21 October 2023

How The Rules Club made its mark on the Riverina

| James Day
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The front carpark and entrance of the Rules Club, with its AFL ball statue positioned on top of a pole to the left hand side.

How do you challenge the dominant influence of another sport? Build a club and keep it around for half a century. Photo: Justine Brentnall.

In 1973 the stronghold of rugby league in Wagga was shaken to its core by the very new Rules Club. Foundation director Peter Reid had been playing AFL throughout the prior decade, and saw an opportunity to establish a greater presence for the Victorian sport in the Riverina.

“Wagga Leagues Club had been in operation for quite a while, but there was nothing whatsoever in terms of AFL,” Peter recalls.

“The idea was to form the Rules Club and involve not only Turvey Park but the Wagga Tigers. We brought around nine to 10 social clubs together in the end, and made a big move for a liquor licence to get the ball rolling.

“We purchased the land from the Marr family, built the field, and opened it up that year.”

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To mark the occasion and raise awareness for the new sport in town, a team from South Melbourne came up to play the Riverina side and brought record numbers to the ground.

Local hero of the game, John Hawke, coached the home side and helped the sport grow in the decades to come. One of his sons, Paul, would go on to play for the Sydney Swans and Collingwood Magpies.

This year the club celebrates 50 years of existence in the town that has grown into a city around it. Over that time it’s been a core ground for the Riverina’s AFL league, and even hosted a few pre-season games for the national teams.

General manager Jack Jolley says their most recent expansion was the 80-room hotel built in 2016 for $13.6 million, but they haven’t lost touch with their community roots.

“We’re always trying to improve the facility for ongoing members, but we still remain close to all the local organisations that we run, host, and have a relationship with,” he says.

Under their portfolio is the Turvey Park Football Club, RAFC Anglers club, and RAFC bowling clubs for men and women.

Peter says they also have a very strong women’s lawn bowling club.

“This year they won our first state competition flag!”

A photo of the rules club at its foundation (1973) on the left, and now on its right. Farmland and bare in the past, a sprawling suburbia around it now.

Here you can see the growth of Wagga around the club since its foundation in 1973. Photo: The Rules Club.

On Friday 20 October, Riverina MP Michael McCormack and member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr will be joining long-time community members to celebrate the club’s milestone.

The following day (21 October), a group of old staff and members from the Turvey Park Football Club will reunite to honour their own commitment to the institution’s success.

Among those to be honoured are lifetime members Peter Reid and Vince Beard, but joining them on Saturday will be John Ashcroft.

They’ll also remember those lifetime members who have passed away like Laura Price and former foundation director Barry Sloan.

“There’s too many people who’ve helped us along the way over our five decade history to thank in one go,” Peter says.

“But I’ll always be grateful to all our groundskeepers and staff who keep this club in fine form every single week.”

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Jack says they’re still calling out for any past directors, secretaries or general managers to join them on Saturday. And for people to expect a variety of gifts and promotions to be available in the week leading up to the anniversary.

When it comes to footy, they’re both committed on a local level to their Turvey Park club. But when it comes to the AFL, Jack is for the Sydney Swans, and Peter is a Collingwood Magpies man.

“I lined up with mates to see them at the Grand Final in 1958, where we stifled the Melbourne Demons attempt to match our four year streak of premierships,” he says

The Rules Club is on the corner between Fernleigh and Glenfield road. It is open every day from 10 am to 11 pm, except on Friday and Saturday when it closes at midnight.

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