Part One - Mystery at the MCG

Figure 1 – SLV Photo H2008.122/106 (hereafter referred to as 122/106) – The Mystery Photo
Figure 1 – SLV Photo H2008.122/106 (hereafter referred to as 122/106) – The Mystery Photo


I remember the date well: January 9, 2010. I sat down at the computer to view some of the 300-odd black and white Charles Boyles football photos I’d been told could be found on the State Library of Victoria (SLV) website. Little did I realise how engrossing this would become.

One of the first things I noticed about the SLV’s collection was the significant number of photos that had been incorrectly identified, either by the Library or the donor.

I set out to correct the mistakes and finished up working full-time on a project of photo identification for five months. This work comprised over a hundred pages and is now in the State Library as the relevant research guide to the Boyles photos. The document would later become the foundation on which our Boyles website was built.

It was not surprising that there were mistakes in the catalogue. The collection included photos of VFL and VFA teams, VFL seconds teams, wartime Services teams, and teams from a number of minor competitions. Virtually all photos were unlabelled, so that identification of a team, a venue and an era could prove difficult. The black and white photography hardly helped identify jumper colours.

Somewhat ironically, the very first Boyles football photo posted on the SLV website - a photo of a team assembled in front of the outer grandstand at the MCG - turned out to be the most elusively enigmatic, the most frustratingly mysterious Boyles football photo of all. This was Photo 122/106.1 It has taken well over two years to unravel its mystery, but unravel it we finally did, uncovering in the process some neglected and forgotten paths of Victorian football history.

The Mystery Photo

VFA - Possibly

The jumpers worn by the players in the ‘mystery photo’, and the outfits observed in the MCG crowd behind them, seemed to suggest the era of the photo as late thirties, or early forties. This was the starting point.

It did not help at all that the photo had been incorrectly identified in the SLV catalogue as a ‘Richmond’ team. This was certainly not a Richmond (VFL) team.2 Nor was it an Essendon (VFL) team. The players’ jumpers were not dark enough for Richmond or Essendon, and the players were not wearing hooped socks.3 The same reasoning applied to the possibility the team was an Essendon (VFL) Seconds team. Essendon were VFL Seconds premiers in 1941. Might this be their 1941 premiership team? Again, the jumper was not dark enough. Also, ex-Collingwood champion Harry Collier was captain-coach of Essendon Seconds in 1941 and he was not in the photo. No VFL players were recognised in the photo. I therefore turned my attention to other competitions.

The most significant and interesting feature of the image was that it had been photographed at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a very large crowd in attendance. The photo had presumably been snapped before the start of play, and presumably before the start of a curtain raiser. It seemed strange that a crowd could be so large before the start of a curtain raiser. Maybe the shot had been taken at half time or after the match, but this was unlikely.

I asked Terry Keenan, historian of Port Melbourne Football Club, for his opinion. Keenan noted the fundraising matches played at the MCG in the early stages of the Second World War (before the ground was handed over to the U.S Army as ‘Camp Murphy’) attracted big crowds. Keenan doubted however small children (mascots) would have been associated with any of the makeshift teams that played for the war effort. He also doubted any of the other Melbourne football competitions of the thirties – for example, the Saturday Morning and Wednesday leagues - could have managed to have occasional use of the MCG, or, if they did, draw such a big crowd.

I decided the crowd size probably cancelled the possibility of the match being a competition other than the VFL or VFA. Also, compared to the raggedy appearance of many of the team groups photographed by Boyles, this team at the MCG did seem to possess an air of self-importance - suggesting VFL or VFA. VFL however seemed to be out of the question. The signs pointed to the Victorian Football Association (VFA).

Coburg Seconds - Probably

In 1939, the VFA began again playing Grand Finals at the MCG. The three VFA Grand Finals played on the MCG (1939-41) attracted large crowds. For example 48,238 saw Williamstown’s 1939 triumph, and 36,000 saw Port Melbourne’s 1941 win. Initially I suspected the enigmatic team in Photo 122/106 was either the Williamstown team for the 1939 Grand Final or the Coburg team for the 1941 Grand Final - until I noticed ex-VFL drawcards Harry Vallence (Williamstown 1939) and Bob Pratt (Coburg 1941) were not in the photo. Terry Keenan also noticed the team was not wearing Williamstown’s hooped socks and gold collar. He also noted Coburg wore black shorts in the 1941 Grand Final.4

I decided to put my money on Coburg (VFA) Seconds.

Coburg won the VFA Seconds premiership every year from 1934-40

Coburg Seconds played in all three VFA Grand Finals at the MCG - 1939 against Williamstown, 1940 against Brunswick, 1941 versus Williamstown. Coburg Seconds had an unsurpassed record of success in the thirties, and it seemed very possible that Charles Boyles - a resident of South Coburg - had a particular regard for his triumphant local team. Certainly, as Keenan noted, the jumper in 122/106 did not appear to be dark enough for Coburg, but maybe (my wishful thinking suggested) this was some early version of a ‘clash’ jumper. Nevertheless, there was some circumstantial evidence in favour of Coburg Seconds.

Figure 2  - SLV Photo H2008.122/65 (hereafter referred to as 122/65)
Figure 2 - SLV Photo H2008.122/65 (hereafter referred to as 122/65)

Unidentified players appearing in both Kew photos
Unidentified players appearing in both Kew photos
The first piece of circumstantial evidence pointing to Coburg Seconds was Photo 122/65.56 This photo showed a team with four of the same players as appeared in the mystery MCG photo (122/106). In Photo 122/65 they are players 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, reading from the left of the top row.

Photo 122/65 was likely to have been taken circa 1935-36, and the four players appear about three or four years younger than they appear in the MCG photo. There was little doubt about the venue. The grandstand in the background is the Northcote (VFA) grandstand at Westgarth Street. The gutter seen in 122/65 appears in another Boyles photo, that of Northcote’s 1939 team (122/117). Also, at right in 122/65, one can just discern the old Northcote cricket club pavilion.7

So the team in Photo 122/65 was likely, I thought, to be a VFA team playing ‘away’ in white shorts at Northcote circa 1935-36. The jumper worn could easily be, I thought, Coburg’s dark blue and red strip. The team at Northcote was likely to be Coburg Seconds. Given four of the players in Photo 122/65 also appeared (albeit about four years older) in Photo 122/106, the team photographed at the MCG in our mystery photo was almost certainly the same club (as distinct from ‘team’). This team too was probably Coburg Seconds.

The second, perhaps even more significant, piece of circumstantial evidence pointing to Coburg Seconds was this: the player at the centre of the MCG photo (fourth from left in middle row and presumably the captain) was also present in a Boyles photo of the Coburg (VFA) senior team photographed at the Coburg City Oval, circa 1938-39 (122/43, second from right in the top row). Incidentally, this same player could also be seen in the Boyles photos of the 1932 Williamstown team (122/208 and 122/243, extreme right of front row). As yet this player was unidentified.

The Unidentified Captain
The Unidentified Captain

Alec Albiston
Alec Albiston
My initial exploration of the 122/65 photo of a team at Northcote had noted a player bearing a strong resemblance to Alec Albiston (front row, extreme left).8 Albiston, who was to eventually become a champion rover at Hawthorn and captain-coach of the club in 1947-49, was, as I noted, recruited from Sub-District club Kew. This was a clue. With hindsight, it was THE clue. Pointing in another direction and away from Coburg Seconds, the clue was noted but not acted upon.

Initial Conclusion

For two years, perhaps exhausted, I remained complacently satisfied with this superficial and quite unsatisfactory conclusion – Coburg Seconds. After initially failing to solve the mystery of the MCG photo on my own, I had consulted several reputable football historians. None of them had been able to crack the identity of this intriguing football team. Little did I then imagine that the answers to the mystery lay on the road to Kew via the Brighton Football Club in the suburb of Point Cook.

Part Two - Thank God for George Hunt

Two Heads are Better than One

A detective attempting to solve a murder mystery will often find clues in the most unexpected places. And so it was to be – again - except the detective was not I.

The required skilled detective eventually appeared, some two years after I had given up in my quest to solve the MCG mystery.

One day in April 2012, I received a phone call from Stanley ‘Digger’ Roberts, historian at North Ballarat Football Club. ‘Digger’, also a member of the Australian Football Heritage Group, had responded most enthusiastically in 2010 when I emailed the results of my Boyles researches to AFHG members. It was ‘Digger’ who arranged my appearance as guest speaker at an AFHG meeting in October 2010 (at the National Sports Museum, and on the subject of Boyles photos).

Sometime early in 2012 ‘Digger’ had found several Brighton (VFA) photos posted on a VFA website. Believing they might be Boyles photos, ‘Digger’ contacted the owner and informed him of my Boyles research. The photos had been posted by Michael Riley. Soon afterwards Michael and I consulted one another and an important partnership commenced.

Michael had been drawn towards an interest in football history through an initial absorption in genealogy. His discovery that his grandfather George Hunt had been a regular member of Brighton VFA teams in the Depression years sparked an interest in the history of that club and football history generally. Michael’s background as an IT Consultant with advanced computer skills was to prove crucial in unravelling the MCG mystery and a significant number of other photo mysteries where my own limited computer skills had foundered.

Michael set to work on the SLV’s Boyles photos, and we began to correspond frequently as by Michael’s own admission he was a newcomer to football history.

To help solve the mystery of 122/65 and 122/106, Michael’s starting point was my hypothesis that the respective teams shown in the two photos were one and the same club – one team shown at the MCG, and the other team shown at the Northcote ground.

Norm Hillard
Norm Hillard
Michael supported my suggestion the player at far left of front row in Photo 122/65 (the earlier photo taken at Northcote) was Alec Albiston. Then, using facial recognition technology in Picasa, Michael identified a second VFL player in Photo 122/65. This was Norm Hillard (third left of back row). Hillard was named best-on-ground in Fitzroy’s 1944 VFL Grand Final victory over Richmond. In 2010 I had identified Hillard in a wartime RAAF team (see 122/241 image below). Once Michael proposed Hillard, I was able to quickly confirm the identification.

With two players now identified, we were able to work on the earlier Northcote photo 122/65 as a means of solving the mystery of the MCG photo 122/106. This assumed my hypothesis - the respective teams shown in the two photos were one and the same club – was correct. At this point the hypothesis was still merely conjecture.

Photo 122/65 - Kew?

After some initial confusion, Michael then searched for a team(s) in which the two players had played together. Both players were listed on Wikipedia as being recruited (to their respective VFL clubs) from Sub District League club Kew, and both players appeared in the 1934-35 Kew team lists Michael located.

Sunshine Advocate 30-Aug-1935 p2
Sunshine Advocate 30-Aug-1935 p2

Michael therefore concluded the team in photo 122/65 was likely to have been a Kew team from the period. This conclusion led to the probable identification of several more players in 122/65, and this in turn suggested a probable date for the photo.

Harold Albiston
Harold Albiston
Michael suggested the player at the far left of the back row bearing a strong resemblance to Alec Albiston was probably Harold Albiston, Alec’s brother. Both Albiston brothers appeared on Kew team lists.

He also suggested (unfortunately without the advantage of an actual photo comparison) the player third from left in the middle row, occupying a position traditionally reserved for the team captain, was probably Don Harris, the ex-Richmond and Collingwood defender who captained Kew 1934-36. (This conjecture was later proved incorrect because Harris was out injured when the photo was taken)

Don Harris (174cm, b.1906) played 65 games for Richmond (1926-30) as a defender. He played in the back pocket in the Tigers’ three losing VFL Grand Finals against Collingwood (1927-29) and was among the best players in both the 1927 and 1928 Grand Finals.  
Harris crossed to arch rival Collingwood in 1931 at a time when the balance of power in the VFL was beginning to shift in the Tigers' favour.  Harris added 32 games in two years with the Magpies before retiring. Harris represented Victoria in 1928.   He also racked up 36 games with Richmond reserves between 1923-26.  He was born and bred in Richmond and played for Burnley in his formative years.  Source: Full Points Footy

Selwyn Baker North Melbourne Photo on right
Selwyn Baker North Melbourne Photo on right
Michael further suggested the player second from left in the front row seemed to bear a resemblance to ex-North Melbourne and Collingwood rover Selwyn Baker who had originally been recruited to the VFL from Kew.

Thus a range of circumstantial evidence gave weight to the identification of Kew. In addition, the playing histories of the players (seemingly identified) pinpointed a date for the photo. Harold Albiston (born 1916) for instance played for Kew in 1935 but not 1934. (Baker, born in 1911 and standing 166 centimetres, finished his VFL career with one game in 1934 and later played with Brighton 1937-41. There is no record of who Baker played for from 1934-36). As both Albiston brothers were in the photo, we concluded the team shown in the 122/65 Northcote photo was a 1935 Kew team.

Kew Jumper circa 2012
Kew Jumper circa 2012
Michael found the current modern-day Kew team wears a brown jumper with a yellow stripe. This fitted the apparent colours of the jumpers worn in the image. The fans in the background of the photo also appeared relatively well heeled, which is what one would perhaps expect of middle-class Kew people in the Depression era.

Newspaper articles in Trove also revealed that Kew in the thirties played in a competition that used the Northcote ground for matches.

Identifying the Northcote Match

Focusing on 1934 and 1935 and exploring newspaper reports available on the National Library’s Trove, Michael found Kew won their Sub-District Grand Final in 1934 and again reached the Grand Final in 1935. Charles Boyles did not regularly take photos of Melbourne’s Sub-District league, so it was reasonable to presume any Sub-District photo by Boyles had been taken at a finals match - and most probably the Grand Final. Pay dirt at last! The 1935 Sub-District Grand Final between Kew and Fairfield was played at Northcote (Westgarth Street). The Grand Final was also the only finals match that Kew played at Northcote in 1935. It seemed almost irrefutable now that 122/65 was a photo shot by Boyles at the 1935 Sub-District Grand Final.

The VSDL Grand Final was a rough affair and ended in a draw, with each team scoring 76 points.  Kew then lost the Grand Final replay the following week.  A good description of the first match appeared in the Sunshine Advocate of September 20, 1935.
See Sunshine Advocate, 20 September 1935, p.6 - SUB-DISTRICTS LEAGUE FINAL DRAW BETWEEN FAIRFIELD AND KEW.  Kew were defeated in the 1938 VSDL Second Semi Final at Northcote.

Part Three - Nutcracker and Nut

Unidentified players appearing in both Kew Photos
Unidentified players appearing in both Kew Photos
By mid-July 2012 Michael Riley and I had concluded we had identified a photo of a 1935 Kew team, almost certainly taken at the 1935 Sub-District League Grand Final between Kew and Fairfield at Northcote. We had been able to positively identify two players - Alec Albiston and Norm Hillard – and suggest several ‘maybes’ - Harold Albiston, Don Harris and Selwyn Baker.

The identification of this 1935 Kew photo led to the identification of the other Kew photo - the seemingly enigmatic photo of an unidentified team at the MCG that had eluded me for over two years. Four (as yet unidentified) players in the 1935 Kew photo also appeared (albeit looking a bit older) in the MCG photo.

It was reasonable therefore to hypothesise the MCG shot was also Kew. We would now have to look for Kew at the MCG with a big crowd.

Identifying the MCG Match

Many hours later, using the National Library’s Trove as a source, it proved possible at last to identify not only the team but also the match.

Almost certainly the match was the 1939 Victorian Sub-District League Grand Final between Kew and South Melbourne Districts played at the MCG as a curtain raiser for the VFL Second Semi Final between Melbourne and Collingwood.

Argus, September 18, 1939
Argus, September 18, 1939

There were already other clues Kew may have played at the MCG in a Finals curtain raiser. The Sunshine Advocate of September 17, 1937 (p.3) reported the 1937 VSDL Grand Final between Sunshine and South Melbourne Districts was to be held at the MCG as a curtain raiser for a VFL Final. The Argus of July 11, 1939 (p.15) reported the VSDL Secretary had written to the MCG trustees seeking the use of the ground for the VSDL Grand Final.

Identifying the Players

Col Austen
Col Austen
Picasa’s facial recognition was also assisting with the identification of players in the MCG photo. The first such identification was Col Austen (third player from left in the middle row). Picasa originally matched an image of Col Austen (from a Boyles photo of Richmond) to his brother Bob Austen (also in the Kew MCG photo, first player at left of middle row). (This was later proved to be a mistake - as Ian Job was to point out, Col Austen is the third player from the left in the middle row). The image shown at right is Col, not Bob.

Austen started his football career with Kew district teams and later played for both Hawthorn and Richmond.  In 1989 Austen was retrospectively awarded a Brownlow Medal for his 1949 season with Hawthorn.  Austen took sides (with Alec Albiston, and against Kevin Curran) in the 1950 Hawthorn captaincy stoush, and when Albiston lost, Austen transferred to Richmond.  There he won the 1953 Gardiner Medal for best player in the VFL Seconds.

Another player was identified by Picasa as Viv Randall, but this name was ruled out when the team at the MCG was positively identified as Kew. Randall had played for Hawthorn, but not Kew.

With the identification of the MCG photo as a Kew photo we could now rule out certain players, and Kew team lists provided possible player names. Two more players were identified this way: Russ Elliott (third player from right in top row) and Jimmy Davidson (second player from right in middle row).

The Argus of August 28, 1939 reported that a player named 'Elliott' was released by Hawthorn to play for Kew in the VSDL Grand Final. He starred and kicked five goals. We were able to establish, by comparing the MCG image of him to other seemingly matching images, this was Russ Elliott, a 21-year-old full-forward who had played one game for Hawthorn seniors. The same player appeared in a number of Boyles Hawthorn photos, for example the photo of a Hawthorn Seconds team circa 1938-39 (H2008.122/96) where Elliott appears in the top row of players.

Russ Elliott
Russ Elliott

The identification of Elliott corrected an earlier mistake, as Picasa had identified Elliott as Viv Randall.

Viv Randall in other photos
Viv Randall in other photos

The Sub-District League team lists published in the VFL Football Record during the 1939 VFL Finals series at the MCG were also useful. The team lists for the VSDL Grand Final (Kew versus South Melbourne Districts) appeared in week two of the VFL Final series and included the name of Jimmy Davidson, who we surmised was probably the former Melbourne player of the same name.

Jimmy Davidson compared with 1932 Godfrey Phillips football card
Jimmy Davidson compared with 1932 Godfrey Phillips football card
A comparison of the MCG image with a 1932 Godfrey Phillips football card of Davidson seemed to confirm this.

Further circumstantial evidence was provided by an article identifying ‘Jim Davidson (Melbourne and Kew)’ as one of the prominent footballers attending a Fairfield C.Y.M.S. Dance in 1937.9

Despite this partial progress with player identification in the MCG photo 122/106, Michael and I had still, in 2012, not been able to identify the intriguing player at the centre of the team (fourth player from left in middle row) who I had speculated in 2010 was a Coburg Seconds player, having noticed him in three other Boyles SLV photos.10

All we could say was that the probable captain was an ex-Williamstown and Coburg player ending his career as Captain-Coach of a Sub-District team.

Kew 1939 - The captain is still a mystery
Kew 1939 - The captain is still a mystery

The Mood of the Photo

From 1937 the Sub-District League Grand Final had been played as a curtain raiser for a VFL Finals game at the MCG. This represented a major coup for the VSDL.

We can imagine how excited the Kew players must have been before the start of their September 16, 1939 Grand Final. This was the club’s first and last VSDL Grand Final at the MCG. It was a huge step up from their usual suburban haunts.

One can also imagine many of the players and the crowd too may have been rather distracted by repercussions of the September 3 declaration of war on Germany. World War Two had started, and Melbourne’s Saturday morning papers were full of it. VFL football in Melbourne had been suspended during World War One. There was no certainty about it continuing this time.

For the time being it was war against South Melbourne Districts. Kew headed the Southerners at the last change but was overrun in the last quarter, kicking a miserable four behinds to South’s 6 goals 6 behinds. The final score: 14.15 (99) to 9.13 (67).

The MCG photo of Kew was probably taken after the conclusion of the 1939 VSDL encounter. Kew wore Brown, with a gold (or yellow) sash. One can see dirt on the players. Their faces are not the faces of men bursting with pride or pulsing with excited expectation. Instead they look almost vacantly to camera, probably preoccupied about the defeat. At least four of these Kew players had already experienced the pain of losing a Grand Final to Fairfield at Westgarth Street in 1935. No doubt this only accentuated the rather grim look on their faces in this 1939 photo.

The grandstand behind them is almost full of spectators, suggesting the main game is not far off. Melbourne and Collingwood would soon take the field. The Demons triumphed on the way to their third VFL premiership, beating the Magpies again a fortnight later.

Part Four – Good Job Ian Job

On July 13, 2012 we emailed the Kew Football Club, informing them of our discoveries and attaching the two Boyles photos of Kew. We mentioned our identifications – Alex Albiston, Norm Hillard, Col Austen, Jimmy Davidson, Russ Elliott - and the ‘possibles’: Harold Albiston, Don Harris and Selwyn Baker.

On August 7, 2012, we received a reply from Kew Football Club historian Ian Job. Ian, who had been compiling a history of the Kew Football Club, expressed delight at the discovery of the two SLV photos. He told us he had not seen them before. Comparing the SLV’s 1935 and 1939 Kew photos with others at the club, Ian was able to identify most of the players in both the 1935 and 1939 Kew photos. After months of frustration, Michael and I were able to celebrate a victory over mystery, and Ian Job and the Kew Football Club were able to celebrate a moment when their small club had a very big day.

Ian Job’s identifications were:
Kew VSDL Grand Final Team 1935 (crop)
Kew VSDL Grand Final Team 1935 (crop)

Back Row: Unknown, Unknown, Norm Hillard, Alf Perrin, Alf Flanagan, Unknown (behind AF), Arthur O'Neill, Frank Bernard (I think), Hugh Marshall, Paddy Mitchell, Harry Mort (I think).
Centre Row: Keith Marshall, Jack Stephens, Wally Sutton (VC), Leon Weinert, Fred Ashby.
Front Row: Unknown, Unknown, A.‘Bob’Austen.

Ian also noted:
‘Possibles - Alan Quartermain or Teddy Latham (centre of front row); Alec Albiston (extreme left of front row); Harold Albiston (extreme left of back row). Alex Albiston, Harold Albiston, and Teddy Latham were mentioned among the best players and goalkickers in the 1935 VSDA Grand Final. Kew 1935 players who could have played in the 1935 Grand Final - Alan Quartermain, Len Clarke, Laurie Peters, Bill Seedsman and Mick Warry. Don Harris did not play because of injury. Selwyn Baker began his career at Kew but I have no record of him returning’.

Kew VSDL Grand Final Team 1939 (crop)
Kew VSDL Grand Final Team 1939 (crop)

Back Row: Harry Stephens, Ray Jenkins, Eddie Griffen, Arthur O'Neill, Alf Perrin (VC), Unknown, Hugh Marshall, Alf Flanagan.
Centre Row: Trainer, A. ‘Bob’Austen, Unknown, Colin Austen, Carlo ‘Cairo’ Dixon (C/C), Hugh Tomison, Jimmy Davidson, Charlie Brown, Trainer.
Front Row: Unknown, Bob Herbert, Teddy Sterchi (I think), Unknown.

Ian also noted the following:
‘Russell Elliott, Bob Truscott and Jack ‘Cactus’ Coolahan were mentioned among the best players and goalkickers in the 1939 Grand Final. Possibles - Jack Bunning, Claude Cummins, Tommy Furlong, and Laurie Peters. Bruce Sinclair transferred to Preston on July 1st, 1939. Stan Brett (ex-Richmond), O. Briggs and Norm Hillard transferred to Kew from Camberwell just prior to clearances closing. Hillard was cleared immediately to Fitzroy. I am not sure if Brett and Briggs saw the year out at Kew’.

Captain Cairo

Cairo Dixon
Cairo Dixon
Ian Job’s most interesting identification was the intriguing player at the centre of the 1939 Kew team (fourth player from left in middle row) - my ‘Coburg Seconds’ player. At last we had a name for him - Carlo ‘Cairo’ Dixon.

According to Ian Job, Dixon had been appointed as Kew’s 1939 Captain-Coach.
‘Dixon played at Centre Half Forward in the Grand Final, kicking only one goal and spraying many other chances. He also stopped Kew ruckman ‘Butcher’ Marshall from protecting his smaller players from (South’s) Bluey Beard and Jack ‘Basher’ Williams. Dixon was not reappointed for 1940’.

Ian noted Dixon had played for North Melbourne (VFL) in 1936, and suggested he captain-coached Shepparton in 1937-38.11

Backwards and Forwards and Cleaning Things Up

Michael replied to Job on August 17, asking for confirmation Kew did not have copies of the two photos prior to our email: ‘It would certainly add to the story if the photos were unknown to the club. I am also thinking the game at the MCG may have been the only time Kew played there.’

Michael had been trawling the internet for information about the 1939 Kew team. He sent Job the names of the twenty-five Kew Grand Final players in the 1939 VFL Football Record (week two of VFL finals), available in digital format from the State Library of Victoria.

Team List - The Football Record 1939 Week 2 Finals
Team List - The Football Record 1939 Week 2 Finals

Michael’s letter of August 17 also included a haul of data about some of the more interesting characters in the Kew team, specifically Dixon, Davidson and Elliott.

Carlo Merlyn ‘Cairo’ Dixon, apart from boasting one of football’s more exotic names, had indeed been one of football’s most travelled journeymen. It appears Dixon played for Williamstown (VFA) 1933, Coburg (VFA) 1934, North Melbourne (VFL) 1935-36, Coburg (VFA) 1937-38, Kew 1939, and Camberwell (VFA) 1945.12

Compare the photo here to a 1932 football card
Compare the photo here to a 1932 football card
Jim Davidson (born 1904) played nine seasons for Melbourne as a rover before retiring from VFL football in 1932.(Davidson is pictured on a 1932 Godfrey Phillips football card and the resemblance to the player in the 1939 Kew photo is clear). Davidson was appointed captain-coach of Castlemaine for the 1933 season and won the Fred Wood Medal for best and fairest in the Bendigo League that year. He coached Castlemaine for several seasons. Davidson had apparently moved back to Melbourne (and Kew Football Club) by 1937. An article found on the National Library’s Trove site identifies ‘Jim Davidson (Melbourne and Kew)’ as one of the prominent footballers attending a Fairfield C.Y.M.S. Dance in 1937.13

Jim Davidson was chosen as one of Melbourne (VFL)’s ‘150 Heroes’ during the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2008.

Michael explained how we had identified Russell Elliott. An Argus article indicated a full forward named Elliott had been released by Hawthorn to play in the 1939 VSDL Grand final. Searching for a tall player in a Hawthorn team photo, Michael found a player (Russell Elliott) in a Boyles Hawthorn Seconds photo (fifth left in top row) who matched the player third from right in the top row of the Kew 1939 photo. For the Hawthorn Seconds photo, see

Michael provided Ian Job with the link to a photo in which Alec Albiston and Russell Elliott appear together, and the link to a photo which would seem to confirm the identification of Harold Albiston in the 1935 Kew photo.14

Closer examination of the 1935 Kew photo (and the player in the middle of the front row) seemed to rule out Selwyn Baker. Nor was there evidence of Baker playing for Kew in 1935.

Ian Job emailed again on September 22. He confirmed that Kew’s substantial collection of team photos did not include the two Boyles photos of the 1935 and 1939 teams. He pointed out a significant number of occasions (in the period 1928-1937) when Kew (and other Sub-District teams) had played at the MCG, usually as curtain raisers for VFL matches (including VFL finals):

  • September 22, 1928 curtain raiser for Collingwood v Melbourne second semi final replay (Kew District v Abbotsford).
  • June 8, 1929 curtain raiser for VFL v SA (Kew v East Brunswick).
  • September 28, 1929 curtain raiser for Collingwood v Richmond grand final (Kew District v Tooronga).
  • September 30, 1933 curtain raiser for Richmond v South Melbourne grand final (Kew District v Abbotsford).
  • October 7, 1933 curtain raiser for VFL charity match (Kew District v East Brunswick).
  • September 17, 1937 curtain raiser for Melbourne v Collingwood preliminary final (South Melbourne District v Sunshine).15

Ian also provided additional information about 1939 Kew players:
Col Austen, playing for East Kew, was best on ground in the 1938 Eastern Suburban Second Grade Grand Final He also won the Eastern Suburban competition’s Best and Fairest award in 1938. Austen transferred to Kew in 1939 to play with brothers Bob and Cecil.

Jim Davidson captain-coached Kew for two seasons (1937-1938) before fronting up as a player in 1939 under Dixon. In 1949 he served as non-playing coach of Kew, and supported the club’s successful application to join the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) that year.

Russell (Rusty) Elliott, most probably the player third from right in top row, played for Kew 1938-41. In 1939 he played until at least Round 10 (July 1) and returned for Round 16 (August 12), playing through until the VSDL Grand Final. Elliott kicked five goals in the Grand Final. Other goal kickers for Kew were Dixon, Truscott, Griffen, R. Jenkins. Best players for Kew in the Grand Final were - Col Austen (best on ground), Brown, Twitchett, Truscott, Coolahan, Elliott, Dixon, R. Austen, R. Jenkins, Stephens.16


At the very start, in January 2010, I did not have a clue about mystery MCG photo 122/106. However, the first clue was just waiting to be found, and eventually two intrepid (and very tired) football history detectives reaped an abundant harvest. Tedious and mundane fact-grubbing bore fruit. The mysterious MCG photo can be enjoyed with fresh eyes. It is possible now to tease meaning from the opaque, sombre-faced collective lined up before the MCG outer grandstand.

The camera of Charles Boyles could not in itself distinguish the old from the new, but who from now on will see this photo without being aware of this eternal theme. Kew’s charge had been led by the youth. 21-year-old Russ Elliott had kicked five goals in a losing side, and 19-year-old Colin Austen, a future Brownlow Medallist, had been judged best-on-ground in his first big game. Two of Kew’s veterans were about to retire. Jimmy Davidson, well into his thirties, would soon draw down the curtain on a stellar career, and 28-year-old football journeyman ‘Cairo’ Dixon who had been battered and bruised often on the football field was about to enlist in the Army.

Football’s Depression decade was almost over. The career of Charles Edward Boyles was a long way from being over.


Boyles Website Newsletter

Just us sending out an email when we post a new article.

End Notes

1. For brevity the prefix H2008. has been omitted for all SLV references.
2. Confirmation by Trevor Ruddell, Melbourne Cricket Club and Richmond Football Club.
3. An almost identical photo in the SLV’s Boyles collection is 122/149. This photo, showing the same scene and the same players as 122/106, had also been incorrectly labelled by the SLV –‘Essendon’ this time, not ‘Richmond’. The image was ever so slightly different to 122/106 and was more damaged, with emulsion damage on the right-hand side and at the bottom. No persons in the group were obscured however. Some blurring had occurred where there had been movement in the crowd.
4. For a photo of the 1941 Coburg (senior) Grand Final team, see Coburg Football Club, 1891-1990 Centenary Year Book, 1990.
5. Coburg won the VFA Seconds premiership every year from 1934-40. However Coburg (Seconds) were beaten by Williamstown in the 1941 Grand Final at the MCG. See The Argus, October 6, 1941.
6. This photo had been misleadingly labelled ‘Possibly Essendon’ by SLV.
7. See S.Caruso, M.Fiddian and J.Main, Football Grounds of Melbourne, Pennon, 2002, p. 108.
8. Alec Albiston was inducted into the Hawthorn Football Club’s Hall of Fame in 2011. His father Walter Albiston, an influential Congregational minister, is listed in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. See 9. CLUB">
9. CLUB NOTES. (1937, July 16). Advertiser (Hurstbridge, Vic.), p. 4.
10. See the photo of the Coburg (VFA) senior team taken at Coburg City Oval circa 1938-39 (H2008.122/43, second from right in top row), and the two almost identical photos of the 1932 Williamstown (VFA) team (H2008.122/208; H2008.122/243, extreme right of front row).
11. In a later email (September 22), Ian was to admit there was little basis other than hearsay for believing Dixon had played at Shepparton.
12. Michael found no record of Dixon playing for Shepparton, but did find references to his time (1937-38) at Coburg: 1937 Transfer Rejected - At Coburg, from‘Cairo Dixon, who was hurt on Monday, is in hospital, and will be operated on to-day. He has a ruptured kidney and three broken ribs’, from
C. Dixon Coburg elbowing charge dismissed, from
1939 Transfer - Coburg to East Kew, from (As Ian Job was to remark in his email of September 22, ‘East Kew’ is probably a typographical error. He pointed to the fact that, at East Kew, ex-Hawthorn player Roy ‘Froggy’ Rodda was entrenched as captain-coach, having won the 1938 Eastern Suburban Second Grade Grand Final).
Michael discovered Dixon had been born at Ohakune, New Zealand on February 5, 1911, and that he had joined the (Australian) Navy for a short time in the late nineteen-twenties. (Dixon later, in April 1940, enlisted in the Army).
In a later (September 22) email to Ian Job, Michael noted Dixon played the 1934 VFA Grand Final with two broken fingers and a broken toe.
13. CLUB NOTES. (1937, July 16). Advertiser (Hurstbridge, Vic), p4.
15. Replying to Ian Job on September 22, Michael asked whether the Kew District team in the VSDA Second Grade Grand Final (on the ‘Southern Section’ of the MCG as a curtain raiser to the 1929 VFL Grand Final) was the same club as Kew. He noted the team colours as described in the VFL Football Record were different than the colours worn by the 1935 Kew Team. See FOOTBALL. (1929, September 30). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1956), p. 15. Retrieved September 22, 2012, from
My (KM) own interpretation of Ian Job’s references to the ‘Kew District’ team is that this was the name given to the Kew VSDL club’s reserves (or seconds) team playing in the VSDA Second Grade.
For the 1937 VSDA Grand Final at the MCG, see Sunshine's Big Football Day. (1937, September 17). Sunshine Advocate (Vic.: 1924 - 1954), p. 3. Retrieved September 22, 2012, from
16. Ian listed the VFL connections of VSDA grand final players. Kew: Claude (or Cam?) Cummins (also played at Richmond), Alf Flanagan (also Hawthorn), Eddie Griffen (also Fitzroy), Bob Herbert (also Melbourne & Hawthorn), Laurie Peters (also Hawthorn), Jack ‘Cactus’ Coolahan (also Footscray). South Melbourne District: As one would expect, a number of South Melbourne District players turned out for South Melbourne in the VFL - including Ian Lee, Tom Allan, George Bryce, Jim Reid, Jack ‘Basher’ Williams and Percy Horner.