A History of Rugby in Victoria

researched & written by Ron Grainger


The story of Bert Penwill, Griff Hunt and Rugby in Victoria


Although a generation apart, two men who were to make a major contribution to Victorian Rugby shared much in common, not least that both came anointed with the mystical oil of Welsh Rugby, specifically of the Newport variety, though not of a 1st XV vintage. Nevertheless, both made their mark early in the city of that name, not only in rugby but in other sports, notably aquatic.

Both were born in England, but were living in Newport by the age of ten, both commenced employment before joining the Territorials and then seeing active service in the British Army before coming to Australia where they later became deeply involved in the organisation and management of Rugby Union in Victoria.

The big difference between them lay in their ages, Griffyth George (Griff) Hunt being born in 1911, the same year in which Herbert Garfield (Bert) Penwill, then aged thirty-one, left England for Australia. But as a closer look soon reveals, there were other differences, not least those associated with the social, economic and technological developments of the times.

Their service to the State Union covered the beginning and end of its first fifty years and the following accounts inevitably include comment on those times and on the development of the Victorian Rugby Union (VRU) over that period.

Before then, successive Unions in the Colony of Victoria had arranged rugby matches against British, New Zealand and New South Wales teams, but organised club competition had been spasmodic. There was none when Victoria became a State, in 1901, and it was to be another seven years before a Union was re-established and yet another before some of the newly formed rugby clubs began competing for the Dewar Shield in 1909, as First Grade teams still do today.

Unfortunately, only six seasons of that competition were to be completed before World War 1 brought about the dissolution of that Union.

the veterans team Victorian Unquenchables

Herbert Garfield (Bert) Penwill

Bert Penwill was born in Wood Green, London on 16 September 1881 [1] and lived there until 1891 when the family moved to Newport. It was there he attended Clytha College [2]. Then, from 1894, he boarded at Studley College in Portishead, Somerset. He later recalled that while living in Newport he represented his school in rugby and swimming and won numerous Newport and Welsh Boys swimming championships; and that at Studley College [3] he played in both soccer and rugby teams and, after leaving school, played rugby with the Newport Nondescripts [4].

To put all this in some sort of context, the young Bert would have been well aware of Wales winning the Triple Crown for the first time in 1893, over half its teams in that year being comprised of Newport players. And that within two years came the Great Schism which not only divided English rugby but impacted heavily on the Welsh. In addition, after beating England (in Newport) early in 1897 Wales got involved in a dispute with the other home Unions, withdrew from the IRB and did not play against Scotland or Ireland in that year.

It was also in 1897 that Bert was apprenticed to a tailor and about then enlisted with the 4th.(Militia) Battalion of the South Wales Borderers.[5] This was only two years before the outbreak of the (Second) Boer War which, by 1900 was proving far more costly, in terms of men and money to Britain and her Empire, than had ever been anticipated. This meant raising significant reinforcements, amongst which were the Imperial Yeomanry, a volunteer force consisting of numerous Battalions sent out in several contingents in 1900 and 1901.

While the Yeomanry were traditionally drawn from the gentry, or at least from those able to provide their own horse and saddlery, the exigencies of this conflict soon required that significant exceptions to the rules had to be applied by the time Bert Penwill volunteered to join the 2nd Sharpshooters, 80th Company, 21st Battalion. This force arrived in South Africa (in May 1901) as part of the Second Contingent and Trooper Bert Penwill saw active service in the Transvaal, the Orange Free State and the Cape Colony although he also spent some time hospitalised with enteric fever.

After returning to England he spent several years in Bracknell, Berkshire, presumably continuing to work as a tailor’s cutter but not neglecting sport, both as a player and secretary of the local soccer club, then playing cricket in season. That phase of his life ended when in June of 1905 he married Ethel Rhoda Marshall at St John’s Church, Regents Park and went to work in Newton Abbot, near the Devonshire south coast. It was there on 16 September that the first all conquering All Black UK tour commenced with a resounding win over Devon; quite possibly Bert attended the match, he would certainly have known all about it. Two years after that, on 25 September 1907 a son, Herbert Maxwell, was born but Ethel was to die less than two years later, in January 1909. Bert later recalled that during the five or six years spent at Newton Abbot he was involved with the Rugby club, as well as with a local swimming and water polo team, although no documented details of his participation have as yet been located. In June 1911 he married Mary Ellen Etchells in Clifton (now a suburb of Bristol) and soon after they prepared to leave for Australia.

The family of three left Liverpool in November 1911 on the SS Suevic arriving in Melbourne on 1 January 1912. They lived first at 101 Wellington Street, Kew and later in what was then the more remote Buckley Park, Essendon. In 1914 Bert had set up a new business but, perhaps partly due to the war, this was to fail within a year. By then, with three more children to support, he enlisted in the Australian Army as an instructor with the rank of Sergeant and there is an early 1916 reference to him then living at 59 Burke Road, Camberwell and assisting in a recruiting drive with the rank of Sergeant Major. However, later in that year he obtained a discharge due to domestic problems. In 1917 another son was born – only to die in 1922 – while another daughter, Ina Kathleen, was born in 1918. By 1919 he had taken up a position in Adelaide and the family moved there with him but only two years later he returned alone to Melbourne.

In 1924 Bert again set up his own business and four years later (1928) divorced his second wife on grounds of desertion. Then, in June of the following year, 1929, Esme his fourth child, died. That period of family disruptions coincided not only with his continued interest in swimming club activities but with the newly formed Rugby League (VRL) [6] , its subsequent disbandment and the formation of the 1926 Victorian Rugby Union, in which he was to play such a significant part.

Back in 1895, during Bert’s childhood in Newport, the Northern Rugby Football Union had been formed in England and that dramatic breakaway move was replicated in Sydney in 1907 with the formation of the New South Wales Rugby League. In Melbourne in 1923, after Bert had returned from Adelaide, a competition in this alternative code was about to be organised in Victoria.

Post war, apart from a short lived Union competition in 1921, comprised mainly of RAN personnel, as was the ‘Victorian’ team soundly beaten by the South Africans, there was little organised rugby in Victoria and the establishment of the VRL resulted from several meetings held in early May 1923, initially to review support for revival of a local competition under Union rules. It is probable that some of those attending, possibly including Bert Penwill, had been involved with the pre-war Union clubs but this is pure conjecture; there is no reference to such involvement and there was certainly no constitutional link between those former clubs and the League clubs then about to be founded.[7] While an early vote actually favoured Union over League by a narrow majority Harry Sunderland, journalist and former Secretary of the Queensland Rugby League, who had accompanied the Kangaroos on their recent tour of UK and was then working on the Sun News-Pictorial in Melbourne, argued persuasively that League should be the code adopted.

Three years later Bert Penwill, as the Melbourne Rugby League Club’s delegate to the VRL, was to play a leading role in the establishment of the Union when, at the League’s Annual General Meeting, held at The Chalet, Middle Park, on Tuesday 16 February 1926, he seconded the motion put by the University delegate R. Blakemore ‘That Victoria play Rugby Union ‘. Following the winding up of the League Bert, together with B.C.Fail, R.Lane, E.M.Cowan and H.Yoffa, was appointed to the new committee.[8]

There had been a number of reasons for the switch, evidently the support promised by the Leagues in Queensland and NSW had not been forthcoming and a number of planned representative matches had failed to eventuate. On the other hand the Unions in New Zealand and NSW had promised more direct support with administration and with incoming tours. In addition, there was some concern by Melbourne University supporters that unless their team changed to Union they would be unable to compete with Sydney University in a game of Rugby, one of the Inter Varsity sports then recently recognised by the Australian Universities Sports Council (AUSA). [9] All these issues would no doubt have contributed to the reported unrest among the player community, who had in any case all been competing as amateurs.

The Melbourne Rugby League Club consisted mainly of English players and it is presumed that Bert Penwill was a club office bearer although this has not been confirmed. He was however the club delegate to the League and shortly after the formation of the Union, he chaired a club meeting (on 4 March 1926) which endorsed the governing body’s decision to wind up. The meeting then formally disbanded the League club and founded the Melbourne Rugby Union Club (MRUFC).

Bert was the President of the MRUFC for the first four years and as the Club’s Brief History records ‘The colours adopted by the newly formed MRUFC were those of the first President, Mr. Penwill’s, former club Newport RUFC, Wales, namely black and gold hoops, black shorts and black and gold hooped socks.’ In that first year his family were also involved in club affairs in the person of his son, H. Maxwell Penwill who, not yet nineteen, advertised in the Argus of 20 March, inviting Rugby enthusiasts to attend a ‘general gathering’ on 26 March, again at the Chalet, and authorising this as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the new Club, giving the office address as Room 21, 124 Queen Street.

Bert was later to resume the MRUFC Presidency, from 1935 until 1942, when Club activities were suspended because of the War. He would therefore have played a major role in the pre-war merger with the Old Boys Rugby Club, endorsed by a combined meeting held in March 1939, when it was also decided to adopt the colours and the rampant unicorn emblem of the former Old Boys. [10] (It has been stated elsewhere that club member ‘Weary’ Dunlop recommended adoption of the unicorn emblem and the new motto “Never a step backward” prior to his departure for military duties in World War II; in fact both were initially adopted in 1935 by Old Boys, of which Weary was then a member, and he was to leave Australia early in 1938, long before the merger of the two clubs).

Bert Penwill was once dubbed the father of the VRU in recognition of the magnificent role he played in its establishment and early management. [11] It might perhaps be more accurate to describe him as primus inter pares but in any case the value of his contribution in the estimation of his colleagues can be measured by the fact that, early in the second year, they presented him with a roll top desk (still in the family) which bears a brass plate inscribed; ‘Presented to Mr H.G. Penwill by the Victorian Rugby Union 16.3.1927. In that first year he had not only undertaken the responsible duties of a VRU Vice President and Member of the Management Committee but, more importantly, of Secretary and Treasurer (as he did again in the second year, then of Secretary in the third and fourth years,1928 and 1929). But the most significant recognition of his contribution was to come in 1930 with his election as the first Life Member of the VRU.

The early years of the VRU coincided with the growth of radio broadcasting in Australia; licensed radio stations included the future national public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) [12] It was typical of Bert to get involved with this new medium in support of the Union and on the evening of Tuesday 20 July 1926, he took to the microphone to explain to 3LO listeners the basics of the game between the All Blacks and Victoria that was going to be held on the Carlton Oval the following Saturday.

While the late ‘twenties had confirmed the VRU as a viable organisation there would have been few who could then have foreseen that this was only a prelude to Victorian Rugby’s Golden Age (1930-1939) when Victoria was to be recognised, if sometimes reluctantly, as a worthy partner of the New South Wales and Queensland Unions (the latter had in fact only been restored in 1928, two years after the VRU). The State produced an increasing number of national players and was to become a formidable challenger in inter-state and representative matches, two thirds of which they won, drew or lost by less than ten points. For the first time the Union organised a schoolboy competition and two years later (1934) established the Victorian Junior Rugby Union. The number of clubs increased to thirteen and the number of senior teams competing increased to thirty. A total of thirteen Victorian players (five Victorian born) were selected for the Wallabies and between them gained forty-three caps. And one of that number, Dave Cowper, was the first Victorian player to captain Australia.

It is worth recording that in that first momentous year of 1926 the new Union had not only hosted two overseas teams but had completed two grades of club competition, confirmed affiliation with the Rugby Football Union, overseen the formation of a Rugby Referees Association and the resumption of inter-varsity competition by Melbourne University, all while managing to finish up with nearly £250 in the bank, close to $12,000 in 2015 values.

By no means is it suggested that Bert Penwill was alone responsible for these achievements. For instance, he served under the Presidency of E.M.Cowan, (another swimming and water polo aficionado) who remained in that office until 1937, [13] and to mention just one of those others who made their own important contributions; Fraser Dodds, formerly of the Kiwis Rugby League club, who was a foundation member of the VRU and Bert’s successor as Secretary, a senior post he held for four years as he did others over thirty years, including some in the ARU, which he helped establish in 1949. A pertinent comment appeared in the Referee of 17 September 1930; ‘ It is safe to say that the game would not have established itself permanently in Melbourne had it not been for the sterling efforts of Sturtridge and a few officials such as H.G.Penwill and R Fraser Dodds. They have accomplished what nobody but the super-optimists predicted.’

Nor should it go unmentioned that, in order to honour their earlier undertaking, the New Zealand Union promptly provided administrative assistance in the form of Tom Fletcher, a member of their Management Committee and President of the Wellington Rugby Referees Association. He helped the VRU prepare for the matches against the All Blacks and NZ Maoris in July and remained a VRU Vice President until 1936. The Union also obtained some influential patrons in the form of prominent politicians, businessmen and generals as well as gaining, and for the most part retaining, Vice-Regal patronage, from 1936. [14]

But Bert was obviously an inspirational pace setter; prepared to undertake multiple tasks when others were unable or reluctant to do so. It was typical of his enthusiastic support for the new Union that, when he and Vice President Lane attended the 1928 meeting called to form the Melbourne Harlequins, he became a founder member of that club (and while he later left them his son, grandson and great-grandsons were to play for them over the years). And in addition to all his Union based activity Bert found time for other interests so that around 1930 he not only set up a new tailoring business at Stalbridge Chambers in Little Collins Street but entered his third marriage; to Mabel Preston Payne.

Bert was a State team selector from 1929 to 1934 and again in 1938 and in the same years was an Australian team selector. He also assisted in drafting a constitution for an Australian Rugby Union. [15] He was on the VRU Management Committee in 1926 and 1927 and from 1930 to 1932. In 1935 he donated the Penwill Cup for winners of the Reserve Grade Competition [16] and in that same year was again elected President of the MRUFC in which post he remained until 1942. He was Manager of the Victorian team which travelled to South Australia in 1936 and his last Union appointments, as a VRU and Australian selector, were to be in 1938. By then he had been elected (in 1937) as the first Life Member of MRUFC and had set up what was to be his last home in Beaconsfield Parade, only several throws of the proverbial stone from the Middle Park rugby grounds and the Union’s Canterbury Place building used for change rooms and meetings, initially rented, then acquired by the VRU in 1934

In 1939 the Fourth Annual Ball [17] of the VRU was held earlier than usual, on 24 July, in order to include as guests of honour the Wallabies en route to the UK, their ship having left Sydney on the 21st and berthing in Melbourne to take on the four Victorian’s. That tour was cancelled when war was declared the day after they arrived in England and what became known as World War 2 was soon to suspend any further progress for rugby in Victoria. In 1941, Bert fudged his age in order to enlist in the Army and to see out the next four years in Army stores in Melbourne, being discharged in 1945 with the rank of Staff Sergeant. Later in that same year he became Secretary of the Master Tailors Association.

Full rugby competition did not resume in Victoria until 1946 and for Bert that was to be his final year as MRUFC President and in 1947, no doubt to help with the peacetime re-establishment of the Club, he took over as Secretary for that year. He retained his general interest in sporting activity by joining the Eastern District Bowling Club and, perhaps rather late in life, in his mid sixties, obtained a driving licence, though some members of his family judged it best not to hazard life and limb as one of his passengers.

His third wife, Mabel, died in 1955 and seven years later Bert, then aged 80 (or maybe 81) died at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne in November 1962.

Griffyth George (Griff) Hunt

It seemed no more difficult for Griff Hunt to retain his driving licence in the ‘eighties than it was for Bert Penwill to retain his back in the ‘forties and ‘fifties. In his later years, despite suffering so badly from glaucoma that he could barely see to the centre of the pitch from the touchline, Griff was still driving, no doubt in the purposeful manner which epitomised his time with the VRU (though he did take the precaution of having a Welsh friend drive him to one of the Max Boyce nightime concerts. [18] )

His involvement with the Victorian Union only started a few years before Bert Penwill’s death after a band of enthusiasts had in 1958 successfully formed a new rugby club in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, appropriately named the Eastern Suburbs Rugby Union Football Club, which adopted the colours of the Easter Suburbs (Sydney) Rugby Club. Early in 1959 Cmdr. Hal Turner, then VRU Secretary, wrote to advise that the Management Committee would recommend affiliation of the new club and by the end of February he had relinquished his office in order to take up the first presidency of the Eastern Suburbs RUFC (two years later to change its name to Box Hill RUFC). The new club then set about organising a team for the 1959 season in a Grade that the VRU was introducing for the very first time, the Colts. This nominally Under 19 grade, consisted largely of those unfamiliar with the code and had prompted the granting of dispensation to a few ‘over aged’ experienced players of which the Eastern Suburbs team included three; the rest being mainly students.

One of those students was John Hunt who, with no experience of Rugby, had been inveigled into joining and so tentatively approached his father, Griff, to ask if he knew anything about playing rugby at 5/8 ‘…as I was to start in that Club’s first (& my first) game the following week … He assumed (correctly) that I was going to get beaten up, and thought it would be quite interesting to watch. A week later he became the assistant back line coach … being a neat trick since he had played all his rugby at hooker and breakaway.’ So that was Griff Hunt’s introduction to Victorian Rugby, an involvement which John believed he was initially reluctant to take up on account of his managerial responsibilities with Glaxo. But he was soon to begin working tirelessly for the development of rugby, firstly in his new club and then in his adopted State.

The second of three brothers, Griff was born on 9 May, 1911 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire and later attended the Garrison school in Bordon, near Aldershot, Hampshire, before the family moved to Wales, where he was enrolled firstly at the Crindau, then at the Newport primary school prior to entering Newport High in September 1921. This was where he got his first taste of serious rugby as a member of the school’s 1st XV. He left school at seventeen to take up an apprenticeship in pharmacy where the long trading hours, six days a week, meant that he was unable to continue playing rugby and so took up water-polo and at eighteen played with the Newport First team and later, at twenty-two years of age, for Wales.

In 1932 he was enrolled (with the anglicised spelling of Griffith) for a pharmacy course with the Welsh College of Pharmacy, which was then within the Cardiff Technical College, later to become the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, a predecessor body of Cardiff University. The records show that he was awarded rugby team colours as hooker for their 2nd XV and qualified (this time as Griffyth) as a Chemist & Druggist on 4 January 1934.

It is worth recalling that it was during this between-wars period that Welsh industry, not least mining, had been hit especially hard, causing many players to move to England and a number to join League clubs. [19] Nevertheless, the 1935/1936 season was to be outstanding one for Wales, starting with a nerve wracking one point win over the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park and, although a drawn game with England denied them the Triple Crown, wins over Scotland and Ireland gave them the Championship.

Duly entered on the register of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain Griff, then with a Malpas, Newport address, joined Glaxo as a medical representative in 1936 and late in that year married Alice Margaret Reeves in Newport. In 1937 they were living in Rumney Hill, Cardiff, where they apparently lived for most of the pre-war years.

There are no details of him playing club rugby pre-war but as he was selected for his College and a few years later for the Territorials, it seems extremely likely that he would have done so when the opportunity arose. For instance, he might well have played with the Cardiff Medicals RFC, founded in the early years of the 20th century for students of medicine and related professions, and then joined one of the local clubs; but no records remain to reveal whether or not he did.

In 1938 he enlisted in the Territorial Army (Monmouthshire Regiment) and played for them as a breakaway. [20] He was called to active service a week before war was declared and after volunteering for the hastily formed Independent Companies saw action with them on the 1940 expedition to Norway and then with their successors, the newly raised No 1 British Army Commando, on operations in Europe (including the initial landings in Sicily, Salerno and Normandy) and in North Africa and Burma. He retired with the awards of MBE and TD (Territorial Decoration), ceasing to belong to the Reserve of Officers on reaching 50 years of age (in 1961) but retaining the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

After the war Griff returned to work with Glaxo as Personnel Manager (factory) at Greenford and from their war time address back in Newport he and the family, which by then had grown to include daughter Jean, born in Cardiff in 1939 and son John, born in Chester in 1943, moved to Kingsfield Avenue, North Harrow. In 1950, he was appointed Sales Manager of the Australian subsidiary and after flying out to conduct a sort of reconnaissance in depth he sent for Alice, Jean and John to join him in Melbourne where they duly arrived in 1951 as passengers on the SS Orcades.

Griff was one of many new staff engaged by Glaxo Allenbury’s (Australia) Pty.Ltd. [21] at a time when the firm was undergoing rapid expansion, with new manufacturing and packaging facilities being built at the North Melbourne headquarters and increased production of antibiotics at the Port Fairy plant. Two years later, in 1952, he was appointed Sales Director and by 1957 has already been described as heir apparent to R.C.Pearce, then Managing Director. It was about that time, during a visit to the Greenford Laboratories in the UK, that he canvassed diversification at Port Fairy in order to produce penicillin there, a process which was to commence several years later.

He was appointed Managing Director in 1959 and remained in that post until the end of 1971, staying on as a director until mid 1972. Griff was also a director of four other organisations including the Croydon Leisure Centre and Maroondah Hospital. He lived reasonably close to work, latterly in Hyton Crescent, Croydon, but, in addition to making many interstate and overseas trips, made frequent visits to Port Fairy. Fortunately, as Managing Director, he was entitled to the use of a late model limousine equipped with air-conditioning, a rare phenomenon in the early ‘sixties, and one he gladly acknowledged for the comfort it provided while on the long drives to and from there on hot summer days.

One story illustrative of his management style was his response to staff requests for a swimming pool at Glaxo’s Boronia plant. Evidently his recommendation in support of that facility was initially rejected but he subsequently won approval after making a convincing case to the effect that ready access to such a large volume of stored water would be essential if they were to avoid the almost certain risk of having the buildings razed in the event of fire in that bushfire prone area of the Dandenong foothills.

Meanwhile, he was not slow in enlisting help for the Union. Rollo Manning, who came from a well known rugby family in NSW, joined Glaxo in 1965 as Sales Manager for Victoria and it didn’t take long for Griff to get him involved the next year as Assistant Secretary of the VRU with a seat on the Executive Committee. Much later, in 1974, in what Griff regarded as one of his most important decisions, he was to appoint Rod Lindroth as the first full time VRU Secretary.[22]

As previously related, it was in 1959, that Griff became involved with the Eastern Suburbs Colts, the first of his many commitments to rugby union in Victoria. By the following year, 1960, he was assisting the new club coach Tom Wilcox, who recalled his arrival at Flinders Naval Depot with two teams, to be told by Griff that, as the Colts were one man short, ‘…it was him or me that would have to go on (and) As I was the younger. I took the field as full back.’

It was also in 1960 that he met Bryn Jones, two years later to be the Club coach; Bryn was another ex-Newport schoolboy, but from a different school in a different time. Griff by then had become increasingly involved with club administration and in 1964 he was elected President of what by then had been renamed the Box Hill RUFC (BHRUFC), and had grown to include three teams in VRU and three in VJRU competitions. He was only to remain Club President for that year as, although recorded by his successor that he ‘…left us with a clear plan and a purpose to fulfil…’ his outstanding ability had been noted elsewhere and for 1965, and for the ten years to follow, he was to be President of the VRU, the seventh to hold that office.

By way of a reminder those next ten years were to see the introduction in Australia of decimal currency and many advances in office technology, not least the punch card antecedent of the computer and photocopiers. It also saw an escalation of the Vietnam War along with Australian conscription and the involvement of troops in Vietnam. But on a sporting note the decade had started with a British and Irish Lions tour including a match against Victoria. It was no doubt with mixed feelings that Griff saw his State side go down gamely 14-24 , perhaps even more so because one of the Lions (three point) tries was scored by Scotland player Sandy Hinshelwood, a pharmacist at Glaxo’s Greenford plant.

Although only Box Hill Club President for a year Griff remained a Vice President from 1965 until 1972 and returned as a Patron from 1975 until his death. One important legacy of that presidential year with Box Hill was what was sometimes rather casually referred to as ‘The Manifesto’, a policy document which embraced the objective of promoting more rugby clubs in the burgeoning eastern suburbs and which, as will be seen, was to be given practical application with his involvement a few years later. However one other lifelong mission was never to be realised; that was to rid the competition of what he described as the pernicious system of the finals series, a peculiarity of Australian rugby which he apparently found too deeply entrenched to remove.[23]

Then began his long association with the VRU and ARU.[24] The number of positions he held make formidable reading; there were so many that it is difficult to do other than attempt to record most of them (leaving out numerous ad hoc and sub committees and the help he gave to produce the VRU News and Grade tables, etc.) and let the reader imagine what all this must have required of him in time and effort. As Sir Nicholas Shehadie, ARU President, wrote in appreciation in 1984, ‘Griff had been a valuable asset to Australian Rugby. His counsel was always sought, which is probably why he was a member of the many committees.’

With the VRU; Griff was President for eleven years (1965 – 1975),Vice President, eight years (1976-1983), Hon.Assistant Secretary, eight years (1976-1983), Chairman, Management Committee 1976; Chairman, Youth Committee, 1976. He was made a Life Member in 1973.
With the VJRU; President 1978-1983.
With the VSRU; Member of Committee 1973
With the ARU; Victorian Delegate, fifteen years ((1969-1983), Deputy Chairman, two years (1972-73), Executive Committee Member, twelve years (1972-1983), Finance Committee Member, eleven years (1973-1983), Tours Committee Member, eight years ( 1976-1983), Constitution Committee Member, eight years ((1976-1983), Youth Development Chairman, five years (1979-1983), Wallaby Trophy Committee Member, seven years (1968-1974).
With the AJRFU; Hon.Secretary/Treasurer, four years (1979-1982), Manager Under 17 tour NZ 1982, President 1983. He was to have been awarded a Life Membership of the ARU in February, 1984

In 1977 Griff was named Victorian Sportsman of the Year for his services to the sport and he had such a wide range of rugby interests that it is perhaps inadequate to comment only on a few, however those which seemed to engage him most were interstate and international contests and the promotion of junior rugby. He delighted in State team events such as the Southern States Carnival and in hosting visits from national teams [25] of which there were some fifteen during his time with the VRU. Among the latter Wales in 1978 was to receive his enthusiastic attention, as was the Max Boyce concert mentioned earlier. Both events were no doubt a welcome change from the 1971 South Africa tour which aroused such widespread dissention. Suffice it to say here that Griff was one of those who believed it should go ahead, as it did, complete with mounted police, entry searches and smoke bombs and rockets at Olympic Park.

There is little doubt that Griff endorsed amateurism as a prerequisite for Union players and it would have been unusual had he not done so. While not always universally applied, it had been an article of faith of the Union since long before his birth and was not seriously challenged until several years after his death.

As for sponsorship, this was not officially recognised at international level until the early ‘seventies and did not filter down to Victorian club level until 1982 when donations of up to $1,000 could be publicly acknowledged by a club and discreet logos of sponsors were permitted on playing gear for the first time.

Griff’s term of office as VRU President saw standardisation of player numbers, first introduced in 1966 for international games (from 1 at prop to 15 at full back) and finally adopted, at least by Victorian First Division teams, in 1973, thus ending displays of a sometimes bewildering range of numbers and letters on team jerseys. Rugby in the provinces also expanded and the Sevens competition was revived. [26]

He demonstrated his dedication to junior club rugby and to the expansion of junior rugby generally, by supporting the ARU campaign to form a separate Schools Union in every State, each having a delegate to an Australian umbrella body, (the ASRU) and he actively promoted that concept in Victoria by convening the meeting in July 1972 which established the framework for what was to become the Victorian Schools Rugby Union (VSRU), the inaugural meeting of which was held in October of that year.

One other matter deserves comment. The realisation of his desire to spread the code in the eastern suburbs as set out in the Manifesto adopted by the BHRUFC back in 1964. That opportunity came after delegates from the Club (including Griff) had finally obtained from Box Hill Council agreement on security of tenure of the new grounds and clubrooms at Sparks Reserve from 1969. A number of Box Hill members, including Griff, lived in the Croydon area and this was conceived as the location of a new club and so he and other Box Hill members commenced discussions with the Croydon Council regarding use of a playing field which might serve as the home of a new rugby club. There is no doubt that Griff’s involvement, not only as a Croydon resident and a skilful negotiator but as the head of a large locally based enterprise and President of the Union, was a significant factor in the ultimate success of those discussions.

The new Croydon RUFC was finally established at a meeting held late in 1971 and while the Box Hill Club had agreed to help meet the establishment costs support for the new club was so extensive as to render that aid unnecessary. The first Croydon team not only took the field in 1972 but won the minor premiership in their grade and went on to later successes. It is fitting that their home ground was to be named in memory of Griff and that his son and grandson were to play for the Club of which he was at one time Vice President and of which he was also elected a Life Member.

By 1983 the number of VRU clubs had grown to twenty-six and teams to seventy-five and the VJRU to ten clubs and thirty teams. It was about this time, when half-time sliced oranges began to disappear, in retreat from confrontations with the commercially driven ‘sports drinks’, that the first murmurings could be heard about a World Cup, but that wasn’t to become a reality for another four years. Meanwhile, it was the last year that Griff was to hold Union office. His sometime stentorian commands, interspersed with disarming smiles, were no longer to be heard or seen when, after a prolonged illness, he died on 4 January 1984. Alice, his wife for the best part of fifty years, was to die some four years later.

Griff had packed a lot into his 73 years and despite being held in Melbourne’s peak holiday period, when many residents vacate the metropolis, over 200 attended his funeral at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery on Monday 9 January. Sir Nicholas Shehadie, then ARU President, who attended with the Union’s Executive Director and Treasurer and delivered the eulogy, left us this epitaph; ‘ We are poorer for his passing, but richer for having known him.’

The Griff Hunt Reserve in North Croydon, home of the Maroondah (formerly Croydon) RUFC comprises two pitches and a pavilion located in a pleasant tree bordered setting and was named by the local Council in 1984. It is one of several memorials to Griff. Another is the BHRUFC Griff Hunt Memorial Board, mounted in their Sparks Reserve clubrooms and unveiled by the Mayor of Box Hill in April 1993. As one of the guests later wrote in thanks; ‘Whilst acknowledging all of those who held official positions …(it is) … a fitting tribute to Mr Hunt.’ Lastly, as an appropriate reminder of his long involvement with junior rugby, the Griff Hunt Memorial Trophy (Shield) has since 1985 been awarded to the winners of the South Australia v Victoria Under 12 teams meeting in annual competition. [27]

Ron Grainger – November 2015

Acknowledgement and Sources
I am indebted to John Penwill, and to Jean Coffey and John Hunt, for biographical information and to others, not least Bill Gillies, Bryn Jones and Dennis Collard, for various reports and recollections as well as to David Morrison for technical assistance. My sincere thanks also to the many rugby historians and to the librarians and archivists who provided details from their collections.

Other sources were newspapers, periodicals and various publications including; The Age, The Argus The Australasian, The Herald, Referee, Sun-News Pictorial, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sporting Globe, Table Talk, Sidelines [Box Hill RUFC], Glaxo Group News, Glaxal News, Playfair Rugby Football Annual and VRU and ARU Annual Reports.
Melbourne Rugby Union Football Club–A Brief History; Harrison, John, 1978
International Rugby Records; Griffiths, John; J.M.Dent & Sons 1987
The Encyclopaedia of World Rugby; Quinn, Keith; ABC Enterprises 1993,
Going For The Line: A History of the Box Hill RUFC, Grainger,Ron; Box Hill RUFC, Inc.; 2003
Quins Down Under 1928-2004, The Harlequin Club, Inc.;2006
A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union, Richards,Huw; Mainstream Publishing 2007
A History of Rugby Union in Victoria: Between the Wars; Grainger,Ron; (Monograph; 2014)

1 The year of birth is not confirmed in official records and is sometimes noted as having been 1882.
2 Clytha College, then at Brodawel, York Place had been founded in 1875. In 1894 it was advertised as a first- class school for boys preparing for commerce, the universities, or any of the professions; with the Principal – Rev. W.E. Winter, M.A and an ‘efficient staff of resident and non-resident masters’. There is no mention of sporting activities.
3 A private school established in 1889 by Headmaster John Ware and which in 1891 had been moved to new premises in South Road with a ‘good play field adjoining.’ At the 1891 census there were less than 20 boarders. It closed in 1897.
4 This reference was made by Bert Penwill in an interview he gave in 1927. Presumably it was to an unaffiliated ‘social’ club or team and perhaps he offhandedly gave it that descriptive title in the knowledge that it consisted of players of different ethnicity and backgrounds, as did the Kenyan rugby club of similar name which had been founded a few years earlier, in 1923.
5 When the South Wales Borderers were formed, in 1881, they gained the militia and volunteer battalions of a number of Welsh counties, in this case the Royal Montgomery and Merioneth Rifles Militia.
6 The six clubs in the first year of League competition were St. Kilda (red and black hoops), Kiwis (black), Melbourne University (blue and black hoops), RAAF (pale blue),Melbourne (red, white and blue hoops) and East Melbourne, replaced by Navy (maroon) for the last two seasons. It is interesting that some of the Union clubs retained the same colours for many years while others, notably Melbourne, were to make several changes.
7 Or, despite claims to the contrary, to the Union clubs which were to be formed in 1926 following the demise of the League.
8 Presumably a steering committee to oversee the establishment of the new organisation. the Management Committee formally appointed by the VRU in 1926 consisted of the same members with the exception of Lane and the addition of A.W.Godfrey as Chairman.
9 A body formed in 1920 and renamed as shown in 1921 which consisted of representatives of Sydney, Queensland, Melbourne and Adelaide Universities.
10 The Old Boys colours were of black and white hoops and these were to be changed again in 1948 to Australian green.
11 ‘His efforts were largely responsible for the establishment of Rugby Union in this State’ VRU 1962 Annual Report .
12 The Australian Broadcasting Commission from 1 July 1932 (‘Corporation’ from 1 July 1983). Charles (later Sir Charles) Moses, all round sportsman and founding member of Harlequins, a contemporary of Bert Penwill, joined the ABC in 1930 as a sports commentator, though he had to wait two years before his first sports broadcasts were made. He was promoted to General Manager in 1935 and retired in 1965.
13 And donated the Cowan Cup in 1930 for the winner of the Seven a Side competition, apparently held for the first time in that year. See also footnote 25.
14 Melbourne was the seat of Federal Parliament from 1901 to 1926 and of the Federal Governor- Generals of the day but it was only from 1936 (with a long break during and after the war) that the new Union was to secure a succession of State Governors as patrons.
15 A draft constitution for a proposed Australian Rugby Union had been adopted by NSW at the end of 1930 but awaited endorsement by Queensland and Victoria. In the event, as mentioned in the earlier reference to Fraser Dodds, it was not until 1949 that the ARU was formed; prior to that time the NSWRU effectively represented Australian Rugby.
16 At that time virtually the second grade. A term not applied to any grade in Victoria since 1997.
17 By a quirk of history the popular First Annual Ball (1936), also held at the New Embassy, featured table decorations of silver bowls filled with carnations and Pink Heath. Twenty-one years later (1958) Pink Heath was to become the State’s floral emblem and to replace the Golden Wattle on the State teams jerseys.
18 The first in 1978 on the eve of the match in which Wales thumped Victoria 52-3 and the second in 1980. Griff used his influence to have Melbourne included in both Australian itineraries and was an enthusiastic promoter of the concerts among the local Welsh and rugby communities.
19 ‘More than one fifth of new arrivals in Coventry , which experienced a population growth from 128,000 to 220,000 between 1922 and 1939, were Welsh. This influx bolstered the strength of local rugby and, in particular, of games teaching in schools, both of which would contribute to the city club’s post-war prowess. Many of the gifted Welsh players took their skills north, Tony Collins calculates….a total of 392 between the wars. ‘Richards, Huw; A Game for Hooligans ‘(In the 1926 Rugby League match with England, more than 70 per cent of the Welsh League side were recent former Union caps.)’ Griffiths, John; International Rugby Records
20 I have been unable to obtain details of Griff’s involvement in services rugby but it is interesting to note that the Territorial Army played a match against the Army in most peacetime years between 1931 and 1984 and that while the Army won twenty-seven of those matches and the Territorials only nine (the 1936 match was drawn) the Territorials appeared strongest in 1938 and 1939, the years during which Griff was selected.
21 Glaxo-Allenbury (Australia) Pty.Ltd. (later Glaxo Australia Pty.Ltd. and other changes of name) was by then a subsidiary of a the British Glaxo company. First registered in 1928 it took over a previously established plant for milk dehydration in Port Fairy, about 290 kilometres west of Melbourne, where in the early ‘fifties they opened a new fermentation plant for production of antibiotics and later of penicillin. The company finally relinquished ownership of the Port Fairy site on 1 September this year (2015). What was to become the head office and main plant of GlaxoSmithKline(GSK) Australia Pty.Ltd.was established in 1961 in Boronia, outer east Melbourne, from where it has overseen production of pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and health care products.
22 Many years later Rod was to be associated with Women’s rugby as a State team Manager. His son Graham was coach, and daughter in law Jennifer a member of the 1996 Women’s State team and both were to die tragically in a fire which consumed their Ferny Creek home, in January 1997. The Lindroth Trophy was later donated to the winners of matches between the Women’s State teams of Victoria and South Australia.
23 Introduced to Victorian Rugby Union in 1932 (Initially for First Grade) 24 A period during which, despite the reduction in the number of armed service clubs into one (Combined Services) the total number of VRU teams increased by thirteen, from 51 to 64 (and VJRU teams by ten, from 21 to 31).
25 Since the late ‘fifties almost all travelling by air instead of by ship and train and heralding the introduction of increasingly shorter international tours.
26 VRU Senior Sevens have had a chequered history. First introduced in 1930 but abandoned in 1938. Revived in 1953 and lasting until 1994. Reintroduced in 2014.
27 The Trophy is associated with the Griff Hunt Carnival which the secretaries of the then VJRU and South Australian Junior Rugby Union decided should be held in his memory each year, the venue alternating between Adelaide and Melbourne, the first being held in June of that same year,1984.


Entry page: A History of Rugby in Victoria

Entry page: A History of Rugby in Victoria