A century of ups and downs celebrated in new hockey club history
Brunswick Hockey Club’s story is frequently one of resilience and enduranceMark Phillips
WHEN Noel Turner and Chris Zull began researching the history of Brunswick Hockey Club for a book to celebrate its centenary, they thought it might stretch to 160 pages at the most.
But after a mammoth effort over 18 months and contributions from scores of people associated with the club over the years, the “brief” club history has come in at 264 pages long.
The book will be launched next Friday at the clubrooms at Wylie Reserve in Brunswick West as part of the club’s 100 year celebrations.
Both authors are life members of the club with “a couple of thousand” matches to their credit, according to Turner. Turner, who served three terms as club president and runs the past players coterie, is the official club historian and designed the book, while Zull, who came up through the juniors and is a former club secretary, did most of the research and writing, including combing through old newspaper archives from the 20th century.
And what a history it is. Founded in 1923, Brunswick is one of only three Victorian hockey clubs which continue to exist under their own name since that time (the others are Melbourne University and Essendon).
Formed by Wally McMillan and Val Hutchison, it grew out of the Brunswick Technical School Old Boys Club. In its early years, it played in Parkville before moving to Holbrook Reserve on the banks of the Moonee Ponds Creek in the late-1930s, then to Wylie Reserve in the 1960s.
Today, it plays on artificial turf on the grounds of Brunswick Secondary College, which was once the Technical School, bringing the club full circle to back where it started.
The Brunswick Women’s Hockey Club was a separate club and affiliated with the Victorian Ladies Hockey Association from 1913 and continued to play until 1937 before disbanding. Women’s hockey became part of the BHC in 1977 and has continued to be a big part of the club ever since.
The club’s golden era was in the 1930s. Just six years into its formation, it won its inaugural first division premiership in 1930, repeating that feat the following year and again in 1934.
In total, the Brunswick men have won nine first grade premierships, and the women have won seven.
“When we started work on this, some of the early players on our honours board from the 1930s were just names and we didn’t know who they were … but we’ve been able to find out about all of that early history,” said Turner.
“We had no idea that Brunswick was the glamour team of the 1930s but that’s all in the book now.”
Get more stories like this delivered to your inbox
One of the saddest stories told in the history is that of Kel McMillan, the son of club co-founder Wal. At 16, Kel – a dashing and skilful goal scoring inside forward – became the youngest ever player at that stage to be selected for the Victorian senior side in 1946.
By 1948, aged 18, he was selected for the Australian team to play New Zealand in Dunedin, but his father believed he was too young to tour overseas and convinced him to bide his time.
“He was a junior child prodigy who was renowned as the best forward in Australia but his father said you’ve got plenty of time for Australia and wouldn’t let him go,” said Turner.
“The next year, he got polio in his leg and could never run properly again. He went into coaching and the presidency and was still involved for 50 years at the club, but it’s just sad that he couldn’t have a career as a player.”
Kel McMillan died aged 92 last year, but his son Greg was also a club champion and state representative at the age of 17 who played for many years for Brunswick, and he has written the foreword to the history and will be attending its launch.
By the mid-1990s, the club was in the doldrums, shuffled from home ground to home ground and down to just one junior side.
“It was terrible … in one annual report, someone has scribbled at the bottom of one page ‘We’re broke’,” Turner said.
“They were down to a couple of teams and on their knees. They even had to move out of Brunswick and share a facility in Northcote as their home ground.
“But somehow they fought through and rebuilt the club and we’re now the strongest we’ve ever been.”
From that low point in the 1990s, a new strategy was developed to grow its junior membership base through hockey coaching clinics in local primary schools, and slowly a new wave of juniors – and their parents – joined the club.
Currently with 500 members, the club is the largest it has been in the past 100 years and it is actively looking for a second home ground to accommodate its swollen on-field membership.
Turner said the book grew in size after a call out in Brunswick Voice earlier this year drew a vast number of new stories and memorabilia.
“So many people came forward to say I’ve got photos or I’ve got stories and information who were related to some of the early players on our honours board,” he said.
The book will be available for purchase for $50 on the evening of the launch or online.
A Gala Centenary Dinner for 300 planned for July 22 at Moonee Valley Racecourse is almost sold out.
This story was updated on Sunday, June 18 to acknowledge that Essendon Hockey Club has also existed continuously for more than 100 years.
Do you have feedback on this story? Send us a comment here.