The North Melbourne Football Club, The Shinboners’

The story goes that in 1869 some of the lads who lived in what is now North Melbourne had been playing cricket during the summer and wanted to keep active during the winter. So they had a meeting and decided to form the North Melbourne Football Club. The North Melbourne Cricket Club then, which began in the season of 1868-69, predates the Football Club by a season. It seems that both teams played their early games over on Royal Park and that some of them were the same people.

By 1882, the two clubs had joined together and were set up on the Hotham Cricket Ground, which at that time was the name of the present-day Recreation Reserve. In setting up these two clubs—both of which survive to the present day—the local lads were following on behind those who, three years before in 1866, had set up the West Melbourne Lawn Bowls Club. The Club has had several name changes over the years and survives in the Flagstaff Gardens as the City of Melbourne Bowling Club.

I had lived in North Melbourne for more than 20 years before I heard that the founder of the Football Club was James Gardiner and that Gardiner’s Reserve. The name of the park and playground opposite the swimming pool, which I often visited, had been named after him. James was a migrant who was born in London in 1848 and was brought out to Port Phillip in the Colony of Victoria while still very young. He grew up in North Melbourne and recalled hunting wild ducks on what is now the Arden Street oval. At 23, he married Mary Ann Martin, who would be the mother of at least five of his children, and some fifteen years later he married again and in time was father to six sons and four daughters.

James was 21 when he took the lead in setting up North Melbourne’s football club, and he was well into his 70s when he died. Only a few years after his death, the club moved from the Victorian Football Association to the Victorian Football League, ancestor of today’s AFL. In the intervening years he had played for North, as well as being the club’s treasurer and secretary and chairman of several of its committees. Late in life he took up the cause of having North move from the Association which it had dominated for several decades to the League, which was by then the more prestigious competition. The move to the League finally took place several years after Gardiner died. It was celebrated by building the grandstand, which survived until recently, when it was demolished and replaced by new facilities used by both the team and members of the local community.

Gardiner’s enthusiasm for local life and events was not limited to football. He was quite a prominent local figure, who was on the municipal council for ten years and elected as mayor of North Melbourne in 1894. The Hotham History Project would be interested in hearing from any of Gardiner’s descendants or indeed from others who have memorabilia or stories that would help us to build up a more rounded picture of the man and his times.

I had not known the name Gardiner in relation to local football, but I long knew that North were known as ‘The Shinboners’. Over the years I’ve heard several quite different stories about how they got the name.

The first was that Happy Valley butcher, Horrie McEwan, decorated the verandah of his shop with be ribboned shinbones whenever North had a great victory. Health authorities eventually put an end to the practice of hanging blue and white ribbons off the dangling bones. The practice stopped but the name stuck.

The second story was that North’s fiercest players were backline players who worked at the Kensington abattoirs and arrived at training with blood spatters on their legs. They were known as tough guys with indestructible shinbones who knew how to show their opponents a thing or two.

The third was that for many years some of the Irishmen who played football for North on Saturdays played their own national game of hurling over in Royal Park on Sundays. Since hurling has the reputation of being a rather anarchic game—a sort of aerial hockey that seems often to be won by the team who delivers the greatest number of thwacks to its opponent’s shins–their Sunday reputations carried over to their Saturday sport and the whole team became known as ‘The Shinboners’.

Three known stories, and there may be more. Any or all of them support both talk of The Shinbone Spirit which I think we can take to mean that North will never be beaten without a fight and titles given to former Shinboner of the 70s (Blight) and Shinboner of the century (Archer).

In contrast there is only one story about the origin of the name The Kangaroos. The idea came from Phonse Tobin, one of the founders of Tobin Brothers, who was president of the North Melbourne Football Club from 1953-56 and wanted a mascot that would be used universally to represent the team. He proposed that the team be called The Kangaroos. The name was accepted and stuck for about 50 years.

Over the years, the team has been known as the Hotham Football Club (when the town was still named after the governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham), North Melbourne cum Albert Park team (when financial troubles caused the two teams to join up for a few seasons), and the Kangaroos but is again known officially as North Melbourne.

by Lorna Hannan, the Hotham History Project, March 2010. (story first published in the North & West Melbourne News)

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