"All that glitters" : the All Golds and the advent of Rugby League in Australasia

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Master of Arts
University of Canterbury
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Smith, Jo

The origins of Rugby League date back to 1895 in England, when 22 northern rugby clubs broke away from the English Rugby Union to form the Northern Rugby Football Union. The split in the rugby codes came about over the issue of paying players 'broken-time' - paying a man's lost wages for the time he took off work to play rugby.

Twelve years later, the Northern Union's sporting isolation was broken by the advent of a touring team from New Zealand. This team, dubbed the 'All Golds' by the Sydney press, undertook a tour to the North of England as an entrepreneurial tour organized by Albert Henry Baskiville, a postal worker from Wellington. These pioneers risked, not only losing their friends and careers, but also their footballing futures, for playing the Northern Union game 'professionalized' these men in the eyes of the Rugby Union. They were excommunicated from the Rugby Union fraternity, never to be allowed to play the rugby game again.

The New Zealand team's visit to Australia on its way to England was the catalyst for the foundation of Rugby League in Australia. Conditions in Australia were ripe for the rapid success of the game. The factors determining this were related to the working-class perspective of many clubs and to dissatisfaction with the way the Rugby Union ran its affairs. In New Zealand, by contrast, there were fewer overwhelmingly working-class clubs and fewer grievances. The 'All Golds' tour was an entrepreneurial adventure which attracted the support of more middle-class players than working-class ones, and it did not promote a massive, club­ based revolt against the New Zealand Rugby Union.· So the game developed only slowly, with newly formed clubs struggling to attract individual players from the traditional game, which still retained significant working-class support. Rugby League was a working-class game, but its conquest of the New Zealand working-class was far from complete.

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