Yarraville- Tough, Successful and win at all costs

When I started this search, I assumed that the earliest female club president would have been from a middle class suburb, or from a University team. I also thought that the team would have been unsuccessful, or maybe she was recruited as a wartime measure, so I was surprised to find that this story starts in a working class suburb, with a successful team with a tough reputation.

Yarraville prior to the First World War was an industrial suburb on the western edge of Melbourne. Close to Footscray and on the road from Footscray down to Williamstown, it was a tough part of town, surrounded by factories and industry. It has a thin main street disected by a railway line, and the football ground, once a disused quarry is a short walk away.

Today Yarraville has become a trendy inner city suburb nestled near the western edge of the Westgate Bridge (built in the 1970's), many today are more familiar with its eateries and the pretty art deco façade of the Sun Theatre, though the trucks on the roads around the suburbs are a reminder of earlier days.

Before we get to the President, it is important to know what type of spirit existed at the club.

In 1903 the Yarraville Junior Football Club was formed. Rather than play in a small local competition, this new club joined the Victorian Junior Association (VJFA) which at that time was essentially equal to a VFL/VFA Second’s competition and included Carlton, Coburg, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Footscray, Northcote, Richmond and South Melbourne.1 Yarraville played out of the Yarraville Oval which still hosts a Yarraville team today. (Preston had just moved up from this competition to compete in the VFA).

In the days before radio and television, and prior to when most people had motor cars, local football received much stronger local support as in many ways, people had fewer ways to access big league VFL and VFA football.

In 1905 Yarraville won the premiership (there were as yet no finals, so the award was to the ladder leader at the end of the season.) Northcote were second.

In 1906, in the first year when a final’s series was played, Yarraville were ladder leaders after the Home and Away season and so gained a right of challenge if they did not win the finals series. They had to use that right, but were beaten by Northcote in the Final.

In 1907, Yarraville were again minor premiers. and again lost in the semi finals. and again lost the right of challenge final. This time it was Footscray Seconds who defeated them, Yarraville tried hard and imported good players from MJFA teams (such as Brighton) to help them win the final, but to no avail.

In 1908, yet again Yarraville were minor premiers, but this time they won their semi final and made the final against Footscray Seconds. The bell sounded to end the game with the scores tied. Yarraville won the playoff game and were Premiers.

Yarraville 1908 - You Cant Beat Yarraville - John Heron 2003
Yarraville 1908 - You Cant Beat Yarraville - John Heron 2003

In 1909 Yarraville were again Premiers, again minor premiers, they defeated Footscray in the final to win the Premiership. A number of the VFL backed clubs, South Melbourne, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond had already migrated away from the VFA backed VJFA. 1909 was also the last year for Carlton and Coburg, Williamstown, Brunswick and Essendon joined the competition the following year.2

Argus 1-Aug-1910 p5
Argus 1-Aug-1910 p5

In 1910 Port Melbourne were minor premiers and met Yarraville in the final at Richmond City reserve where in a rough final quarter, with Yarraville down by a few goals, the ball burst and the replacement ball (owned by Yarraville) had been stabbed twice, a third ball could not be used as Yarraville’s pump could somehow not be found. The game was abandoned and Yarraville claimed the victory as it was Port’s responsibility to provide the ball. Eeventually though, the game had to be replayed.3

West Australian 10-Oct-1910 p5
West Australian 10-Oct-1910 p5

In the replay the following week, Port Melbourne played without exertion, handing the match to Yarraville, Port then used their right of challenge to set up a final match. The final match resulted in another free for all fight throughout the match with the Yarraville captain and later a Port Melbourne player carried unconscious off the ground. Port Melbourne won.4

Argus 24-Oct-1910p6
Argus 24-Oct-1910p6

The 1911 season was not successful for Yarraville but they again made the news when in a punch up with Preston (returned from the VFA back to the VJFA), all players on both teams were reported by the field umpire.5

Yarraville 1911 - You Cant Beat Yarraville - John Heron 2003
Yarraville 1911 - You Cant Beat Yarraville - John Heron 2003

In 1912 Port Melbourne won the minor premiership but again the finals aroused controversy. In the second quarter of the final, the goal umpire mistakenly gave Port Melbourne a goal when it should have been a point and at the end of the game, Port won the game by less than a goal.

Yarraville successfully protested the match with field umpire James McMurray testifying that he received bad advice from the goal umpire. After ruling the protest successful, D.Kennedy the Port Melbourne captain with his arm in a sling after having it broken in the match, burst into the meeting announcing that ‘you lot are a pack of ----- thieves'.6

Port Melbourne who had the right of reply, refused to play a deciding match, even after the Association threatened to ban all Port players and committee.7 Yarraville claimed the flag.

1913 saw Port return and they defeated Yarraville in the Premiership playoff.8

So the first 10 years of the Yarraville club saw ongoing success but willing to fight, and in many ways do anything to win.

Table 1: Yarraville - Results in the Victorian Junior Football Association (VJFA) 1903 - 1913

1903First Year
1906Minor Premiers – Lost in Right of Challenge
1907Minor Premiers – Lost in Right of Challenge
1910Runners up
19115th )Missed finals on Percentage
1913Runners up

Source: Where eagles flew : a history of the Yarraville Football Club / Marc Fiddian, 2011

Margaret Jane Berlowitz

Margaret Berlowitz - You Cant Beat Yarraville - John Heron 2003
Margaret Berlowitz - You Cant Beat Yarraville - John Heron 2003

Margaret Jane Blackson was born in 1869, in 1887, she married Joseph Thomas Berlowitz and thereafter took his name. By 1893 the family had three young kids; Margaret Victoria May (b1888), Arthur Robert (b1889) and Joseph Thomas (b1893).9

In 1901, Margaret purchased the license of the Yarraville Hotel, Ballarat Street, Yarraville from the administrator of the estate of the late Mr Arthur Blackson.10 This was paid out of her separate estate and not with her husband’s money.

The Yarraville Hotel was a Bluestone pub on the city side of Yarraville township, a couple of blocks from the main street. The Yarraville Oval where the club played is on the opposite side of the town.

Yarraville Hotel Ballarat Road Yarraville - Source: MRiley 2014
Yarraville Hotel Ballarat Road Yarraville - Source: MRiley 2014

The Berlowitz’s were connected with the Yarraville club from its first formation in 1903 when £1 donations to the club are listed in the Footscray ‘Independent’ by Mrs Berlowitz (April 18) and Mr J. T. Berlowitz (April 25) .1112 At least one Yarraville Club meetings was held at Berlowitz's Yarraville Hotel that year.13

Records are incomplete, but newspaper reports show J. Berlowitz was elected as a Vice President of the club in 190514, J.T. Berlowitz in 190815 and Berlowitz 191216. It is not clear whether it was husband or wife in 1912.

The end of 1912, beginning of 1913 was later listed as a period when Joseph became quite ill.17 THis corresponds to the period when Margaret become more active with the club.

In 1914 Margaret Berlowitz was 45 years old, she had owned her own business for 13 years after buying it with her own money. She had three adult children and had an association with the Yarraville club in her own right since its establishment in 1903.

Something happened at Yarraville

In 1913 a small article appeared in newspapers around Australia. A young women from Yarraville applied for the position of Football umpire. Her name is not given, and there is no reference to the Yarraville club…but she would certainly have been aware of the recent rough play by the Yarraville Team.

This article records the first attempt that I can find by any women in Australia to become a football umpire. Even in Hockey they used male umpires for first grade women’s matches (this changed in the early 1930’s after an English visiting team brought female umpires out with them). In later women’s football matches it was still common to have male umpires.

Albury Banner and Wodonga Express 18-Apr-1913 p15
Albury Banner and Wodonga Express 18-Apr-1913 p15

In the VFL, Rowena Allsop would still be fighting to be an umpire in 1981 when she had to take the VFL to the Equal Opportunity Commission. So this application in Yarraville was rather exceptional.


In 1914 the Yarraville football club was in financial difficulty. At the annual meeting, the filling of the various offices was not an easy task, but eventually Mrs Margaret Berlowitz was elected as President. Two local newspapers covered the Annual meeting but neither make special mention of the election of a woman president.18 There is no mention of electing a President not at the meeting, so it is probable that Margaret attended the meeting and thus she was fully aware of the deficit and difficulty before being elected President.

Local Publicans were familiar faces on football committees as football was good for business. Pubs often supplied trophy’s, prizes, or donations. In return, they were meeting places for the team and supporters. It is then unsurprising that a local publican was approached.

Margaret knew what was required and a few weeks later a notice in the paper included a note of a donation of £5/5/- with another by Mrs Tandy (on behalf of Lady Supporters) £1.19

The club worked hard to reduce the deficit through the year and the club was unlucky not to make the finals when they unexpectedly lost to the bottom team (Camberwell), and dropped into 5th place.20

The season ended in August 1914, just as the First World War began. At a function in August the club showed it gratitude:

“During the evening the Lady President was presented with a handsome electroplated rose bowl bearing the following inscription—"Presented to Mrs M. J. Berlowitz as a token of esteem by the Yarraville Football Club 1914”. In making the presentation tho chairman said that the club felt that they owed a debt of gratitude to their President, for when they were in deep waters of tribulation she came to their assistance in a manner that surpassed their most sanguine anticipations. He asked .Mrs Berlowitz to accept the present and value it not for its intrinsic worth, hut because it conveyed the gratitude and esteem of every person connected with the club”.21

So the first female club president was not elected as a wartime measure, but she served a full season before the war was called. In coming years she would have to help the club survive the war years, as many (including her own son) went off to the war.

I could find no evidence of criticism of the lady president in the newspapers, nor articles in the paper arguing that it was improper for a women to have such a role in such a masculine organisation. Finally I could find no comments that the Yarraville team had gone soft, or had become more feminine. In all it was business as usual.

Arthur , Margaret’s eldest son, died in September 1914.


In 1915 Margaret was re-elected unopposed as Club president.22 At the annual meeting many would have remembered the debt at the beginning of the previous season. This was now gone.

The Secretary submitted the report and balance sheet for last season, which was received and accepted The balance sheet showed a small credit. A statement in the report that the club had made an innovation last season by appointing a lady president was received with hearty cheers. Mrs Berlowitz the lady president, had taken a keen interest in the welfare of the club, and her kindly dispositions to all and liberal monetary assistance established for her a well-deserved popularity and many wishes were expressed that Mrs Berlowitz would again accept the position.23

One small note in the newspaper hinted at the benefit of being Club President.

“To-day Yarraville meet Port Melbourne Juniors at Port Melbourne. Players are reminded that a drag leaves opposite Berlowitz's Hotel at 1.30.”24 Assuming that the drag returned to the hotel after the game, celebrations/commiserations would continue in her pub.

It is hard to identify whether Margaret fulfilled all the duties normally expected as a Club President. In the few newspaper snippets. It does appear that speeches and toasts were still done by the men.

At a ‘Smoke Night’ for the local coursing club, a toast was made to the ‘Kindred Clubs’ and Mr D Trestrail responded with a speech on behalf of the Yarraville Football Club, even though later in the evening, Mr J. Stanley, on behalf of the Coursing Club, presented the President ‘Mrs Berlowitz’ with a handsomely-framed group photo of the officers of the club, where again Mr Trestrail ‘suitably acknowledged the gift on behalf of the lady President, whose health was drunk with the greatest enthusiasm’.25

On the field 1915 was more successful than the previous year. Yarraville were again minor premiers, but had a surprise loss in the semi finals to Northcote.26 They then went down in the challenge match against Footscray, played at North Melbourne.27


A number of competitions closed down during the war years or cut back and were played by a limited number of teams, the VJFA though conntinued throughout the war.

In 1916 the Yarraville Football Club’s annual meeting was held at Margaret’s Yarraville Hotel. Margaret was again elected Club President.28

1916 saw Yarraville defeated by Williamstown in the semi final. At the club Smoke night ‘the lady president and referred in eulogistic terms’29 and at the annual function Margaret was presented with a silver hot water kettle and Mr Lemmon (MLA Williamstown), noted that “the Yarraville club held the unique position of being the only club in the Association who had a lady president, and in making: the presentation Mrs Berlowitz should be given the highest tribute of praise for her loyalty and assistance to the club.”30


Margaret was again elected club president in 1917 for the fourth year in a row.31 The account books were still in credit. The club would play again this year in spite of the war.

Yarraville again made the finals but lost to Fairfield in a close semi finals when Fairfield stormed home in the final quarter.32

Sadly news came in July that Margaret’s younger son, Joseph Thomas (named after his father), had died in France during the battle of Bullecourt in May.

1918 – Two Female Club Presidents

At the Annual Meeting, Margaret was again elected Club President

The secretary's annual report, and balance-sheet was read and adopted by a unanimous vote. In the report feeling reference was made to those members of the club who had responded to their country's call, and had made the supreme sacrifice. Profound regret was expressed at the death of the club's old friend and delegate, the late Mr. R. McLeod. The prospects of the club for the ensuing season are mentioned as being exceptionally good. The balance-sheet shows the small debit of one guinea, but the assets exceed liabilities by £912/3.33

On the field Yarraville again made the finals, but went down to Collingwood in the Semi Final.

Margaret was also elected as vice president of the Yarraville Cricket Club.34 She now sat on two local sporting committees. And she was no longer alone as a female football club president. In fact the new female club president was also elected in the VJFA…this time at Footscray.

Mrs H. Hallett (of the Plough Hotel35) was elected Club President at the Footscray Junior Football Club.36 This season saw the first game between two teams led by women Club presidents, but it was Footscray who had the better year, winning the first the minor premiership and then defeating Williamstown to win the 1918 premiership.


Both Mrs Hallett at Footscray Juniors and Margaret at Yarraville were re-elected.37 Yarraville again had a credit balance. Yarraville did not make the finals in 1919, and Footscray Juniors again played off against Williamstown for the premiership, but this time, Williamstown were the winners.38

1920 - 1921

A number of sources list Margaret Berlowitz as Yarraville Club President in 1920. But. I can find no reference for anyone as the Yarraville Club President for 1920 or 1921.

Interestingly, Margaret does not appear in the 1920 Premiership team photo as you would have expected if she was club president.

Yarraville 1920 - You Cant Beat Yarraville - John Heron 2003
Yarraville 1920 - You Cant Beat Yarraville - John Heron 2003

The club did have a successful year. Yarraville were minor premiers, and then lost the final to North Melbourne, but won the Challege game to end the season as Premiers.

In 1920, a Mrs. J. Burlowitz was elected unopposed as the President of the Footscray Ladies Rifle Club.39 combined with her time at the cricket and football clubs. Margaret appears to have been comfortable in committees, certainly more than a silent partner.

In 1921 Yarraville did not make the finals.


Margaret was again elected as club President.40 A newspaper article from August indicates that ‘’Mr Berlowitz’ resigned as club president.41 I assume that this is just a typo.

Yarraville again made the finals, finishing second on the ladder, but were knocked out by South Melbourne District in the semi-finals.


Margaret was Club President for approximately nine years. Starting with a big deficit, Margaret saw the club through the war years, making the finals six time, with one premiership. Many presidents whether male or female could ask for little more.

Table 2: Yarraville - Results in the Victorian Junior Football Association (VJFA) 1914 - 1922

1915Minor Premiers – Lost Challenge game
1916Lost in Semi Finals
1917Lost in Semi Finals
1918Lost in Semi Finals
1922Lost in Semi Finals

Source: Where eagles flew : a history of the Yarraville Football Club / Marc Fiddian, 2011

Oddly Marc Fiddian’s terrific 2011 book, “Where Eagles Flew: A History of the Yarraville Football Club” covers this period of Yarraville’s history in detail. Mentioning a number of players and season results, but makes no mention of this long serving club President, even though the earlier 2003 book, John Heron’s ‘You Can’t Beat Yarraville – 100 Years of cheering for Yarraville footballers’ includes a photo of Margaret and mentions her length of service.

After Margaret

Yarraville went on to win VJFA premierships in 1925 and 1926 before joining the VFA as a senior club in 1928, a position that their nine year club president must have been proud of.

It is frustrating to know so little. Newspapers are a great resource, but have their limits. A fire at the club in 1923 also destroyed many records. Did Margaret continue to go to games and reunions? What decisions did she make as club president? There is wide scope for others to do further research into Margaret and other early club presidents.

Margaret was the first club president that I could find. I was surprised that newspapers at the time did not claim that she was the first, maybe they knew of someone else. If someone can find an earlier reference to a female club president please add it here as I would be very interested.

Other Women Club Presidents

This article also notes Mrs H. Hallett as Footscray Juniors President in 1919

A Mrs Goold (Olida Hotel) was elected as club President in Lilydale in 1930. She was elected after only being in the town for three months (and was not expecting the job).

In 1933, Mrs C.H. Nistchke was elected as Vice President of the South Australian National Football Association (A South Australian Seconds competition)

Mrs Williams (Junction Hotel, Toolamba) was elected president of the Toolamba team in the Goulburn Valley league in 1949.

Out of the four early club presidents that have been identified, all have been licensees of a local Hotel. This is an interesting aspect of football history that needs more study. Both the relationship between publicans and football management, and the role of women as club presidents.

I picture Margaret as a tough business women who was elected because the club needed a cash injection. She provided that injection but remained club president until she eventually resigned because she was successful in that role and gained the support of those around her. The VJFA were not the VFL but they were a city wide competition and only one rung down. Margaret's story is worth remembering.

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End Notes

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2. VICTORIAN JUNIOR ASSOCIATION. (1910, September 19). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 5. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10462015
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6. JUNIOR PREMIERSHIP. (1912, September 25). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 11. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10513568
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8. VICTORIAN JUNIORS. (1913, September 22). The Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times (Albury, NSW : 1903 - 1920), p. 4. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112145004
9. http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/b/e/r/Dennis-G-Berlowitz/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0068.html
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17. WHO OWNED THE HOTEL?. (1923, April 27). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 7. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1893208
18. YARRAVILLE FOOTBALL CLUB. (1914, April 4). Advertiser (Footscray, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88196192 FOOTBALL. (1914, April 4). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119674347
19. FOOTBALL. (1914, April 18). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119674464
20. JUNIOR FOOTBALL. (1914, August 8). Advertiser (Footscray, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88195309
21. Yarraville Football Club. (1914, June 27). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 1. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119674888
22. ANNUAL MEETING. (1915, February 20). Advertiser (Footscray, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89110788
23. YARRAVILLE FOOTBALL CLUB. (1915, February 20). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119676673
24. YARRAVILLE WIN. (1915, May 8). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119677182
25. COURSING. (1915, June 5). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119677376
26. FOOTBALL. (1915, September 11). Advertiser (Footscray, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89115347
27. FOOTBALL. (1915, October 2). Advertiser (Footscray, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 4. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89110978
28. YARRAVILLE FOOTBALL CLUB. (1916, March 11). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119679246
29. FOOTBALLERS SMOKE HIGHT. (1916, August 19). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119680127
30. YARRAVILLE FOOTBALL CLUB. (1916, August 5). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119680081
31. IN CINDERELLA LAND. (1917, March 10). Advertiser (Footscray, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89115740 YARRAVILLE FOOTSBALL CLUB. (1917, March 17). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 1. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119681165
32. FOOTBALL. (1917, October 6). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119682177 FOOTBALL. (1917, October 6). Advertiser (Footscray, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89114720
33. Yarraville Football Club. (1918, March 9). Weekly News (Yarraville) (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119683006
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35. HELPING THE VICTIMS. (1919, March 15). Independent (Footscray, Vic. : 1883 - 1922), p. 2. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74974849
36. JUNIORS' ANNUAL MEETING. (1918, March 23). Independent (Footscray, Vic. : 1883 - 1922), p. 3. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74257908
37. YARRAVILLE CLUB'S ANNUAL MEETING. (1919, March 15). Independent (Footscray, Vic. : 1883 - 1922), p. 1. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74974837
38. FOOTBALL. (1919, October 25). Independent (Footscray, Vic. : 1883 - 1922), p. 4. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74976092
39. FOOTSCRAY LADIES' RIFLE CLUB. (1920, January 24). Independent (Footscray, Vic. : 1883 - 1922), p. 3. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74976579
40. YARRAVILLE F.C. (1922, March 18). Independent (Footscray, Vic. : 1883 - 1922), p. 2. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75069862
41. DOWN SOUTH. (1922, August 12). Independent (Footscray, Vic. : 1883 - 1922), p. 3. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75070688