In October 1967, a party of League footballers of renown followed the former field umpire turned entrepreneur Harry Beitzel across the tarmac, onto an Ireland-bound jet and into International Rules immortality.
Amongst that coveted contingent of players destined to meet Gaelic football’s best in the land of the Blarney were Richmond’s the late Bill Barrot, Paddy Guinane and Royce Hart (all contributors to the Tigers’ ’67 grand final triumph a few weeks previous); South Melbourne’s then dual Brownlow Medallist Bob Skilton; and the late Laurie Dwyer, a runner-up to St Kilda’s Ross Smith in the ’67 count.
Also making the flight were three leviathans of the Carlton Football Club – the then captain-coach Ron Barassi; the vice-captain and club best and fairest of ’67 John Nicholls; and the 22 year-old Alex Jesaulenko who, in his maiden season in the VFL finished third in the Brownlow with 15 votes behind 'Twinkle Toes' and Smith.
The tour members, with their garish blazers and slouch hats, were duly dubbed 'The Galahs' – apparently by way of a comment apparently attributed to the Avant-garde athletics coach Percy Cerutty . . . and the rest, as they say, is football history.
Lovers of the game are truly indebted to the resident Melbourne author, public speaker and now co-director and producer Tony Wilson – who together with Cameron Fink and Rob Heath has revived this largely forgotten football fable by way of his newly-released documentary The Galahs.
Pitched as “a local doco with heart and history”, the film explores Beitzel’s audacious initiative which laid the foundations for future international competition and pioneered the formalised international rules series of subsequent decades.
For the record, The Galahs of ’67, after participating in a warm-up match against a Dublin club team, met the All-Ireland champions County Meath at Croke Park on Sunday, October 29 of that year. 'Barass', as captain-coach, led The Galahs onto the famed pitch.
Carlton captain-coach Ron Barassi, as captain-coach of The Galahs, leads the Australians onto Croke Park, 29 October 1967 . (Photo: © The Irish Times)
The Croke Park fixture, which incidentally resulted in a 25-13 win to the tourists, formed but part of what was a history-making Australian Football World Tour. The tour took in subsequent contests with Britain (for whom 'Jezza' rather curiously played) at London’s Crystal Palace; with Connacht Senior Football Championship winners Mayo back at Croke Park; and with New York in New York City – a bruising contest in which Melbourne footballer Hassa Mann reportedly had his nose broken by a New York-based narcotics detective Brendan Tumulty - who broke his own thumb after landing one on the great Ronald Dale.
The Galahs, Croke Park, 29 October 1967. Back row, left to right: Roger Dean, Bill Barrot, Ken Fraser, John Nicholls, Norm Brown, Bob Keddie, Alex Jesaulenko, Barry Davis. Middle row: Peter Body (Sydney Naval), Don Williams, Hassa Mann, Ron Barassi (Captain-Coach), Bob Skilton, John Jillard, Herb Matthews jr. Front row: Stuart Magee, Laurie Dwyer, John Dugdale, Ian Law, Graeme Chalmer (Photo: © The Irish Times)
The following year, Jesaulenko and Bryan Quirk, having played their part in Carlton’s droughtbreaking ’68 grand final victory, joined Syd Jackson on The Galahs’ World Tour, photos of which recently appeared in the Alex Jesaulenko Collection at auction. Alex is featured in one image with Syd, Bryan and the Geelong ruckman Graham 'Polly' Farmer (minus the slouch hat).
Left to right: Syd Jackson, Alex Jesaulenko, Graham 'Polly' Farmer and Bryan Quirk. (Photo: Alex Jesaulenko Collection)
To view The Galahs trailer, click here.
To purchase The Galahs on DVD, click here.