145 Years of SANFL captured in a new exhibition

27 May 2022

South Australian football this year marks the 145th anniversary of the foundation of the game’s oldest league competition. It’s time to travel down memory lane.

By Michelangelo Rucci

NO-ONE wants to live in the past, but it is a good place to visit every so often.

This year – in line with the 145th anniversary of the foundation of the SA Football Association (today, the SANFL) – the tour to the past is grander than ever.

Starting on June 3 – and with a trail from the State Library of South Australia to the Migration Museum to Adelaide Oval (including the biggest collection of Magarey Medals in the chairman’s room) to the National Wine Centre – the SANFL History Centre will manage the greatest presentation of South Australian football’s past.

It is all captured with the theme: “Our footy, our people, our stories”.

“Our footy” – No game seems to change as much as Australian football, be it by the rules, the tactics or even the way we remember it. The memory can play tricks or simply become reshaped from the glint of rose-tinted glasses. But the lens of the camera does not lie, even if the digitised vision does make the game appear much better than when we first saw it on analogue television.

The State Library has meticulously curated the exhibition at its North Terrace institution where fans will find a “time machine” with visual presentations in two theatres. One is dedicated to footage – some being shown publicly for the first time – from games that have become part of South Australian football folklore. The other will relive the major moments off the field, such as Magarey Medal counts.

“Our people” – The exhibition also will pay tribute to one of South Australia’s greatest players, four-time Magarey Medallist and Port Adelaide games recordholder Russell Ebert who died in November last year. Recovered, enhanced and enlarged to be a focal point of the exhibition is a 1970s promotional photograph of Ebert in the famous red South Australia State team guernsey.

The SANFL History Centre and State Library also will honour award-winning photographer Bryan Charlton who died last year. His dedication to preserving the game’s images involved more than just his sharp eye behind the lens for major Australian metropolitan newspapers. He also played a significant part in shaping the catalogue of photographs that have been secured by the SANFL History Centre since its opening in 2014.

By popular demand, a seven-metre panoramic image of Adelaide Oval while in AFL mode – taken by Charlton after studiously searching for the right vantage point at the Oval – returns for this year’s exhibition after enthralling the fans in 2017.

This year’s mesmerising visual display will be a “wallpaper” dedicated to loyalty – SANFL club membership pins … badges of honour and pride.

From the State Library’s collection, the exhibition will include the Magarey Medals of 1929 winner Bob Snell and 1932 champion Max Pontifex that have been donated to the library by their respective families and other significant pieces of football memorabilia.


SANFL History Centre Manager Christine Halbert prepares items for the new exhibition to be held at the State Library of SA.

SANFL chief executive Darren Chandler says the exhibition, a joint project with the State Library, is true to football in presenting far more than just the game.

“This is a great opportunity for all South Australians to celebrate the meaning of our game in the achievements of our people and their stories – that became our stories as well,” Chandler said.

“Our stories” – As written for the “paper of record” that was The Advertiser by former Norwood and West Torrens player, SA Football Hall of Famer Gordon Schwartz. Several of the 28 scrapbooks that formed the library of Schwartz’s much-admired work in the media across the second half of the 20th century will be on display.

The exhibition – from June 3 to October 16 – follows the successful presentation at the State Library in 2017 when thousands of football fans stepped back in time to remember how football was, not just in the big league of the SANFL but across country and grassroots competitions throughout South Australia.

"This is a great opportunity for all South Australians to celebrate the meaning of our game in the achievements of our people and their stories - that became our stories as well,"

SANFL chief executive Darren Chandler

“We had 70,000 come through the exhibition across 10 weeks in 2017,” said SANFL History Centre manager Chris Halbert. “The feedback was of an exhibition that was so well received for delivering such diversity in the history of South Australian football – and not just the football but also the history of our State.

“Those who came to the exhibition enjoyed the stories.

“In this year’s exhibition, the images go from still photographs to more than 4000 hours of digital moving images. What we have done this time is consciously built on that foundation from 2017 to deliver even more, such as the footy trail from the State Library to the Migration Museum to the National Wine Centre to Adelaide Oval.”

There is so much more of “our footy” since the 2017 exhibition which coincided with the launch of the first national women’s league, the AFLW. The phenomenal growth of the women’s game – and the stories from the true pioneer days at the start of the 20th century – will be a feature of this year’s exhibition.

The 2017 exhibition had the major drawcard of seeing every 53 Magarey Medals in one place. This time, football fans will be able to see the sketchbook kept by GW Cox jewellers who maintained William Magarey’s wish for a new design each year for the medal presented to the SANFL’s fairest and most brilliant player (a theme that remained until 1991). The GW Cox sketches date to the 1930s.

Part of this display will include an article by jeweller Nicholas Pike describing the joy from his apprenticeship in watching the designing and making of the Magarey Medals.

This year, the trail of honour will make for a special Adelaide Oval tour along the promenade of glory of Magarey Medal plaques at the northern end to the chairman’s room in the Riverbank Stand at the southern end where the biggest collection of the medals remains permanently. And there always is a chance – with 1961 winner John Halbert on the tour roster at the Oval – that a Magarey Medallist could be leading the walk through time.

The National Wine Centre will house a display of Lionel Coventry caricatures of South Australians of prominence in football, law and wine from the 1920s-1950s. Coventry’s body of work includes more than 33,000 portraits. This display runs from August 3 to October 16.

“Our people” will take the exhibition to the Migration Museum to honour the immigrants who made a new start in Australia – and became major players in the growth of “Australia’s game”. Their stories have enhanced the rich tapestry of a game that has been blessed by diversity, on and off the field.

Expanding the exhibition from the State Library to other venues is made possible by the support of Meals on Wheels SA. The partnership with the SANFL History Centre was announced in February with Meals on Wheels SA chief executive Sharyn Broer recognising the two organisations have major responsibilities in serving the “social fabric of South Australia”.

“Nothing brings a community together more than the footy – and SANFL fans and past players have a deep connection with Meals on Wheels,” Broer said.

More information and updates will be made available on the SANFL website and the State Library website at www.slsa.sa.gov.au

“Our footy, our people, our stories” exhibition. June 3 to October 16 at the State Library of South Australia.ends

Christine Halbert and volunteers at the SANFL History Centre have spent many months collating items for the exhibition.

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