BLAST FROM PAST: Blackbutt rugby league team circa 1915. This team played in the Brisbane Valley competition.
BLAST FROM PAST: Blackbutt rugby league team circa 1915. This team played in the Brisbane Valley competition. Contributed

Rediscovering our sporting history

RUGBY LEAGUE: In 2020, rugby league will have been played in the South Burnett for 100 years.

Each town is passionate about their club and gets behind them at each game.

While the faces that wear the jerseys are familiar and the way the competition runs in its current form is understood, the details around how the league was formed and the events in the time leading up to now are not widely known.

To inform the community and bring more pride into the jerseys, Alicia Pidgeon has started the Facebook page History of the South Burnett Rugby League.

Since the page started in September, it has gained almost 1000 followers and while Pidgeon is not surprised by the response, she is pleased people are engaging with it.

"I am not surprised because I know how passionate rugby league people can be about their history - and probably not much more than me,” she said.

Pidgeon has been involved in rugby league in the South Burnett for 23 years with the Murgon Mustangs and helping most clubs with first aid throughout the years. Notably, she was the first woman allowed in the dressing sheds.

She has a keen interest in history and realises the importance of the clubs knowing their history.

"I have always been a networker. I just like connecting different people with different things because I get a sense of pride out of that,” she said.

"I am trying to lift the collective so people feel proud of their town, proud of their club and proud of what has been achieved over the years, and then try to lift that standard back up on through.

"This is not about me, it is about football and no one owns football. We are just custodians and we are just here to bring it together so everyone is just a little bit prouder of what has been here over the years.”

Pidgeon chose the medium of Facebook because of its accessibility and versatility.

"Facebook is such an easy medium and I love the multimedia aspect of Facebook as well because I can do audio, video, photos and clippings,” she said.

"Everything sort of creates this amazing puzzle and we are just bringing all the pieces together.”

She has sourced the content from numerous places such as the South Burnett Times archives, Australian online news database Trove, the Wondai heritage museum, which has a collection from the 1960s and 1970s, the Kingaroy Herald, and from Barry and Mary Green's collection of Nanango football club history.

It has become a truly collaborative process, with people sending things in and Pidgeon asking the community if they recognise the faces in the photos or details such as the year.

"Everyone's involvement has been amazing and they are taking photos and sending stuff to me through Facebook,” she said.

"One of the cool parts is that people are reconnecting. People who haven't heard or talked to each other in a long time, they are reconnecting through the page.

"That has been the bonus, I think. It is the greatest part out of this because when you are part of a team, it's almost like a second family.

"They become very close and they back each other up, and they look after each other on the field as well as off, so these bonds are strong.”

Personally, the highlight for Pidgeon was finding and sharing the highlights reel of the 1983 Queensland Commonwealth Bank Cup, won by Murgon State High School.

"They were the top high school in Queensland that year and I managed to get a copy of the highlights reel and that is on the page now,” she said.

"Not a lot of the boys went on to bigger and better things but they were just coached by an amazing guy in Mr 'Bulldog' Smith. He just brought these boys together so well and they just all clicked and it was a real moment in history.”

Despite the dominance of league in the region now, the first brand of football played in the South Burnett was rugby union.

It started as a social league in 1880, with one town travelling to another to play, before a competition started in 1908.

Then after the war, in 1919 when the communities were looking to rebuild, they looked at league as an alternative.

Social games were played at the end of 1919 and in 1920 a representative side played Gympie before the South Burnett competition started in the later part of 1920.

Pidgeon is aiming to have a collection of history together for the 100th anniversary of league.

"I am trying to get everything organised so maybe we can commemorate it somehow. That would be the goal even, to put something out,” she said.

Her interest in the project started when she discovered there was not a lot known about when the league split in 1933 with the start of the lower South Burnett league and she was intrigued by the timeline of events.

"It was to do with the fact that in the beginning of 1933, Murgon only had three A-grade players, so they wanted to still affiliate with the South Burnett League but at that point they only had a junior team which was under-17s or under-18s, dependant on the age groups that they had, and the powers that be would not let them affiliate, so they decided to do their own competition,” she said.

"They saw it as a B-grade competition, not as a geographic thing because it was at the higher part of the South Burnett.

The lower league ended up getting stronger, while Kingaroy, Nanango and Blackbutt got weaker, and the teams joined into the lower South Burnett competition in the 1960s and they changed the name in the early 1970s back to the South Burnett League.

For Pidgeon it is not just about the players on the field.

"It is also about the people behind the scenes, the blood, sweat and tears that went into bringing the football to people every week, because I know what is involved and how hard it would have been back then, because they would have had like a day's travel,” she said.

She encourages people interested in getting involved to contact her through the Facebook page.

"If anyone is interested in giving me a hand or coming together, get in contact with me and let me know what you want to do,” Pidgeon said.

"I'm sure people have got their father's or their grandfather's little box of goodies somewhere and I would love to hear from them.”

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