A short history of the Shay Gap Hawks, 1975
In 1975, John McArthur, the township officer at Shay Gap decided to form a football team to play in the De Grey Football League. John was a former VFL player who played for Hawthorn and was a member of their first Premiership side in 1961 playing a centre half back. John went on to play 61 games for Hawthorn. A strongly built man, and very fit at the age of 37. He could kick a footy over a wheat silo and run through a pack of players with ease. He was, however an extremely fair player who went on to win the Fairest and Best in 1975.
At the beginning of the footy season, the Hawthorn jumpers were ordered. However they did not arrive until the 4th or 5th game so John contacted Colin Matheson who arranged for the club to use the De Grey Combined side jumpers in the meantime. These jumpers were red and black and were the itchiest jumpers ever made especially in the heat of the Pilbara.
Being a small mining town with a total population of about 850 to 950 people, a continuous roster on 12 hour shifts and a transient population meant it was always going to be a struggle to field a team without calling on the services of Rugby Union, Rugby League and Soccer players. This was before FIFO and the town was regarded as residential, not a mining camp. A lot of the time, the Hawks had people teaching these guys how to hold a ball, kick a ball and the basic rules. One recollection at the time was a guy who converted to football (nick name Stickman because of his build) received the ball on the half back flank , took off with the ball under his arm and sprinted to the other end, then without bouncing the ball dived across the goal line between the posts, stood up and punched the air with victory ,and looked fairly embarrassed when he was told “you ran too far”.
Another player Jerry McGough, an Irish man, had the unbelievable skill of being able to run in a straight line yet kicked the ball off the inside or outside of his boot and pin point it on to another player’s chest.
The players adopted a club song very early in the piece and it was sung to the tune of “Five Miles from Gundagai”. It went:
There’s a track winding back to a place they call Shay Gap
Along the road to Marble Bar
Where we eat nuts and bolts for breakfast
And iron in our stew
They don’t know what to feed us
Cause we are iron through and through
Are we good
Are we any bloody good
We come from Shay Gap yes we do
Did we win? We shit it in Easyyyyyyyyyyyy
There were different versions depending on the amount of beer consumed prior to singing the song. There have been some claims as to who wrote the words and some say it was Wayne Cross but his version of the story is that it was almost certainly Charlie Dunn who played in 1975.
The team had some outstanding players. John McArthur who was Fairest and Best in 1975. John Nani from Bunbury who played full forward and won both the club leading goal kicker and the league goal kicker. It was not uncommon for McArthur to kick out from fullback and Nani mark somewhere in the forward line. Sadly John Nani passed away at a very young age. His sons went on to play for East Perth. Darryl Kernigan was a tough player who fractured an arm in a motor bike accident on the morning of a game. They put the arm in a splint and he played a full game and was best on ground. Frank Cruden a back pocket player who went on to play 100 plus games. There were only two players who played over 100 games for Shay Gap, the other being Wayne Cross. There was always a number of Broken Hill boys in Shay Gap and in 1975 tree stood out being Bill Cook, Ray Gray and Jimmy (Kracker) Hinton. Jim went on to play for Shay Gap twice, and Finucane Island and South Hedland twice. He “collected” jumpers for all clubs.
The first home game at Shay Gap was against Port Hedland Rovers, who were the 1974 De Grey Football League Premiers. For this match they flew to Shay Gap in a fleet of light aircraft. The oval was fairly new, lightly grassed, as hard as a sealed road and made up on Pilbara red dirt. The Hawks decided to water down the oval over night to try to soften the ground a little. The Rovers players with their red white and blue jumpers and spotless white shorts looked pretty crappy by the end of the game. In fact the shorts were now a nice shade of pink.
After the game, a BBQ and keg of beer, Port Hedland Rovers departed to go to the airstrip and someone (possibly Frank Skelly) placing a sign painted in Hawks colours on a post. The sign read “Woof Woof now you Bastards”. Rovers took the sign and in the return game displayed it at the footy ground showing a beaten up hawk with the wording ” Squawk Squawk now you bunch of Buzzards” painted in red, white and blue. This sign was on display each time the two clubs played with the winning team retaining the sign. It is fair to say Rovers had it more than the Hawks as they were again Premiers in 1975. Does anyone know if the sign is still around? Maybe Frank Skelly has it in his archives.
In Pilbara football tradition there was always a BBQ and keg of beer after the game. This was provided free to the visiting side and the same applied when Shay Gap Hawks played in Port Hedland. In Shay Gap, Poon Brothers the catering contractor always put on a top feed. The games were hard and tough with plenty of dust ups but never a hard word said after the game. This lead to a very social atmosphere and the Pilbara spirit of togetherness.
There is a story told by Steve Thompson that he and his future brother-in-law Wayne Cross were refused service in a shop by a young girl who said “you blokes roughed up my boy friend up last week-end “. S he spotted the Shay Gap Hawks T-shirts they were wearing . The boy friend played for South Hedland.
Although there was a strong rivalry with the Rovers, the Hawks had an almost bitter (on the field) rivalry with Goldsworthy Tigers and to a lesser degree Finucane Island. These two teams being sister sites of the mining company Goldsworthy Mining Limited (GML). Goldsworthy had already won a couple of flags and had a very steady work force with a good list of players. At one stage they had three De Grey Medallists playing at the same time being Harry Newman, Robbie MacDonald and Bill Carey.
The Goldsworthy Tigers also had a great knack of pinching some of our new starters at Shay Gap. When the plane landed at Goldsworthy on route to Shay Gap, the township officer would ask the passengers did they play football and if the answer was yes, they then offered them a start at Goldsworthy. Of course the guilty party will deny this but his name was Bill Tasker. The Hawks got around this by telling their recruits to play dumb. As a result over the years the Hawks were able to get some great footballers which included (among others) the Melican brothers, Les Conner, Dave Payne, the Fletcher brothers, John Lewis, and Kevan Waters.
The Hawks were also lucky to have a great supporter in the Personnel Department, in Russell Harris. Russell always seemed to be able to find a position vacant if the Hawks had a player seeking employment. Strictly above-board of course.
The first game at Goldsworthy was remarkable for a particular event. As the Hawks approached the change rooms, somebody spotted these hugely built men, no monsters, sitting on the grass. A comment was made “check the size of these blokes“. A remark came back “mate we’re the seconds team, you should see our A graders“. The Hawks players had just met the Goldsworthy Power Weight Lifting team!! which included Paul Jordan, a massive man.
After the Goldsworthy Tigers won their first match against Shay Gap Hawks (and in fact it would be two season before the Hawks would beat them), the game ball was signed by both sides and auctioned. The winning bidder was a Pom named Dave Robb who paid about $350 for it, more than a week’s wages in 1975. After he received the ball he threw it to a Shay Gap player and said you can have this I’m leaving next week. When asked why he brought the ball Dave replied “I could not let a Goldsworthy tosser get it“.
Travel was always an issue as the road from Port Hedland to Broome was only sealed as far as the 12 mile camp. From there to Goldsworthy the road was fairly average, however from Goldsworthy to Shay Gap, GML maintained the road to a reasonable standard. In the early days the Hawks travelled in a convoy of cars. Later they had a deal with Hedland Bus Service were the town bus was hired, and the driver sang the Banana Boat song all the way home on every trip, usually supported by Graham (Dusty) Miller who had a wide range of British Rugby songs.
The Shay Gap Hawks President in 1975 was Frank Skelly (or maybe John Campbell, tbc). Other players from 1975 were Ray Sparks, Doug Moon, Kevin Regan, Andre Lusan, Charlie Dunn, Kevin Danks and apologies to the many former players who have been missed out in this recollection of the 1975 Hawks team.
The town of Shay Gap was very sport orientated with a 50 metre swimming pool , a cricket completion of up to 8 teams, basketball, lawn bowls (later converted to a 5 a side soccer pitch), a couple of softball teams, 18 hole golf course ,squash courts, darts and later a dirt track car club.
It’s fair to say that the Shay Gap Hawks football team went a long way in making living in an isolate mining town a little more enjoyable.
Ref. Wayne Cross, Colin Matheson collection, July 2014