Koonibba Football Club: Established 1906

THE story of an Aboriginal football club celebrating its 100th year this year is a remarkable one.

From humble beginnings on an Aboriginal mission on the west coast of South Australia in 1906 to a club that is a source of massive amounts of pride to its people in 2006. That a club such as this was able to survive and prosper, in often adverse social conditions, is testament to the spirit of those who established the club and those who keep its operations running smoothly today.

Here, AboriginalFootball is privileged to present a written and pictorial history of the club provided by those involved with it, local media of Ceduna and the memory of those who blazed the trail all those years ago.

This is their story...

Saturday 26 August 2006

Humble beginning
KOONIBBA is a small community located 40km from Ceduna on the South Australian far west coast.

In the early 1900s, Lutheran missionaries built a mission there. The mission was to house local Aboriginal people from the area. Under Australian government policy of the day, Aboriginal people's movements were restricted. Missions were built around this time all around Australia for this purpose.

In 1906, the missionaries at the now Koonibba Mission helped establish a football club for the men there. At the time, games were played in a friendly and social atmosphere on an oval situated in a hollow just a short distance north-west of the township. The first Koonibba team involved everyone living on the mission. These early games were played against teams from nearby towns Denial Bay, Charra, Penong and Ceduna.

In 1909 local football teams of the area held a meeting at the Federal Hotel in Denial Bay. The purpose of the meeting was to form a football association. This meeting was to become a historical turning point for Aboriginal football in the region.

At the meeting, the motion was passed and a football association was to begin operations. The association was to become known as the County of Way (Football) Assoication. Teams to join the new association included the now three-year-old Koonibba Football Club, and Murat Bay, Penong, Goode, Charra and Denial Bay. The club's first playing strip in those early years were white with a black 45 degree-angle sash from the top to bottom.

Almost immediately, Koonibba were to taste success by winning the new association's second premiership in 1910. Captain of this historical side was Micky Free. Other family names of those early years included Highfold, Davey, Gray, Jebydah, Miller, Coleman and Lutz.

During this time, while keeping their black-and-white geurnsey colours, Koonibba’s playing strip changed from all-white with horizontal hoops throughout. The playing strip was to undergo numerous style changes over the next few years. A black guernsey with a big white "K" on the front (and white numbers on the back) was next, with players wearing white shorts and black socks with a white band around the top of the socks.

In 1913 Koonibba were captained by Sam Rudolph, brother of then SANFL Sturt Football Club's Phil Rudolph.

The Great War and the end of footy ... for a time
WHEN World War I broke out in 1914, Koonibba, along with many football clubs across Australia, were forced into recess.

It is not clear exactly when the club resumed playing but records indicate that matches were played around 1922. Throughout the 1920s, the club's "three Ds" -- Dudley, Dolling, Davey -- struck fear into the hearts of all its opponents, including clubs as far away as Wudinna and Elliston. The trio were often the difference between winning and losing.

Three-peat premiership
FOR a time, Koonibba played in a Penong-based football association and it was here that the club is believed to have won its first 'three-peat' of flags -- in 1938, 1939 and 1940.

It was noted that during this period Koonibba’s playing strip colours changed for the first and only time: from its original black and white, to red and white, with a white "V" prominent on the front of a red guernsey. White numbers, white shorts and red and white socks completed the playing strips of Koonibba's footballers.

In 1947, Koonibba joined the Murat Bay Football Association (MBFA). Immediately, the growing club proved more than a handful for the local sides, storming to its second three-peat of flags -- in 1947, 1948, 1949. The '47 flag was the club's seventh premiership.

Such was Koonibba’s class, and growing confidence, that in 1949 it challenged the whole of the MBFA to form a combined side of its clubs and play the Roosters. The challenge was accepted.

Koonibba promptly won the game by a relatively comfortable 25 points.

Looking for even bigger fish to fry, the club cast its collective eyes beyond its region. Fresh and feeling good from its win over the MBFA, the very next week the club challenged the whole of the Wirrulla-based Streaky Bay Football Association (SBFA) to a game.

Challenge accepted. Bad move. Koonibba won the game by almost six goals. A big margin in those days.

The three-peat and two big wins over two combined football association sides was perhaps the greatest feat by any one football club in a single season at that time.

Dramas followed the club's mid-1950s campaign, however. Ceduna won premierships in 1952 and 1953 and were looking at their own three-peat. But Koonibba were awarded the 1954 premiership when a fair percentage of Ceduna's players were called up on national service commitments and/or suffering a serious bout of influenza. Thus the premiership was awarded to Koonibba via forfeit.

Rovers join the fold
NINETEEN-Fifty-Six, the year of the Melbourne Olympics, saw an over-abundance of Aboriginal footballers wanting to join Koonibba.

It was quickly determined that a second Aboriginal football team was needed. That new team became Rovers, which would enter the MBFA that same year.

Koonibba added another flag that year after defeating Ceduna by 16 points. Highlighting the strength of Aboriginal football by this time, in only their second year in the competition, 1957, Koonibba’s 'little brother' club, Rovers, reached the grand final, against Koonibba.

In a match described as the best game of football in the region seen for many a year, Koonibba held off their brothers to win the decider by one point. But the story didn't end there. Rovers, well within their rights, protested the grand final result to the League concerning an unregistered Koonibba player. The records were checked but everything was found to be in order and Koonibba held on to its 1957 premiership.

Popular names around in these days were the Colemans, Millers, Benbolts, Peels, Jebydahs, Edwards, Carbines, Richards, Windlass, Kellys, Wares, Grays, Wombats and Newchurches.

Fifty years of local footy, but bad times for Koonibba
NINTEEN-Sixty was to mark 50 years of football in the region. Koonibba were highly fancied to take the flag in this special year. That they did.

Koonibba won flags in 1961 and 1963, giving the club three premierships in four years. In the then three-team competition in 1965 all teams were to play each other six times in the year. It proved to be one match too many.

In a match between Koonibba and Ceduna a fight broke out, as they often do in football. In the wash-up, the central umpire reported the whole Koonibba team for 'provoking assault' which proved to be a very sad time in the history of the Koonibba Football Club.

The club's outstanding full-forward Frank Carbine's career came to a disappointing end. He was individually reported in that game and was outed. His career was over. But worse was to come. The entire club itself was handed a five-year ban from football, which received Australia-wide media coverage.

Ironically, while the penalty was being served, the other clubs in the league would benefit in some way through Koonibba’s exit. Conveniently, most of Koonibba’s star players were picked up by the other clubs. As a result, these clubs' profiles, and standards, lifted somewhat.

Thankfully, 1971 saw the return of Koonibba, this time as a young side. Work began on restoring the club's collective pride and legendary on-field strength. This work bore fruit in 1975 when the club found itself back in familiar surrounds -- grand final footy! Rival Thevenard’s run of eight premierships came to a shuddering halt at the hands of the Roosters, who won that year's premiership.

The years 1977 and 1979 saw more premiership success for Koonibba.

Players who were part of the club's rise in the 1970s were the Millers, Colemans, Betts's, Carbines, Peels's, Wares, Richards's, Highfolds, Warriors, Haynes, Tschunas, Dollards and Wombats.

Peerless record
IN LATER years, from 1982, Koonibba has collected nine of a possible 20 flags on offer.

The club has been a continual representative of the Minnipa Lightning Carnival since it's inception in 1980. It won this carnival on four occasions, as well as picking up many individual awards.

Players of notice during these years have been the Richards's, Highfolds, Smiths, Peels, Millers, Colemans, Carbines, Warriors, Newchurches, McLennans, Betts's, Dunnetts, O'Loughlins, Colbungs and Mundys.

Throughout its history, Koonibba has only ever collected four wooden spoons in the post-war years -- 1965, 1971, 1973 and 1989.

In 1994, the club's 88th year, Koonibba was to break a number of on-field records, prominent among them was a Far West Football League all-time high score of 53.24 (342) against a hapless Blues side.

The year 1996 proved to be a celebration year for the Roosters, in their milestone 90th year, with various activities held throughout. The club won a flag that year to claim another three-peat, some 50 years after its first such three-peat.

Throughout its proud history, the club has regularly produced quality footballers who represented at the many levels of football within the region.

The Koonibba Football Club is steeped in tradition which has, over the course of its 100 years, produced top-class footballers who have graced the football fields from Eyre Peninsula to the Top End to various other parts of Australia, from the Far West league team, the Eyre Peninsula representative team, SANFL teams and State Aboriginal teams.

The club boasts in producing 1990 All-Australian Aboriginal coach Peter Miller. It is expected that many more great footballers will come out of this club in the near future.

Koonibba Football Club is the oldest surviving Aboriginal football club in Australia. The world, in fact. It has shown spirit, fight and kinship over 10 decades.

Its record is phenomenal: 30 A-Grade (senior) premierships, 12 B-Grade (reserve) premierships, 7 Colts (Under-18s) premierships, 4 Minnipa Carnival premierships, 1 State Aboriginal Carnival Championship, 18 Sunday Mail medallists, 6 B-Grade Fairest-and-Best Medallists, 8 Colts Medallists.

Under strict social controls of former government policy, sitting out a five-year ban in the late 1960s, and during its regular time in the sun, the proud Aboriginal Koonibba Football Club has kept its colours flying highly, and mightily, for 100 years.

* Credits: Koonibba Football Club, Ceduna, SA; West Coast Sentinel (local newspaper), Koonibba Football Club Elders, families, supporters, and Corey McLennan.


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