What started out as a group of mates kicking the ball around Kendall Flat in 1971 was the beginning of a 50-year tradition and the formation of Bundaberg and District Australian Football League (BDAFL).
The competition, now known as AFL Wide Bay, officially kicked off in Bundaberg in 1972 with a number of teams joining after local residents Hartley Eales, Ian Fyfe, Jeff McColl and Roley McDowell shaped the inaugural committee.
To commemorate five decades of local competition some original members take a look back at the establishment and history of the league.
The early years of AFL in Bundaberg
Ivan Rojahn was one of the original members of the Wests team to join the league and said he had many memories of the early years.
“David Slaughter, John Bigg and I being good mates played for Souths against Wests in the first game and thrashed them which prompted the three of us to go to Wests to make it a fairer competition,” he said.
“My early memories include the fact that Kendall Flat was the old town dump so we had to scour the ground before games to pick up any foreign objects that were rising to the surface, especially after rain.”
The competition started out with four original teams including Ivan’s Western Suburbs Bulldogs as well as Southern Suburbs Magpies and Northern Suburbs.
The inclusion of the Burnett Heads Saints formed the district component of the league’s name, with the club being 16 kilometres outside of Bundaberg.
The Saints wore a South Melbourne guernsey and their early rivals, the Bulldogs, wore a St Kilda guernsey in honour of their AFL heroes.
The third club in the BDAFL, the Southern Suburbs Magpies, matched their colours with their traditional name, choosing Collingwood’s playing attire for their uniform.
The fourth original club, Northern Suburbs, wore a green guernsey with a yellow sash and called themselves the Kangaroos.
Venues for the games held during the 1970s also included the former Bundaberg Showgrounds and a small ground at Burnett Heads, but the majority of home-and-away matches were held at Kendall Flat.
Not long after this, in 1987, the AFL Wide Bay competition was created and included teams from further afield including Maryborough and Hervey Bay.
As the years went on, the game continued to evolve with a number of highlights in the coming years including:
- 1993 – Fraser Coast Lions won the flag after joining the competition in 1992 as a second team from Hervey Bay
- 2010 – Brothers Bulldogs won the premiership in all grades from Seniors to Under 13's
- 2018 – Gympie Cats won their only AFL Wide Bay flag having been in and out of the competition over many years
- 2019 – Bay Power won their first flag defeating their cross town rivals the Hervey Bay Bombers
Junior football introduced
Junior development has long been a focus for the competition, with Auskick commencing in 1992 under the guidance of then Development Officer Alan Bedford before the program was rolled out wider to develop junior players at both club and school levels.
Throughout its 50 years junior football has been an integral part of the local AFL competition, providing a perfect environment for kids to have fun and learn the rules and the intricacies of the game.
Ivan said when he looked back at how far the game had come, he felt proud to have contributed to opportunities for young people to play today.
“When I look at how our great game has grown here and the number of young people involved, I feel so proud to be one of the many to have helped in some small way,” Ivan said.
Junior AFL has provided a pathway to senior football not only at the local level but also in the AFL Queensland competition and many other senior leagues around the country.
Most recently, the AFL Wide Bay competition has expanded to include an AFL Women’s competition with teams from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Maryborough and Gympie all competing.
You can find out more about the AFL competition within Bundaberg here.
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