photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum
Over the next few months Photo-of-the-Day will feature an on-going contribution by Lindsay Barrett blogging about his great uncle Frank Burge’s photo album. The album documents the Australian Rugby League team’s 1921/22 ‘Kangaroo tour’ of which he was a key member.
Lindsay Barrett is a writer and cultural historian. He has worked with the museum before as the co-curator of the exhibition The Curious Economist: William Stanley Jevons in Sydney and a contributor to the conference held with the exhibition League of legends. Lindsay shares our interest in photography, technology, culture, history and Rugby League. We hope you enjoy this series. By Matthew Connell, Principal Curator.
On the paddock by Lindsay Barrett
This is a photograph of the Australian Rugby League Team, the Kangaroos, on the training field in Harrogate in Yorkshire in September 1921. The photo is from an album of pictures of the tour put together by my father’s uncle, Frank Burge, who is standing sixth from the right in the line of men in the background. In the foreground, in the gladiator stance, is Frank’s close mate Sidney Charles ‘Sandy’ Pearce.
The 1921 Kangaroo touring team was made up of some the greatest names from the first decades of Australian rugby league, like Harold Horder, Cec Blinkhorn, Duncan Thompson, Les Cubitt and Chook Fraser. Frank, who played for Glebe in the Sydney competition (because in those days working-class Glebe had a first grade rugby league team) and Sandy, who played for Eastern Suburbs, were in good company; or perhaps it was the other way around: Frank played 23 games on the tour against the best teams in the north of England and scored 33 tries, which, given his position in the team as a forward, was quite remarkable.
Frank Burge was born in 1894 and died in 1958. I never knew him, so I have no idea how often he looked at his tour album over the years, but for decades after his death it sat quietly in a dim back corner of a shelf in my father’s wardrobe. It was one of his most treasured possessions. Five years ago, after my father died, it passed to me. Unlike my father, I open the document far too much than is healthy for it. I know that the thinning calfskin cover, the worn cardboard pages, the fading silver pictures were all much happier left alone in the dark. But there’s a lot of history there, and really, what’s the point if nobody gets to see it?
The photographs have been in position on the page, above Frank’s business-like upper case titles, for more than ninety years now, and when we attempted to take them out last week to scan them we found that the surface of most had fused with the black paper corners designed to hold them in place. Photo album corners, you can still get them from online shops, they’re one of who knows how many insignificant but ubiquitous Twentieth Century objects that have lived on into the Twenty-First in an over-priced boutique form. Anyway, that’s why we had to abandon all pretence of producing a clinically presented image and, instead, show the photograph in its purely contextual form, corners and all.
Most of the men in the image are wearing Australian football jerseys, which in this instance are sky blue with a Kangaroo emblem on the left breast. But the two men on the right are in North Sydney jumpers. Norths, the premiers of the time, together with Easts, contributed the bulk of players to the team. Sandy Pearce meanwhile appears to be wearing a Glebe jersey, with the G for Glebe breast monogram removed. This seems curious, because Sandy only ever played for Easts. Perhaps an explanation lies with the fact that Frank seems to be dressed in an Easts jumper, though it is hard to conclusively make out the definition of separate blues and reds in the dark banded hoops. But maybe Frank and Sandy had swapped jerseys, just for fun.
Frank admired Sandy Pearce enormously. According to Frank, Pearce once carried a 100 pound sack of oysters from Sussex Street, on the western edge of the Sydney CBD, to his home in Double Bay, in the eastern suburbs. And looking at him here, carved, apparently, out of marble, it’s hard to doubt the veracity of the story. But then this was a long time ago. Footballers don’t lug forty five-kilo bags of oysters around anymore, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be carting them to Double Bay.
This project is supported by the Tom Brock bequest.
Post by Lindsay Barrett
Photos by Marinco Kojdanovski
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