NSWRU concerning the colour of the jersey ‘Australia’ was going to wear against the Lions (who had a red, white and blue hooped jersey).

It appears that the QRU proposed that the home Union’s colour be used for the match in their respective home capital (the same as Australian cricket teams did in the 1890s with their caps and blazers).

The NSWRU’s minutes record: “It was agreed that the colors of the Colony in which the match is to be played be adopted with the substitution of the Arms of Australia as a distinctive badge instead of the Colony” i.e. sky/light blue in Sydney, deep red/maroon in Brisbane.

Though an Australian Coat of Arms was not conferred until after federation (1908 and revised in 1912), in the 1890s unofficial ‘Arms of Australia’ were in popular and commercial use. The most commonly seen design was not dissimilar to what we know today, with a kangaroo and emu surmounting a quartered shield between a ‘rising sun’ and a scroll with ‘Advance Australia’. In a reverse though the ‘arms’ badge on the 1899 Australian Rugby team’s jersey had the emu on the left and kangaroo on the right.

A few months later the same badge appeared on the Australian cricket team’s newly introduced green caps (in 1912 the emu and kangaroo were swapped over, but apart from ‘Advance’ being clipped, the badge continues to be used on the ‘baggy green’).

First Australian team in 1899
First Australian team in 1899

It is extremely unlikely that any discussion took place on creating an Australian test jersey or national colours. For an Australian jersey to have been made for the series would have required both the NSWRU and QRU to have reached an agreement. Time would also have been against any furthering of the matter – all Rugby jerseys were imported from Britain and they had to be shipped to Australia by sea, which took well over a month.

In 1999 the Wallabies marked the centenary of their first outing with the wearing of a replica of the original sky blue jersey in a one-off international against England at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium (Homebush).

1903 (1 Test) vs All Blacks:
sky blue (in Sydney)

The first international meeting between Australia and New Zealand came via a one-off Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1903. Organised by the NSWRU, the Australian team turned out against the black-jerseyed New Zealanders in NSW’s sky blue (unbadged).

1904 (3 Tests) vs British Lions:
sky blue (in Sydney); maroon (in Brisbane)

When the British Lions returned in 1904 for a 3-Test series the two teams wore the same colours as in 1899. The national coat-of-arms badge though was replaced, with the Australian’s sky blue jersey in Sydney having a waratah emblem. In Brisbane the “Australian team … were clothed in the Queensland colour, maroon” (Queensland Times, 26 July).

1905 New Zealand tour (1 Test):
combined maroon & sky blue

The Australian team’s tour to New Zealand, the first ever to leave overseas, was a joint undertaking of the NSWRU and the QRU, and the players wore a jersey combining the state colours of sky blue and maroon.

For the tour’s opening two games Australia played in an unbadged jersey of evenly spaced blue and maroon hoops. However, the remainder of the campaign, including the one-off Test match, the visitors jersey was in ‘butcher stripes’ hoops, with a kangaroo badge (see photo below).

Though this latter jersey is probably more familiar today as being a rugby league kit (the Kangaroos wore it in many Tests between 1908 and the early 1920s) this Australian team touring New Zealand in 1905 were its originators.

1905 Australian team in NZ
1905 Australian team in New Zealand (image source:  ‘The Rugby Rebellion’)

1907 (3 Tests) vs All Blacks:
combined maroon & sky blue (in Sydney & Brisbane)

The agreement with the NZRU for Australia to tour in 1905 included a requirement that the All Blacks visit NSW and Queensland for Tests in 1907. No dividend from gate receipts would be forthcoming to the NZRU until the debt owed to the NSWRU and QRU from the costs of the 1905 tour were paid off.

As a result, the 1907 Tests in Sydney and Brisbane were the first held on Australian soil under the auspices of both the NSWRU and QRU – and Australia took the field wearing a combined maroon and blue jersey at home for the first time.

The first two Tests were again in the ‘butchers stripes’ jersey, but the third Test jersey was in evenly-spaced blue and maroon hoops.

Australia vs All Blacks at the SCG - 3rd Test (10 August, 1907)
Australia vs All Blacks at the SCG – 3rd Test (10 August, 1907)

1908 Wallabies tour (UK, France & Nth America):
sky blue

In a now overlooked piece of Wallabies history, the 1908/09 Australian team toured Great Britain and France under the control (and financial risk) of the NSWRU.

The three selectors were all from Sydney, and when the team sailed from Port Jackson in early August 1908 the 30-man squad included just five Queenslanders.

Accordingly, as a NSWRU representative team, the tourists wore the NSW sky blue jersey with a waratah badge, though the word ‘Australia’ was added underneath.

Tom Richards, one of five Queenslanders in the Wallabies 1908/09 team. The tour was organised by the NSWRU.
Tom Richards, one of five Queenslanders in the Wallabies 1908/09 team. The tour was organised by the NSWRU.

After arriving in England the side adopted ‘Wallabies’ as the team’s nickname.

1910: sky blue
1912: sky blue (tour to Nth America)
1913: sky blue (tour to NZ)
1914: sky blue (maroon in Brisb.)
1920: sky blue
1921-28: sky blue (NSW as Australia)
1933: sky blue (tour to Sth Africa)
1999: sky blue (centenary match)

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.

After the war and through the 1920s the only Rugby in Australia was played in NSW, primarily in Sydney. The issue of a new Australian jersey to replace the sky blue of NSW was not raised again until 1929 with the growth of the code in Victoria and its revival in Queensland.

© Sean Fagan

Sean Fagan, The Rugby Rebellion
Ian Diehm, Red! Red! Red! The Story of Queensland Rugby
NSWRU / ARU archives

1933 Wallabies blue jersey (right)