01 May 2020

Through time: Trustees, Great War and Spanish flu

By Rodney Cavalier and Geoff Armstrong (Part II of III)

Membership has collapsed, income streams disappear. Sheep are preferred to a motorised mower, a cost saving yes and also able to be sold once fattened adequately on the SCG’s field of play. The ground continues but first-class cricket does not. The NSW Labor Party, the party in government in NSW and federally, is split asunder over the conscription of young men to the war effort.





The new year brought an increase in the ranks of financial members to 610. The number grew modestly as the year unfolded. Reduction of the workforce resulted in a curtailment of work. Those remaining were fully employed. John Clayton was appointed a Trustee.

The NSW Rugby League was offering the SCG 7.5 per cent as its share of the gate without a guarantee about the matches to be played in the coming season. Trustees were prepared to accept 7.5 per cent for a first grade match every Saturday and on holidays with a minimum of £5/5/-. If not conceded, the League will be required to pay 10 per cent and meet the wage costs of turnstile gatemen and attendants. In March the League accepted the gate share of 10 per cent.

Trustees extend the lease over their city office for three years at £156 per annum. One room was then sub-let for £78. An application by ground staff for an increase of 1/- per day was declined, as was a later application for an increase to 10/- per day. Every penny counted.

Manoeuvring over rugby league’s contract was not settled. In April the League set out dates required and added the code may require public holidays, a request unacceptable to Trustees who ask for one month’s notice of any additional dates.

The Public Schools Amateur Athletic Association discovered a discrepancy in cash takings and the counter on the entrance stiles. Aware that this could be a wider problem, the Trustees order more secure locks on the stiles and locked drawers containing entrance money. Before the event is over, takings will be counted and compared to the counting registers on the stiles.

Charles Oliver is again re-elected as Chairman.

Alfred Meadham, long-term caterer to the SCG as well as at Randwick Race Course and the Showground, offered £100 until 30 September 1917 “subject to conscription”; if conscription should succeed then the offer dropped to £50. So entered the formal record of the SCG the deadly business of compelling young men to enlist in the armed forces. Though previously absent from SCG Minutes, NSW and Australia has been entering the most divisive period in Australian political history. Some background is essential. The two Trustees with a Labor background were about to be sundered by the split in the Labor Party.

In late April the Labor Party Annual Conference met over several days – as then it did - extending into May. The leadership of William Holman, Premier, was openly denounced. The Government was censured over its failure to curb the destructive capacity of the Legislative Council. Holman and ministers offered their resignations to Conference. Conference affirmed censure but stated it did not require resignations. Holman then assured Conference he would put forward a referendum on abolition of the Council. The assurance earned the Government a vote of confidence in the ministry.

Amid such drama it was possible to overlook a resolution that any candidates supporting conscription will not be endorsed.

The Trustees were facing massive problems of their own. The roll of financial members stopped at 698. Late payments took membership to 703. Gross income was down to £1214. The new membership year began with all of 81 renewals. These numbers were the stuff of catastrophe. Trustees issued a circular to those who had not renewed inviting them to resume their membership without paying an entrance fee, once a strict requirement.

The SCG continued to provide practice wickets for members but ceased providing bowlers for members to face. An early and valued aspect of membership had come to an end and would never return.

An athletics display involved a lot of work in preparation and cleaning up, always the case but now costs were noticeable. Preparing wickets was made difficult because the Water Board prevented the use of hoses, occasioning the Trustees to note the denial of hosing made it impossible to bring wickets to their usual standard.

The ALP Conference decision forbidding Labor MPs and candidates from advocating conscription was exercised by the party’s Central Executive when it withdrew endorsement from four MPs including Premier Holman for their stand on conscription.

On October 28 the conscription plebiscite is defeated. Holman and much of his ministry supported yes. Caucus members break from the Holman ministry which no longer commanded a majority in the Assembly. This national tragedy visits the ranks of Trustees. Watson and McGowen, founding members of the party they had once loved, were expelled or about to be.

Recent rains had caused grass to grow very fast. In November the SCG’s steadfast horse died. With horses under heavy demand by the military, their cost has soared. A new horse was £39 which caused the Trustees to baulk. The management insisted a good horse could not be purchased for less.

On November 15, faced with a hostile Labor Party and no chance of survival without the support of the Opposition Liberals, Holman entered a coalition consisting of five Holmanites, six Liberals and one Progressive (the Country Party of the future). Changes of government have not overly concerned Trustees in the past. Will that comfort continue?

The year ended with only 363 members paid up. Essential painting was postponed, plumbing cannot be. The plumber previously employed was hired for the job.

Cash reserves are down to £1845. In these straits even a motor mower is beyond funds available. Trustees, ever innovative, purchase 20 crossbred sheep to deal with the grass. When in condition the sheep will be sold.



The only cricket that will be played on the SCG are charity matches for patriotic purposes. None enjoyed first-class status. The first match, scheduled for Anniversary Day (26 January), is an MA Noble XI v SE Gregory XI.

The NSW Rugby League has returned with terms that remain unacceptable. Trustees advised that rugby league have use of the SCG for all Saturdays and holidays provided not less than half of all first-grade fixtures are played there. The hiring charge will be 10 per cent of the gate at a minimum of £5/5/- plus the cost of all wages. Charges at the No.2 ground depend on the class of match. No.2 and its dressing rooms will be available for training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at a cost of 7/6 per night for lighting plus wages.

A new horse has been purchased but is ill and confined to light work.

The costs of the war effort touch all enterprises including sports and entertainment. In 1915 the Commonwealth introduced the first tax on income. The Commonwealth has passed the Entertainment Tax Assessment Act 1916. Its provisions have the potential to hurt the much-reduced bottom line of the SCG. Tax was payable on all payments for admission. What about a ground which has members who pay for admission by annual once-only subscription? For such organisations the Commissioner of Taxation will levy payment on what proportion of the subscriptions he thinks cover admission.

The tax is hefty. A graduated rate imposes a tax of one penny on charges between 6d and 1/-, thereafter tax of one halfpenny for every sixpence or part thereof above 1/-. The Trustees responded with a suggestion of assistance: they offered to pay levy based on the number of members who will enter through a special entrance. What about the attendance of ladies? Their admission is part of a member’s subscription. Are their tickets complimentary? A bond of £200 was paid.

Cricket receipts have been a disaster. The gate returned only £39/7/- compared to the thousands from an Ashes Test. Costs of staging were in excess of receipts.

A NSW election took place on March 24, 1917. The Coalition, now calling itself Nationalist, is returned.

Liquor regulations became stricter. A new rule stated that no person may bring liquor into the SCG nor drink liquor except in bars and where set apart for consumption.

In July Charles Oliver is re-elected Chairman.

Staff leaving are still not being replaced. The condition of the playing fields was not a matter the Trustees could defer. Both grounds must be top dressed, requiring 180-200 loads of soil @ 8/6 per load delivered.

Buildings need painting and minor repairs. Guttering has corroded. The costs of materials have been increasing. The Trustees approved £250 for painting.

Membership continues to drop. At the end of the membership year renewals amounted to 438, a drop in excess of 2000 since the War began. Membership income was £833. The finances were beyond dire. Cricket was costing more to stage than what it earned, catering rights in the Members Reserve could not attract a bidder, the Trustees did not veer from their commitment to hand over 100 per cent of the proceeds from events for patriotic causes. Rugby league was the one solid earner. The balance in the bank keeps sliding. Will it go below £1000?

Trustees were not in absolute control of their grounds. Proximity to Victoria Barracks and relations that reflected the SCG’s beginnings as a military ground, meant the stands and surrounding spaces outside the playing fields were used from time to time as barracks, recruiting and minor drill.

In August the NSW Government decided to confront head on a general strike led by railway workers by using the SCG and surrounding lands as a holding bay for supplies and the marshalling post for strike breakers. There is no reference to permission being sought or reason permission was not sought.

Having been purged as Chief Railways Commissioner in 1907, Oliver was aware of the issues and, more importantly, the amount of bad blood between workers and management. His successors in 1917 were determined to bring on a confrontation with the railway unions. The trigger was compelling all employees to fill out time cards, an importation of US time and motion methods.

The NSW cabinet, half the ministers ex-Labor, was spoiling for a fight. Poachers had become game-keepers who reckoned they knew more than a little about the officials of the Railways Union and how to defeat them. The Labor Party was the blood enemy. Leaders of unions had captured the Labor Party, debauched the party, turned its ranks against the Empire and the War, expelled many long-serving party members and defeated the conscription plebiscite.

Now, less than a year later, the Nationalists (as former Labor and former Liberals had become) were going to smash the unions. Union leaderships were no less spoiling for a fight; they would not walk away from the provocation of the time cards.

The strike had an immediate effect. Locomotive journeys out of Central Station before the strike were 660 per day. The strike cut the number to 74, occasioning a major reduction in economic activity.

The Minutes record: “During the time the Free Labourers Camp has been created at the ground they have been engaged in assisting to keep the ground services in order.”

The presence of strike breakers was not always benign: “In consequence of the Ground being occupied by the Government Loyalist Camp practically the whole of the ground foreman’s time has been taken up in keeping an oversight on things generally.” Other staff were required to keep an eye on buildings and protect the playing fields.

The strike resulted in total victory for the Government. Strikers were dismissed. Those few who returned (such as Ben Chifley of Bathurst) were stripped of their seniority. Cleaning up and repairing damages continued into November. A contractor was employed to “start on disinfecting the whole of the premises occupied”.

The SCG received no payment for the occupation of the Ground. Rather, the Trustees had to meet costs in the sum of £119 and hire a direct telephone line to Paddington Fire Station.

The new membership year began with all of 74 members renewing. The importance of football, essentially, rugby league, cannot be overstated. The league drew a total attendance for the season of 115,158 to generate a gate of £3661. The Trustees received £395.

Payment (or not) of Entertainment Tax loomed large, particularly the method of calculation. What happens when the Ground is given free for a patriotic cause? Trustees have the view that, if tax exacted, it will be paid by users. The question is of the moment as the NSW Cricket Association had plans for matches on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Trustees resolve no charge but cricket must pay SCG staff wages.

The year ends with £1016 in reserves. A mere 284 members had renewed for income of £539. Income from entrance fees of people seeking to become members has dried up.



To raise money for the War Chest Fund, cricket was staging a match on  January 25-26 with players from interstate and with international honours. Cricket had to pay all the expenses.

Fire insurance cover was unavoidable. Policies purchased bought coverage to the value of £57,000.

Trustees had resisted calling on the NSW Government. Now they had to. Trustees approved the draft of a letter from the Chairman to the Minister for Lands. On 16 January Oliver signed a letter setting out the numbers about a financial position that “will at no distant time become acute”.

Revenue had fallen from £8397 in 1914 to £2134 at June 30, 1917. Expenditure during the same period had fallen from £7041 to £257. The consequence for cash reserves was devastating. A balance in 1914 of £4804 – reduced by a donation of £1000 to a patriotic fund – had become £1016 at the end of 1917. Oliver forecast that drawing down reserves was likely to meet liabilities until June 30, 1918.

Oliver reminded the Minister that Trustees had spent more than £200,000 on buildings and upkeep since the Trusteeship began in 1876. With the exception of a government grant of £500 in 1877 all funds had come from membership subscriptions and the public paying to enter.

The solution sought was legislated authority to borrow, with ministerial approval, similar to the terms of Royal Agricultural Society Act 1911. Gaining that authority was the only way Trustees thought they could avoid insolvency.

By February the balance had slipped to £890. Oliver had spoken to the Minister who indicated approval for legislation similar to the Agricultural Society. A circular to members was despatched urging payment of subs.

Oliver followed through by lobbying officials in the Lands Department. He was confident that a draft bill was sufficiently advanced that he could place it before Trustees at the next meeting. That was March.

Come April reserves drop to £549. Again the cricket season costs more than it earns. Yet a big carnival to benefit the Children’s Hospital had a gate of £449. The SCG entitlement to £49 was given to the Hospital.

As much as is possible, the Trustees tried to keep the SCG and other lands in use. High schools ask for use of practice wickets and SCG No.2 on Wednesday afternoons. The request is approved. Primary schools sought Friday afternoons which is also approved. The No.2 Ground is made available to rugby league and soccer. The Trustees are not going down by shutting up shop.

The NSW Rugby League seeks the same terms as last year minus the £5/5/- minimum. It is approved without any delay.

The city office lease is renewed for another year for £156, offset by the sub-lease of half the space for £78. A picket fence around No.2 is approved, as is plumbing for the No.2 Pavilion, the Grandstand and the attendant’s cottage. Trustees offer four weeks’ work for two men @ £3/15/- per week.

By May, reserves fall to £334. The Finance Committee resolves to wait on the Minister for Lands and asks for temporary financial assistance pending passing of the bill. The enabling bill reaches parliament in June. Trustees were confident that sufficient funds remained to meet expenses so that a proposal to ask for permanent financial assistance is deferred.

In meantime with next to no events and little need for catering, the Trustees decide to sell the catering plant by auction in expectation of a good price. The expectation was sound. The auction realised £1105 minus commission of £55 and advertising costs of £77. Trustees had the all but forgotten pleasure of investing in a term deposit – they deposited £1000 with the Council of the City of Sydney at four per cent for six months. For four decades pre-1914 the Minutes captured the obvious pleasure of the Trustees in observing the net credit balance grow and moving the funds around for the best returns.

The enabling bill is introduced in the Legislative Assembly in July. Trustees decide to renew the canvas numbers on the scoreboard while limiting top dressing of the playing field outside the wicket square.

Rugby League sought to play the final of the City Cup at a reduced rental, with proceeds to charities and injured players and for a later match with proceeds going to patriotic purposes. Trustees agreed insisting the decision was not a precedent.

Relations with the NSW Rugby League are good. Location for discussions on the renewal of the lease was the rooms of the President of the Legislative Council, arranged by Frederick Flowers MLC, a founder of the code and patron of the League. The outcome of the meeting was presented in a typed memo by Flowers, in which the word Trust is for the first time used to refer to the Trustees as a collective body.

Provisions were as follows.

(1) Trust will grant to League use of SCG on Saturdays, public holidays, Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday afternoons if required, up till third Saturday in September.

(2) Trust will employ who it wishes to collect funds and manage them but the League may object and the Trust will consider the objection.

(3) Trust will collect funds and pay all expenses.

(4) Trust will retain 10 per cent from club matches, 7.5 per cent from interstate matches and matches against New Zealand, 5 per cent from internationals.

(5) The balance remaining to be paid to the League within three working days.

(6) League leading officials to be admitted by right.

(7) Rights and privileges of SCG members preserved.

(8) League committed to SCG for every Saturday and for not less than 75 per cent of matches played.

(9) Of internationals and New Zealand matches played in Sydney, at least 50 per cent are to be played at SCG.

(10) Dressing rooms in Members Pavilion made available to first grade players and for interstate, New Zealand and international matches.

(11) Ladies Pavilion be made available to public sale.

(12) Trust will consider use of SCG No.2 by the League for lesser matches @ 10 per cent.

(13) The League will be able to use No.2 for training two evenings per week; if the League wants the SCG in evenings for training, Trust will consider.

The Trustees present agree to the memorandum.

The football season in 1918 did well. Rugby league drew to a total of 173,022 spectators to its games for a gate of £6374. Trustees share £333/11/3.

At last the SCG has secured a new horse after a lot of trouble for £30.

The Armistice in November has an immediate impact on applications for membership and renewals. A total of 46 new members are admitted over the final two months of 1918. Reserves are securely above £1000 which spared the Trustees the consequences of the enabling bill having been deferred.

The Finance Committee recommended wage increases from 1 January 1919. With rugby league spectators permitted in the Ladies Pavilion, the facility required male toilets. Problems with the Sheridan Stand demand attention. The whole of exposed sealing needs to be removed. The boiler in the Members Pavilion needed overhaul. Many, many works that had been deferred are very much back on the schedule of works.

Cash reserves at the end of 1918 had reached £1398. The SCG had bought itself time. With these additional funds it could continue to pay wages and meet the costs of ongoing maintenance.

Image: International cricket ceases due to World War One. First-class cricket continues at the SCG in 1914-15, but takes a hiatus from 1915-16 to 1917-18. Australian Test cricketer Albert 'Tibby' Cotter, who debuted at the SCG in 1904, was killed in action at Beersheba in Palestine, on 31 October 1917. The NSW Cricket Association erected a plaque in his honour at the SCG.

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